It wasn’t until 2009, more than 15 years after the original release of Dragon Quest V, that western players finally got to experience the game for the first time on their Nintendo DS systems. Since then, the franchise has grown in popularity, both in and outside of Japan, and millions of players all over the world have played through at least one or more of the Dragon Quest games.
It seems that someone at the Japanese film company Toho suddenly decided that 27 years after the original release of the game, it was time to adapt Dragon Quest V into a major motion picture. It is after all one of the most popular games in the series, so it makes sense to turn this particular game into a movie.
Dragon Quest: Your Story, released on August 2nd, 2019 in Japanese theaters, and it premiered on Netflix for western audiences on February 13th, 2020 It is more-or-less an adaptation of Dragon Quest V. I say more-or-less because the film does generally cover the plot of the game, but it takes more than a few liberties with that story. Unfortunately for the viewer, I feel that taking these liberties makes for a worse film. A much, much worse film.
The film follows the life of a young boy named Luca, who, along with his father Pankraz, are on a search for his mother. It seems she was taken by the monsters that attacked their kingdom when Luca was an infant. The movie quickly blasts through Luca’s childhood, skimming over several vitally important story events, or skipping them entirely, in order to reach the second arc of the game. We now follow a young adult Luca, after only mere minutes of film time, for the rest of the film. You should know that this is something that takes many hours to come to pass during the game.
Granted, the bulk of the game takes place during the young adult arc, so we can also expect that a movie adaptation of a video game is going to skim over the many lesser details. The problem isn’t that they blasted through the first part of the story, rather that the pacing is a complete mess. Events that are absolutely critical to understanding the story and characters are left out, or flash by rapidly in montage scenes with little context, while the film instead creates brand new scenes that were not in the original game and have very little impact on the overall story of the film.
Entire plot lines are cut or changed, and even some plot-important characters are removed from the story entirely. Again, it’s expected for a film adaptation of a game to have changes, but I cannot imagine anyone who hasn’t played Dragon Quest V being able to become emotionally invested in the characters or plot, because the film does so little to develop any of them. To put it simply, if your film adaptation of a game with a silent protagonist has that protagonist constantly talking and he still has less character development than he does in the game… something is wrong. However, despite all of my complaining, I didn’t find the film to be that bad… for most of its duration, at least. But I’ll get to that in a minute…
I went into the film knowing that it had a somewhat poor reputation, though I did not know why it was so widely hated. All I knew was that there was some sort of controversy - a particular change to the plot that made die-hard fans angry, but I had no clue what it was. That said, I decided to go into the film with an open mind. I intended to watch it and rate it fairly, basing my judgment not on what the film wasn’t, but rather what it was. Because of that, for the bulk of the film, I considered it to be pretty average. It wasn’t a perfect adaptation for sure, but what it was, wasn’t bad.
The combat scenes are excellent. Despite the fact that the film doesn’t use Akira Toriyama’s signature art style (he is the one who has drawn all of the artwork for the Dragon Quest series), but rather a pretty generic 3D animation style, I found that the film looked great anyway. The visuals, the music (which is pretty much ripped straight from the game), the fight scenes and the plot that was actually there were fairly enjoyable. I wouldn’t have given it a perfect score or anything like that, but for much of the film, I questioned the controversy surrounding the film’s plot. I wondered if maybe people were just overreacting, and that it was only anger from super hardcore fans who hated that even a single thing was changed about the film.
...Unfortunately, this turned out to not be the case…
The anger at the film is completely justified, in my opinion.
Sadly, I cannot tell you WHY this is, without spoiling a major event exclusive to the film. I wouldn’t want to ruin the story for you, so I’ll keep the details to myself, but it is safe to say that this particular event towards the end of the film completely and totally ruins what was otherwise a perfectly decent movie. And this isn’t just me being dramatic - it really and truly does RUIN this film. This is a plot twist so pointless, so unnecessary, so INSULTING to the viewer that I can barely believe that this event was written, storyboarded, animated, voiced and edited and not one person in the entire staff said “Is this some kind of joke?”
It takes what was otherwise a perfectly fine film and drags it down into an abyss from which it never escapes. It is a plot twist SO BAD that I actually stopped the film, got up from my seat and screamed “WHAT!?” at the screen. Needless to say, it is NOT something that happens in the game, and should rightfully never have happened except in some long-forgotten fan fiction. It is a truly, utterly irredeemable plot twist that I honestly can’t believe that I’ve seen some people online actually trying to defend it.
Dragon Quest V deserved better than this.
I mean, I’m not the hugest fan of Dragon Quest V to begin with - I enjoy it, but I wouldn’t count it among my favorite games of all time or anything like that. But I feel like this film was almost a personal attack on those who loved the original game, and it’s solely due to that particular last-minute plot twist. And it didn’t have to be like this, either. I think that if they had just never wrote that horrible plot twist into the story, and then made the film maybe 10 to 15 minutes longer, giving a little more exposure to some of the content that was skimmed over… this movie could have actually been a very worthy adaptation of Dragon Quest V. And for a while, it is certainly a passable adaptation… but then it has to go ahead and screw everything up at the last minute.
Final Verdict: Not Recommended
If you loved the original game, you will feel insulted by the ending of the film and disappointed by the story rapidly rushing through and skipping over major plot events. If you’ve never played the game before, you’ll have very little attachment to any of the characters and many plot elements are likely to be lost on you. This is not your story, nor is it my story - it’s a story for nobody. A story that nobody will be satisfied with. And the saddest part of it all, is that it really came close to being a decent film.