Arcane: A New Look into Video Game Adaptations

Written by Luke Brown, Edited by Ross Harrison

Having recently wrapped up its first season, Arcane is Riot Games’ latest dive into the world of Runeterra, adapted from the hugely successful game, League of Legends. While it is one of many projects that the company has promised fans – from the recently released RPG Ruined King: A League of Legends Story, to the yet untitled fighting game that we were recently offered a brief glimpse of –  Arcane‘s availability on Netflix has significantly boosted its profile. Other Riot Games projects, such as Ruined King, have appealed almost exclusively to the large player-base of League of Legends, whilst Arcane has managed to capture the hearts and minds of many who were previously uninvested in the League of Legends canon. Surely, then, that makes Arcane a prime example of how to successfully adapt video games into notable movies or television series.

The show itself centres around a number of characters, previously well established and beloved within the League of Legends fanbase, from one specific area within the map of Riot Games’ world. The narrative functions somewhat as a backstory to parts of the lore provided around the game, yet it’s story is one that has yet to be explored, until now; hence its popularity with both League of Legends veterans and newcomers alike. The story requires no previous understanding of the universe, or characters within it; a viewer can go into it with no expectations surrounding characters’ traits or their shared relationships and be just as thrilled as someone who has been well-acquainted with these characters for years. 

This is partially where Arcane differs from a number of other video game adaptations. Similarly to the very popular Castlevania anime and The Witcher television series, Arcane focuses on content that is not explored within an in-game context, allowing it to thrive within a community of “gamers” and “non-gamers” alike. The absence of narrative within League of Legends‘ gameplay lends its lore to being adapted in any way the creators wish, as there is no opportunity to step on the toes of previously established and beloved story arcs (as is the case with many less popular video game adaptations). The three shows I have mentioned here all boast hugely successful scores on sites such as Rotten Tomatoes (on which Arcane has an 100% score, in comparison with films such as the 2016 adaptation of Assassin’s Creed, which sits at 18%, or the more recent 2019 film, Doom: Annihilation, which holds a more respectable, but still bleak, 43% approval rate).

Is it possible that the episode-by-episode storytelling format lends itself more effectively to capturing the spirit and interactivity of a video game? Or could it be that the shows released by Netflix are simply of a higher standard? It’s hard to truly pin down the reason for their successes over the slew of video game movies that seem to prove endlessly disappointing to gamers; nevertheless, there is a pattern. Perhaps the reason people appear to favour series-based adaptations is because, like a video game, you can pick it up, fill time with it, and put it down a number of times before finishing the experience, compared to the one-off, yet relatively long-term, commitment of watching a film. Perhaps people take pleasure from watching a show while it airs, conversing with others that are also enjoying the show, and theorising and anticipating what will happen next, with the continual promise of more content. 

Whatever it is that draws people to shows like Castlevania or Arcane, it is clear that it does the job well. Arcane offers all the elements of a great show, through its great writing, animations and voice-overs; demonstrated by its highly positive reception. In spite of my probable bias as a long-time League of Legends player and fan of Riot Games, I believe that the show offers all of these things and more, having made me renew my love for the characters and world of the game from a number of years ago. All I can say is, you’ve got to see it for yourself; watch a teaser, a trailer, one episode. Maybe one more. Before you know it, you’ve watched the whole thing, and have found yourself on Twitter raving about how badly you’re wishing for confirmation of season two.

Take the dive into the world of Arcane and experience, what I believe, to be the future of video game adaptations.

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