The gaming community have been suffering through it for years now, dragged through a cycle of false hope and beleaguered embarrassment as the film industry repeatedly tries and fails to bring our favourite games to the silver screen. The ‘video-game adaptation’ is one of those articles of cinema that has an almost 0% success rate, yet they continue to get green-lit.
Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, Need for Speed, fun games all, but not particularly strong as far as story is concerned. The problem is that a lot of the games that are currently being adapted are relatively recent and game developers have a much better understanding of interactive storytelling now, so even when a game does have a great story, telling it in any context outside of a videogame doesn’t really do it justice. Portal has a fantastic story but it wouldn’t work in any other format. Really then, the ideal games for film treatment are games that had a great story, but were somewhat lacking in the gameplay department and thereby failed to convey it in an engaging way. The best adaptations take an interesting story and use the new format to breathe new life into it, The Lord of the Rings is a great example, taking Middle Earth and looking at it from a new perspective, emphasizing themes that differed from those of the novel but were no less pertinent.
So, here’s my list of videogames that I think would translate brilliantly into cinema, you might not have played all of them, you might not have even heard of some of them, but that’s not the point of this, success and popularity are off the table.
To The Moon
This is one of the more recent games on the list, a short RPG that was released on PC in 2011. To The Moon was one of the earlier entries in a fairly recent spate of callbacks to the classic 90s RPG era of Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger and the like, it is fondly remembered for being visually sumptuous, having a wonderful score but more than anything else for being one of the most heartbreaking games ever. There isn’t actually a great deal of gameplay to speak of as far as this one is concerned, it guides you through the story with basic point-and-click prompts interspersed with the odd puzzle, there is one humorous moment in which you are wrong footed into thinking you’re about the enter a turn based battle. The premise is simple and engaging: a machine exists that allows people to access and edit people’s memories so that they might be granted a dying wish, they won’t have actually done the thing they’re wishing for but they will be implanted with memories of having done it, placed there by doctors who have explored their minds. It’s kind of like a mixture of Inception, Total Recall and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with the tone being closest to the latter. The story follows someone undergoing this treatment, Johnny, who wishes to take a trip to the moon, the issue with this is that he doesn’t remember why so the two doctors: Eva and Neil, enter his mind to investigate. It’s complex, tragic and often morally polarizing. Since the story is largely built around memory, the science fiction is more thematic than aesthetic, with much of the game-taking place in an ornate mansion. As a film it would make an excellent, thought provoking character drama that could really explore ideas about regret and conflict as the game does.
Japanese RPGs are an interesting and varied breed, they range from the sublime to the bizarre to the pornographic but they are often more heavily reliant on strength of story than anything else. Many fall into the trap of becoming overly convoluted or contrived but every once in a while one will get the formula just right. The Persona series is all based around an interesting premise – the idea that people could summon spectral projections of aspects of their personality. This leads into the typical JRPG realms of fighting monsters and crossing dimensions but with the right plotline behind it, something very compelling could emerge, something that blurs the lines between introspective fantasy, magic and reality.
The reason I singled the 4th game out is that the plot that holds this premise up is fairly interesting: a town being plagued by mysterious murders which involve the victims being found hanging from TV antennas, while simultaneously a rumor spreads about being able to see your soul mate if you peer into an inactive TV screen on a rainy evening. Weird? Yes, but compelling nonetheless. As a film it would have to be complex and broad in scope but if it was handled the right way it could almost shuffle the board of the teen fantasy genre, stretch it and darken it. No anime has ever really had a wholly satisfying live-action counterpart, let alone a Western one and I’d say Persona has all the necessary ingredients.
The Legacy of Kain Series
Starting with 1996’s Blood Omen, the surprisingly little remembered series was a 3rd person hack-and-slash affair that was pretty uninspiring as far as gameplay went but represents one of the finest examples of the ‘anti-hero’ theme in gaming, it was God of War before God of War ever God of Warred. In the first game Kain is a nobleman who gets jumped and killed before being offered the chance to return as a vampire and exact his retribution by a necromancer. What follows is a morality play that reflects on the futility of revenge and the sanctity of life, among other things. With the advent of things like Breaking Bad, anti-heroes are becoming a more popular facet of on-screen storytelling and it’d certainly be nice to spend some time in the company of a vampire who traded sparkling and whining for 8-inch claws, green skin, a missing bottom jaw and an arsenal of dark powers. Kain is a fascinating character, cynical, hateful and misguided and his story loses none of its intrigue through the course of the series, all whilst an overarching plot about the mysterious world of Nosgoth drives everything forwards. The whole series calls the idea of balance into question and never really pins down what’s wrong or right, characters constantly betray each other and nobody’s motives are certain. You could build a really powerful, epic gothic series from this franchise and many fans have long been clamoring for some kind of revival, believing that the limitations of gaming at the time kept the games from reaching their true potential.
