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(Looks through shelf at some of his movies)

Man, you know what’s lame? Those old VHS/DVDs that were nothing more than highlight reels of a sports team for a year. I mean, come on. Sports are constantly “new”. Plus it doesn’t show anything really. It’s just a highlight reel. I mean, sure, it looked cool watching it at the time, but a sports reel isn’t a “movie”. It’s just a bunch of random highlights of the “best parts”. And once you know how the game ends, does it really matter anymore?

Ok, maybe they’re not “lame”, but I don’t get them. It’s just a good thing they don’t do this with anime.

(Spots one series)

…With the rare exception.

“Tales of Phantasia: The Animation”

The “Tales” series was a “latter day JRPG” series. Most people thought of “Dragon Quest” and “Final Fantasy” for years when it came to JRPGs. Both of those started in the 3rd Generation of Consoles. However, one series that started in the 4th Generation that ended up being pretty prolific was the “Tales” (or “Tales of”) series. It was a bit different from the traditional RPG in terms of setting and gameplay. Most of the mythos was based off of traditional mythology, and it was the first RPG series to do things like use combos for special moves and programming “schema” into your other party members. The end result was gameplay that was something of a fusion between an action game and an RPG. I never cared for it much myself, but apparently it was so great that even the Final Fantasy series adopted it.

The only entry in the series I ever played was the original: “Tales of Phantasia”. As a JRPG, it works fairly well. It’s not as “character-intensive” as later entries would be, meaning the various characters are pretty much there just for their moves and “schtick” rather than being too appealing. Cress is your basic sword-wielding hero out to avenge his parents, Mint is your basic fairy princess healer, Chester is that friend/rival of the protagonist, Archie is the comic relief magic user, yadda, yadda, yadda…standard JRPG playbook. The fact that its combat system was so different at the time, not to mention it came out only a few months after what was considered possibly the greatest JRPG of all time, “Chrono Trigger”, and used a similar plot motif (going through time to save the world) probably played a big factor into it never being ported into the USA until Final Fantasy VII caused a general “resurgence” in popularity of RPGs in general, allowing it to finally get a GBA release in 2006 in the States. But still, it had some fun parts, some things worth playing, and was a decent story that held your interest. All JRPGs, after all, have some interesting elements of their story and characters even if they’re subpar.

So I figured a couple years back when I picked up this series I was in for something “decent”…perhaps my long-sought-after “good” fantasy anime. The artwork on the outside looked good enough, as did the description on the back. I figured I was in for a treat. I couldn’t remember a lot about the game so I thought this would be a good trip down memory lane.

Yet I also noticed something rather suspicious…the running time of the series as a whole. It was only about two hours…enough time for four “standard” episodes of a series…

“Tales of Phantasia” may not have had the most intricate and involved story of a JRPG of all time, but I knew full well it was a story that couldn’t be “told well” in just four episodes of an anime. I figured it at least needed the standard 13 episodes I’m used to, but I’d check it out none the less. Maybe it was just a movie version? Or maybe they cut out several characters… I didn’t know.

Well…

The artwork is pretty spot on. The character whip out their signature moves and spells, and their personalities (what very, very little we see of them…) seem to be in tune with the game. Yes, it seems pretty much like what the series promised: an anime version of “Tales of Phantasia”…er…with one glaring exception, which kind of ruins the whole thing for me.

This isn’t a series. It barely qualifies as a plot. What this is, as I alluded earlier, is essentially nothing more than a “highlight reel” of the game. Rather than trying to tell a good story, build up tension, deal with interactions and personality and all of the things about the story in the original JRPG…we’re essentially treated to a few snapshots from the game.

In all honesty, the best analogy is that you’re not even watching an anime. What you’re watching is one of those Youtube videos that features all of the FMVs from a game shoved into one continuous block. That’s exactly what this is. They give you a few scenes that were big from the game, and then quickly sum up everything that happened before or after.

And to me…that ruins it.

How are you supposed to enjoy this? The only way you could is if, at minimum, you already played the game. I have a hard time believing anyone who hadn’t already would have any idea what’s going on. But even if you have, that’s not enough. You have to be a pretty big fan of the original. And considering that the original wasn’t the most popular entry in the franchise, that’s a bit tough. The characters don’t really sell themselves in the few non-action scenes we get to see. We didn’t have any build-up to these characters. No background or chance to get to know them. Granted…the original game really didn’t do that for us anyway, but one might argue that’s something you can handle in a series. The fact they didn’t just left it a big mess. I really don’t care that you’re trying to make the audience feel for Chester when he’s complaining about not being as strong as Cress and his companions anymore since I didn’t have a basis for their rivalry to begin with, and I don’t really care about Mint’s little feelings for Cress when I didn’t have a chance to see them develop. It’s like peeking into a movie theater and seeing a strange movie playing. What’s going on? Who are these people? What happened? I don’t know.

Actually, that’s being too generous. If you walk in on a good movie with good acting, you’ll still get something from it. But these are just cardboard cutouts and they’re doing nothing but acting out scenes done by sprites, which were originally little better than cardboard cutouts themselves…but it “worked” in a game. For an anime, no.

It seems the “curse” of trying to make a video game into another form of media impacts Japan just as hard as it does the USA. Normally I fault these things for straying too much from the source material, but…really…straying too close to the source material is bad here as well. I wouldn’t mind seeing something that made me feel as if Cress and Mint were genuine, for example, or something that made Dhaos actually look either good or bad. He’s just kind of…there. Now, granted, the game itself did have a few powerful scenes…but none of them were made into this anime. Just the “highlight reel”. And at this point, since the artwork is so good and obviously some effort went into making it…I’m left saying: “Why bother? It’s like the fundamental definition of half-assed…half of it was done well and the other half was just ass.”

Seriously, the only value this “series” (very loosely said) possesses is if you played the game. Otherwise, it’s not even worth the $25 I put on it (and that was brand new).

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Some value if you’re a gamer from an older generation where magic still existed, but otherwise nothing short of a mana seed from Yggdrasil could save it.

What you should do with this DVD set: Keep it on the shelf until a Valkyrie appears and demands you return it to Odin, then trade it for a ride on a pegasus. Or just give it to her so you don’t have it taking up space anymore.

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