Star Wars: Visions is here and it is The Way!
As a long time fan of Star Wars and Japanese Anime - and as someone who has added elements of the latter into RPG campaigns of the former since the late 80s - I was incredibly excited for this project. Now that it's out and I've seen it, I'd like to discuss my opinions about the series and what game related possibilities the episodes suggest.
I am going to address each installment separately and as a result my reviews* (such as they are) will be fairly brief. At the end of the post I will throw in some RPG related thoughts. Please be aware that with nine episodes, even brief overviews will result in this post being a bit on the long side. As there is a lot to unpack from some of these pieces, I will not get to all I want to discuss in this one blog entry. You are likely reading the first of several posts. How many and in what form it's difficult to say.
Always in motion is the future.
See Star Wars: Visions before reading this.
Trust me. Trust in The Force.
The Duel (by Kamikaze Dougal) 10/10
I don't know where to begin. This. Thing. Was. FLAWLESS! Every aspect of it from the art style and palette (black and white with only highlights of color) to the storytelling and pace were absolutely astounding! The voices, the sound effects, the music - all perfect!
A clear homage to the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa that inspired George Lucas to create Star Wars in the first place, this work brings it all full circle in a stunning display of culture and cinema.
My only complaint is that it was an odd choice to open with this one as it is literally the best of the best. It is so good in so many ways that every other entry pales in comparison. Even when the other episodes are excellent, they still can't hold a candle to 'The Duel'.
Tatooine Rhapsody (by Studio Colorido) 6.5/10
Fun and adorably animated with a bit of pathos mixed in, this one was enjoyable if not particularly deep or groundbreaking. It reminded me of an old campaign of Star Wars I ran back in High School called 'Near Miss', about a misfit rock band of Humans and aliens who moonlight as Rebels against the Empire.
The Twins (by Trigger) 5/10
While visually distinct and impressive, The Twins was by far my least favorite of the assortment.
What we see happening is far too over-the-top to be taking place in the Star Wars universe, though it is reminiscent of some older, 'Silver Age' Anime. It also pulls on elements from the Sequel Trilogy and that was a definite turn off for me. All in all this episode is very pretty nonsense and I expected more from studio Trigger.
The Village Bride (by Kinema Citrus) 8/10
This was a very interesting entry with great potential that was regrettably limited by its length. I felt there was a lot more to this story than we got to experience and unfortunately that holds it back from being scored higher.
Don't get me wrong, I really liked it; I just feel the power of the planet and its connection to the people who lived there, the female Jedi's former master who hailed from this world, and whatever was up with her mask and suit was information I really wanted to know that the episode merely hints at and then moves on from. It was all cool but not completely satisfying.
Example: The people and world were linked and the Force visibly present but it never really applies to the fight against the enemy. To defeat the invaders an outsider is needed and that outsider, the very cool female Jedi, doesn't seem to tap into the planet's power, so why mention it?
The Ninth Jedi (by Production IG) 9/10
Now this...this is how you make a Star Wars story.
The premise of The Ninth Jedi is what a Star Wars universe 'sequel' should be. Set far in the future of that galaxy far, far way, the Republic and Empire are mere memories and the Lightsaber is a thing of legend. Sith have returned and they are many, the Rule of Two (which I never liked) long forgotten. Will the Jedi be reborn as well to save the galaxy?
I loved the art and design sense in this one, the simple but epic story that, like The Village Bride, hints at something largely but its my personal opinion that The Ninth Jedi pulls this off more completely than its predecessor.
T0-B1 (by Science SARU) 7.5/10
A beautiful, sweet, magically heartfelt homage to both the Droid characters of Star Wars and Tetsuwan Atom/Astro Boy, this tale of a robot who wants to be a Jedi Knight is totally delightful. T0-B1 - which eludes to Tobi, To Be One (a Jedi), and also a little Obi-Wan - leans more heavily into the realm of fairy tale than space opera but it definitely achieves what it sets out to do.
The Elder (by Trigger) 6/10
Given the incredible talent of the Trigger group, it is surprising to me that their entries were my least favorite of the bunch.
While 'The Twins' was way too over-the-top, 'The Elder' is underwhelming; slowly and dare I say awkwardly paced, and even a bit lazy. For example, in the rain sequence there is no water on the ground and the rain doesn't interact with the environment or characters in any way. We do not see any attempt to animate the combatants becoming wet. There is no halo or aura of falling droplets on them, something I have seen in Japanese Anime many times in the past.
The is was OK but very 'Plain Jane'. Compared to all the other episodes, this one is the most solidly situated in the standard canon Star Wars universe and also the least intriguing as a result.
Lop and Ochō (by Geno Studio) 9/10
Lop and Ochō is a quintessentially Anime Anime.
It features a cute girl protagonist, a good guy who is crime boss and gang culture themed, martial arts combat, and wildly stylized technology. It's plot is straight forward and relatable in an abstract way; two people who believe they know what's best for their people and their home are in direct opposition to each other, leading to conflict. An outsider who's been accepted in as one of the family must figure out which side is right and stand up for it.
Quality-wise, I think I would have to score this episode at more like a 7.5 or an 8. It isn't a very complex tale, quite cliche' in fact, its characters aren't particularly layered, but I absolutely loved it. It is just so Anime with a capital 'A' that I scored it higher than perhaps it really deserves.
Just as I like the Rebels cgi animated series more than Clone Wars but completely acknowledge Clone Wars is the vastly superior product, I similarly confess to liking Lop and Ochō because it appeals to my personal tastes.
I also adore Lop's design. Her species is definitely making an appearance in my next Star Wars campaign.
Akakiri (by Science SARU) 7.5/10
The final episode has a rather unique art style and one that isn't typical of modern mainstream Anime. It reminded me more of the French animation of Tales of Alethrion. The storytelling and indeed the story being told are not unlike European animation shorts either. The somber, arguably tragic ending, is another example of how different this one is from the rest of the selection.
Although I liked Akakiri, I feel like I need to watch it again to truly understand it. At a number of points the narrative confused me and it has a rather sad ending, though one that need not be final. There is not much else I can say on this one without a re-watch.
Now as for how gameable it is...Incredibly gameable!
As I noted about under The Ninth Jedi, that short is clearly the start of a long running series of adventures to re-establish a Jedi Order in the distant future of Star Wars, perhaps altering what that even means. It has 'campaign premise' written all over it!
Many of the others that I could see adding something to a Star Wars RPG game would do just that; inject a sense of newness to the universe with things both never-before-seen and yet familiar:
- A Jedi Padawan escapes Order 66 and finds a new destiny as in Tatooine Rhapsody
- A Sith hunting other Sith like the lead character in the Duel.
- A small alien piloting a Probe Droid as seen in The Duel.
- Connecting with the Living Force of a planet as implied in The Village Bride.
- Lop's species, a possible variant of the Lepi?
- The Oil Tea drinking Ferry/Shuttle Pilot Droid of The Ninth Jedi.
What Star Wars: Visions shows us is that you can do so many things in and with the Star Wars universe, making me wonder why the inhabitants of The Mouse House (and I am even including my beloved Dave Filoni in this) keep going back to the same 5-10 characters. Star Wars: Visions does what an untold number of Star Wars RPG Gamemasters and players have been doing for 44 years - making up a planet, creating some characters, and telling a tale.
May The Force Be With You Watashi no Tomodachi**!
*I don't really do reviews (clearly), just give my initial thoughts and feelings on things.
**Watashi no Tomodachi means 'My Friend'