The Longest Journey
Out of all the gaming genres, the point-and-click adventure genre contains perhaps the greatest wealth of game-to-film candidates. Hell, it could be argued that the most successful game adaptation to date was Pirates of the Caribbean, as it is sometimes claimed to have been a total rip-off of Monkey Island. The reason these games often have highly engaging stories and lackluster gameplay is because the gameplay is almost completely unnecessary, it’s kind of only there so that what you have in front you still counts as a videogame, it usually just amounts to long bouts of arbitrary item-based puzzle solving: combine thing 1 with thing 2 to make thing 3 happen.
It’s hard to nail down exactly which one of these games would make the best film, Grim Fandango seems like it’s almost begging for Tim Burton to get ahold of it (as long as he stays well clear of the script, casting and everything that isn’t directing or production design) and Broken Sword could be a really gripping conspiracy thriller in the right hands but for my money the one that most deserves a new lease on life is The Longest Journey. On paper the story exists on ground well-trodden: a girl discovers that she can shift between the normal world (Stark) and a parallel, magical one (Arcadia) and it ultimately falls upon her to save both of them. As clichéd as that premise is, the world that the game painted was diverse and fascinating, featuring races like the Ent-like Venar, who have no concept of past or future. Perhaps the most compelling aspect of The Longest Journey though is the dialogue, which you could almost lift straight out of the game and put into a screenplay, it flows more naturally and engagingly than any other dialogue I’ve heard in a game before or since and it almost represents the gaming equivalent of A Song of Ice and Fire, a well recognized fantasy setting occupied by flawed, believable characters who behave as real people would, thus expanding the drama. The game hasn’t dated all that well but you can really see the potential in the world-design too, the decaying, patchwork futurism of Stark and the sprawling natural vistas of Arcadia, it’s a treasure trove of imagination just waiting to be tapped into.
Rule of Rose
Horror games are almost the polar opposite of point-and-click games for movie material because horror is actually a genre that gaming does better than cinema, even at this early stage. An interactive format is always going to induce fear better than a non-interactive one and if you ask me no film can match a game like Amnesia: The Dark Descent or Condemned in terms of pure, shittifying dread but then I’ve always been kind of a hard man to please when it comes to things like that, I don’t scare easily, which irritates me because it means I end up not getting anywhere near the same thrill out of a lot of things as all you lucky cowards, but I digress. Rule of Rose is an exception to all this because it has a unique, compelling story marred by buggy, tedious gameplay full of corridors and kitchenware. Perhaps most well known for the controversy it caused by allegedly being an interactive child abuse simulator (exclusively accused of this by people who had never played it, or any videogame ever), it was actually a thematically intriguing exploration of childhood development. It’s actually been compared to Lord of the Flies.
You play as Jennifer, a young woman who blunders into an old house and ends up in the custody of an isolated sect of disturbed children called the Red Crayon Aristocrats. As they toy with her, more light is shed on both their past and Jennifer’s and a dark, unsettling yarn is spun involving gender reassignment, child-abuse and dog murdering. There are some moments in Rule of Rose that are amongst the most disturbing, thought provoking narrative beats I’ve ever encountered and the whole thing is presented in a delightfully dingy 1930s England setting that evokes Grimm and Caroll with overwhelming us with either, I’d argue that it does a better job in that regard than even American McGee’s Alice. The difference there is that Alice is a well rounded, compelling game in every respect and Rule of Rose is just so broken in terms of gameplay that you really have to fight with yourself to get to the end. As a film it would fall into the same territory as The Orphanage, The Others and other such lovely, gothic fare, but it would be darker, more challenging and more daring. Films of that ilk are proven to get arses in seats and it would be a shame to let Rule of Rose be resigned to the appendices of gaming history as a sub-par survival horror that pissed off a few idiots.
Final Fantasy VI
Most of us would rather forget the first attempt to make a Final Fantasy movie; The Spirits Within was a plodding, boneless misstep that had virtually nothing to do with any game in the series. There have been various iterations since then, the most memorable being Advent Children: a continuation of Final Fantasy VII but nothing has ever really left a lasting impression. The problem with giving the cinematic treatment to virtually any FF game (or anything similar) is that they’re all just too damn long, it’s very difficult to condense more than 30 hours of play into 2 hours of viewing and even in the case of more recent ones where there is only about 2 hours worth of substantial story, said story is just too bizarre, convoluted and contrived to weave an engaging screenplay from. So far as I’m concerned, Final Fantasy VI remains the best candidate, you could make an epic film from Final Fantasy VI. As the story goes, some long past cataclysmic war almost tore the world apart as humanity tried to harness the power of ancient spirits, while everyone tried to rebuild technology in the aftermath a rift emerged between the empire and the common people. Years later a woman named Terra with mysterious powers is cut off from imperial control and joins up with the resistance.
FF VI had a much more steampunk-esque feel that ultimately carried into the rest of the series and nearly every other JRPG to date. There’s a massive, sweeping 3 hour epic (perhaps even 2) waiting to be coaxed out of FF VI, replete with drama, tragedy and a wealth of complex characters, you’d have to cut it down and move things around but once again all the key ingredients are present and LOTR proved that epic fantasy can be realized for screen more potently than ever before with the right amount of motivation and scale. If you ask me, FF VI could be the game adaptation that changes things, the one that breathes new life into them; all we need is someone to take on the challenge (AHEM. AHEM.).