Steven Universe

Cartoon Network's Steven Universe draws more inspiration from console RPGs than any show on the air. The show centers on Steven, the son of a human and a Crystal Gem warrior. As he experiences everyday life in a sleepy beachside town, Steven's drawn into the outer space monster action of the remaining Crystal Gems. Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl don't know much about raising a half-human child, but they do their best to balance Steven's everyday growth with his training as the inheritor of his mothers' powers. It's an sweet-hearted show with flashy action scenes and a cosmic chiptune score by aivi & surasshu.

The show's creators are in touch with their gaming roots. Show creator Rebecca Sugar is a fan of Legend of Zelda; Steven's blurred-but-distinct copy of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is likely related. In a late 2014, Sugar suggested the show would make a good RPG because of its strong video game inspiration. Former co-developer Ian Jones-Quartey used to create the RPG World webcomic. Hero, the hero, has appeared in action figure form in the episodes "Steven the Sword Fighter" and "Future Vision." Another of Steven's toys from "Steven the Sword Fighter" resembles a non-union fusion of Pikachu and a Final Fantasy moogle.

In the episode "Garnet's Universe," Steven tells Garnet a story about adventures he imagined she had. In the course of her made-up adventures, Garnet meets a frog warrior named Hopper. Any similarities to Chrono Trigger's Frog are assuredly not unintentional.

In "Rose's Room", Steven stays up late to beat Golf Quest Mini on what looks like a Nintendo 64. This miniature golf-themed RPG looks like more fun than any RPGs available for the non-fictional N64. Pokémon-inspired battles against windmills culminate in a battle against the evil Professor Sandtraps. Even the soundtrack, which is available online, feels like a lost OST from years past.

Steven Universe has made the transition from RPG-inspired back to RPGs. Steven Universe: Attack the Light is a mobile game with RPG-style exploration and character advancement. Its turn-based battles use timing mechanics similar to Paper Mario and a shared action point economy. For $3, the production values are excellent. The writing is cute and earnest, focusing on character relationships and celebrating the joys of adventure. — Zach Welhouse

Love Hina

Japanese RPGs and anime have been influencing each other for as long as the Japanese have been making role-playing video games. Aside from the many tropes common to both forms of media, the many adaptations, and references to specific titles, there have been appearances of RPGs in anime that are unique to that world. Often times, these games are just be played by characters in the background, but there is the occasional whole episode devoted to them. One such instance is in the eighth episode of Love Hina, a comedy series from 2000 that was once very popular, though seems to have largely been forgotten.

Titled "Kendo Girl and the Legend of the Dragon Palace: Is This a Dream?" this episode has Keitaro and Naru discover an old video game console that resembles the Super Famicom and a game called "Legend of the Dragon Palace." Not only does Keitaro get caught up in replaying this classic from his middle school days, so do most of the other residents of the Hinata Apartments. Later, Motoko has a dream based on the game, with her accompanying the chibified forms of the other Hinata residents to rescue Princess Naru from the clutches of the evil Dragon King.

While the few stills of the actual game resemble any number of early console RPGs, the game's title, villain's name, and simple plot are perhaps most reminiscent of the original Dragon Quest. There also may or may not be two references to the Final Fantasy: When Su joins the party, she is riding an ostrich, which might bring to mind a fictional large flightless bird. When they meet Haruka, she is referred to as the "White Mage."

The dream sequence has many nods to more general RPG conventions, with the characters shifting from their chibi forms to "full size" to point out or poke fun at them. Their tiny appearance is likely a reference to character sprites from RPGs in the 80s and 90s. Motoko speaks to some elderly people, only for them to repeat the very same thing they just said when she asks for more information. After all "the minor characters in those old video games can’t really say much," as Kitsune lampshades. They have a "random encounter," complete with flashy scene transition and the battle is apparently turn-based, as the "monsters" shout at them to attack next. When Keitaro is knocked out in the fight, Su, Shinobu, and Kitsune are engulfed in flames and come to his defense. This is apparently a battle mechanic in "Legend of the Dragon Palace." Also deserving a mention is the ridiculous equipment donned by some members of the party, which really wouldn't be all that out of place in an actual RPG.

While this episode of Love Hina parodies classic console RPGs, it does so in a benevolent and whimsical manner. Motoko complains the whole while of being caught up in a stupid dream (she assumes she's in Keitaro's dream, not her own), but that whimsy rubs off on her a little at the end. She admits to Naru that playing such games is fun once in a while, to which Naru agrees. Perhaps it even helped her to understand Keitaro a little...or not, considering she sent him soaring through the stratosphere twice soon after. — Cassandra Ramos

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