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Title:
  Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike

UK Distributor:  Manga Entertainment

BBFC Certificate:  12

Suggested Retail Price (SRP):  19.99 (DVD) 24.99 (BR)

Running Time:  110mins (approx.)

Audio Options:  English, Japanese

Subtitles:  English

Release Date:  3rd December 2012

Reviewer:  Rich (Webmaster)
 

Namco Bandai's 'Tales' series is one of Japan's biggest console RPG franchises, featuring 14 main games and over 30 spin-offs, reissues and remakes across everything from the Super Nintendo to the PlayStation Vita.  In the Far East only the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest franchises top it in terms of success and popularity, but despite this high profile in Japan only a around half of the Tales games have been released in the West.  The franchise has also spawned several anime projects, including a full 26 episode series based on Tales of the Abyss, but none have been released in the UK.  Until now.  Tales of Vesperia is one of the most popular of the Tales games, and one of the few to see a release in the UK, and the 2009 anime film based on the game is the first to see a UK release!

Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike is set in a mythical kingdom where society has become reliant of ancient technology known as Blastia, which harnesses natural energy for a variety of uses.  The natural energy - known as Aer - provides an abundant, clean source of power but in high concentrations it can be dangerous, overloading Blastia and adversely affecting the natural world.  A small unit of Imperial Knights commanded by the experienced and respected Commander Niren is sent to investigate a sudden increase in Aer near their garrison town of Shizontania, which has caused an increase in monster activity.  The town is protected by a Blastia-powered barrier to keep monsters at bay, but the increase in activity is still a major concern that the knights aim to control before it gets too serious.  Their initial offensive nearly fails due to the impetuousness of new recruit Yuri Lowell, an overenthusiastic young man whose strong sense of justice often leads him into trouble, but despite the successful completion of their strike the underlying cause of the issue remains elusive.  With much of the damage caused by the Aer seeming to be concentrated around the nearby river, Niren suspects the cause can be found somewhere upstream.  However, investigating this will leave the town defenceless and go against his orders, and whilst Yuri believes they should investigate urgently, the strait-laced fellow recruit Flynn Scifo has his doubts.  Yuri and Flynn grew up together and share a rivalry which Niren is trying to keep a lid on, both are extremely talented warriors but have very different characters and he needs the squad to be united if they are to get to the bottom of the mystery.  Niren knows better than anyone how serious the situation is, the Aer is starting to affect the Blastia the squad use and if it gets worse it could threaten the Blastia that protects the town.  Time is running out, but can they all work together to stop the danger before it's too late?
 

It seems a bit strange to see a film based on Tales of Vesperia being released now.  The game was released back in 2009 on the XBox 360 in quite small numbers, and is pretty hard to get hold of in the UK.  The enhanced PlayStation 3 port of the game that this film originally tied into has stayed resolutely Japan-only, and outside of a hardcore of 'Tales' fans the game - and even the franchise itself - is not particularly well known.  One of the main issues with films based on existing anime or game properties is that they usually expect a

level of familiarity from the viewer, and a relatively low profile game like Tales of Vesperia could leave viewers without the background they need.  Usually there's a severe lack of exposition around the characters and setting in these kinds of film, they are made to appeal to existing fans so don't need to introduce the characters or explain the story so far.  Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike avoids this usual pitfall by setting itself as a prequel to the game, and therefore introducing younger versions of the familiar characters alongside a host of new ones.  On the whole the film's main focus is on Yuri and Flynn and their relationship with their mentor Niren, showing how he inspires them to overcome their shortcomings and - in Flynn's case - face his past.  There's a nice element of character development to go with the action and intrigue of the plot, and there's plenty of drama too.

The film's strength is that it has a nicely compact and self-contained story, yet leaves enough questions open to lead into the game.  Fans of the game will still get more from it than casual viewers, it fleshes out Yuri and Flynn's pasts and reveals who Repede's former owner was for example, but if you've never played the game you can still watch and enjoy the film without any trouble.  The plot moves along at a decent pace and has plenty of thrills and spills along the way as the characters face down monstrous foes, but it's also capable of taking a step back to reflect and has a couple of quite moving scenes because of this.  Visually the film is everything you'd expect from a fantasy film, with castles and towns jutting up from the stunning forest vistas, and the monsters are well realised and quite disturbing in places too.  The film handles tension well, particularly during the closing third in an abandoned castle and the Blastia technology is interesting and quite varied.  The character design is pretty distinctive and makes the cast quite memorable whist the action is frequent, suitable kinetic and well delivered.
 

However, the main downside with the Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike is simply that it's just a standard fantasy film.  With such a rich source material to draw from you would expect more from it, and whilst the prequel format helps explain some of the background to the game and keep casual viewers engaged it also limits what the film can do.  From a purely objective point of view the characters are pretty archetypal, you have the impetuous but honourable bad boy Yuri, the noble and officious Flynn and the grizzled, worldly-wise

veteran Niren.  There's gruff, salt-of-the-earth guild members, a ninja spy, a demure princess and a pair of attractive, nagging twins to keep Yuri and Flynn in line.  None of them are bad characters, you've just seen them a hundred times before, and there are several major plot events you see coming a mile off too.  The action and drama is well delivered and it throws in enough elements from the games to establish its identity, but overall it lacks the originality or spark to really set it apart from the crowd. 

Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike is a decent enough fantasy actioner with a memorable - if stereotyped - cast of characters that retains the identity of the game it's based on.  Fans of the game will love the chance to see the characters in action again, and it's to the film's credit that it tries to fill in some of the background to the game's story rather than just retell it.  There's some cameos from other Tales of Vesperia characters, and most fans will love seeing Repede as a puppy, but the film does feel like a bit of a missed opportunity.  It's animated well and has the scope you'd expect from a film but the story is derivative and some of the new characters just seem to be there to tick boxes in the big book of archetypes.  You can see where the story is going and some of the more emotional scenes border on the melodramatic, but it's still action-packed and entertaining.  I think my biggest disappointment is that the film is simply average when it could have been fantastic, nonetheless there aren't many of these kinds of fantasy anime around in the UK and fans of Final Fantasy will no doubt see plenty to like in the blend of magic and technology the film employs.  All in all the film is worth checking out, especially if you're a fan of Japanese RPGs, but if you're looking for some full on fantasy you're better off waiting for the Berserk film.

Extras:

An average selection for a film release.  There's the US trailer for the film as well as a reel of Japanese promo adverts, but the only really unique extra is the 'music and pictures' one which cycles through a few sketches of the characters with musical accompaniment.  This is quite nice, and some of the images show what characters are going between the end of the film and the start of the game, but it's a bit too short.

Ratings

Feature:   Extras:
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