Maybe it’s something to do with being wary about the optics of a man in his late thirties sitting on his own amidst a screenful of screaming six-year-olds, but this past weekend I couldn’t quite bring myself to see my beautiful blue boy’s debut on the big screen and instead watched another video game adaptation that’s just hit Netflix. And I think I chose wisely, because it’s an absolute treat.
Not much noise has been made about Dragon Quest: Your Story. Maybe it’s something to do with how not much noise is made over here about Dragon Quest, a series whose spectacular success in Japan has never been replicated in the west, even if fans have been better served in recent years thanks to the sterling localisations of Echoes of an Elusive Age. Still, the addition of Your Story to Netflix in the west after its cinematic release in Japan last August barely registered.
Which is a shame, as while it’s far from a great film it’s faithful to so many of the things that makes Dragon Quest so beloved. It’s not entirely faithful – this is a strictly CG affair, and as such it deviates from the iconic art of Akira Toriyama, even if the spirit of them – that wide-eyed wonder and those heart-lifting splashes of yellow and blue – remains intact. Despite that deviation this is a frequently beautiful film, though – this is from the same school of CG that brought us last year’s equally lavish Lupin III: The First, and indeed in Takashi Yamazaki it even boasts the same director.
And at its very essence, this starts off well enough by being an adaptation of one of Dragon Quest’s finest stories. And considering Hand of the Heavenly Bride is part of a rich line of Dragon Quest stories, I’d argue that it’s one of the very best tales told in a game, with exquisite twists matched by a grand sweep that’s rare in the medium.
So vast is its canvas, in fact, that one of the big problems faced by Your Story is in condensing the events that take place over 50 hours of play into a trim 100 minutes running time, something it doesn’t always manage elegantly. Events are rushed through, while key characters flit in and out as quickly as throwaway NPCs. If you’re not already familiar with the outline of Dragon Quest 5’s story, I’d imagine it’s can be a fairly confusing rush.
For all that, though, Your Story might well be a good place to start if you’ve ever wanted to get into Dragon Quest, as the very best facets of this series are all intact. Your Story, as truncated as its tale is, has all the warmth, humour and innate humanity that makes Dragon Quest so charming; it’s a story told with flair and gusto, while frequently met with the kind of soft melancholy that is so effective in touching the heart.
Yes it’s a story of the plucky hero rising up against the big bad (except when it isn’t, but I’ll leave the big twists that give Hand of the Heavenly Bride so much of its impact secret for those who’ve yet to experience them before), but it’s also about family and friends and fate, all through the prism of a fairy tale. Oh and there’s a late twist that’s like being plunged head-first into a DMT trip, though I’ll let you get to that yourself. It’s all just part of the constant fourth-wall breaking that begins with Your Story’s opening moments, told within the pixelated style of classic Dragon Quest proper, and runs throughout.
It might have something to do with how I watched it, huddled up against the storm on a Sunday morning, but Dragon Quest: Your Story ends up – just like the very best Dragon Quest games – genuinely moving. Is it one of the better video game adaptations? I’m not sure, as I was simply touched by something that distills the charms of a series that can sometimes be unwieldy in their length to something more digestible, and it helps that I love Dragon Quest in the first place. Your Story’s so adept at moments, though, that I think I ended up loving Dragon Quest even more.