There are two anime films that are often attributed with the medium’s rise in popularity in the West, Akira and Ghost in the Shell. Of the two, only one never saw a game released in the America. However, that wasn’t by design. An Akira video game had long been rumored, with bits and pieces of content floating around the internet, but we wouldn’t see solid proof until many decades later.
Based on the hit animated film and manga series, Akira was a game that would’ve been released on various consoles sometime in 1994, including the SNES, Sega Genesis, Sega CD, and the Game Boy. However, fate would have different plans that lead to none of the game’s versions ever being released.
So, what doomed such a strong IP from getting a proper video game adaptation? This was during the era where nearly all big films were getting a video game tie-in title, so it Akira should’ve been a perfect project. Let’s dive into the history to find that answer.
The Lost Akira Game
The original developer who had the rights to create a game based on Akira was a studio called Black Pearl. Jim Gregory, a developer at said studio around the time they were working on the SNES version of the game, told Hardcore Gaming 101 about the events of working on the ill fated title.
Apparently the team decided to pass on the rights to the game to the publisher THQ, who then began interfering with development. According to Gregory, they demanded changes to the game that were not possible to implement on the current hardware of the time. Tensions built between the development team and publisher to the point where the game’s lead programmer left the project.
A similar situation was taking place with another team at Black Pearl that was working on a Game Gear version of Akira. According to Tom Meigs, who was on that team, that version of the game was only about 30% complete before another lead programmer left the project. However, that progress was all lost with him as he apparently destroyed all the work that had been done up to that point when he left.
THQ would eventually cancel Black Pearl’s version of Akira, with little to no evidence of any version being available. Gregory confirmed that they never even made a physical copy of the SNES version at any point in development. Instead, prototypes were sent to THQ through a modem. THQ denied having any master copy of the game in their files, with their mastering lab technician, Ryan Arnold, speculating the only copy would be held by the current Akira license holder.
It wouldn’t be until the very end of 2013 that the first footage of the lost Akira game would resurface online. First uploaded by Youtube user pookninja3, a video taken from the 1994 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) showed some game play from the Sega Genesis version of the game. Three years later we would get footage of the game’s full intro cinematic and some more game play through more found footage of the same CES.
Things got interesting in August of 2016 when Patrick Scott Patterson, otherwise known as OriginalPSP, discovered four different prototypes of the Game Boy version of Akira. He announced his discovery on Twitter, and would later take them to do a live demonstration during the Portland Retro Gaming Expo in October of that same year. By the end of the year he would upload footage of a fourth prototype found for the Game Boy version online. This version showed the game’s first stage, intro cinematic, and final encounter.
Finally, the last and largest discovery came on Christmas day 2019 when Hidden Palace announced that they had a physical cartridge of the Sega Genesis version of Akira. They attributed the find to a user named Matsuda and another anonymous donor. They put the entire ROM online, but went a step further by sharing new sprites they got from the still lost SNES version of the game.
The odds are slim that the entire SNES build will ever come to light, assuming one still exists somewhere. The discovery of an actual cartridge for the Sega Genesis decades later is itself somewhat of a miracle, and incredibly valuable for preservation purposes. For a game that saw development turmoil like this, Akira could have easily fallen out of history without anyone noticing.