You would think that the bridge from video game to anime would be a natural one for the Tales series considering how deep of an anime influence the games have in the first place. Yet, of the two that I’ve seen, the only thing they’ve been able to do is offer a retelling of the game’s plot. In the case of Tales of Phantasia, they did a spotty job at best, trying to compress the entire game’s experience into what was essentially a two hour OVA. This may have been why I had such interest in the Tales of Vesperia movie. Not only is it probably my favorite game in the series, but it serves to flesh out the backstory of the characters and the world in the games rather than regurgitating what, as fans, we already know. However, the movie originally released in Japan in 2009 with no sign of a North American release on the way. Until now.
The fact that Bandai has gotten themselves out of the North American anime market probably has a lot to do with FUNimation snatching up the rights to this film, but in either case, it’s here now for fans to enjoy and that’s all that matters. Not only that, but it’s available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack which is a nice improvement over the previous DVD only releases. So how did it turn out?
As mentioned previously, The First Strike serves as a prequel of sorts to the Tales of Vesperia video game and chronicles the time Yuri and Flynn spent as knights in the Niren Corps. It takes place shortly before the 10th anniversary of the Great War in a town called Shizontania. As in the game, the land is filled with monsters, so the various cities harvest what is called “aer”Â in order to craft magical devices called Blastia in order to generate a shield powerful enough to protect everyone within it. When the monsters lurking outside the city walls become unusually violent and aggressive, not to mention that the aer is causing the foliage to change color, there are concerns that a dormant Blastia abandoned in some ruins may be the culprit. Considering that Blastia has the capability to explode under the right conditions, if the one causing the unusual activity was big enough, it could wipe out the entire town. Niren, the commander of the knights in the Shizontania area, senses this danger and leads an expedition to solve the mystery of the Blastia and the ruins that house it.
Despite being set in the same world and sharing some of the characters, The First Strike actually has very little to do with the events in the video game it is based on. I feel this works to its advantage, since it is not restricted within the framework of a story that lasts 60 hours of gameplay time but needs to be condensed into two. This isn’t to say that fans of the game wouldn’t get anything out of it. On the contrary, you do learn a lot about the nature of Yuri and Flynn’s friendship and why Yuri left the knights in the first place. There is also a lot of time spent on Flynn’s characterization, including how his deceased father shaped him to become the man he is now. Of course, you’ll also get to see Repede as a pup and how he eventually turned into a pipe smoking badass. Estelle, Rita, and Raven have minor roles as well.
Considering this was originally a theatrical release, the animation quality is very good, and looks even more incredible on Blu-ray. The music was also very well done, though not quite as memorable as the game. I did like that they reused the theme song “Ring a Bell”Â, as well as included the opening video from the game, to play during the ending credits of the film. I was a bit disappointed that the entire English voice cast did not return this time around. Troy Baker and Sam Riegel reprise their roles as Yuri and Flynn respectively, but seemingly every other character had been recast. Rita just isn’t Rita to me with Michelle Ruff filling the role. However, the Japanese voice track is included with English subtitles if you prefer to watch it that way.
Another nice thing about The First Strike is that you don’t necessarily have to be a Tales fan to enjoy it. There are some powerful scenes, both on an emotional level and at an action-packed heart-pounding level that it can stand on its own and be enjoyed by casual onlookers. Even though the movie is about Yuri and Flynn, the secondary cast members are just as interesting, including the commander, Niren. The film shapes him into a very memorable character, one that is well respected among his subordinates and how his regrets over the loss of his own family had crafted him as an individual that constantly defies orders from central command, often putting him at odds with Flynn. I would’ve liked to have learned more about the twins Hisca and Chastel seeing as they get a lot of screentime and are generally portrayed as being pretty important to the film’s story, but given the limited runtime, I can give this a pass.
There aren’t much for special features, save for some promotional materials such as teasers and artwork, as well as the North American trailer and previews for other FUNimation shows. Some commentary or behind the scenes footage would’ve been a real joy for fans, but you are getting a great movie on both Blu-ray and DVD formats for only about $25-30. Hopefully, if Namco Bandai continues to endorse anime adaptions of Tales games, they continue to remain up to par with this one. As for Tales of Vesperia – First Strike, the well paced story and great characterization makes it easy to recommend for fans and a possible worth looking into for everyone else.