The Tales of series may not be as famous as the Final Fantasy franchise in terms of J-RPG games, regardless, it has managed to spawn nearly as many games as its Square Enix counterpart with fourteen main titles, and sixteen offshoots. It should come as no surprise that sooner or later there would be animation adaptations for the more popular Tales of titles. Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike was first shown in theatres in Japan on October 3, 2009 as the first theatrical film ever made of the Tales of series. Three years later, FUNimation picked up the film for English release.
Compared to the other animated Tales of adaptations such as Tales of Phantasia or Tales of the Abyss, Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike is actually a prequel to the events seen in the Xbox 360 J-RPG epic, Tales of Vesperia. The familiar characters of Yuri Lowell and Flynn Scifio are portrayed as newly recruited knights in the service of the Empire. Not long after their recruitment, the pair is sent to the remote outpost town of Chaesotonia to aid a corps of knights under the command of Niren Fedrock. However, strange events have been happening in the dense forest that surrounds much of the town. Amidst the troubling events, Yuri and Flynn must come to terms with their pasts and their reasons for becoming knights.
Plot wise, the story of the film mainly focuses on the interactions of Yuri Lowell and Flynn Scifio. Both characters are vastly different from one another – Yuri is hot-headed and cares nothing for rules, while the more cautious Flynn is loyal and order-abiding. Their personalities are shown very well through the conflict that they have to deal with in Chaesotonia. When people’s lives are in danger, Yuri has no qualms about going into the fray. Flynn, even though he wants to save people’s lives, finds himself hindered by his past. Since his father died disobeying orders and disgraced, Flynn doesn’t want to follow in his footsteps. With these dynamically different personalities, it is no surprise that the two butt heads are together in the movie.
One shortcoming with this focus is that the minor characters found in the rest of the cadre of knights leave very little impact on the story. One prime example are the redheaded female twins Hiska and Chastele. They are present in every major important scene, however there is very little character development. Even more so, they are seemingly useless as most of the time Yuri has to rescue them from some sort of predicament. Admittedly, I would have preferred the Aiheap twins to be stronger characters rather than “helpless knights.” While I can understand that most of these characters are “anime-only,” I felt that there should still be some attempts to make them further involved with the plot and be more developed. Especially after all that the knight cadre goes through during the course of the movie, I felt like that there could have been some real potential for change for these minor characters.
Seeing as this is not an adaptation but rather a prequel, it is easy for those who have not played the game to find parts of the film enjoyable. Those of you who have played the game on Xbox 360, like me, will no doubt be able to connect events from this prequel to the main game easily. The story itself isn’t anything super exciting, as there are pacing issues in the movie. There are areas that seem very slow, and unfortunately this is a very long movie. However, I feel that rather than focusing on the action, the film focuses on character dynamics and as such you’ll need to reflect heavily on the actions of each character.
The movie is absolutely stunning in terms of animation. The frames are rendered clearly and crisply. The movements are fluid and natural looking, making the fight scenes on par with the ones seen in one of my favorite anime films, Garden of Sinners (Kara no Kyoukai). The fights take on a more realistic approach and show how fighting is more about flowing in between different stances and forms. The slow-motion scenes of Yuri fighting truly show off the animation skills and prowess of Production IG, the amazing studio behind the film and most of the animation sequences found in the Tales of series. While there are a few flashy moves to be found in the movie which might seem gimmicky, I still found the sequences absolutely beautiful from an animation standpoint. The backgrounds overall are done very nicely, with traces of Spanish influence being found in the architectural ruins and houses found in the city of Chaesotonia. The first few opening sequences depicting Yuri and Flynn’s travels are amazing as sprawling landscapes ranging from picturesque green valleys and thundering waterfalls are shown. These amazing visuals coupled with a heroic soundtrack make Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike a true treat for any animation study fanatic like me.
The audio tracks for the film feature Japanese with subs and English dubs. Both are nicely done and feature most of the same actors found in game. For those characters that they replaced voice actors for, their voices sound very close to their original counterparts. FUNimation’s release of Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike features very few extras. There are both Japanese and American trailers, an “afterward” in gray scale images, and the standard FUNimation trailers. This release features both a Blu-ray copy and a DVD copy of the film for your viewing enjoyment.
Overall, Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike has jaw-dropping gorgeous animation, a solid cast of characters, and a decent (although slow) plot. This release will still primarily appeal to fans of the game and “Tales of” series, but for those who enjoy epic fantasy this is still a film worth watching.
Things I Loved:
+ Setting/Art Direction – Fantasy with a unique flair.
+ OST – Heroic cues to fit with action sequences and melancholy ones for those tear-inducing sequences.
+ Animation Techniques - Scenes were fluid and natural-looking. Highlight: Yuri’s fight scenes.
+ Casting – Almost same as game cast.
+ Characterization for Main Characters - Excellent character depth and emotional balance for Yuri and Flynn.
+ It’s a Prequel! - Easy for newcomers to get into and also something new for Tales of Vesperia fans.
+ Adherence to Tales of Vesperia Universe – Recognizable terms and characters for Tales of Vesperia players.
+ Repede as a Puppy– Just too cute for words…
Things I Hated:
- Characterizations for Minor Characters – EX: Aiheap twins – portrayed as fragile and useless while present in every major scene.
- Slow Pacing – Focus on development of characters through dialogue and reflection of actions.
- Slightly Predictable Plot - Has a few points of a typical plot, but done well anyways.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the distributor
Images copyrighted:FUNimation/Production I.G.