Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike – Blu-ray/DVD Review

Review by: Clive Owen

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $34.98 US (Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack)
Running Time: 110 minutes
Genre: Action/Fantasy
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

Achievement Unlocked … the story based on the game begins right here with this prequel.

As a fan of the role-playing game genre and an Xbox 360 owner who was happy that Microsoft’s console included exclusives like Enchanted Arms, Tales of Vesperia was actually a refreshing addition that rekindled our love for the old-school RPGs of yesteryear. So, you can imagine my delight to find the FUNimation had secured the rights for the full-length animated film. Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike not only makes for a perfect prologue to the game but an animated fantasy film fans will certainly enjoy.

For those who have never played the game or have even heard of it, The First Strike never makes you feel like it was meant for fans only. As I mentioned above, the story feels more like a prologue to the game in that it introduces us to the game’s fantasy world and all the characters. You see, this is a world that has seen the end of a great war between humans and monsters. Since then, humans have moved on and have learned to harness a power known as “aer” that in crystallized form can be used to power Blastia. In other words, if you know how to manipulate aer you can use Blastia to perform spells or power devices.

It is in this world that we meet two young Imperial Knights stationed in the town of Ceazontania named Yuri Lowell and his childhood friend named Flynn Scifo. Both boys are as different as night and day with Yuri being the impulsive and rebellious one and Flynn being the more composed and obedient one. Those who played the game know that Yuri and Flynn were comrades in arms and in The First Strike, we finally get to see Yuri as an Imperial Knight.

Station in the Ceazontania Brigade, they are put in charge of protecting the town that is under the protection of Captain Fedrok who tests the boys and the rest of the knights including the lovely twins, Chastel and Hisca. It is during a mission to cleans the nearby forest of monsters that Captain Fedrok and his knights discover that there’s an unusual concentration of aer coming from deep within the forest that appear in the form of red trees. This is definitely not a good sign and one that needs to be investigated.

Turning to the only man knowledgeable enough to help him, Captain Fedrok speaks with Garista who tends to the local library. He points the good Captain to a Blastia researcher named Rita Mordio who might be able to help in their investigation. Unfortunately, the Captain is ordered to attend a very important ceremony in the capital city so that is another problem. Feeling that his investigation of the red trees is more important, Captain Fedrok leaves the town under Yuri’s protection while Flynn is ordered to attend the ceremony.

While both boys feel that they should be helping the captain investigate, Flynn feels like this is the perfect opportunity to ask the council and the high ruler for reinforcements to help them combat the red tree problem that surely means the town will be in danger soon. It is there that Flynn is reunited with Lady Estellise who is the actual successor to the throne and one of the key characters in the game.

Speaking of key characters from the game, Flynn is given a puppy that is to accompany him and that pup is none other than Repede (who in the game is older and has one-eye). Also aiding him is Repede’s father Lambert but when a monster attacks a group of travelers just a few feet from the town itself, the brash Yuri disobeys orders and sets off to fight the monster … an act that leads to tragedy.

As the Captain begins to unravel the mystery behind the incredible amount of aer coming from the forest by the intelligent but unusual Rita, Yuri and Flynn must fight to protect the town and stop the threat as a team. This isn’t going to be easy seeing as their relationship in the film is a rocky one. In fact, the movie allows us to know why both boys act so coldly with each another despite being close friends yet somehow they manage to pull together as a powerful duo. We also learn a lot more about Flynn, especially why he doesn’t like to talk about his father who was something of a hero.

The story is wonderfully written and engaging even for those who are not familiar with the characters but for those who are it’s quite a treat to dive deeper into both characters. I really wish the rest of the characters added something more to the story but they don’t but my biggest problem with the movie is that it often moves at a snail’s pace.

Still, that isn’t to say that the story isn’t exciting since there are a number of thrilling moments and a healthy dose of action is injected especially towards the end. On top of the great story, the animation is rather gorgeous and the visual effects are flashy enough to be impressive. There’s even a great soundtrack that is true to the game and a stellar voice cast for both the original Japanese and the English dub. Speaking of the English dub, you won’t find the cast from the game in this one but that’s OK seeing as Troy Baker and Cherami Leigh do a great job as Yuri and Estellise.

Very few animated films based on popular gaming franchises make quite an impact or do justice to the story or character yet Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike does not disappoint even a little. While there are moments when the story moves slow and the rest of the cast are just bit players, the story is as grand as the one found in the game and that is a good thing. With lovely animation and enough excitement, The First Strike is the perfect companion piece to the game yet also good enough to stand on its own.

BLU-RAY/DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A-
Imperial Knights, Yuri and Flynn find themselves defending the small town of Ceazontania where an increasing number of monsters keep attacking. It doesn’t take their noble captain long enough to discover that an enormous amount of aer somewhere in the forest might be behind their monster troubles. With the headstrong Yuri and the more sensible Flynn find themselves in a difficult battle that will change their lives.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
This is a visually impressive film and just exactly what you could come to expect from Production I.G. Yes, the movie looks awesome on DVD but this is a feature film you definitely should be watching on your Blu-ray player.

AUDIO QUALITY: A-
The brilliant score by Akira Senju is true to the game in every sense and this is a very good thing, indeed. Add an equally amazing theme song, “Kane o Narashite” by Bonnie Pink and you have yourself a perfect soundtrack. Then there’s the voice acting that is top notch, particularly when it comes to the English dub cast that includes Sam Regal, Troy Baker, J. Michael Tatum and Leah Clark just to name a few.

EXTRAS: C+
Alas, no audio commentary track but this package does come with both the DVD and Blu-ray versions as well as the U.S. trailer for the movie. On top of that, you will find a Promotional Footage Collection with all the original Japanese promo videos and a feature called Picture Sound featuring artwork and snippets from the score.

OVERALL: A-
Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike is a meaningful and entertaining albeit slow-paced movie that is true to the game. While it doesn’t really flesh out the main characters the way we hoped it would, the story is still handled well enough that even if you haven’t played the game you will still find plenty to like about this animated feature. If you’re a fan of the game, this really is one movie you definitely HAVE to see.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

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