In my experience with anime and video games, it's not often that a Western property gets any sort of love in Japan. While plenty of Japanese games and media get attention in the States and Europe, it seems pretty typical for our shooters and role-playing games to languish on store shelves. That probably has something to do with playing habits and game structures not being quite as appealing to Eastern audiences. Either way, I'm always surprised when an American property is able to get some sort of Japanese element involved.
With that in mind, you can bet that I was quite surprised to hear that the Dragon Age series was getting a CG movie done by a Japanese company with an emphasis on both sides of the ocean. Of all the possible franchises that I'd imagine getting any sort of attention, Dragon Age was not one of them. Everything from the gameplay to design of the entire world to the structure of the game proper seemed to be antithetical to Japanese audiences. Well, somebody talked to the right people and signed the right papers to get Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker made.
Is it any good? Well, looking at the header should give you a hint about what I think. Hit the jump to find out why.
Before we get into the review proper, I'll rundown some of the history you need to know. There's a lot of stuff they could've put in here, but luckily they stuck to the basic Mage/Templar conflict and stayed away from the heavy political intrigue and racial conflicts. In the world of Dragon Age, Thedas, magic isn't a gateway to awesome. It's viewed by many as a curse that can lead people into getting possessed by any number of demons. In order to combat this, the Chantry formed the Templars, an organization that went out of its way to protect people from rouge mages, and the Circle of the Magi, towers that housed mages in order to teach them to control their powers and, you know, not harm the general populace. Unfortunately, many Templars let their power get to their heads. Instead of protecting the people of Thedas, the Templars oppress all magic users. This causes many people who would calmly join the Circles to instead run away and cause untold mischief. The Chantry thus created the Seekers, a group of agents that secretly keep an eye on the Templars and perform important activities that other arms of the church cannot. Thus, you have a circle of conflict between the Seekers, the Chantry and the Mages, both in the Circle and running about. With that in mind, let's get into the movie.
Dawn of the Seeker features Cassandra Pentaghast, a young Seeker in Orlais that gets involved in a massive conspiracy. The whole thing starts with Cassandra and a group of Seekers attacking a group of mages said to be working some dark magic. They discover that the mages were prepping a young girl kidnapped from the local Orlisian Circle for some sort of dark ritual. When the girl isn't returned to the Circle upon her return, Cassandra's mentor decides to take matters into his own hands and get her to safety. Of course, things go wrong when the surviving mage from earlier returns, takes the girl and leaves Cassandra's mentor dead. With the help of Galyan, her mentor's contact within the Circle, Cassandra escapes and works out who is behind the conspiracy with the little girl and what it has to do with the Chantry and Orlais. When they find out how deep the betrayal runs, it's up to Cassandra and Galyan to prevent a massive disaster that will bring down the Orlisian Chantry.
To be blunt, this is a pretty boring story. While I don't mind a tale that's been told before, I am not fond of something so utterly rote and lacking in anything original. You know that Cassandra's mentor is going to die, you know who the traitor is and how everything is going to go down. Everything is telegraphed with nary any subtlety in sight. There are a lot of interesting ideas in the world of Dragon Age as presented in the games, so it's disappointing that there's very little substance here. Then again, this is set in a world that has other criss-crossing points of fiction, so I can see why the story couldn't change the face of the land itself. This is supposed to be set before the events of Dragon Age 2, so they'd have to keep somethings consistent.
Besides the general story, none of the characters are particular interesting. Cassandra is fairly cute, but there's nothing that separates her from the other characters besides her hate of anything magic due to a tragic past. She acts like you typical hot-headed tsundere. Galyan is pretty bland as well, having no sort of flair besides general human decency. None of the villains were memorable either. Hell, these guys are as cookie-cutter fantasy as you can get. The nicest thing I can say is that the English voices were pretty well done. I typically stick to Japanese language when I have the choice, but the US voices actually emote when necessary. The only positive thing I can say about the Japanese language track is that the villain is voiced by GACKT. If you dig the voice of androgynous vampire rock stars, then be my guest and give it a listen. Besides that, stick with the English voices.
The visuals were also a bit disappointing. It doesn't look good in motion. In stills, it looks nice. Great, in fact. However, when people start hoping around and sword fighting, it looks like a mediocre cutscene from a game. I will say that the designs themselves look nice. As mentioned early, I found Cassandra to be visually appealing and I dug the demon and dragon designs. Besides that, it's not a good looking production.
In terms of special features, you've got a tour of Bioware's studio, a backstage feature for Dawn of the Seeker, production art and your usual slate of previews. It's nothing that will sell you on the product, but they're OK. I dug the Bioware tour, but that's because I really like their games. If you aren't a big fan, then it's unlikely to impress you. Hell, if you aren't a fan of Bioware or their games, why would you even buy this?
And that there is the crux of the problem here. If you aren't a fan of the Dragon Age franchise or a staunch supporter of Bioware, there is little reason to pick up this movie. It assumes a lot of fore-knowledge that a quick tutorial before the beginning of the film cannot give. I even find it difficult to recommend this to fans of the Dragon Age games, as it adds little to nothing to the overall lore. At its best, Dawn of the Seeker is a inoffensive distraction. At its worst, it's 90 minutes you'll never have back.
4.0 – Subpar. Though not offensively bad, this one is just plainly poor. It’ll find dogged defenders, but just can’t appeal to anyone outside that deluded circle.
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