Lurker here. Came out of hiding to share some fun news. So I went to a Japanese theater recently just looking to waste some time with a mindless action flick when I discovered that not only was Tales of Vesperia First Strike a movie, but that it was playing RIGHT NOW. So of course, I snagged my nearest otaku friend and went for it, despite my fail Japanese skills. Since this is just recently aired in Japan, I figure it'll be a while before anyone gets a lot of detailed information, so hopefully someone enjoys this writeup.
Basics: The movie is a 2-hour prequel to the game, featuring Yuri and Flynn during their days together as Imperial guards. The movie revolves around their brigade, led by Commander Federock(-taichou), a grizzled old soldier with a strong sense of duty and a heart of gold. We're also introduced to a pair of enlisted twins who often work alongside Yuri and Flynn. Hisuka and Justel (just guessing on this name, it was slurred so badly I could never figure out what it was supposed to be) are primarily mages who are stuck backing up Flynn and Yuri (and often cleaning up Yuri's messes). Apparently the only way to tell them apart is by their bust size, and they call discrimination every time one of their commanding officers calls attention to this. Another mage, Alistair, a silver-haired pretty boy, appears in the film and acts as an advisor to the brigade and is a close friend of Federock's.
We get to see some of Repede's origins as well, as this particular brigade makes extensive use of their canine units. The dogs (all the same breed as Repede) are employed several times throughout the film. The prominently-featured dog Lambert is Commander Federock's partner and Repede's father.
Rita, Estelle, Alexei, and Raven also get bit parts in the movie, but the action is mostly focused on Yuri, Flynn, and Federock.
Synopsis: The movie opens with Estelle, in her room in the palace, reading a book detailing all the background information about the gameworld and Aer.
Then we cut to some action. In the woods outside the imperial city, we see Flynn and one of the twins rushing through the trees, pursued by wolves. In another part of the same forest, Yuri is paired with the other twin, holding off the monsters as she sets some blastia in place. Federock's brigade is apparently in the middle of a mission to set up the blastia devices in this area. The twins finish up setting the devices as Yuri and Flynn team up to hold off some gigantic boar monster as the rest of the brigade converges on their position. Federock makes his appearance from a cliff to call them back just in time for the twins to throw up a Force Field spell around the brigade as Federock activates the blastia his brigade has been setting up. We're treated to a spectacle as the device creates a giant Arte that apparently purges the forest of all the mutated monsters. Luckily, our heroes were safe behind their Force Field, much to Flynn and Yuri's relief ('Can I open my eyes now?').
Back in the imperial city, we're treated to some exposition where we learn that Yuri and Flynn are quartered in the same room, and predictably, Yuri's side is messy while Flynn's is immaculate. Flynn apparently disapproves of Yuri's habit of not drying off after a shower and getting the room all wet. (Wow, Namco, you're laying it on a little thick.)
More exposition as Federock goes to see his friend and advisor, Alistair, who presumably created the blastia used in the previous night's mission to make the woods safe again. As expected, it seems that there have been an Increase in Monsters Lately, and Alistair suspects it has something to do with the Aer and suggests to Federock to investigate further.
Yuri, Flynn, and the twins go on guard duty, where they talk about their comrades, their dogs, the latest mission, Artes, and we learn that Yuri and Flynn really look up to the Commander like a father. Throughout the patrol, a puppy-aged Repede (complete with a stick instead of a pipe) follows Yuri around like... well, a puppy. Yuri tries to get him to return, but with little success. Federock passes by with his dog Lambert and Yuri eventually asks him to take Repede back to the barracks with him. Lambert picks him up by the scruff as Federock leaves to investigate the stagnant Aer in the nearby woods. Yuri asks Justel (?) to show him how to use blastia, which she tries to show off, but ends up with a really weak fireball. Apparently she's only a novice. But Hisuka comes over to help her cast the spell and together they get a satisfying blast in the sky over the city. As Federock returns, he notices this and chastises them for fooling around with magic on duty. Oops.
