Monday, October 8, 2012

General RPGs' Anime Retellings

Good lord, this was supposed to be a short rant, and just LOOK at it. I’m hopeless. Anyway...

There are a lot of animes that have been born from popular Role Playing Games. Tales of the Abyss, Final Fantasy 7, Star Ocean 2, and many other games have had animated series and/or movies created based upon them. And generally, I’m all for this idea, because 1, I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing many of the games I play and enjoy continued in some way (as long as it’s done well, of course), and 2, because to create a new form of art based on a different medium is a sign that the original medium is taken seriously as a potential artform itself (yes, I’m one of the advocates for the consideration of video games as art (or at least, for having the capacity to be art; I’m sure as hell not going to pretend even 10% of them actually do qualify as such)). But what I DON’T like about this phenomenon is the fact that most of these derivative animes and movies wind up being adaptations that retell the game’s events.

Now, let me clarify something--I don’t necessarily dislike adaptations. You take something like the Nolan trilogy of Batman movies. Sure, they’re essentially just adaptations and retellings of ideas from the Batman comic books, but they’re significantly altered and adjusted, becoming different (and remarkable) stories in their own right. They share much similarity to the original source material, but the director takes the stories and characters and uses them in significantly different ways, to tell new stories and explore ideas in unique ways. That kind of adaptation, which significantly departs from the original while staying acceptably true to its ideas, aspects, and direction, that I like. But I also approve of something like the old Fox Kids X-Men cartoon, or the Hunger Games movie, because even though they’re far more literally true to the original works, the mediums are significantly different from the originals. There’s a lot of difference between a comic book or book and a cartoon or movie. You’re reliving the stories in a whole new way, through the vision of the creators of the new adaptation. It’s a significantly new experience.

But that’s not the case with RPG anime adaptations. When an anime retells an RPG’s story, you’re not really creating anything new. RPGs (the Japanese ones, at least, but those are the only ones that this so far applies to) typically have storytelling methods that are already pretty similar to those of anime as it is, and most of the RPGs whose stories have been retold in anime form have been visually advanced enough that the animated version is not really showing you anything different. It’s not like you get anime versions of old 16-bit RPGs, or at least, I’ve yet to find one. The mediums are too similar for the adaptations to be considered a new experience.

So what’s the point? Some animation studio is going to blow thousands and thousands of dollars and hours producing a story that’s already been told? Why? I don’t get it. I already played Tales of the Abyss. I already beat Xenosaga 1. I already completed Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, AND analyzed the hell out of it in my head. Why would I want to just see the same thing all over again? And if that impulse DOES strike me, couldn’t I just, y’know, play the game again?

It’s not like the anime version of a game is going to garner all that much of a new audience to generate new revenue, either. I mean, a movie adaptation of a book, well, I can certainly see the reasoning there--there are a LOT of people who just don’t generally read books, so releasing, say, the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings in movie form is going to garner a huge new audience who didn’t want to read through the original works.* But there’s not a huge divide between anime-watchers and game-players in Japan, and I imagine most of the people who are going to recognize and show significant interest in an anime based on a video game are the people who are already fans of the video game. I guess there must be SOME new people in an audience for an anime version who aren’t gamers, but given how closely the industries are culturally tied over there, I just can’t imagine it being all that many. And if a large portion of your audience are fans of the source material, why show them the same damn thing all over again?

Why not something new? That’s what I want to know. Why not something new. Look, most RPGs last a good 40 to 60 hours, and involve the creation of a whole different world full of unique individuals and histories of varied complexity. If you were a creator, and you had spent so long making the world of your RPG--even a very basic RPG world still takes a lot of time and effort to think up--wouldn’t you WANT to use it more than once? Instead of telling us the same story all over again, animes could detail momentous historical events of the RPG world they’re based on. They could focus on the back stories of the game’s characters. They could show us other perspectives of the events of the game, scenes and side-stories that occur during the game but that we didn’t get a chance to see in the original. Or, most obviously, they could create new adventures for the game’s cast to engage in, taking place some time after the game’s conclusion.**

The Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children movie and the Sakura Wars 5 anime may not have been very good (although if you already liked the silly and somewhat stupid nature of Sakura Wars 5, you probably will actually enjoy its anime sequel), but in my mind, they’re way, way better products than the anime retellings of Disgaea 1 or Tales of the Abyss, even if those had far superior stories and characters. Sure, FF7AC may be a nonsensical load of special effects and gratuitous fight scenes competing with the emo fumblings of a protagonist whose character has actually regressed to where it was partway through the game instead of basing itself on how Cloud had developed by the game’s end, but at least it was (ineptly) trying to tell us a NEW story about the characters and world that we loved, not just rehashing everything we already knew for 2 hours. Sure, Sakura Wars 5 doesn’t make good use of its cast and focuses on the stupid machinations of a reborn Egyptian Pharaoh whose only vaguely interesting quality is that he’s pretty hot for protagonist Shinjiro when Shinjiro’s in drag (and man does Shinjiro seem to dig him back), but it gave us a new adventure for the characters of the game, tried to please its fans with a new story about the characters they enjoyed. I’d still count watching each of them as having been more worthwhile experiences than viewing a single episode of the Xenosaga 1 anime, even though I liked Xenosaga 1’s story.

I also have a couple of minor pet peeves with these anime retellings of RPGs, beyond the principle of it being a waste of time to tell the same story over again in a generally similar format. First of all, the small changes. Even though an anime may just be retelling the story of a game, there are almost inevitably going to be some changes made to events and characters here and there. Not big enough that the events and characters are significantly altered, but still, there will be some slight difference between the original version’s telling and the anime’s, even though the story’s major aspects will be the same. Why do this? It’s not enough to change the anime enough to be a new story, but now I, as an obsessive fan (and don’t kid yourself, there are a LOT of people as obsessive as or more than I am, so I’m not the only one), am never going to know which version of the story’s events is real. If I want to write a fanfic about Xenosaga 1, do I consider Virgil as having died on the Woglinde star ship, as happened in the game, or later on, as happened in the anime? The animation’s change has no significant effect on the overall events of the plot, as Virgil will still die in basically the exact same way, but I’ll never know how the hell this detail was actually supposed to play out, and it’s going to bug me any time I happen to think of it. And you probably know by now just how often and much I think about RPGs.***

And don’t even get me started on the Final Fantasy 7: Last Order anime. The way they changed the scene where Cloud gets stabbed by makes me shake with fanboy rage just thinking about it. They just have Sephiroth decide to jump off the reactor platform on his own. They RUINED one of the greatest moments in Final Fantasy 7. Cloud was supposed to get stabbed, then, through sheer strength of will and heroic quality and all that awesome inspiring jazz, he was supposed to grab the sword in him, use it to lift Sephiroth (who’s too surprised to actually let go of the hilt) up into the air, and then throw his ass over the side of the reactor to what they both clearly thought would be Sephiroth’s death (and it did at least knock him off his ass for a few years, forcing him into hiding in the North Crater’s Lifestream center to heal). It was heroic, it was awesome, it was inspiring. It was a victorious turn-around on the villain who had seemed to have clearly won, then suddenly found himself utterly defeated by one of the supposedly helpless victims he’d just run through. But no, now, thanks to this goddamn anime retelling, Cloud’s amazing act of strength and will is diminished, and Sephiroth gets to give a smug little smile and hightail it outta there, which was what he wanted to do to begin with. Yeah, Cloud spooked him a little still, but ultimately Sephiroth is now the one who comes out ahead. I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised, since SquareEnix is has a George Lucas-like talent for destroying its own best work, but still.

And what about when one of those small changes is just adding something in that wasn’t there in the original game? Like the Realian girl that was just added out of the blue to the Xenosaga anime. Her role changes more or less nothing important, so again, it still qualifies as us being expected to sit through the same damn story all over again, but the small alterations her presence and character provide are not in the original game, and I have to wonder--why not? Was this addition something that the creator of Xenosaga wanted in her work, in her vision of her story? Is the game that I spent 50+ hours playing NOT all that it was supposed to be? Because that really doesn’t make me very happy to consider.

