Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike
テイルズ オブ ヴェスペリア 〜The First Strike〜
Bandai Namco / Production I.G. / Kadokawa Pictures
When crystallized and put into special devices, the natural substance known as aer can do anything from powering lights to casting spells to enacting huge barriers to keep out monsters. But in one particular town, the aer is amiss. Two rookie knights — Flynn, a by-the-book son of a former knight, and Yuri, a brash and rebellious young man, are assigned to the area, but can they stop fighting long enough to figure out what’s going on?
I had the urge to pick up the Tales of Vesperia remaster, so before I tackled that, I’d thought I’d watch the prequel movie. I’ve played the X360 version before, but I remember more about the characters themselves rather than the story as a whole.
So I fire it up, start playing, and I see this:
And then this was me:
So… yeah. Totally worth the watch just for puppy Repede. 10/10 on adorableness scale. Look how cute he is with that little stick in his mouth! (And various other items throughout the movie.) Yuri totally got the best job to look after Repede and his father, Lambert. Repede was always in my party in Tales of Vesperia, and he’s definitely always going to be in when I replay it. But since this is a prequel, Repede isn’t so much a loyal hound as a little four-legged baby who just looks forward to seeing his dad and emulating him at time.
Aaaah~ too cute!!!
I could go on and on about how Repede is the real star of this movie, but I have to move on. Suffice to say, if you love dogs or cute animals, give it a watch. He’s got quite a few scenes to steal your heart.
Anyway, the biggest strength of Tales of Vesperia is also its greatest weakness: its accessibility to non-Vesperia players.
At its core, The First Strike is a tale of heroism, a familiar story involving magical technology and action. While you will see scenes featuring the game’s party members — and Yuri is still the protagonist — many of the main characters are not in the game and/or very important to it. At the same time, while game fans will be excited to see a couple of old friends, these extended sequences greatly slow down the pace of the movie — and newcomers will be confused as to why the plot shifted to seemingly random people in long conversations. Of course, that’s the trouble with any adaptation: keeping it enjoyable and understandable to audiences unfamiliar with the original while also pleasing the fans who made it popular in the first place.
The First Strike is set in a small village where the land is decaying monsters are acting more aggressive. The energy of the land (aer) may be the source of these incidents. Yuri and Flynn are two new recruits assigned to a unit in this location under the command of Niren, and mage twins Hisca and Chastel are often partnered up with them. The troop as well as others try to figure out what is causing the aer to overflow, but that may be easier than having the strict Flynn, a knight’s son, and smart-mouthed Yuri, an orphan, get along. They may have known each other since they were children, but both think the other could use an attitude adjustment.
One of the more universally praised parts of Tales of Vesperia was its protagonist, Yuri. Those who have played the game will know that he’s atypical for a JRPG hero: not an optimistic idealist but also not sullen or moody. As a prequel, he’s understandably more immature here (whining about not having a blastia, for instance), but he still has that same roguish charm. Because of the way the story is structured, though, he’s not always the center of attention. Flynn is understandable irritated with Yuri’s I-do-what-I-want attitude, and he has his own reasons for always adhering to the rules. Their captain, Niren, is an amalgamation of both their personalities: he was a rule follower like Flynn, but he also follows his beliefs like Yuri. Yuri and Flynn, though, both are frustrated by their commander — sending Flynn in place of himself for a meeting, but not immediately charging in when the source of the aer disturbance is discovered. The cover makes it seem that it’s a story of two young men, but it’s the dynamic between these two rivals and their mentor that drives the narrative, and it works really well.
Of course, if you wanted The First Strike to be more focused on Yuri’s life as a knight or his relationship with Flynn, you’re not going to appreciate Niren and the others. I can’t say I completely disagree with wanting more of Yuri and Flynn growing from rivals to friendly rivals. The story is quite expansive for a prequel, and while it doesn’t completely spoil the game, it’s enough that most players will already color their view of Tales of Vesperia (i.e. figure out where the game’s story is heading). There may be a few retcons but it’s hard for me to tell since it’s been so long. (I was a bit shocked at how young Repede was here vs being full grown in the game, so the gap between here and the game is longer than I thought.) On the other hand, the rules of the world are explained early in the movie, and the idea that energy –> crystals –> magic is common enough that even non-gamers will easily understand why Niren and his squad are so concerned with what’s going on.
Speaking of magic, I was a little disappointed we didn’t see more flashy spells. Still, the animation is very good, and the action sequences are well choreographed and animated. Yuri gets into a bar fight, and from the cocky look he has when confronting the scam artists to sitting down and having a drink afterward all looks great. Even when it cuts away from the truly dramatic moments, The First Strike does a nice job of showing the pain the characters are going through. Production I.G. also did the anime cutscenes in the original game, and it’s great to have consistency between the game and the movie. That way, no matter which one a person starts with, they can easily transition to the other. The movie doesn’t have a lot of anime trademarks like chibi characters, so like other aspects of this film, this could be a positive or negative for you. Some CG is used for enemies, but it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb like in so many 2D animated productions. Hisca and Chastel are identical except for their chests, which is used as a joke a few times throughout The First Strike, but I did have trouble remembering which is which.
Funimation managed to cast the original Yuri and Flynn in the dub version, which is a rather big feat. Everyone else is recast, which isn’t too surprising since Funimation is based in Texas while most other dubbing in the US takes place in California. For consistency’s sake since Definitive Edition has some recasts, I watched it in Japanese. I did keep wanting to hear the English versions of the two leads, as I think both Toriumi (Yuri) and Miyano (Flynn) have other roles that show off their strengths. The English dub seemed very close to the subtitles, so it seemed to be faithful from the parts I checked out.
Extras on the Blu-ray are pretty limited. First there are the 7 promotional videos ranging from about 10 seconds to about 2 minutes. You’ll see a lot of the same scenes and catchphrases, so after watching the first couple, it gets boring fast. The only other feature is the Sound Picture, a series of black and white flashback-style drawings of the cast, including the new party member introduced in the PS3 version and remastered edition of Tales of Vesperia. It’s short, and I honestly think I would have enjoyed them more as a mini-artbook bonus with the physical edition.
While Tales of Vesperia ~The First Strike~ can drag at points because of all the moments with new and old characters outside of Yuri and Flynn, the staff put together an enjoyable film for new and old fans about heroism and finding what you really want to do. But still, puppy Repede >>>> everything else. If you don’t want to give him a pet or a hug at least once in the movie, you’re a heartless monster!!