Updated: Aug 14, 2020
Dragon Quest V (or, more specifically, the Nintendo DS remake) is one of my favorite video games. Although the JRPG mechanics are hardly revolutionary (even by early ‘90s standards), the harmonious marriage between the gameplay and story is positively sublime. Many of its set pieces are permanently burned into my memory: watching helplessly as your avatar’s father is savagely beaten to death (in the battle menu, no less!), courting and proposing to either the refined noblewoman or the strong-willed childhood friend (let’s not kid ourselves: Bianca is the only valid choice), discovering that the protagonist is not the Chosen One, but rather the Chosen One’s father, et cetera. The primitive graphics are actually a great asset, allowing the player to fill in the narrative gaps and imagine the finer details of the adventure.
Unfortunately, Dragon Quest: Your Story, the 2019 animated adaptation currently streaming on Netflix, falls far short of its source material’s excellence.
The movie’s most obvious blemish lies in its art style. Akira Toriyama’s elegantly simple character designs are totally abandoned; instead, semi-photorealistic skin and hair textures are contorted into unnervingly cartoonish shapes, which plunge headfirst into the Uncanny Valley. Only the villains and monsters escape relatively unscathed, since they’re supposed to look disturbing.
More concerning, however, is the ultra-condensed running time. By attempting to cram enough plot to fill a 52-episode TV series into well under two hours, the filmmakers give Dragon Quest: Your Story precious little room to breathe. Consequently, the outstanding moments that I described above lack proper context, robbing them of their emotional impact. Thus, an epic journey is reduced to a feature length montage.
Under ordinary circumstances, I’d be willing to forgive these flaws. Heck, I’ll even admit to getting invested in the action as the climactic showdown approached… until a truly bizarre meta-twist retroactively tarnished the entire experience. I won’t bore you by describing the convoluted chain of events in detail; suffice it to say that what is clearly intended to be a touching tribute to the Dragon Quest franchise utterly fails to stick the landing. It is seriously one of the most infuriatingly misguided creative decisions that I have ever encountered.
Devoted fans and newcomers alike should steer clear of Dragon Quest: Your Story. It is—to phrase it as delicately and generously as possible—a thematically confused misfire in every conceivable way.