And as a last little gripe, I admit to feeling childishly resentful about the time difference. I mean, look, a full season of an anime is more or less 26 episodes, right? Some animes go longer and some are shorter, but the standard is 26. If you get a video game turned into an anime, then you’re providing the same story to any newcomer who may not already know it in 13 hours’ time--26 if you get full-hour episodes, but I don’t think I’ve heard of a game anime that has episodes that long. I spent 40+ experiencing that story, as one of the original fans that made the game’s commercial success possible (I assume it wouldn’t get an anime if it weren’t successful). So now any jerk can have the experience in half that time? Less, even? I feel like an idiot for investing so much time into the original product when all I apparently had to do was wait a year or 2, and I could have more or less the same experience without the repetitive random encounters adding an extra few dozen hours on. Like I said, kind of a petty feeling, but I don’t deny it.

Pet peeves aside, though, I seriously dislike the idea that an anime made about an RPG would just be a retelling of the game’s story, and I don’t think I’m being unreasonable here. I am not a baby penguin. I do not enjoy my meals regurgitated to me. Whoever makes the decisions on these matters, take the stuff I like, the stuff enough fans liked to warrant further focus, and go forward with it.

* A sentiment which, in that particular case, I can sympathize with. Tolkien had some awesome ideas and creativity, but sweet heavens, he had a ponderous and dry writing style.

** As a note, I would like to say that a new story such as I mention should, of course, still be related to and based on the video game in some way. I’m not looking for something like the Wild Arms: Twilight Venom anime, which, as far as I could tell, had no actual connection to any Wild Arms game and only had any relation to the series through using certain basic concepts like the ARMS weapons and Crimson Noble species (and even then, many of these things seemed only loosely based on the original concepts found in the games). The anime should have some strong, solid relationship to the original games, because otherwise, why the heck name it after the game series to begin with? If you took the words “Wild Arms” out of the title of that anime, you’d sooner think of it as its own show than anything related to the game series.

*** For new readers: It’s a lot. I think about them a lot.


  1. Yeah Xenosaga the animation was not a good adaptation (though they ended up useing some of the plot points in Xenosaga 1+2)

    also I did read though some of your arcives and you never did say you played Xeonsaga 3 yet

    I do like Persona 4 the animation because it fits the game very well, it shows some scenes with were only metiioned in passing in the game and it did a very good job with Yu's character (he is voted most loved anime male for 2 years in a row now) toough they ended up messing up with the true ending in my opnion as it ended up breaking Yu (and in extention Marie's) charcter and i was over all rushed

    1. I actually just finished playing Xenosaga 3 last month, coincidentally enough. Actually, my next rant will, I think, be about it.

    2. Then I should mention that Xenosaga was originaly suppose to be a 6(later 7 after ep1 was split into episode 1 and 2) episode long series but do to poor sales, and writter leaving project it has long been cancelled.

      Also refer to Xenosaga a lost year which is basically the bridge to between 2 and 3.

      and to a lesser exstent Pied Piper which was ziggy's backstory

      Last note Why Shion why did they change you so much?

    3. Yup, know all about that mess. I actually went and read through a translated script of Xenosaga: Pied Piper just for the heck of it.

      Anyway, the rant I'll be doing is going to be pretty light and small, actually. The indescribably clusterfuck of Xenosaga's story and characters and its behind-the-scenes stuff is too much for even me to handle.

    4. ...short rant...its like my 7th/8th grade english teacher...we allways go over time :P

  2. Hmm... do you actually have 'short rants'? :) Though, this one is impressive in length, even by the standards of your other posts.

