Collectable Monster Enthousiast, Movie Fan, Anime followers and gamer. These are all words I could use to describe myself with. So when a movie shows up that appeals to all of these assets I have to see it! While this movie slipped under my radar a little netflix Browse brought this movie to my attention and I am so glad it did! I loved this movie so much!
I got into the Dragon Quest series quite late into my life and into the series. The first game I played was Journey of the Cursed King on PS II , but I was blown away by the charm of this series. The art, the music the world building and even the fact that all the spells had such unique names. I love the fantasy genre and a High Fantasy, Anime Like adventure with characters designed by Akira Toriyama quickly become something I could not resist. Now I have played plenty but V eluded me so far. I just never found it on sale or in stores. This movie is mostly inspired on the adventures of that particular Dragon Quest. A game that let you add monsters to your party and fight by your side, but also that allowed you to get married and get characters pregnant and fight along your offspring. While nowadays this is nothing special back in the days of the SNES it was something very unique.
This movie opens with the birth of main character Luca.. depicted as if it was played on the SNES. Seeing Luca’s earliest moments in life in 16 bit graphics with all dialogue happening in text boxes. A nice way to open up for those nostalgic about the game, but in hindsight also a very smart choice given the route this movie takes. We follow Luca trough and in weird ways even beyond the adventures of this iconic Dragon Quest game. We see him grow from a young boy, up until a grown man with an 8 year old son. What immediately stands out is that these characters have lost the design of Akira Toriyama and traded it in for something more akin to the style of the latest Pokémon Movie. A stylistic choice people have kind of critiqued but which I prefer when it comes to 3d animation to be honest.At least when you also go for more real texturing. I prefer a bit of a western look on characters Alla Disney.. as opposed to how characters look in Jump Force for example.. they feel a bit more natural. More.. flowing.
Luckily in nearly all ages of his life, Luca is assisted by his Sabertooth Purrcy and the adorable slime Gootrude. Every monster seems straight out of these games and that to me is enough! Especially if we consider the message of this movie. Sure these characters could be more in line with how Toriyama designed them and there would be nothing wrong with that choice either.. but we can play them in in 3d or 2d like that in one of the many remakes. Gootrude especially demonstrates how great these animations are. Morphin, changing shapes and showing so much emotion without barely making a sound. I love Gootrude! I want one of my own! The iconic slime design is something that should not be missing from a Dragon Quest movie and they know it. Each scene the slime wasa highlight for me . From the first introduction where it follows the “party” escaping from their live in servitude, up to its final scene. It never not made me happy, but simply just being animated, and that is what this movie in a way does.
Since this movie spans about roughly 30 years as well as deals with some identity struggles of our hero you can guess the pacing of this movie is a bit of an odd one. We see about ten seperate quests resolve, as well as some side questing that is actually cut a lot in montage like how Bofuri did it. While catering more towards the light hearted side and a bit of a younger audience.. at first it seems. Lethal spells barely leave an impact and if the main hero is near death he just is a bit charred like how Ash looks when he gets flamethrowered by his Charizard.
The romance is also rather Disney ish. Nothing complex , just winning a girl by telling you love them or wish to marry them. Luca has the choice between two girls who also in the games can both be romanced and taken on as a main companion. I felt his pain at the decision as I am always bad in these sorts of things! It was weird at first, because I did not really feel like watching through a movie.. the way things are told, the way decisions are made it still felt like a video game.
This results in the weird pacing that honestly could make me condemn it as a movie. We get zero explanation how spells work, they just appear.. as if the characters level up, they focus on scenes a game would focus on rather than scenes a movie would focus on. As a movie the blossoming relationship between Luca and the girl he ends up choosing could be a much greater focal point, but we see him discover his feelings through quests, events and poisons. Dialogue feels wooden at times rushed.. as if it is still NPC dialogue. Which might sound like a flaw but I actually loved it. This isn’t as much a game adaptation as it is a movie cut together from cutscenes and gameplay as it were. It results in a super fast movie which you definitely need to keep an eye on, because many scenes are in fact interconnected that really made me want to play more JRPG’s. Even in it’s plot devices it doesn’t deviate from being a game. Characters can use the Zoom spell to teleport to previously visited areas, healing items are still a thing and motivations do not really change. Spells don’t really work differently as they would in the game.
At one point when I saw Luca cast Swoosh I began to tell myself.. I kind of wish they would use these spells a bit more creatively.. you know break the boundaries from Videogame character to actual hero and just seconds later he cast Kaswoosh .. a tornado and rode it up using the storm to move his sword to the enemy. I get an urge and this movie abided. At the moment I felt the movie might be TOO video gamey, that issue got a resolve as well. A odd plot twist polarised the audience , with people either loving or hating it.. I fell on the loving side. It comes out of nowhere yet at the same time the build up has been there , not just from the writing itself but in the concept of the very movie itself. Whatever gripes I had were immediately expunged. It was truly amazing and the conclusion this movie ended on was a message I very strongly resonated with. At every single turn.. at every single twist and at every single decision those movie made, that made me doubt, the next scene they explained to me why.. and I was like.. oh clever! I like! I feel tired from watching this high speed train and weird experience but I feel extremely satisfied as well.
