Picture this; it’s a Sunday afternoon. You’re in between video games, you have nothing better to do, so you decide to dust off your Netflix account to see what’s new. I hardly use Netflix anymore, really only cracking it open for She-Ra, Castlevania, and whatever random movie interests me. Case in point, Dragon Quest: Your Story!
I’ve always been a huge JRPG fan with some of my favorite games ever being Persona 4: Golden and Skies of Arcadia. I’m even playing through every mainline Final Fantasy games because… why not? I love the genre, and Dragon Quest, a JRPG series originally developed by Enix with art by Dragon Ball’s Akira Toriyama, has always been a franchise I wanted to explore more. I’ve played IV and liked it, and a copy of XI for Switch has been staring at me from the top of my backlog for months now, but I’ve just never fully immersed myself into the series. It’s a shame too because it’s highly regarded as being one of the most prominent and influential video game franchises of all time.
In Japan, it’s pretty much a national holiday whenever a new entry in the series releases. The popularity of the series over there is mind-boggling, with several generations of fans growing up and adoring the franchise. The best equivalent I can think of over here in the States is the fervor that people have whenever something Harry Potter releases, whether it be new movies, books, or plays, yet even then it’s not a one-to-one translation since that franchise has fairly frequent releases with new installments or entries coming out on a fairly consistent basis. In Japan, players may wait for half a decade in between new entries, yet their passion doesn’t die down.
Dragon Quest: Your Story
Directors: Takashi Yamazaki, Ryuichi Yagi, Makoto Hanafusa
Release Date: February 13, 2020 (Netflix)
Of all of the entries in the franchise, Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride is considered to be the magnum opus of the series, telling a narrative that spans from your hero’s childhood adventures, to adulthood, to them eventually raising their own child and adventuring with them. An RPG of that scope was never attempted before and arguably hasn’t been done that well since, with possibly Lost Odyssey offering a compelling counter-argument. If a Dragon Quest game was going to be made into a film, then Dragon Quest V would have been the clear choice to appeal to the Japanese market. Thus, Dragon Quest: Your Story, an attempt to faithfully capture the charm and wonder of Dragon Quest V in film form.
So now it’s Valentine’s Day 2020. Dragon Quest: Your Story releases quietly onto Netflix without much fanfare or anyone really paying it any mind. I mean, I knew it released, but I could hardly care about it. First, it was Valentine’s Day. I was too busy being single to notice or care. Two, for the vast majority of people, they would rather do something other than just Netflix & Chill on that day. Three, if you were going to go see a movie on Valentine’s Day, chances are it was Sonic the Hedgehog, another video game adaptation based on a franchise that far more people knew about in the West than Dragon Quest. Four, the only exposure Dragon Quest V had here in the States was a DS port of the game in 2009 and eventually an IOs port a few years later, though not many even know of its existence. Hell, I didn’t know about it until I started to do research for this article!
So what we have is a loving adaptation of a 30-40 hour JRPG that few people in the States have played, quietly released on Netflix the same day as another major video game release. It received moderate reviews in Japan, though die-hard fans of the game over there are quick to talk about the negatives of the movie rather than the faithfulness of the adaption. As a famous bobcat once said, “What could possibly go wrong?” A lot. A lot can go wrong.
I don’t feel much remorse saying that Dragon Quest: Your Story is a bad movie. Yes, there’s a ton of reverence for the source material present here, but the movie just doesn’t function as a movie. It breezes through essential plot points in seconds, character development is thrown out the window fairly quickly, and unless you already know the game inside and out, you will have no hope in following what happens here. Really, if they were going to adapt this into a movie, it probably would have worked better if it was broken down into a trilogy of films with each movie taking place in a different time period. That would have helped the flow immensely and dealt with the King Slime sized plot holes here. To make matters worse, there was plenty that they had to cut out to make this adaptation work and it still doesn’t function correctly, so the plot holes present were by design rather by accident.
With a game like Dragon Quest V, I understand the importance of adhering to the central narrative and not deviating much from it. That’s usually one of the biggest death blows to video game adaptations, just how far removed they are from their original source material. I can respect the fact that Dragon Quest: Your Story may have worked in Japan due to the popularity of the game, but that isn’t the case here. Frankly, it probably would have been best if it didn’t release in the States UNLESS there was a major new rerelease of Dragon Quest V on the horizon. I don’t care that the animation isn’t in the same vein as Akira Toriyama’s iconic style, things had to change in an adaptation and there was probably some behind-the-scenes legal mumbo jumbo to blame, but the terrible presentation of the main story was enough to kill it for me.