    I've never really gotten into the whole making/watching an anime of something that - as you said - already was told. I thought that was one of the cool things about Advent Children - at least it was a new story. Not saying it was a great story, but at least there was a reason to watch it, because it was not retelling what I already knew. It might have made more sense years ago, when video games lacked the visual quality of movies, but now the difference is so slim, it's probably not worth the effort.

    1. I...USED to have some short rants. I think if you go far enough back, some of'em are pretty short. Just not any more, it seems. Ah well.

      And yeah, that's exactly what I mean--the mediums are not, nowadays, far enough apart in storytelling style or visuals that an anime adaptation of the same story can offer anything worth your time and money.

  3. Eh as a general rule most anime adaptations of games tends to be the same anyways that's why I never really bothered to care much about them to begin with.

  4. That's the thing about the FFVII Compilation. Much of it is awkward, out of flavor with the source, and downright damaging to the contexts of the source's plot, but they're at least original products. Advent Children was a nonsensical follow up full of villains who have no logical reason to exist, an emo git who's pretending he's at all similar to any attitude Cloud ever had in VII, who has companions who don't seem to give a fuck about him, and they managed to turn Bahamut into some immobile who would rather play chicken with some guy who may as well be an Ancient rather than just Mega Flare his ass. Then you have a not-dead Rufus, a Tseng who if not explicitly killed, was conspicuously never seen or heard from after seeing him sliced by Sephiroth only to be alive and well here, and Vincent going Bram Stoker on silver-haired motherfuckers who are for some reason far beyond people who have physically punched dragons to death and can fight on the ocean floor for twenty minutes. There's a rant for ya.

    And yet, it was still an original product that didn't copy/paste the story of an interactive game into 90 minutes of recap.

    Now, take Tales of the Abyss. The story itself,the basic chain of events and the setting behind everything, was interesting and good. I didn't care for the way it was told, and that things were so melodramatic and arbitrary on such a regular basis as to make Days of our Lives jealous. However, let's assume I loved the game, which I more or less did. The anime is still a story I already experienced, taken out of its context as a game, losing all the battles and music and skits and gameplay I love, and given little to nothing new to compensate. And let's be real here. The story is not the main reason I play Tales games. It's a massive package that doesn't gain much from being condensed into an anime port. Because the game wasn't anime enough the first time around?

    1. I've always been iffy about ranting specifically on stuff like FF7AC. I mean...I guess that's what I'm doing here, but this one still distinctly retains an actual connection to RPGs. If I just rant about the outside things based on RPGs by themselves, I'm not sure it's an RPG rant any more. But I've done more questionable off-topic rants before, I suppose, so perhaps I will make a rant about FF7AC some day.

      ...If I can form a clear rant about it, that is. I mean, sometimes something's just such a moronic mess that I can't even get a decent foothold on it. Xenosaga 3's story and Mass Effect 3's ending come to mind (yes, there IS still more to decry about ME3's ending; I realize new ways it's lousy at least once a week).

      But anyways, yeah, your point is the one I'm trying to make here. Even the crappy RPG-based stuff like FF7AC and the Sakura Wars 5 anime miniseries still represent an actual creative venture, where all these various other retellings just plain don't. It's very annoying.

    2. I completely agree with everything you say about AC, and I honestly didn't enjoy FF7 nearly as much as the other installments (I beat a friend's copy using a walkthrough to experience the game in 2008, and even then it felt a bit of a grind), but I honestly say I actually have enjoyed this movie since G4TV showed some Japanese previews. I'm a sucker for drama, and Kadaj and Sephiroth were good generators of this for me. Also, why is it it wrong to show what the events of FF7 and those evevents following have done to Cloud? By the end of the movie I saw him as a person just like anyone else. Even getting past Aeris' death in the game, it is not outside the scope of the human condition for grief to relapse, especially in a "look at the 'great' hero, now" situation (he only had to worry about if he could kill Sephiroth before, and he was, but now he is faced with an apparently unstoppable plague that makes having all the power in the world seem worthless just like the death he wasn't able to prevent those years ago...).

      All that said, the movie is still just high-tech fanservice : /