Hunter x Hunter is one of the most fascinating series I have ever watched. It meaningfully grapples with toxic masculinity, features a wide range of uniquely intriguing characters, and offers some of the most tasteful fantasy writing around town. So why, reader, has nobody acquired the rights to make a genuinely decent Hunter x Hunter video game?
It seems exceptionally odd to me that people don’t see the massive potential here. Without making a single alteration, this world is already near-perfectly suited to a video game format. You’ve got everything from the sprawling metropolis of Yorknew City to the vast and varied landscapes of Greed Island, with characters as diverse as Netero, Meruem, and Chrollo boasting independent and yet somehow intertwined stories that could offer limitless possibilities in terms of branching narratives. The core cast of characters – Gon, Killua, Leorio, and Kurapika – also poses as an enticing prospect for a very specific reason.
With games like Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity and Persona 5 Strikers being so well-received of late, I think a Hunter x Hunter game with musou mechanics would genuinely be incredible. I’ve long thought on how difficult it would be to tackle Nen, the mysterious magical energy that allows Hunters to manifest scary amounts of power. While Killua uses his Nen abilities to channel lightning, Hisoka works with Bungee Gum to manipulate the environment around him. Kurapika, on the other hand, pours his energy into chains, whereas Gon’s Nen is more aligned with raw strength and willpower. Gon’s an idiot.
This sounds standard enough given that a large amount of games use elemental affinities as a means of touting varied combat abilities. The thing about Nen is that it exists outside of each of its users. It’s a pervasive force that endures in the world and is different depending on who is using it, and what’s around them. While iconic fights like Netero vs Meruem or Gon vs Pitou could be handled with relative ease, something like Heaven’s Arena – a large battle tower in which each floor contains progressively more powerful opponents – would be much more difficult to execute. Nen is so abundant here that the sheer variety of atmosphere becomes too much to properly capture – how can you possibly account for hundreds of people with different powers interacting with one another simultaneously and, when contained in the artifice of a game, hypothetically, eternally?
This is where musou comes into play. The thing about Hunter x Hunter is that, like all stories, a massive amount of the characters we see aren’t actually all that significant. There are a few named characters in the Heaven’s Arena arc, but most of the faces we see are just extras designed to populate the background in order to create ostensible depth. While they play a part in the tower’s overall Nen presence, they are largely irrelevant to the ways in which we engage with it, and so could be reduced to mob structures specifically designed to represent the abundance of Nen without compromising the meaning of it.
I’m talking about Heaven’s Arena here, but this logic can be applied to every single arc in Hunter x Hunter. Most Chimera Ants – strange, usually malevolent beings fused from multiple different species – are actually a bit shite when compared to their overlords. It’s not unreasonable to suggest portraying the vast majority of them as mobs, while having separate boss fights for the likes of Youpi and Pouf. Once you frame it in that way, there’s room to carve out unique encounters with more prominent enemies that can be tailored to specific Nen conditions. I mean, if you have Chrollo, Netero, and Meruem in the same room, designing a coherent Nen structure becomes near impossible. However, separating them out in a more linear fashion provides space to create detailed systems that are sufficiently self-contained to adhere to their own unique logic.
Musou also works well because of the fact that Hunter x Hunter has so much to offer in the first place. While I like Gon, I wouldn’t be too pleased with a game that forced me to play as him. I’d much rather have access to Killua’s weird claw hands and Hisoka’s enchanted playing cards, and would ideally like the option to switch between them. By creating large mobs in adherence to musou, quick-switching between party members with various different abilities is easily facilitated. There’s not much point in playing a Hunter x Hunter game that doesn’t acknowledge how powerful its core cast is – making several of them playable is the key to capturing this essence without needing to go into too much detail on any specific build. It’s like Joker in Persona 5 Strikers or Link in Age of Calamity – sure, they’re the protagonists, but their systemic makeup is relatively basic and not necessarily superior to other characters. Yusuke number one.
The most important element of a decent Hunter x Hunter game is obviously the story, but I don’t think that’s the barrier to entry that’s kept it locked off for so long. The story is already written, and aside from how immensely long it is, can be easily implemented into an adaptation. The art style is also already distinguished and beloved, making its retention a necessary facet of any attempt at a video game.
The main obstacle is, as mentioned above, Nen. It’s combat, and how fights here don’t necessarily function on a level that can be easily systematized under modern RPG formulas. That’s why the answer to making a good Hunter x Hunter game actually has very little to do with the RPG format it is so easy to associate with. Yes, this world is fascinating and open-world exploration is key to realizing that. I think the way in which games like The Witcher 3 and Dragon Age: Inquisition segment their open worlds into individual parts would work well here, with the likes of Yorknew City, the Zoldyck Estate, and NGL being their own distinct maps.
But just because a game is hypothetically open-world doesn’t mean it needs to be an RPG in every way. I’d love side quests for depth and meaningful consequences for decisions outside of the main narrative, but there’s no pressure whatsoever to implement RPG-style combat, be it real-time or turn-based. A more action-centric approach with musou sensibilities is far better for capturing context without compromising moment-to-moment play – in fact, its inherently hectic nature could successfully heighten the stakes in key combat sequences from the anime. I can’t stop thinking about playing as Long Gon against Pitou with musou mechanics – that’s game of the decade material for me.
I’ve desperately wanted a Hunter x Hunter game ever since I watched the credits roll on the last episode. While I know it’s a colossal undertaking, it seems like the perfect IP to juxtapose RPG design with musou in order to spawn a new genre in large-scale game dev. The narrative is already brilliant and the art style is already beloved. The characters are revered by fans all over the world and each arc is seen as an artistic masterclass. The only real issue in terms of realizing this as a bonafide game is the deceptively problematic nature of Nen. As I’ve argued here, the answer is to represent complexity by leaning into the chaos of mobs, combat arenas, and character switching, instead of trying to design some elaborate RPG system that could never come close to representing what Nen actually is.
The age of popular musou is upon us. Please, somebody – use it to make a decent Hunter x Hunter game so I can play as Killua for 1,000 hours.
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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