After guard duty, the four friends head off to the barracks, but Hisuka wants to stop by a tavern and get something to eat. Flynn declines, apparently not interested in eating at a tavern with a certain person around. Yuri is offended, and the twins strong-arm him into coming along. Inside, Yuri hears some of the lowlifes talking, so he loudly badmouths them in general. Predictably, a bar brawl ensues, with Yuri single-handedly taking out the horde of angry patrons. Flynn (and Raven) sits at the bar trying to ignore them. ('This always happens.') Until one of the patrons makes the mistake of sucker-punching Flynn for the crime of being associated with Yuri. The Flynn loses it and beats the crap out of the remaining fighters, even to Yuri's surprise. Finally, a large man steps in and tells the others to cut it out. The brawlers are cowed into stopping, and the large man approaches Yuri and tells him he has 'good eyes'. Yuri cops some more attitude and the large man is amused. He introduces himself as a Guild leader (didn't catch his name - looks a bit like Don Whitehorse, but it wouldn't make sense for him to be here) and asks Yuri to chat with him. He offers Yuri a position in the Guild and Yuri expresses some interest in it, but his friends drag him off before anything else happens. Back in the barracks, the twins treat Yuri and Flynn's injuries (they use magic for Flynn, but make Yuri suffer with normal first-aid 'How come HE gets blastia treatment?'). There's some heavy discussion about Yuri considering the Guild leader's offer, and Flynn is upset (apparently he feels abandoned? We're soon treated to a flashback showing how Flynn's father died in the line of service as a knight, leaving Flynn and his mother to fend for themselves).
The next day Federock and Hisuka go out to question the famous blastia scientist Mordio at Alistair's suggestion. The Aer has been getting worse, so they're hoping to find some solution. They use their (poorly-drawn) map to find their way to Mordio's house (after getting lost a few times). They knock on the door, but decide to go in when there's no answer. Inside the messy scientist's cabin, they are treated to a sleepy 'Die, thieves!' and a fireball, where only Hisuka's quick Force Field spell saves them (though the cabin's front door isn't so lucky). Federock and Hisuka approach the sleeping figure and are surprised to find a kid. They explain themselves to the sleepy Rita Mordio and convince her to help them by bribing her with a shiny blastia. She explains that whatever's going wrong with the Aer Krene, it probably has something to do with a broken blastia and that if they find the source, they can fix the problem. She gives them some blastia programs to help purify the Aer. Federock gives her the shiny blastia much to Rita's delight as she hugs the item like a teddy bear and flops back on her bed to finish her nap.
Back at the imperial city, Yuri notices that some travelers are being attacked outside the barrier blastia. He rushes out there to help the other soldiers fend off the wolf monsters and a strange sickly-red slime monster that they've never seen before. ('Could this be related to the Aer?!') Yuri and Flynn hold off the wolves and manage to deter the slimy tentacle thing long enough to save a little girl like some big damn heroes. Once the people are safe, the canine brigade rushes out to chase the retreating monsters. Worried, the human soldiers follow after them into the woods. In pursuit, one of the soldiers is suddenly attacked and pulled away at incredible speed before his screams are muffled by a spray of blood. The soldiers hurry, trying to find the canine unit, but another soldier is attacked. He is saved at the last moment by the large Guild leader from the tavern. He and some Guild members have come along to help. Yuri suddenly notices the shadow of a dog in the distance and calls out to Lambert (the lead dog). The Guild leader stops Yuri before he can get closer though, and suddenly the dog attacks, rushing forward at impossible speed. Yuri defends and it becomes clear that the canine unit is beyond rescue as the slimy tentacle thing has merged itself with the dogs, their heads and forelegs protruding from its slimy red mass and dripping blood and drooling madly. One of the soldiers tries to cast magic at the monstrosity, but his blastia malfunctions and quickly pulls it off his arm and tosses it before it explodes. The sound prompts another attack and Guild member is pulled into the air in front of Justel (?) before a shower of blood is rained down on her, causing her to freak out. To save her, Yuri finally snaps out of his own shock and cuts the beast in half, anguished over being unable to save his commander's faithful dog.
Federock and Hisuka return to find what damage has been done. Justel (?) is in shock, and Lambert is dead. Yuri is out in the stables taking care of Repede, feeling guilty over having killed the puppy's father. Federock tells him to forgive himself.
Flynn meanwhile has been summoned to the palace (I assume to report on the monster situation). He meets with Alexei, who denies whatever request for help he had, and one of Alexei's underlings makes some snide comments about Flynn's father. While there, Flynn gets to see Estelle, who is excited to meet with him. They talk briefly and she's curious about his adventures and friends, but her attendants lead her away before long, Estelle looking sad. Flynn meets with Alistair, who advises him not to be so complacent and always follows rules so strictly - after all, that's what happened to his father, and even Commander Federock. Flynn asks Federock about this, and the commander explains how he was unable to protect his wife and daughter a long time ago, showing Flynn a photograph. Flynn resolves to protect what's important to him.
Before long, the brigade stages a mission with their limited resources to fix the Aer Krene. With Rita's information, they are able to locate the source in a ruined castle not far from the imperial city. The corrupted Aer around the castle makes using blastia impossible, much to Federock's troops' displeasure. But Federock gives them the Aer purifiers from Rita, allowing them to use the blastia for a short amount of time. The soldiers fight their way to castle, taking out more of the red-slime Aer monsters that seem capable of fusing with different creatures and even water and stone. The large Guild leader arrives to save the day again, apparently having been tipped off by Raven. He and the Guild members hold off the monsters as Yuri and the others hurry on to the center of the castle. After taking out a giant rock golem Aer creature in an awesome fight sequence, they discover the giant pulsating machine spewing out corrupted Aer. Federock activates a strange device from Rita, which halts the flow of Aer into the machine. Of course, once stopped, the entire castle begins to shake and our heroes run for the exit, but small explosion knocks one of the twins unconscious and Federock runs to grab her. As they retreat, Flynn notices a strange blastia embedded into the floor and suddenly the floor collapses behind him where Federock is. Federock tosses the girl to Yuri, telling them to hurry and escape. Yuri refuses, but Federock tosses him his bohdi blastia and tells Flynn to take care of the brigade. They manage to escape as the castle seethes with corrupted Aer and eventally collapses in another gross spectacle.
The brigade members mourn the loss of their Commander and the twins are particularly distraught. Yuri tells them that the Commander looked particularly cool when he saved them. On the day of the funeral, Alexei's underling makes a snide comment to Yuri and Flynn about Federock's ineptitude - being unable to advance in the ranks, being unable to save his family, and finally winding up dead; if he was smart, he'd stay away from all that action personally; Flynn would do well not to make the same mistakes. Yuri punches the guy hard, and when he complains to the other soldiers, they ignore him and carry Federock's ceremonial coffin out to the funeral procession. As the funeral ends, Flynn notices an strange blastia on Alistair's wrist that reminds him of the blastia in the castle floor. Remembering Alistair's words about Federock being an incapable commander, Flynn pieces things together. He tells Yuri that it's not over yet and they agree to confront Alistair.
The two of them quickly make their way to Alistair's office-library and demand an explanation, showing him the matching blastia from the castle as proof. Alistair admits to having set up the Commander while he was experimenting (?) with the blastia in the Aer Krene. Yuri and Flynn attack, but Alistair is a very skilled mage and holds them both at bay with little trouble. A short fight ensues, with Alistair manipulating rubble and fallen books to nearly bury both of them alive before Flynn manages to buy Yuri enough time to put on Federock's bohdi blastia. Flynn and Yuri team up to use the blastia similarly to how Hisuka and Justel demostrated earlier, which blindsides Alistair before Yuri rushes in and skewers him.
A short time later, we see Flynn walk into his quarters, with Yuri's half of the room now vacant. Outside, we see Yuri waving to his former comrades, now dressed in his clothes from the game. He begins to leave for the lower quarter, Repede in tow, and is stopped by Flynn. The two of them share a brief goodbye ('I'm worried what kind of trouble you'll get into out there alone.' 'How insulting, I won't be alone, I have Repede.') and the film ends, playing the ToV theme song from the game.
Well, the movie is gorgeous. There's no problems there, it was a joy to watch. Colorful, crisp, and the character designs are nice. I really like how the Imperial Knights' clothes look. The animation looks like it was made by the same studio that does all the Tales' openings and it's definitely a step above the Tales of the Abyss anime. The spell effects and battle sequences were particularly impressive.
Storywise, despite the wall of text above, it's really easy to ignore the story. This is for the best as story just isn't Tales' strong point. Instead, there's a much heavier focus on character interaction and trying to humanize all the events going on. It's nice to see that Namco is at least able to play to its strengths. It does a good job setting things up for the game while not being completely boring as a stand-alone story. Probably the best one can hope for from a Tales movie.
I was really impressed with the attention to little details in the movie. Characters were never completely static on-screen, even during some of the longer conversation sequences. We get close-ups of the workings of the more intricate weapons like the magic crossbows, and more importantly, the many forms that blastia takes in the series.
Musically, the film was a bit lacking. While it made good use of music in action sequences, there was simply too much silence overall.
Personally, I was really pleased with the movie as it served its purpose as an action-fest with a lot of emphasis on the characters and it never forgets that its primary audience came to see this movie because it loved the game. Not bad for the first Tales movie to make it to the big screen. Needs more Judith though.