The story takes place a few years prior to the game and follows two of it’s main characters, Yuri and Flynn, during their early careers as knights of the empire in the town of Shizontania. Unfortunately the town isn’t as safe as it used to be, and their captain, Niren Fedrock, suspects greater forces are at work. One of the criticisms that people may throw at this movie is the fact that it is very open ended, however given that this is nothing more than a prequel to the game, the reason for this is understandable. The story itself is pretty straightforward, with a remarkable lack of convolution that can sometimes appear in game adaptations and spin offs. The main advantage of this is the fact that it is easier to tie the events in the movie to those in the game, however the downside is that the plot lacks a degree of depth that simply can’t be hidden, which is often the reason why such terrible plot convolutions occur in the first place.
One thing I should point is that this movie is far more graphic in its depiction of violence than the game, and doesn’t shy away from some of the more gruesome occurrences which have only really been shown in a very sanitized manner within the Tales series thus far.As for the animation, while the majority of the film runs very well there are some scenes where things just feel off kilter. This unfortunately occurs in several scenes which involve CG animation of some sort, and while the problem isn’t large enough to warrant major criticism, it is noticeable so it bears mentioning. The sound quality is very good throughout the movie, especially when it comes to choreography. The music is, for the most part, absent from proceedings, however this serves to enhance its effect when it is used. The choice of tracks is also well thought out, and while there is a degree of genericism about those used for dramatic or action scenes, overall the quality of the pieces adds to the scenes.
The music is surprising, and pleasing, choice of theme song. Like the original game, the Tales of Vesperia movie has “Ring a Bell” by Bonnie Pink as the title track, a fact which may please fans of the game. In terms of acting, this film has a big plus in that the characters of Yuri, Flynn, Estellise, Rita and Raven are played by the seiyuus who took on the roles for the game. This factor adds to the sense of continuity that is needed in any direct prequel or sequel, especially as the seiyuu in the other, movie specific roles are equally as comfortable with their lines as their more experienced colleagues. That doesn’t mean there’s hamming it up, but for those most part the acting is pretty natural and flowing.
The biggest problem with Tales of Vesperia is the characters. Because this is both a movie and a prequel to a larger story, there is little in the way of major development. That said, the two lead characters do grow to a degree, and anyone who has played the game will no doubt find the additional information about them pleasing. 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 favorite 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”. However, those who have had neither the opportunity or inclination to play the game will probably find there is a distinct lack in this department.
That’s not to say that the characters are bad though. As a stand alone movie they work fairly well, however the open ended nature of the tale leaves one feeling that more could have been done with the time. Be that as it may, I found that I actually enjoyed the movie, however I should point out that I have completed the game, so for me the additional story was a bonus. All in all, Tales of Vesperia ~The First Strike~ is one of those movies that you can’t fully appreciate unless you know the full story, and that’s its biggest flaw. People don’t really want to be burdened with having to complete a game that they may not even be interested in just to find out what happens next, which plays a major part in whether one can enjoy this movie or not. The more relaxed viewer may not be overly concerned with the lack of a true ending, and the movie does have a good degree of entertainment value in its own right. Whatever the opinion though, this movie deserves some credit for being not only a prequel, but an original tale, as it could very well have been just another adaptation.