One of the more popular trends in film and video games is the production of prequel or related animated films.
These films are generally short, poorly animated, feature ugly animation and are overall just plan bad.
However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes if you put the right group of people on a project you’ll end up making something that is not only good but adds to the overall universe of the franchise.
Mass Effect: Paragon Lost is an animated film produced by Production I.G. and based upon the Mass Effect game franchise developed by Bioware.
The film opens a few months after the death of John Shepard and the destruction of the Normandy, the Alliance flagship. We see a group of marines being dropped on a human colony called Fehl Prime.
The army is called in to fight when members of the Blood Pack, one of the mercenary groups in the Mass Effect universe, starts attacking the base.
The battle is brutal with heavy casualties on both sides but ends with the Marines capturing the surviving Pack member.
The soldiers are soon ordered to stay on the colony in order to protect it from any other attacks.
Two years later the surviving group including Essex (Eric Vale), Kamillle (Laura Bailey), Captain Toni (Travis Willigham) and Mass Effect 3 character James Vega (Freddie Prince Jr.) have settled on the colony and have adjusted to life on the colony.
However, their peace is soon disturbed when an alien artifact is soon discovered and the squad along with Asari scientist Treeya (Monica Rial) and trader Messer (Vic Mignogna) investigate.
They discover that the artifact was a diversion and the colony is soon invaded by the Collectors, the main enemy of Mass Effect 2.
The squad must try and free the colonist from the Collectors and find any information that they can before the threat destroys the colony.
On a technical side, Paragon Lost isn’t the most impressive looking animated film. Like many other animated features, it’s limited budget and timeframe make for bit of a messy art style.
However, the animation is very consistent. There’s never any moments where the animation look horrible it’s good enough for some good looking battle scenes, flashy effects for the biotic powers and even uses some of Production I.G. 3D animation for some of the ship animations.
The art style also works during the fight choreography during the opening 20 minutes of the film.
Production I.G. also used most of the designs from the games as inspiration so the guns, powers and aliens look fairly close to their video game counter parts.
However, not every is the same, with the biggest change being the size of the Collectors themselves.
Over the course of the film’s hour and a half running time the size of the enemies seems to change from normal height to around 15 feet tall. Aside from that there are few changes to the franchises over-all look.
Art design isn’t the only thing that Paragon Lost emulates, as the films writing is close to the same quality of the games.
Despite the film not being written by series creators or any of the writers of the books and comics, screenplay writer Henry Gilroy (Star Wars: The Clone Wars 2008) seems to get close to the tone of the series as a whole.
The dialogue is solid and the overall plot is straightforward and matches up with the lore put forward with the rest of the games.
Couple the writing with a score done by Mass Effect 1 and 2 composer David Kates and Joshua R. Mosely and the film matches the feel of the games quite well.
However, the real story behind the film is just how is evolves one of the franchises characters.
When Vega is first introduced in ME3 his motivations aren’t clear, he seems not to care about what Shepard has done in the past and is almost untrusting of him after working with the evil Cerberus.
However, over the course of the game it’s made clear that there’s more going on with the square jawed grunt.
Vega is forced to make a difficult decision between saving thousands or saving one with Intel that could save more lives.
While he idolizes Shepard in the beginning for being able to make the sacrifice to save people, he struggles to deal with the remorse that comes with being a leader.
The film gives the audience another perspective on the character and his actions. He’s still a prick in the game though.
Solid writing notwithstanding, there are still some issues with the film, the biggest coming from the voice action from said main character.
While it’s fair to say that Freddie Prince Jr. isn’t Kevin Conroy, he still has this odd stiffness that comes when a regular actors are put into a voice action roles.
It’s not as bad as Jared Padalecki in the Supernatural Anime Series but Prince seems to be off in the timing of his performance. At times he spits out his dialogue like he’s doing a Speed Racer impression.
Let me be clear that this isn’t his entire fault as part of the trouble with dubbing is getting the lip flaps in line with the dialogue, but his performance seems rushed and it’s noticeable near the end of the film.
Additionally, the characters around Vega aren’t as deep as you’d expect from a Mass Effect title.
While the film focuses on Vega and the events that lead him to the Normandy, his team are cursed with cliché and poor scripting.
Some characters never seem to move past, “You owe me a beer for this.”
If you can look past the poor characterization, the rest of the film is written quite well.
Stiffness and poor characterization aside, Paragon Lost is much better than it has any right to be.
Most direct to video animated prequel films are passable at best, but this film seems to not only make a solid watch for non-fans, it proves that the Mass Effect universe translates well into animation.
Mass Effect: Paragon Lost was produced by Production I.G. The title is licensed by FUNimation.