Dragon Quest: Your Story Review — A Fresh Take on a Beloved Classic

Though a bit too short for its own good, Dragon Quest: Your Story is a unique take that's sure to please series fans.

Dragon Quest: Your Story is a re-telling of Dragon Quest 5: Hand of the Heavenly Bride. Seeing a beloved classic turned into a film is an exciting prospect, but the only trouble is that it condenses a 40+ hour game into an hour and 40 minutes

While a lot of Dragon Quest 5's game time is spent fighting enemies — something that naturally doesn’t make for interesting film fare — it still means a good deal of the story gets pared down for the sake of pacing. DQ5 is widely regarded as one of the best games in the long-running franchise, so Your Story has a lot to live up to.

Despite some shortcomings, though, including the pacing, Dragon Quest: Your Story still captures the essence of Dragon Quest and throws in some food for thought besides.

Dragon Quest: Your Story Review — A Fresh Take on a Beloved Classic

Your Story cuts out a big chunk of the plot’s beginning, opting to tell it in snippets taken from the game’s original release, switching to Luca’s later childhood afterwards, right before disaster strikes. This unique approach to the opening segments is important for the later plot, but I can’t deny that taking some extra time to introduce Luca, Nera, and Bianca would have helped strengthen the film’s core even more later on.

It speeds past the slavery years and Harry’s return to Coburg, and pulls some later elements from the game, namely Bjorn the Behemoose, as a way to introduce the topic of Luca’s marriage. The film slows down a bit here, and it’s where the viewer more easily appreciates the Dragon Quest-ness of Your Story.

It’s true characters and locations don’t get nearly as much attention as they do in the game, but the film captures the tale’s essence and the heart of the core cast. That’s good, because it then speeds into the final segments where you need to actually care about the people involved for it to work well.

If you haven’t guessed already, this all means Dragon Quest: Your Story is mostly aimed at fans of the original game. Those who don’t know the plot will likely be slightly confused over the casual mentions of important lore (glossing over of facts like Luca’s royal heritage) and generally feel like they’re not quite getting the full story. If you’re interested, definitely check out a plot summary or the game’s Wiki page before watching. 

Those who are fans, though, will likely still find this quite a treat. The pacing and shortness mean Your Story can’t quite reach the source material’s emotional and narrative highs, but seeing these familiar moments and characters brought to life in a completely different way offers a sense of cozy nostalgia that’s hard to match — that’s intentional, as you find out later — and makes it even harder to complain about the shortcomings.

Despite that, one question looms: How can anything Dragon Quest be worthwhile without Akira Toriyama’s signature artwork? Getting used to the CGI design is actually surprisingly easy after the first few minutes. The animation is good quality, too, from the goo-dorable CGI Slime Gootrude to the creepy dark bishop Ladja and everything in between.

There are a few areas where the focal points stand out a bit much from the background, and the scenes where monsters are moving for long periods in the light are a bit rough, though it’s a small trade-off. The difference in visual styles is probably a good thing too, as it makes seeing Your Story as its own thing easier, which it most definitely is.

It’s no exaggeration to say the voice cast carries the production. Yuri Lowenthal absolutely nails Luca’s many moods and expressions, while Xanthe Huynh manages to make Nera a sympathetic character despite being on screen for too brief a time. Stephanie Sheh’s performance as Bianca is probably one of the best, capturing the character’s spunk and warmth perfectly.

What really stands out, though, is how every performance, even the shortest, is so full of life. There might not be enough time to showcase Dragon Quest’s characteristically quirky NPCs and distinct settings, but the voice cast really makes this feel like Dragon Quest nonetheless.

And that’s probably the film’s biggest strength. Yes, it’s too fast and short, and plenty of points don’t get developed like they should. At the same time, it’s still warm, familiar, fun, and engaging, just like Dragon Quest should be.

At least, it’s all these things until it stops being them. You may or may not have already read about the ending when the film released in Japan last year, but we won’t spoil it here.

Suffice to say there’s a big twist in how the ending unfolds that offers some surprising commentary on how we engage with games (and media in general, really) and the place they occupy in our lives. How it does this is really quite clever, pulling you in with the nostalgia and presenting a beloved story you’re bound to engage with, then using that as fuel for the real meaning behind this tale.

Granted, there’s a line at the very end I completely detest that comes close to turning the entire thing into a branding exercise with a bit too much self-affirmation. But overall, radical departure the ending sequences may be, it sets Your Story apart as one of the better adaptations out there for its deft handling of real-world themes and thoughtful commentary.

Dragon Quest: Your Story — The Bottom Line

Dragon Quest: Your Story could certainly stand to be stronger in how it develops its characters and themes. I still thoroughly enjoyed it, though, and wouldn't mind watching it a second time either. It's a fun romp with an enjoyable story and characters that hit all the right points for Dragon Quest fans — regardless of how fast it speeds through everything.

Yet it's the ending that really makes Your Story stick out. Even though it also isn't handled perfectly, it still does something at which most game adaptations fail: shattering the fourth wall and reminding us why we love these stories to begin with.

Our Rating
8
Though a bit too short for its own good, Dragon Quest: Your Story is a unique take that's sure to please series fans.

Contributor

Josh Broadwell started gaming in the early '90s. But it wasn't until 2017 he started writing about them, after finishing two history degrees and deciding a career in academia just wasn't the best way forward. You'll usually find him playing RPGs, strategy games, or platformers, but he's up for almost anything that seems interesting.

Games Dragon Quest Genres RPG Platforms Tags movievideo game movies 
Published Feb. 19th 2020

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