Why Are Video Game Adaptations Bad?

(And how is Arcane doing it right)



The Netflix poster for Arcane.

Although video games are a relatively young type of media, they have influenced the entertainment world in a vast amount of ways. Countless franchises have become hits among the public. Mario, Kirby, Resident Evil, the Sonic Series, Minecraft, and FNAF are just some of the franchises made. With video games such as Mario Odyssey selling over 23.02 million copies and franchises such as Pokémon and Resident Evil going strong, the obvious next step for games is to switch towards the movies.

Yet time and time again, we see many video game adaptations fail. Even when funded greatly by the company and studio, they still fall short in the box office. For example, the Ratchet and Clank movie only gained the box office of $14.4 million dollars and earned below the budget of $20 million. And if they don’t fall short in box office, they fall short in the plot that the movie promised. Many fans found the movie lackluster and disappointing while newcomers would find the movie decent enough but never exactly enough for them to be drawn into the main franchise. Most of the fans would outright say to never watch the movies of video game adaptations.

One glaring example would be the Resident Evil movies. A series that, while receiving big box numbers, also received negative feedback from critics and fans alike. Throughout the whole series, the movies gained rather mediocre satisfaction from audiences according to Rotten Tomatoes and then had a severe plummet in audience levels by the time Resident Evil Extinction came out. Many fans found the movie to be repeatedly violent and unfaithful to the franchise, with one comment stating that “The franchise is becoming almost as mindless as the zombies it portrays, lumbering on with only repetitive instinct, while all true vitality has long since passed away”. The reboot didn’t do much better with the fans either and many of them found it mediocre. The reason for that being is that movies themselves lean too far back on the original franchise and sometimes lean too far into the lore itself.

The Resident Evil franchise as a whole is an incredibly convoluted and huge storyline that isn’t just about the T-Virus and how there is a zombie outbreak. Several games show that there is government conspiracy, a supernatural element, and even shows the source of where T-Virus may have originally came from. There are several story points that are missing from the movies and are quite vital for the series. Most of the story of the films mainly use subjects that are from the first or second games rather than the plot points, thus making it rather unfaithful to the games itselves. This is where the original players of the games get salty and start to dislike the movies themselves. Thus you already lose a huge part of an audience. This means that in future films, there would be less of a box office, meaning that there is more of a chance that these movies would fall short on reaching the goal to pay off production. This makes it harder to make more movies and thus, the production value goes down.

This does not mean that there are only bad video game adaptations. There are a handful of good ones if you look hard enough. One clear example would be the Netflix series Arcane, a League of Legends video game series that has drawn the attention of LoL players and nonplayers alike. In fact, Arcane itself has won nine Annie Awards and won in every category it was in. The ratings for the show itself has been shown to have an overwhelmingly 96% positive audience score.

But what makes this series different from all the other video game adaptations? Why did this one rise to the top while everything else was left to the ages? Well there are several reasons why this is the case.

One of them would be the fact that Arcane makes sure that the plot and setting itself does not gatekeep the people who don’t play the game and know the lore of the setting. It instead establishes the setting and characters that is done in a way where an original show unrelated to the game could do it. There aren’t any moments where the show does inside jokes that only the players would know or refuse to give important information that is common knowledge to LoL (League of Legends) players.

The story generally takes place in two places by technicality. It is ruled as technicality due to the different governing methods and the fact that they used to be one unified government. Though due to differing ideals and politics, they eventually split and became their own districts.

The first is Piltover, a prospering city that is focused on innovation, arts, and craftsmanship. It is shown very quickly that Piltover is a rather vibrant city and is thriving. There are ships flying through the sky, several inventions being made in front of their eyes, and theatrical plays happening in the background. The color scheme also shows more bright colors such as gold and blue to show that Piltover is “better” within the show universe.

The second setting is Zaun, a district beneath Pitlover that is essentially a dark mirror of Piltover. Around the place there are black markets, unethical inventing and experimentation, and stained glass. Throughout Zaun there is almost little to no sunlight to be seen. In fact there is only one area of Zaun that even gets this sunlight. Most of the color scheme of Zaun shows darker colors such as dark greys and greens, yet it still manages to be bright enough by providing vibrant colors of green, pink, and purple within the underground, giving it a feeling that it is indeed alive and it is a bit more sinister that its counterpart.

Another one would be the characters that are compelling to all watchers. Most of the characters are indeed from the games itself, but what Arcane does is make sure that there are establishing character moments for all of them so that new viewers would know who they are so that they won’t get lost. At the same time though, the characters are recognizable enough for LoL players to know who they are.

An example of this would be Jinx, one of the main characters in the show. She was presented as a person who is haywire and would go and shoot down her own allies and really only cares for chaos and things that are “fun” to her. In fact one of the first scenes we see Jinx is when she blows up a whole battalion of Enforcers using her bombs. This then establishes to the viewers that she’s destructive and has a certain flair to her and we should be excited for her appearance. At the same time though we have LoL players immediately recognizing the design of her and being excited because, that’s Jinx: a character they may have played as or fought against. She’s here.

Adding on to this would be the amount of original characters added into the story itself. All of these characters added are compelling enough to capture the attention of both viewers and they still have the same flair and design that LoL characters have that if you put them into the game as a fight, then it would make sense. They don’t feel out of place or forced, thus making it feel authentic and making the world of Arcane less of a random world from a video game and more of an actual world with thought behind it.

Now even though this is all true about the series, we do have to keep in mind that this isn’t League of Legends first animation project. It’s just the longest.

Throughout their YouTube channel, there are multiple videos that involve the same level of animation, an example being the recent 2022 animation “The Call”, a video that has now gained 127 million views after one month. In fact most of their animation videos have over ten million views. The key thing however is that these animations are usually music videos and never do quite have dialogue. They’re snippets at best and just show the characters for a short period of time through actions.

So while Arcane is successful, we must keep in mind that there are other factors such as this on why it did so well. It did, however, prove that video game adaptations can do well. The producers of the adaptations just have to make sure that there is balance and that it is open to all audiences rather than one audience. A second Sonic movie was released on April 8th 2022 after the first movie gained much applause from Sonic fans and newcomers. There’s a production for the Last of Us that will be airing on HBO. There’s even confirmation that a second season of Arcane is in production. Here’s hoping that the future shows us more video game adaptations that prove themselves to be better than what the past has shown us.