5 Established Fantasy Worlds That Would Make Great Games

5 fantasy worlds from a variety of media have been pulled together to see which settings would make the best games. These settings have been built up outside gaming and could be the perfect settings for new stories or sandboxes. Read which kinds of games would suit these worlds. Have your favourites been included?

5 Established Fantasy Worlds That Would Make Great Games

Fantasy, as a genre, has long been closely associated with gaming. Some use unique settings created for the game and others draw on established works from outside gaming. This trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, so this list explores some of the possible worlds that future titles should use. Books are probably the most common starting points for unique locations. However, to broaden the scope, this list draws on a variety of sources. The names of the works have been used as standard, since not every fantasy universe comes with a definitive name.

1. Black Leopard, Red Wolf

When the winner of the prestigious Man Booker prize, Marlon James, declared he was writing a fantasy novel, many were shocked. They probably shouldn’t have been. Despite the author’s prestigious literary credentials, he had never been one for snobbery. James had been a fan of classic fantasy since childhood, reading stories like The Lord of the Rings. Really, there are a lot of different types of games that could fit this narrative. Though only one story has been told within it so far, it already feels incredibly expansive.

Told from the perspective of a strange man named Tracker, the story of Black Leopard, Red Wolf is shocking, brutal, and confusing (just read the less positive reviews!). Nothing is ever as it seems. James has suggested much of what our ‘hero’ tells us may not be wholly accurate. This will likely be fleshed out in the following two books of the trilogy. These will tell the same story from the perspective of two antagonists from the first book, in the style of films like Rashomon. Also, the book has already been picked up for a film adaptation by Michael B. Jordan, so this might bring a wider audience to a potential game.

One of the best book covers ever

One of the best book covers ever

What makes it a great fantasy world for games?

The Northern and Southern kingdoms are perhaps as close to a name of a world as we get, yet neither seems entirely in control of their lands. The setting draws on a blend of Pan-African myth and history that often defies comparison with anything else you’ve ever read. Every corner of the kingdoms hide secrets, witchdoctors down hidden alleys, disturbing experiments under the floorboards of the powerful and a forest where time and space lose all meaning.

There is a political conflict between kingdoms at the center of the narrative, but it certainly is not the “African Game of Thrones“, as James once jokingly described it. The idea that kings could ever truly rule these lands seem ridiculous, in the face of the supernatural. Another key part of the narrative is ‘the Ten and Nine Doors’, which allow instant travel between them, though only in the correct order else, you are instantly vaporized. It would certainly have an interesting fast-travel system.

What game would it be like: Assassin’s Creed

With the turn towards the mystical with the last few Assassin’s Creed releases, a Black Leopard, Red Wolf game in this style seems perfect. There is a dynamism to Tracker’s movements and he knows his way around parkour. The boss fights with some of the mythological creatures could also be well realized in a manner similar to the mythic encounters in Valhalla.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: The Hunt for Medusa | Gameplay Preview | Ubisoft [NA]

One problem I had reading the books was that I sometimes struggled to visualise the monsters. They were so unlike the dragons and trolls more common to a fantasy story. A fully rendered boss fight in the style of Ubisoft’s flagship franchise might even improve the reading experience when going back. The world, even just from the first book, is incredibly well-realized and the Assassin’s Creed series gives more freedom to explore a high-budget 3D map than perhaps any other series.

2. Mistborn

For many readers of modern fantasy, Brandon Sanderson is the king of the genre. Known for finishing The Wheel of Time, writing the epic Stormlight Archive series (which you might have expected on this list), and just generally pumping out unbelievable quantities of great work. The series I am focusing on here is the Mistborn books, the first of which is set in the capital of the titular Final Empire. 

Some of the art immediately gives videogame vibes

Some of the art immediately gives videogame vibes

What makes it a great fantasy world for games?

The Final Empire is something like a post-medieval post-apocalypse. There is a limited level of technology present and the world has undergone some serious destruction, but the setting is similar to Europe around the beginning of the industrial revolution. Long in the past, there was a classic fantasy story with a clear hero. Apparently, he succeeded and now sits as the empire’s ruler, wielding power with an iron fist. Clearly, however, something has gone horribly wrong. A corrupt hierarchy ruthlessly enforces itself on the people whilst the landscape is near-barren so poverty is widespread. 

