Oh brilliant blade as cold as steel…
About a week or two ago Funimation released the dubbed version of the Tales of Vesperia prequel movie, and since playing Tales games has been a time-honored family tradition with my younger brothers since our exposure to Symphonia, it would be only right for us to see the movie. How did the jump to the big screen fare? Let’s find out!
Our story chronicles the beginning of Yuri Lowell and Flynn Scifo’s journey as knights of the Empire stationed in an out-of-the-way local village as their first assignment under Captain Niren. As knights, the brigade protects the village from the savage monsters outside and protect the people. Something has caused the nearby monsters to become more savage and the bureaucratic Empire won’t ship out more men, so it’s up to this small-town brigade to handle the situation. Flynn is the book-cop while Yuri doesn’t play by the rules, but if you have any familiarity with Tales of Vesperia, you already knew this. Of course, being a prequel to a game means it will be far more enjoyable to Tales fans, but the film at the very least demonstrates our favorite odd couple in a way that needs no prior knowledge. In fact, the beginning of the movie gives us a two second rundown of Blastia, the game’s plot-o-magics, without bogging viewers down with a cram session. The need to know is all the audience who hasn’t played the game needs to know and more than enough for audience members who played the game. Ultimately, the film is still very approachable.
Though I do have a small quip about the ending, which felt a bit rushed, and of questionable character for Flynn, but considering circumstances: knowing the truth of how pops died supersedes playing by the rules. I have to admit, pacing is like some kind of devil for any writer, because the movie is a bit long, clocking at about two hours at a leisurely clip. The plot is straightforward without getting convoluted but the ugly head of adaptation rears its head when you have the missing-out-factor kick in if you’re not familiar with the game. Contrasted against the actual games, there’s no saving the world business or grandiose cliffhanger, just an incident in the woods in a slow small town, which fits the two-hour film far better.
Characterization is strong. We see Yuri’s dedication to his cowboy-cop values and Flynn with his family issues. The two butt heads often and with fervor throughout the movie, which any teenage-Asian-girl-hitting-puburty can tell you is more than affectionate. Most of the other cast members exclusive to the movie take a sideline view and if anything serve to illuminate the leading pair. The appearance of Estelle, Rita, and Raven are more like cameos so you don’t get to sink into those who will become your later party members.
Speaking of characters, the dub is very solid. Funimation was able to get Troy Baker and Sam Riegel back in the studio but not the rest of the game cast. Baker and Reigel put on strong performances as expected, especially considering how this was a strong role at least for Baker. The rest of the recasted cast decided to play to the characters instead of imitate, which is a good move in direction. Frankly, I’m used to Tales in English 90% of the time so a strong dub is worthy of series caliber. (That or a half-done dub, but nobody wants to remember Legendia.)
Production I.G’s art and animation is solid, capturing the characters quite nicely. The landscapes and backgrounds are beautiful and varied, sometimes giving viewers a chance to take things in as characters talk in the distance. A couple kinks with the CG, but it’s used wisely for the most part. Any fight choreography captures Yuri’s swordfighting style, a “style” that disregards all formal training, very cleanly. Actually interestingly enough, the film is a tad more graphic for a Tales sort of deal, especially in one fight against a rampaging siege of monsters. If anything, it lets you sympathize more and is much more feeling than a certain scene from the recent Tales of Graces.
Music is not as in the way and more ambient outside of the main overture. Besides, I’d feel that Sakuraba’s work wouldn’t fit this film, where Yuri and Flynn are still just two rookies, and Yuri hasn’t even quit the knights yet. The moments of silence and orchestral score are more befitting of the tone than say “Furnace of War” or “A Formidable Foe Approaches”
So that’s Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike in a nutshell. While the film is for fans, which it serves greatly, if you haven’t played the game but are considering it, maybe borrowing the movie and see if you can sink into the lead roles, now prior knowledge needed. Because if you ask me, Yuri is probably the best main character in the series. Funny, but it seems Funimation has a thing for picking up franchises Namco-Bandai USA leaves to rot (like dot Hack) and gives them a new lease on life by dubbing spin-off movies and anime. It’s a contagious enough of an effort that as of yesterday, Namco-Bandai announced that Tales of Xillia, the most recent game, will be coming to our shores. Thanks for finally waking up, Namco-Bandai, and thanks to the fans too.
Join me next time when we learn how everything is cooler with sunglasses.