But then I got to the last five minutes of the movie. In those five minutes, I realized that I could not, in good conscious, talk about this movie without spoiling the entire thing. The ending is so monumentally dumb that it supersedes everything that happened before it and turned an already bad movie into a movie that I was laughing at for all of the wrong reasons. It became so self-congratulatory while also losing its goddamn mind that there was no way I couldn’t not spoil it. If you’re worried about spoilers, then here’s the bottom line; I don’t recommend seeing this movie. Clearly, it’s not a good adaptation of the source material with a lot of major inconsistencies and problems to it. If you’re still around after that, it’s time for the spoiler talks. So for official sake..
SPOILER WARNING FROM HERE ON OUT.
So while Dragon Quest: Your Story plays it fairly safe throughout and tries the near impossible task of being a faithful adaptation of the original game, all of that gets completely thrown out the window for the finale. After the main villain succeeds in summoning the God of Evil Nimzo, everything just… stops. Our heroes, the epic battle surrounding them, everything just stops except for our main protagonist. Suddenly, an I Robot reject walks into frame and proceeds to turn my mind into jelly.
See, everything we’ve seen in the movie turns out to actually be a video game, but not just a video game, a VR game where people can become the main hero of Dragon Quest V. In the future, Dragon Quest V is so popular that massive, immersive VR rigs have been set up in arcades around Japan where people can completely become the hero of the game and live out their life as the hero. They can choose who to marry, what to name their kid, what combat skills that want, everything. How the main villain knows this is because he’s a computer virus who was made by a hacker to troll players because video games are stupid and he wanted everyone to know games are dumb and they’re dumb for liking them LOLZ. So essentially, this movie is that Roy sketch from Rick and Morty where we’ve been following Morty this whole time with our main antagonist being Rick. Years have passed in world, but it’s only been like an hour or two in the real world.
But it gets better! How does our hero, who’s just some guy who really likes Dragon Quest V, defeat our final villain? By telling him that even though the game isn’t real, those feelings are real to him. We see him playing the actual SNES game, hear wistful narration about how much he loves the game and the world and how much it means to him and oh my God this is dumb. His love for Dragon Quest saves the day with the help on an antivirus slime that’s been following him around this whole time and he vows to try and make the most of his virtual life, despite the game being pretty much over.
Look, there’s being nostalgic for a classic game/property and then there’s this. This goes beyond just basic fan-service or self-inserts. This borders on Square Enix coming out and saying that Dragon Quest V is a religious experience for fans. People are so in love with that game that they will completely reject reality and escape to their favorite video games because they’re that much better than reality. It’s Sword Art Online only dumber and that is not an easy statement to make. See, I love video games, but I don’t love video games to the point where I wish I could live in one. It kind of paints fans of the series as being obsessed about it to the point where it’s unhealthy, and I’m not the only one who thinks that. Dragon Quest fans HATED the ending in Japan with the ending being derided by nearly everyone who saw it. Sure, it may have been well-intentioned, but you just can’t say that they’re living in the Matrix with barely five minutes left in the movie.
I almost couldn’t comprehend just what I was watching. Sure, plenty of moments in the movie don’t work, but that could easily be chalked up to the perils of adaptation. This was a creative decision that never appeared in any entry in the series whatsoever. The creators had to get together and agree that this was the ending that they wanted to tell. They wanted to have a faithful adaptation that tries to cram every last bit of the game into an hour and a half runtime while systematically throwing it all away under the guise of a love letter to the series. And in both regards, Dragon Quest: Your Story failed. It didn’t adapt the game way and it instead became a mockery of a franchise that millions love.
I’m impressed a bit that they were certain that people were going to like it, and props for having the balls to go through with it, but a risk only pays off if the end result is good. If it doesn’t, then it was a bad decision. I can’t think of anyone who will walk away from Dragon Quest: Your Story satisfied. It fumbles too much on the overall story and throws away any and all goodwill by the end.