Cards on the table: I’m a huge ‘Mass Effect’ fan. I’ve played all three games (including both endings of 3, which were almost equally disappointing) as well as the DLC, read expanded universe novels and the ‘Art of Mass Effect’ book sits on the coffee table. Suffice it to say I was keen to see the universe explored in a different medium. Paragon Lost claims to be a prequel to ‘Mass Effect 3’, but it actually takes place in the two years that Commander Shepard is, erm, out of action near the beginning of ‘Mass Effect 2’. It focusses on James Vega (arguably the least interesting character from the third game) and his crew of space marines as they come into contact with the Reapers in Shepard’s absence.
Being produced by Funimation, this is a cartoon drawn in a fairly simple 2D anime style. The first thing I noticed, however, was that the animation wasn’t all that great. The characters feature very little detail, which is fine, but then the action scenes are hard to follow, as characters and objects blur around the screen without any clear terms of reference. The backgrounds are of varying quality also; some have a pretty, painterly appearance whilst some are rendered in 3D. The animation is so sub-par, that in fact it’s only the sound design that saves the film, and for the most part the sound effects seem to have been sourced directly from the game.
Freddie Prinze Jr. is the only cast member from the game to make an appearance, though his voice doesn’t sound quite as pitch shifted as it seemed in ME3. The others are made up of a bunch of recognisable voices from English anime dubs. The quality of the performance is all good, but it’s distracting when the animated versions of Admiral Hackett, Dr Liara T’Soni and Captain Anderson have different voices.
But when push comes to shove and we approach the climax of the film, something strange happens. The narrative finally takes hold and we’re treated with a somewhat powerful dénouement. I appreciate that the phrase ‘somewhat powerful’ is an awkward term, but it really does best describe what happens here. Conceptually, the idea works, but in practice it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Nevertheless, the ending of Paragon Lost is surprisingly emotive and quite reminiscent of the types of significant character moments that take place within the Mass Effect games.
The Blu-ray presentation is pretty, but as I said, the animation is nothing to get excited about. There are a number of brief documentaries, the most interesting focussing primarily on the makers of the games, the least interesting simply being an excuse for EA Games to show off its funky headquarters.
Paragon Lost will only interest diehard fans who can’t get enough of the ME universe. For everyone else, it’s an underwhelming experience. Above all, people who haven’t played the games definitely shouldn’t use this as a benchmark to decide whether or not to dip their toes in the franchise.
Mass Effect: Paragon Lost is available now from Madman on DVD and Blu-ray.Rating: