Back in the day screen sizes meant something; big screen was cinema, small screen was TV. Nowadays it’s all confused as you’re probably watching your movies on your phone and watching your streams on a hundred inch glaring HD, 4K, LED, RGB, billboard that dominates your living room. However, the spirit of this series is to celebrate some of the gaming stuff that has spilled over from video games into films, TV series and other kinds of media.
These days we’re spoiled with gaming cross media stuff as many gamers are now those making decisions when it comes to licensing and making proper weapons grade ‘content.’ Them-there PC gamers got very excited about the League of Legends Netflix spin-off series Arcane, causing some to make slightly hyperbolic claims that bad video game adaptations might be a thing of the past. Which both ignores some of the good that’s come before and… well just remember this article when the tide turns and gamers complain that the League of Legends spinoff game based on the anime series based on the game sucks and when the series inevitably falls apart a bit in its eighth season because we just have to run every franchise into the ground these days. Mini review: Given the source material, Arcane was surprisingly not awful but didn’t exactly stray from fan fiction/service tropes in its very immature story. Looked nice, too.
Either way, it’s sort of unbelievable to aging gamers like us here at videolamer that video game adaptations are finally hitting the mainstream and just not restricted to untranslated import only manga series, weird shit like the live action Mario Bros. movie, or the now multiple series Capcom-Jovovich Universe disasters (they’re making their 23rd Resident Evil adaptation, this time it’ll be good, right?). Regularly, there’s some video game adaptation on a streaming service creating a buzz at the same time as a video game adaptation movie at the cinema whilst speculation about video game adaptation scripts being picked up endlessly circulate.
A common problem has been that movie and series adaptations of video games aren’t confident enough in their inspirational IPs so end up watering down the “hey look it’s this video game shit you like” to spin a generic story with maybe five or six nods for gamers to get and an utterly derivative story for those who don’t know the source material (remember when Lara Croft was a Deliveroo driver in that one film? Remember the live action Halo Film? Remember how boring the Warcraft Movie was?). It seems that there’s finally emerging a confidence about appealing to the millions of people who play and love games when making these adaptations and hey, if you do the adaptation right, people might actually pony up to play the source material. Crazy, I know.
In the first instalment of Small Screen on the Big Screen let’s take a look at some of Square Enix’s attempts to bring their video games to the linear watchy programme media space.
FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN 2001 – Absolutely awful weird adaptation. I wanted to like it. I even bought the special edition. There was even a character called Sid. However that’s where the Final Fantasy connection began and ended really. Not even a star-studded cast could save the formulaic plot. The choice to go with weird transparent jelly monsters and strange boasting in the prerelease marketing about the hours and dollars that went into the protagonist’s hair animation should have been a warning. You know, all the things we know and love from the Final Fantasy series. Single-handedly set big-studio-funded, precious IP adaptations back a decade I reckon.
FINAL FANTASY VII: ADVENT CHILDREN 2005 – This is one that sprang to mind when the personal computer crowd started crowing about Arcane. It shouldn’t have worked. An 8 years-later sequel film to a 100 plus hour game? Here are all the characters and the music you loved from the game, shame about the very cryptic mako-disease, mother-obsessed, Sephiroth-mini-sort-of-clones stuff. Fan service to the max in a couple of stand out action sequences although some of the main cast from the game get mere seconds of screen time. Probably utterly unintelligible to those not familiar with the game I imagine. Straight to DVD and straight to our hearts.
KINGSGLAIVE: FINAL FANTASY XV 2016 – The troubled Final Fantasy XIV meant that Square Enix went to town with Final Fantasy XV, making it a cross media spectacle, all of which I discovered years after the fact. There was a freemium MMO, a VR experience and a ‘net animation series.’ I’ve still not played the game itself but I get Crossmedia Shivers™ when I hear the prelude in Florence + the Machine’s cover of Stand By Me and I hugely enjoyed the free A King’s Tale Final Fantasy XV side scrolling beat ‘em up. Apparently Kingsglaive is essential watching if you want any clue about the drama the main game drops you into. It’s okay. It has airships and crystals and behemoths in it. I saw this on Netflix, which it definitely still isn’t on, so I’m hugely positive about the full “Final Fantasy XV” experience being impossible to replicate once all the spin offs, side games and animations get trapped in licensing and digital store hell. Oh well, had to be there I guess.
FINAL FANTASY XIV: DAD OF LIGHT 2017 – A weird one, I’d heard nothing about until spotting it on Netflix. It may still be on your region’s Netflix. It isn’t here in The United Kingdom of Russian America, yet another indicator of how far we’ve slid back into depravity. Basically, if you remember how Pinball Wizard was a feature length advert for Super Mario Bros 3, this miniseries is the same for Final Fantasy XIV. The plot is driven by the relationship between a Japanese father and son who used to play Final Fantasy together on the NES. Now grown up, the father and son don’t talk to each other, like a proper Japanese family, but the father doesn’t seem to be coping well with retirement. The son encourages his Dad to play Final Fantasy XIV and he and his guildmates guide him through the ins and outs of the virtual world, albeit at Japanese soap opera pace. For example, they notice his Dad has stopped logging in one week. Via some painful non-verbal communication, we learn it’s because his Dad has moved to the ice level but is embarrassed because he doesn’t know how to change his clothes. If you’ve ever watched Japan tourist-board produced programmes like Midnight Diner or Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman then you’ll recognise the same production values here. I’m amazed it got an international release. I did tear up in the first episode when the prelude gently played at a key point in the father and son’s relationship, though. Worth a watch as there’s nothing else quite like it.
Trailer here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vj2CleLIHJk
DRAGON QUEST: YOUR STORY 2019 – Another one I discovered browsing Netflix under the video game tag and hadn’t heard anything about prior. As much as our lives are dominated by ‘the algorithm’ I do wish I’d found out about this before. Like, anything about it. Millions is spent commissioning, animating, and dubbing these shows, I as a video game fan should probably find out about them before manual list searching. It was either watch this or some odd Pac-Man animated series and thank God I chose to watch this. Even before Brexit, certain goods and services were kept from us United British Kingdom of England folk, including the first 24 Dragon Quest games so I’m not especially familiar with or excited by the series. I don’t want to say too much about this but it’s 100% worth a watch. There’s an amazing twist I didn’t see coming. Brilliant. Who commissions this shit I don’t know but I’m really, really glad they do.
In summary, Square Enix’s outputs have been a curate’s egg when it comes to successful adaptations of its beloved video game series but I do applaud the diversity of form – from prequel and sequel films to long form adverts to whatever Dragon Quest: Your Story is to the please-never-again Spirits Within. It’s only a matter of time before the technology exists to be able to do a Front Mission adaptation justice. I can see it working really well as a stage play.
Next time on Small Screen Big Screen. Did anyone remember Dragon’s Dogma was a video game by the time the anime series came out? Are you confident about quite how many awful Sonic animated series there are? What will be the next mediocre arcade game adaptation set in a jungle Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson will flex his pecs through? All this or maybe none of this and more next time on Small Screen Big Screen or whatever we end up calling it.