What game would it be like: Dishonored

What makes the world especially suited for gaming is its well-realized magic system called ‘allomancy’. By ingesting quantities of pure metal, certain individuals gain access to extraordinary powers. Including: pulling metal towards yourself, pushing it away, enhancing your senses or physical strength, influencing another’s emotions, and hiding/discovering allomancy when used by others. Few have access to even one of these abilities, whilst far fewer have access to them all and are known as mistborn.

Through various combinations of the metals, they can perform spectacular feats, including flight. When an individual drops a coin and pushes it into the ground, the laws of physics create an equal and opposite reaction pushing the user into the sky. Mistborn can then manipulate their flightpath by pulling on metals. Done right, this could be a fantastic parkour mechanic.

This really could be an image from Mistborn

This really could be an image from Mistborn

The ability to perform superhuman feats and the corrupt regime setting seem perfect for an ‘Arkane’ style game. Again, there are elements of parkour. However, the magic system means traversal is more similar to a more complex version of Emily’s moveset in Dishonored 2 than realistic movement. This is an instance where I think the game would work best following the actual story of the books. Playing as a mistborn and using allomancy to fly across the locations readers know so well would work in even a slightly adjusted version of Dishonored’s gameplay. 

3. Ys – Joanna Newsom

Okay, so this is my first outside-the-box pick, keeping it interesting, I hope. Ys is, in my humble opinion, the best album ever made. The album was released by the harpist Joanna Newsom in 2006; it regularly gets described as something that transports the listener to another world. So, what kind of world is it?

What makes it a great fantasy world for games?

Winding narratives, double meanings, and beautiful harp melodies are all over this album. On Emily, Joanna describes a pair of stargazers in a mystical land. Monkey and Bear describes the ill-fated escape from a roving circus by the titular talking animals. Sawdust and Diamonds may describe a journey backwards in time through someone’s life or travel forwards and away from their past. I’ve never been sure.

Joanna Newsom - Ys (Full Album)

Either way, the song is full of evocative imagery from another world. Only Skin, the centerpiece of the work, is a sprawling 17-minute epic that might provide our characters and story. Bad dreams and creeping danger lead this song to an intense climax. Cosmia closes the album with a beautiful and tragic tale of loss and really completes the epic feel.

What game would it be like: Firewatch

The music of Joanna Newsom needs to be included in the game, with the actual gameplay acting as a visual aid to this. Though I’ve not usually been one for the ‘walking sim’ genre, I always quite enjoy it when they make strong use of music. The game could include vignettes, including some of the strange imagery from the songs. Perhaps playing as someone walking back through vivid and bizarre memories from a fantastical world.

This could be a fantastic atmospheric game given the right storyline drawn from the images Joanna creates. With the right studio and direction, we could see the music in some really unique gaming experiences. The art style and minimalist gameplay of Firewatch as well as the way a single voice acts as its protagonist’s lifeline could translate well to this game

4. Chainsaw man

Chainsaw Man is a manga published by Shonen Jump and written by Tatsuki Fujimoto and the only dark/urban fantasy on the list. Part 1 of the story came to an end at the end of last year, and what an end it was. The story follows Denji, who forms a bond with the Chainsaw Devil. However, it isn’t just the enemies that are different from our world.

Like Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Chainsaw Man is slightly NSFL

Like Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Chainsaw Man is slightly NSFL

There are even more unsettling abnormalities; entire countries seem out-of-place in the time period and there are far stranger changes that I don’t want to spoil. It appears to be set in the mid-late ’90s, so think a bloodier Men in Black. Just with devils that can never be permanently killed rather than aliens and far less trustworthy agents.

What makes it a great fantasy world for games?

In this world, though outwardly like our own, demons personifying every human fear regularly enter the human plane. This is not a minor occurrence; whole cities have been wiped out by the Gun Devil. The existence of the supernatural is by no means a secret. Much of the worldbuilding is central to the plot, so I will try to avoid spoilers as the series is fairly new.

Those who hunt threats to humanity belong to quasi-governmental organizations, operating openly as ‘public service’. They form contracts with certain devils to defeat others. What makes one devil worth contracting with whilst another must be killed is usually utilitarian rather than moral. In Chainsaw Man, it’s never quite clear who is on your side and who is really using who so that even your closest friends should not be trusted. Yet, it usually descends into seemingly random violent clashes.

