How 'Arcane' Succeeded Where Most Video Game Adaptations Fail
Arcane, Netflix’s League of Legends TV show, is a blast. Reviews have been golden, with even skeptics like Hideo Kojima coming around.
Most reviews sound the same- raving about the incredible art style, gushing over characters, and pervading every sentence is a defensive surprise. Yeah, I know it’s a video game show, but it’s actually good. You can tell from the relief that gamers have been stung before by eye-rolling releases and abysmal adaptations. How did Arcane manage to make a show about a video game not completely suck?
Arcane did a lot of things right that most game adaptations fail miserably at. Right off the bat, something that strikes anyone viewing it, whether you’ve spent time in Summoner’s Rift or not, is how it makes absolutely no reference to the actual game of League at all. Sure, the characters are pulled from it, but no one ever looks at the camera and says, “I’m used to being in the jungle.” No mention is made of a nexus, towers, minions- as far as we can tell, the 5-on-5 MOBA competition doesn’t exist in Arcane’s world at all. And that’s a great thing.
Movies like Mortal Kombat tend to focus way too much on the shoehorning game mechanics or challenges at the expense of character building, plot, and writing. Rather than waste time lengthily explaining the rules for a game most of its viewers are already familiar with, Arcane gets to flesh out the characters of Vi, Powder, and Jayce. And it means more screen time for the most important character, Heimerdinger’s pet poro.
Arcane doesn’t use the plot to justify its game because it doesn’t talk down to its audience. Classic crappy video game adaptations, from The Legend of Zelda to Adventures Of Sonic the Hedgehog, always treated their audiences as clueless children who couldn’t handle an interesting plot. Arcane doesn’t need to treat you like you’re eight just because it knows you play video games; it made a young-adult coming of age story for their largely young-adult fan base, and they made sure that it wrestled with themes and ideas believably and interestingly. Zelda, on the other hand, falls a liiiiiiiittle short of that mark.
While there are plenty of other pitfalls that Arcane avoids – keeping the show animated instead of live-action, not using metafiction to justify your interest in the world – it ultimately succeeds because the plot arises out of the believable interplay of the characters’ emotions. The world of Piltover completely comes from decisions we watch characters make over the course of years- often agonizing over their own misgivings and aspirations.
That being said, I swear to god, in season two, somebody better roll their eyes, point at their support, and say, “I thought you bought the ward for the mid-bush! Ay yai yai!” or the whole show was a complete waste of time.
Top Image: Netflix