I love video games.
Ever since I was 3 years old and played Street Fighter II on my Dad’s Super Nintendo (which I still own and have hooked up to my TV this day) I have loved video games.
I probably love video games as much as, possibly more than, I love Anime. It’s my favourite past time, it’s my career choice and it’s just darn good fun.
I especially love Japanese Role Playing Games. I love their aesthetic, their narratives and their gameplay mechanics like no other type of game. I’ve sunk tens of thousands of hours into the genre, and as a fan of these games growing up, I was always keen to see the deep, character driven narratives of these games take the form of a movie or TV series.
There was a time when I would have killed for Disney and Square Enix’ film studios to collaborate together and make an animated movie of Kingdom Hearts, a time where I would have jumped for joy over seeing my favourite video game of all-time, Tales of Symphonia, get an Anime adaptation.
That was, until the latter actually happened.
Because Tales of Symphonia did get an Anime adaptation. In the form of an 11 episode OVA series by Studio Ufotable dubbed Tales of Symphonia: The Animation.
I was psyched. I literally jumped for joy when I heard the news. Tales of Symphonia is one of the greatest stories ever told, and even today, I consider it to have the best story to ever come from a video game. Yet, after watching the first two episodes, I was incredibly disappointed.
Because the adaptation didn’t do the original story justice.
This was partly due to the pacing. The original game starts off at a fairly slow pace and gently eases the audience into its world, its characters and its plot. It takes its time to explain how the world works, why specific events are happening and who the characters we are following actually are as people. But the Anime didn’t do that. It rushes through all of these important things so quickly, that by the end of the first episode, the series is a solid 4 or 5 hours into the games plot. It skims over all the important details, the most important things being the exploration of the setting and the presentation of the protagonist’s idealistic outlook on how the world works. These two things were the crux of the Tales of Symphonia’s opening hours and the Anime adaptation offensively skipped over most of it as though it didn’t matter one bit.
The other issue was how many plot points were changed or altered to fit this pacing. Various plotlines were heavily altered, some being minor, such as characters being in different places or lacking some minor details and others incredibly major, most notably a battle between the protagonist and one of the enemy leaders occurring far earlier in the Anime than in the game, which felt incredibly strange and out of nowhere. Then there’s the most major issue, the complete removal of various plotlines and characters, which in conjunction with the brisk pacing and altered story elements makes the whole thing come off as poorly written, which honestly, is not the case with the original game. I mean, come on they removed the entire non-aggression treaty plot which is what single-handedly launches the protagonist on his journey. All in the favour of speeding things up to fit an 11 episode run time. This is blasphemous.
I will admit though, the fight scenes were amazing. The series captured those perfectly.
But Tales of Symphonia wouldn’t be the last of my favourite games to get an Anime adaptation. There have been countless of these JRPG adaptations over the years such as Disgaea, Persona 4, Devil Survivor 2 and most recently, from the same series as Symphonia, Tales of Zestiria.
These adaptations all suffer from the exact same problems. They cut out content, they increase the pacing to light speed, they remove entire story sections and they muck up much of what made the original games so great as a result.
And what is all this really in service of? I honestly have no idea. It doesn’t appeal to people who are fans of the original game, because the game will always be better and it most definitely doesn’t try to appeal to those unfamiliar with the game either because by removing so much content, it just comes off as a poorly presented story with rushed pacing.
To this day, I still don’t see the point in these adaptations. They are soulless, they are effortless and they only serve to alienate both fans and non-fans of the original source material.
I’m aware that much of this is just me being a huge fanboy who is dissatisfied that his precious game franchises got sub-par adaptations. I’m well aware that a lot of outsiders and even fans of the original games really enjoy these adaptations, and that’s great. I’m glad people can enjoy them.
But for me, they have no appeal.
Except Tales of the Abyss. That adaptation avoided doing any of the above, cut hardly any content, was paced perfectly and was accessible to both the fans of the game and outsiders. Every video game adaptation should follow its example and strive to be what that series was: an accurate representation of the original video game that appeals to everyone.
And no. Visual novels don’t count. They are not games. They are interactive books with pretty pictures.
Perhaps one day, I’ll get the Tales of Symphonia Anime worthy of the narrative of the original game. Until then though, I always have the game. Which I recommend you go play because it’s amazing.
What’s your opinion on video game adaptations?