What game would it be like: Final Fantasy Tactics/Tactics Ogre

I had to put the best genre of video games somewhere on this list. It sometimes feels like games usually fail to translate really interesting abilities into gameplay. Most of the time, they turn every type of power into a variant on shooting or hitting. Not so in strategy RPGs games; the arithmetician from Final Fantasy demonstrates this perfectly. The class is able to deal damage to any target anywhere on the map by choosing a trait (HP, elevation, MP) and using any spell effect on all targets whose numerical trait suits a certain sum (prime numbers, multiples of 2,3,5).

Think Xcom crossed with Final Fantasy Tactics

Think Xcom crossed with Final Fantasy Tactics

If you have read Chainsaw Man, you will know there are many similarly complex devils; these types of techniques are perfect for tactics games. The simple ruleset and grid-based presentation are easily manipulated by unorthodox uses of the map, given the time to think about their use provided by turn-based gameplay.

The Tactics games, just like Chainsaw Man, are also known for their complex political narratives full of betrayals and double-crosses and great art. With the same focus on solid writing, a strategy RPG within the Chainsaw Man universe might well capture the political intrigue of Yasumi Matsuno’s storylines (Tactics Ogre and two Final Fantasy games) that has been largely absent from the recent ‘spiritual successors’.

5. Earthsea

The Earthsea books have already had two adaptions. Firstly, a fairly well-known film produced by Studio Ghibli, which was sadly not too well received. The changes made by the film made the largely non-violent books far more brutal. Another adaptation, into a television mini-series, completely changed the plot. Similarly, it made the story more violent and inexplicably changing the race of all but one character against the author’s wishes. The author, Ursula K. Le Guin, tried to hide her disappointment in the Ghibli film. However, for the mini-series, she responded to what she perceived as the motive for the controversial changes.

‘Hurts sales, hurts sales’ is the mantra. Yeah, so?

My Earthsea Quartet Ranking =2 data-lazy-src=

Such a brilliant series from such a cool author deserves a proper adaptation. Perhaps an indie game wouldn’t need to try to appeal to mass-market with ridiculous changes. It often seems executives try to make every fantasy series the same as Lord of The Rings. (Which I love, of course, but not everything has to be LOTR.)

What makes it a great fantasy world for games?

Earthsea is an archipelago that feels at once completely different from our world and entirely believable. Sorcery is commonplace, organised from the island of Roke. Havnor is supposed to be the seat of a king but there has been no king in living memory. Elsewhere, people have to make do on their own, crime and piracy is rife and that does not even cover the supernatural threats from dragons and the shapeless old gods.

Le Guin tells her stories with a real focus on worldbuilding to help the reader understand things like why people are named the way they are, how magic works, how sorcerers find work, what mythic stories the people tell each other. This is all explained so naturally and weaved into many stories, short and long, that the reader gets to follow across various islands. A longer book often digs into the mysteries hidden on one island for the entire story. The reader might follow a political conflict, a coming of age tale, a subversion of fantasy norms or a journey to the afterlife with world-ending stakes. Yet, by the last book, it feels like there are so many stories left to tell.

What game would it be like: Telltale games

A game in the style of Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us might be the perfect way to explore Earthsea and unravel its mysteries, just as the protagonists of the books do. Sadly, original Telltale is no more, but you get the sort of game I’m thinking of.

Reminds me of the one very much not non-violent scene with the pitchfork (Earthsea readers know the one)

Reminds me of the one very much not non-violent scene with the pitchfork (Earthsea readers know the one)

Le Guin filled many of the large narratives with smaller adventures or backgrounded by large-scale political conflicts. Likely, a classic adventure game with a real focus on exploration and mystery would serve this world far better than a modern-style action-adventure RPG hybrid. The magic system is focussed on learning words of power, this would likely suit a dialogue-heavy game, whilst not pushing the mystical elements to the background.

Conclusion

It’s unlikely we will get a game for every one of these entries. However, I would be surprised if we never got an adaption of any of them. Mistborn and Black Leopard, Red Wolf are probably the most likely, since they are fairly recent and relatively mainstream for the genre. The upcoming film adaption might boost Black Leopard, Red Wolf above Mistborn if it’s a big success. Of course, I could only include fantasy worlds I’ve personally experienced, so please comment on any fantasy worlds you would love to see adapted for games!

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