"Trust me the feeling is mutual, I still don't get why you even joined the knights at all!"
Tales of Vesperia, the game that is, happens to be a very special game to me - sure, its story isn't its highest selling point and the game really drags towards the end, but overall, I had a blast experiencing the world of Terca Lumiries - especially the characters, Vesperia has one of my favourite video game casts ever, particularly Rita Mordio - who I have a great adoration for, being my favourite female character in any form of media to date. However, until necessary, I won't let how I feel about that particular character have an effect on this review.
Instead, I'd like to bring your attention to another character: Yuri Lowell.
Yuri, in the game, was an extremely interesting and compelling character. He's that rare, cocky, competent "I could kick your ass any day of the week" guy that is so hard to find these days, and whilst I certainly don't agree with some of his actions later in the game, it doesn't change the fact that Yuri was, is, and always will be one of the best characters in the game, as well as many people's favourite character, which is perfectly understandable - he's a total force of nature to be reckoned with in the game, a character that has very well defined the standard for me to consider a character "badass".
With all this in mind, I should have loved the Tales of Vesperia movie, if not loved at least thought it was pretty good, but I didn't and there is a very good reason for that - wait, scratch that, two very good reasons. The first being that, this movie is really pointless. The second is that they completely undermined everything that makes Yuri Lowell the character that he is.
I'll cover the second point later on, but first and foremost, my first point: First Strike is supposed to be a prequel to the game, right? Now, a prequel, in most cases anyway, is supposed to be used to set up events for whatever comes next in the series - First Strike doesn't do that at all. When I went to watch this movie, I thought I would have a better understanding of Yuri's deep-seated hatred for the knights, why it is that he chose to leave them, why Flynn decided to stay and why it is he believes that he could change the knights by using the system, I got none of that whatsoever.
The issue with First Strike is just how irrelevant and pointless it really feels, those of you reading this who've not played the game should know that the events of First Strike are never even remotely alluded to in the game, at all - those of you who have played it should already know that, hence my frustration. If there was even some mention of the events that happened in First Strike at any point in the game, I would have understood why it is that it was made and why the events happened the way they did, but it isn't, and First Strike doesn't just come across as one, but really does feel like a lame cash grab for Namco Bandai to cash in on the success of Vesperia.
However, the thing that frustrated me most about First Strike isn't just that it feels irrelevant, it's the ending. I don't dislike the ending because it was open-ended, I dislike it because the reasoning behind Yuri leaving the knights is incredibly stupid, especially considering that he really doesn't have good reason to do so. Keep in mind, the reason why Yuri left the knights, at least, according to the game, is because he couldn't stand the injustice and corruption that was so rampant throughout the ranks of the knights, hence why he left. The people in Yuri's squadron in the movie are all good people, and practically embody everything that Yuri sees as the ideal knight - it annoys me to no end that Yuri left these people to pursue his vigilantism, it's one of the many things that undermine his character.
If there are any positive things to say about the story in First Strike, it's that the story does at least show how Yuri meets Repede (who, I should add, looks incredibly adorable as a little puppy). It also introduces Hisca and Chastel, two characters who, sadly, are not in the game, which is a crying shame as their inclusion in the game could have made for some incredibly amusing moments as well as what could have been some very interesting moments of characterisation for Flynn and Yuri, as they could have ended up questioning each other about the different paths that they end up choosing and why they chose them - they're definitely the kind of characters that I would have liked to see used again.
Animation wise, First Strike is handled by Production I.G, who also did the anime cut-scenes for the game, which means that the standard that is used in the game itself is used here.
In short, Vesperia looks decent, the anime scenes in the game were never really that spectacular and there really aren't that many differences here - there are some cool uses of CG in the movie, characters look good upon close ups and the action scenes do look good, and also serve as a reminder that Yuri is actually an awesome fighter, even without the usage of Blastia.
Sadly, when the camera pulls away from the characters, the quality seems to drop - there was one moment in particular that the characters just completely lost their faces even though there was dialogue going on, but aside from this, First Strike does what it needs to do in the animation department.
I could tell pretty much straight away that Akira Senju had had some involvement in the music of the movie, I've had enough experience on Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood to know his orchestral style - it does sound good, but it's not really anything mindblowing, it also seems somewhat out of place too. Sadly, there's no inclusion of any of the battle themes from the game, which is a shame because I was always a fan of Vesperia's music, and I think it's a bit of a missed opportunity that they didn't opt to include the music from the game - or at least remix it a bit.
At least Ring a Bell managed to make it into the movie, I don't think I'd be able to forgive the soundtrack were it not for its inclusion.
Voice talent wise, it's pretty solid, well, except for Luci Christian and Jonathon Brooks, who I will cover shortly. Troy Baker and Sam Riegel came back for the movie, and by this point, Baker feels so natural as Yuri that it's pretty much impossible for me to imagine him being voiced by anyone else - it's clear in his performance that this is definitely one of his favourite roles to do, there's a definite passion for the character in every facet of his vocal performance, so I'm glad he came back to voice him. Sam Riegel is also great as Flynn too, he's always been a man who's a bit hit and miss with his performances, and Flynn was always one of the better characters he performed as, similar to Troy Baker, I don't think I'd be able to handle anyone else voicing the character.
