My last comparison theatre entry (and indeed, my last blog entry) was quite some time ago, for which I apologise to the three people who read this blog. And now, to business.
One of my favourite things in the world is Hokuto no Ken, a shounen manga about a powerful martial artist using his skills to bring peace to a post-apocalyptic world. There have been several Hokuto no Ken video games, but the ones Iâ€™d like to bring into focus are the following two.
Yes, that would be Arc System Worksâ€™ Hokuto no Ken: Shinpan no Sousousei Kengou Retsuden for the Atomiswave and PS2 versus Koei Tecmoâ€™s Hokuto Musou for the Xbox 360 and PS3. In my view, the stark contrast between these two games really drives home how developers need to think about the qualities inherent in the source material before adapting it into a video game. Specifically, the former is a great example of playing to the strengths of a theme, while the latter is an example of how to inherit all the weaknesses instead.
As I mentioned, Hokuto no Ken is about the travails of a powerful martial artist (called Kenshiro) in a post-apocalyptic world. Throughout his travels, Kenshiro meets several other powerful warriors of other martial arts styles, and comes to blows with several of them. These confrontations are often pretty epic and span several episodes, if not entire story arcs, culminating in a one-on-one face-off between Kenshiro and his rival. Along the way, of course, Kenshiro has to deal with his rivalsâ€™ various assortment of minions, mostly in a comically effortless manner, as demonstrated by almost every single Hokuto no Ken clip ever uploaded to Youtube.
So how does this tie into game design? Arc System Worksâ€™ Hokuto no Ken game is based off the confrontations between Kenshiro and his rivals â€“ a strictly 1-on-1 fighting game that has subsystems designed to match the various themes of the manga and anime as well (for instance, the Fatal K.O. moves). It is, in other words, based on what to Kenshiro must be his most challenging and epic confrontations ever, and it manages to bring that feeling across brilliantly, with fights between skilled players often resembling epic battles from the anime series. It is, therefore, based on the best parts of the source material.
Hokuto Musou, on the other hand, is a Musou game, which means you spend a large amount of time running around beating up nameless grunts. This wouldnâ€™t be so bad, except that Koei Tecmo decided to follow the depiction of these grunts in the series, literally, and as a result they put up about as much resistance as the lore would have you believe, i.e. none. There are 1-on-1 boss fights, but being based on the same fighting engine as the rest of the game theyâ€™re hardly worth noting at all. Hokuto Musou, then, takes something thatâ€™s mostly used for comic effect in the source material and tries to stretch it out into a full game, and the end result is rather terrible. Honestly, if you want to see what a Hokuto no Ken brawler should play like, go play God Hand. Actually, play God Hand anyway, because itâ€™s an excellent game.
Moral of the story, then? If youâ€™re adapting something into a game, think about what sort of mechanics would be appropriate to bring across the best parts of the source material.
And the other moral of the story is to spam Arc System Works with requests to make another Hokuto no Ken fighter. In HD, with the budget of BlazBlue, so we can have more moments like this one: