Monday, 28 January 2013

Mass Effect: Paragon Lost (Film Review)

Like novels, animated adaptations of video games are something which started to emerge during the 90s and have crept more and more into being a common feature of big name franchises. They’re usually used to just boost profits and their actual quality varies between passable to downright awful. Very few manage to actually be good enough to warrant more than a rental, but Mass Effect: Paragon Lost is not one of those few. It’s okay, vastly better than Dead Space: Aftermath but not Halo Legends by a long shot.

The story of the film follows Mass Effect 3 character James Vega and his previous career in the Alliance military. The film builds upon events he previously spoke of such as an encounter with the enigmatic Collectors and showing signs of having the potential the game often spoke of. That’s about it really, showing Vega defending one world for several years and eventually tying into an event he spoke of.

As with many of these OVAs it unfortunately doesn’t add much to the universe. There’s nothing we didn’t know before or needed to know presented here and while it’s nice the writers didn’t mess with the timeline too much, this is basically an inconsequential side-story. It doesn’t tie into later events or give things a greater scale, if anything it actually causes problems by leaving some loose ends. With one character repeating the same incident which made Shepard special to begin with, yet will never be mentioned beyond the events here. Not that the Citadel Council would have likely accepted anyone else trying to warn them of the Reapers, but they could have at least made some background codex entry of her actions in the third game.

Even if you can look past that it’s insanely generic. The story feels like it’s been written to hit a series of key notes and clichéd events rather than independently thought out and it visibly suffers due to this. You have an untested hero, a seemingly unstoppable threat, an ensemble band of character types and even a villain who switches sides only to die at the end. Despite all that happens, despite being set in a universe with a huge possibility for much greater stories the actual plot Is of no notability. You could make a drinking game out of the number of basic action film/horror film situations you’ve seen a thousand times before but you’d be smashed before the second act was over.

So it’s generic and acts as a side-story not expanding upon anything which came before, does it at least serve as a good entry point to the series for new people? Not really. Paragon Lost doesn’t take the time to explain a lot of either for the setting or villains. It says the Blood Pack are mercenaries and other basic details but never goes beyond that so a lot of people will likely end up being very lost. For all the flack Dead Space: Downfall and some of Aftermath might have gotten for explaining things people already knew, they at least made sure newcomers understood some of what they were watching. Admittedly the characters wouldn’t know who the Collectors are so they couldn’t do much with them, but it’s hard not to think how much is not being told.

If there is something to be credited with it’s that many of the basic elements beyond the story are fairly decent, with only the plot being the weak link in the film.

The English voice acing cast consists of a few of FUNimation regulars, Vic Mignogna being the one most people will recognise, and those with a few decades of voice acting experience. None of the main characters come across as weak and the voices fit their characters perfectly. Well with the exception of the asari have an oddly vacant quality to their lines which makes them sound like the actors are directly reading off of the script in practice. That aside it’s not outstanding but it’s a cut above average and there’s a visible effort to make use of what they’ve been given. Plus Freddie Prinze Jr. again proves that he can make Vega likable despite his character’s shortcomings. The only problem with them all is that the script can’t seem to decide if they’re actually spec ops or a rookie unit whose not seen combat until now.

When the action does take over from the story it suddenly becomes a vastly better film. The battle scenes are easily the highlight and while they often dip into back flipping Matrix-esque gunfights once too often they’re still enjoyable to watch. There’s no added-in shaky-cam or the usual frenetic blind rushes of cinematography sometimes found within bad one shot anime, instead moving fluidly from one combatant to the next. This is helped by visible bumps in the animation quality when people are charging into battle, even if they do feature overdone visual action clichés and unsubtle computer enhanced graphics.

The animation style as a whole is mostly unremarkable. Bland but doing nothing exceptionally wrong just with strangely smooth looks when it comes to skin tone and more subtle expressions. It’s much more suited to the more alien looking creatures of the MEverse than human ones. The collectors and oddly shark-like krogan are often better expressive and more dynamic than the humanoid figures and despite seeming less flexible have an added sense of physicality to their presence which the humans lack. Still even the animation also has visible highs and lows. The aforementioned rise in quality when it comes to the actions scenes but suffers horrendously when it displaying ships in flight. Largely because of the cost cutting measure of having the vehicles and some environments being low quality rendered CGI, which as ever sticks out like a sore thumb.

That’s the gist of Paragon Lost. A release with a very flawed and problematic story with pretty good action scenes, average overall animation and decent voice acting. It’s just a forgettable, run of the mill one shot video game tie-in which fails to really rise to the quality fans expect and makes use of the depth of the universe. While definitely not bad it’s nothing worth more than a few days rental, even with the detailed extras on the blu-ray DVD, but unless you’re already a fan you’d be better off finding something else to watch.


Mass Effect: Paragon Lost and all related characters and media are owned by Bioware, Electronic Arts and FUNhouse.

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