Trina Nishimura, Leah Clark and Christopher Sabat all do well as Hisca, Chastel and Niren respectively, their performances definitely don't match the level of Troy Baker's or Sam Riegel's, but they do quite well in the screentime that they're allotted. Estelle's cameo isn't worth mentioning considering she's in for all 20 seconds of the movie, but they changed her voice actress too, she sounds slightly deeper but nothing too inoffensive.
As for Luci Christian and Jonathon Brooks...well, I'll cover Brooks first, his voice is simply too deep for Raven, Joe J. Thomas (which I'm pretty sure is a pseudonym, feel free to prove me wrong) was at least one octave higher than Brooks in the game, and it makes Raven sound at least 10 years older than he actually is (considering one of the gags in the game revolves around how old he feels, I suppose this could be amusing) - he isn't terrible as Raven though, he just feels rather miscast as the character.
Then there's Luci Christian, my word, there's butchery of a role and then there's this. Part of the reason I loved Rita's character is because of Michelle Ruff's performance, and it saddened me to no end that she didn't come back for the movie - for some reason, I (incorrectly) thought that Luci Christian actually sounded kind of similar to Michelle Ruff, I have no idea why, and I figured that she'd make an at least appropriate replacement.
But I was wrong, incredibly wrong.
When I heard her performance as Rita, I knew there and then that my favourite character in the game had just had her voice violently butchered, trodden on and then tossed around in the air for good measure - I never, ever thought I'd be saying this, but First Strike actually made me want Rita to shut up, I love the character to bits but hearing her voice being ruined so cruelly was a pretty heartbreaking thing for me to endure, surely, someone, anyone could have done a better performance than this?
Jonathon Brooks is a miscast as Raven, but I'm slightly willing to forgive that one; Luci Christian has all but violently murdered one of my favourite characters, she sounds at least 20 years older than Rita actually is - how could anyone think that it was a good idea to actually think she was okay for the part? The Rita I heard in First Strike was not the Rita that I loved so much in the game, and I honestly want to think of her as a different character, but I can't, sadly.
The only reason I haven't scored the characters anything less than a 5 is due to Hisca and Chastel, who are the most interesting characters in the film and I do really feel sad that they didn't make it into the game.
Frankly speaking, First Strike managed to totally undermine Yuri's character - and Flynn's for that matter too, but I'll cover him in a bit. Yuri in the game was an interesting, well defined character who had great reasons for hating the knights and the way they do things - I can tell you right now that this most definitely isn't that Yuri Lowell, here, Yuri comes across as bratty, slightly childish and his reasoning for leaving the knights seems less likely that it's because he didn't like the way they did things and more likely that he cannot stand dealing with authority figures - a far cry from the character in the game. I'm aware that this is meant to be a younger Yuri (although, frustratingly, the movie never states explicitly when it's set), but the clear contrast in character makes it incredibly difficult to accept - there isn't even a moment in the movie when Yuri's ideals are even remotely shaped.
Truthfully, there are small flashes of what Yuri eventually becomes, such as when he ends up fighting the monsters that attack the village, or the barfight scene, which is the closest thing that we get to Yuri being himself.
The movie also manages to undermine the Yuri and Flynn relationship too. Far from being childhood friends turned friendly rivals, the movie depicts them as bitterly hostile towards each other, nearly every single encounter ends with them arguing or fighting in some way - it made me seriously wonder how it is they became so buddy buddy in the game. The Yuri and Flynn relationship was always the one relationship in the game that was sadly never explored as much as I would have liked, but, even when they ended up fighting each other in the game from time to time, there was never this much hostility between them - there were always moments that show the underlying friendship between the two of them, fights they ended up getting into were merely due to circumstance rather than because they wanted to. There was respect in the relationship; they cared.
It also frustrates me that the movie never really explains how they patch up their relationship - rather than it happening naturally, it happens for the convenience of the plot, meaning that the development (if you can call it that seeing as it was never really there) comes across as incredibly forced and unnatural, there isn't even a gimmicky montage to show that they're all of a sudden the best of friends, it's something that just happens and no proper explanation is given.
The irrelevance of the plot events and undermining of the characters really hampered my enjoyment of the movie, it has its moments with cool action scenes, but it never feels like it's ever contributing to anything bigger - I managed to get some enjoyment out of simply hearing Troy Baker and Sam Riegel reprising some of their best roles, but it was limited enjoyment considering how badly they managed to butcher Rita.
A prequel is usually supposed to set up the events of anything that follows it, and I really thought that's what First Strike would do, I thought it would go into detail as to why Yuri hates the Knights so much, talk about his relationship with Flynn, and just why it is he decided to be a vigilante rather than follow the system - I thought it would explain why Flynn chose the system rather than break away from it, and also explain why he believes he could change it from the inside, I thought it would actually do things that would set up Vesperia.
But it didn't, and I am left feeling really angry and annoyed at how irrelevant it is to the entire story of Vesperia as a whole.