Available On: Netflix (English dubbed and English subtitles)
I’m a latecomer to the Dragon Quest series, having played through and enjoyed Dragon Quest 9 and 11, and bits of 7 and 8 via the semi-recent 3DS remasters. But I’m completely unfamiliar with Dragon Quest 5: Hand of the Heavenly Bride (1992), from which the new feature-length animated film Dragon Quest Your Story is based on.
Turning a 40+ hour RPG into a 100 minute film is a daunting task, beginning with the well-known stigma of adapting any video game onto the big (or small) screen, yet Dragon Quest Your Story distills all the game’s major events and fun characters into a film that should please fans and newcomers alike.
The story centers on Luca (Yuri Lowenthal), a young adventurer-in-training whom we first meet as a child, as he and his father Pankraz (Parker Simmons) run afoul of the villainous wizard Ladja (Jason Marnocha). Luca grows up in captivity, and as a young man escapes with his friend Harry (Elijah Rayman), meets the friendly Dr. Agon (Neil Kaplan) and reunites with his childhood friends Sancho (Shuan Conde) and Bianca (Kasumi Arimura).
The pacing maintains lightning-speed throughout the brisk run-time. It’s readily apparent that any single area or event or character is supposed to be much more fleshed out, as in the original RPG. The film makes smart, effective use of frequent montages and jump cuts to cover many such sequences, including fun battle scenes with recognizable monsters from the Dragon Quest series. Luca even befriends two monsters in a nod to Dragon Quest 5’s monster-collecting gameplay, a sabercub named Purrcy and a slime named Gootrude, both delightful hits with my 8-year old.
The many action scenes are gorgeous, exciting, and frequently funny, including an impressively huge boss battle sequence against a flying, fire-breathing beast named Bjorn (Jacob Craner) who guards the legendary sword.
In many animated films the hero (or heroine) marries at the end and lives happily ever after. But Luca gets married about halfway through the film after a cute but rushed courtship that includes an unfortunately awkward scene of the initially jilted Bianca getting drunk in a bar. The Story takes place over many years, from Luca’s childhood to his own kid growing up amidst a dark world where the child’s parents have been frozen in time, leaving my daughter nearly inconsolable when the villain temporarily defeats our heroic couple.
Despite the relatively large cast of characters and break-neck pace, everything comes together for a thrilling climax, with multiple satisfying call-backs and epic showdowns. The film stumbles at the very end when it tries to pull a bizarre final twist, however, resulting in an additional layer of fourth wall-breaking commentary that, unlike the Lego Movie, is largely cringey and unnecessary.
Dragon Quest Your Story is rated TV-PG. It’s a lot darker and more emotionally demanding than the typical Disney musical, including the deaths of multiple parents, villains triumphing over our heroes, intense battle sequences (and a legitimately frightening main villain), and one major character clearly intoxicated in a tavern. It avoids any awkward sexual situations or suggestive themes other than a quick reference to “Puff-puff,” the questionable fade-to-black massage that heroes can receive in-game.
Despite lots of action and battles with monsters, there’s no blood or gore, with monsters puffing away as colorful smoke as per the most recent game, though I could have done without the bone-chilling scream from an early character death.
Akira Toriyama’s legendary character art loses a bit of its charm in the more modern 3D animation of the film, but the overall quality of Dragon Quest Your Story is undeniably impressive, and the multi-generational story of Dragon Quest 5 translates surprisingly well, creating an action-packed animated film full of heart.