This movie to me was truly something special while on paper not being that great of a movie. This is much more a love letter to the series throughout the eyes of a fan. While some people found it condescending towards fans I think the writer of the movie basically self inserted himself as the audience and more. In a way we all have been that main character. Not necessarily in this game but if you ever played a JRPG you know so well how these things go you can still recognise the trope. From simple loot quest because they are needed to progress the main story, to moral choices, characters that will never let stuff go because of the way NPC’s are written. It’s all in here! Almost as if I am the player. The combat fluidity, the sound effects used, there is so much to find and love about this that it really amazed me.
At the center of it all is the AMAZING Dragon Quest soundtrack that shines in all its glory. The main quest playing when our hero embarks on a new adventure, the fight theme playing when he is fighting for his life. The correct music playing in towns and it also feeling like a RPG town. It reminded me off when I first left Midgar in Final Fantasy and entered Nibelheim for the first time. That same quaint atmosphere, with room for some minor quests that are set in town and in the local nearby areas it just clicked to me. I might not have played this game, but I have played games like this and that is enough to recognise those tropes to love what is going on. When Luca fights a big monster named Björn and the boss theme of the series starts playing I stood up and shouted “Yes YES!” I could have clapped but that would be silly by myself! This movie is Dragon Quest done as a movie.. instead of a movie done about Dragon Quest.
That sounds confusing huh! This is much more a movie about a video game than basicly anything else I have seen so far. Detective Pikachu follows the story of a game, Sonic is a movie about a character of a game, Mario just used the name of a game , Assassins Creed used a mythos of a game and everything Uwe Boll makes… well I guess that is what happens if you play a video game while taking a poo, then shoving the poo in a movie projector. No this movie is really about the game, I noticed that I kept this movie as spoiler free as I possibly could because I want JRPG lovers to see this gam..uhm movie. I would not go as far as call this the best video game movie of all times.. because.. it’s not that much of a movie. Sonic is better in that perspective. While I heard some say by changing designs and by carrying this message it is speaking very lowly of the fans I think this is utter non sense. Had they did this exact same thing to my favorite Jrpg ever, Chrono Trigger or one the “Tales of” games I would be so happy.
This movie made me think like I always do..it made me see the other side of my moral choices in video games, the ones that are normally glossed over. A quest we refuse to take, a romance we do not pursue just because we rather chase another character. It has an impact on an NPC’s life .. can I only be ruled by what I want.. can a character ever be more to me than it should. In a way a movie like this brings our favorite characters to live. It brings worlds we love to live, despite that there might be pacing issues, odd design choices to accommodate other things, despite not having all that much of a story. On reason I talked about the plot is because it’s a JRPG its kinda irrelevant. Hero has to stop the big evil and save his mother, for this he needs to find a magic sword and a legendary hero. You can replace all these elements and it would still be as awesome, save a princess, find a special and a mentor to teach him said spell. It would not change a single thing about this movie because it is fully build on atmosphere.
In a way it’s like the slime companion of the actual Dragon Quest V (I looked this up) It may look simple, there isn’t much depth to it and it kind of weird, yet for those who love the genre it is an excellent choice. It doesn’t have the power other movies have, but it makes up for it in spades with spirit. Endgame you can have some doubts about yet it somehow feels right.
This movie made me proud to be me, to be a gamer. It reminded me off the importance of heroes like Luca and great side characters like Bianca, Nera and in my main game characters like Marle and Frog. It’s easy to see them as just video game characters, bits of programmed blobs of text that feel nothing no matter the choices you make.
Yet these characters mean so much to many people that in a way they are more real than you and me! To me their feelings always mattered. Like how I nickname Pokémon that I am never going to use regardless, because they should at least get that token of affection. In Sword and Shield I do take my unused Pokémon to camp to play with them so they never feel lonely.I’ll always take Aerith on a date instead of Tifa. The journeys we take make some characters more real to us than we care to admit. I felt more sad for Arche Klein of Tales of Phantasia than seeing a same sort of story on reality tv.
This movie is a testament to our experience as gamers, a sign, that there are others like me out there who feel like this. It confirmed to me that we as geeks, can learn lessons from our favorite characters and that the games we play DO matter. It made me proud to be gamer, because I have fought so many adventures with many amazing friends! I experienced adventures that the general populous can only dream off and to me it’s just as real as what Chad gains in muscle at the local gym.