Video Games With Inspirations You Might Not Expect

No piece of media exists in a vacuum. Everything has taken inspiration from something, no matter how unique your idea is. Using inspiration isn’t a purely derivative process like many seem to think though, with more bizarre interests giving birth to something special altogether.

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Plenty of games have inspirations that are obvious. Metroid took from Alien, God of War took from Devil May Cry, Metro took from the self-same books. But what about the games that stretched a little farther, or went a little unorthodox in their foundations? For games with more unusual inspirations, it’s always a joy to figure out how exactly those inspirations manifested.

8 Pokemon – Bug-Catching

Main trainer with an Eevee on their head battling a bug catcher

Did you know Pokemon is one of the biggest media franchises in the world? That might seem wild, but it truly is next to impossible not to find Pokemon merchandise and media everywhere you look. And with an almost 30-year tenure, it’s instantly recognisable too.

Because of that, maybe you’ve already heard of the original inspiration behind Pokemon — bug-catching. Satoshi Tajiri, one of the original creators of Pokemon, said he always loved catching insects as a child, with other children even calling him “Dr. Bug”. It was big enough of an interest that it became the basis for Pokemon itself.

7 Katamari Damacy – Sports Days And Crazy Taxi

The King of All Cosmos overlooking a field of cows

Katamari Damacy is one of the few games that can legitimately be called weird. There’s a habit of calling games that deviate from the standard weird, but the Katamari series is well and truly undeniably weird, and that weirdness is the greatest thing about it.

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Series creator Keita Takahashi actually spent years building the idea of Katamari, though had no way to pitch it due to only being an artist. The characters of the King and Prince were originally to be used in another of his games, which was itself inspired by Crazy Taxi, before its cancellation, and the overall whimsy and simple idea came from the joy of school sports days. There’s a long thread that leads to the treasure of Katamari.

6 Kingdom Hearts – Super Mario 64

Sora, Riku, and Kairi Running on Destiny Islands from Kingdom Hearts Series

Super Mario 64 isn’t a game that would be considered unusual for an inspiration. It changed how games viewed both 3D worlds and movement, and was a general technological leap for the time. Kingdom Hearts, meanwhile, is undeniably an unusual game where it can be a little harder to see the Mario 64 inspiration.

Well, turns out it’s all a bit simpler than that. Shinji Hashimoto and Hironobu Sakaguchi wanted to make a movement game like Super Mario 64 but felt they didn’t have characters popular enough for it, seeing only Disney as similar in popularity. Tetsuya Nomura overheard this conversation, and the sentiment eventually culminated in the wonderfully whimsical Kingdom Hearts series.

5 Silent Hill 2 – Crime And Punishment

Silent Hill 2 - James looking in the mirror in the game's opening

When it comes to beloved horror series, Silent Hill stands at the top of the bunch. It reviled in playing with the psychological, the fears deeper within us, rather than the more tried-and-true of zombies and monsters. Silent Hill 2 especially is adored for its complex characters and endlessly alluring world.

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If you’ve both played the game and read Crime and Punishment, maybe the connections are immediately apparent. Used as a foundation for the story by Takayoshi Sato, both follow a man who commits bad deeds in hopes of betterment, only to ultimately believe they deserve punishment for those acts. Heavy stuff.

4 Grand Theft Auto – Pac-Man

Two players in vehicle combat blowing up a fighter jet with rockets in Grand Theft Auto Online

When it comes to using games as inspiration, it’s fun to see how the goalposts have moved over the years. How many games would you say nowadays use Grand Theft Auto as the basis for their ideas versus something like Pac-Man? Funny as the comparison may seem, the original GTA was itself heavily inspired by Pac-Man.

With how far the series has come, it can be easy to forget that GTA started with a top-down perspective as you dashed across the city committing crimes. That itself is a beginning, but the game’s producer, Doug Jones, said the way you move to attack civilians is like how Pac-Man moves, and the police chasing you is akin to the ghosts. Vehicular manslaughter probably wasn’t on Pac-Man’s mind.

3 Undertale – Mr. Bean

Undertale: Asgore, Undyne, Toriel, Sans, Alphys, And Papyrus

For indie games, it can sometimes be harder to get direct information on inspirations. Games of such a small scale don’t tend to get interviewed in the same way as AAA studios. It’s understandable, but means some of the most unique games in the medium tend to have their inspirations forgotten. Unless you’re Toby Fox.

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Toby Fox has always been incredibly open about the inspirations behind Undertale, the game’s massive success making it so that everyone sees it. Aside from the very obvious Earthbound influence, a more unconventional one is Mr. Bean, a source for the game’s humour. Far from expected, but then most things in Undertale aren’t, are they?

2 Nier – The War On Terror

A screenshot showing gameplay in Nier Replicant

If you’ve played a game from Yoko Taro and have even a modicum of media literacy, you’ll have likely recognised that his games tend to be critiques of many of the world’s pre-established structures. Nier Automata questions what makes us human, Drakengard shows the dark sides of love, and everything deals with much of humanity’s desensitization towards murder.

The original Nier is a tad more direct in its influences. Much of Nier deals with the ostracisation of people, the othering of them. Punishment at large for the acts of a minority, and how that same hatred exists without even the original foundations still in place. Hatred is the norm, and it’s left to the downtrodden to fix the world themselves. The war on terror and 9/11 were his chief inspirations for the game, shared directly by Yoko Taro.

Link and Marin sit on a long at the beach looking at each other in Link's Awakening.

The Legend of Zelda series has plenty of entries in it, all very distinct from one another. For a brief period though, Nintendo were happy to stray from their comfort zone with Zelda, even giving the series over to Capcom for a brief stint. Yet even Capcom’s Zelda games were inspired by Nintendo’s own.

Link’s Awakening is remembered by many as the most surreal game in the series. It has Link walking up on Koholint Island and engaging with its rather eccentric residents all the while trying to uncover the mystery at the root of the island itself. Sound familiar? It should, because it’s basically the exact same scenario as Twin Peaks, a direct inspiration for the game. In many ways, Marin feels eerily similar to Laura Palmer, down to the mistaken identity.

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