Halo Legends

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Having reviewed all of the major _Halo_ releases in the past 18 months, there’s no reason why the _Boar_ shouldn’t continue to provide coverage of the franchise, even if it’s expanded beyond the realm of gaming and into the larger market of home video entertainment. Although there have been multiple departures from gaming in the past, such as books, comics and toys, none have been marketed or positioned as the next instalment in the _Halo_ saga; _Halo Legends_ is different. Comprising of eight episodes, each presented with a different style of animation and lasting for 15 minutes, _Legends_ is _Halo’s_ equivalent of _The Animatrix_.

_Legends_ is the brainchild of 343 Industries, an internal division of Microsoft tasked solely with the continued development of the _Halo_ franchise. Each episode was farmed out to one of five well-established, Japanese animé studios, while the project as a whole was overseen by 343 Industries, ensuring that each episode kept true to the franchise. This culminates into one of the greatest pieces of fan service ever created and an experience that every Halo fan is sure to enjoy.

The majority of the episodes fit within the canon of the _Halo_ universe; the two “Origins” episodes sum up the entirety of the franchise’s history through the eyes of Cortana while episodes such as “The Babysitter”, “The Package” and “Prototype” are all short, isolated stories set before the events of the games. While some may be disappointed to know that the Master Chief only features heavily within one of these episodes, instead Legends tries to depict the war with the Covenant from a more human perspective, and for the most part succeeds. Each episode tells a unique and engaging story that is usually based more around drama than action and they’re generally well written.

In addition, _Legends_ includes an episode, called “Odd One Out”, that isn’t canon. This episode incorporates elements of comedy and is a welcome change to the serious tone of the franchise up until now. It’s also a good indication of how much Microsoft actually cares about the franchise; rather than exploiting _Halo_ as much as it possibly can, it’s given the franchise some freedom and allowed it to expand into areas that may not be beneficial financially, but artistically instead.

This is all well and good for people familiar with the franchise, however if you’ve never experience _Halo_ before, this probably isn’t the best place to start. _Legends_ assumes a considerable amount of existing knowledge on behalf of the viewer. For example, while the episodes are self contained, the settings and characters within them are rarely identified or explained fully.

The Blu-ray version of _Legends_ provides a near prefect high-def presentation, one with colours that truly pop and that’s only limited by the artistic directions of the numerous directors working on the project. While “Odd One Out” is reminiscent of _Dragon Ball Z_ (which isn’t a surprise as it was produce by the same people at Toei Animation), a dramatically different art style is used in “The Duel”. Here, a post-production effect similar to a watercolour painting has been applied to computer generated animation. The result is a presentation that is truly unique, although not necessarily the most enjoyable to watch. Not one episode has the same style meaning that while watching _Halo Legends_ you’re consistently bombarded with visually stunning scenes.

Unfortunately, the animation quality also varies between the episodes. While “Prototype” and “The Babysitter” have the fluidity of movement and dense scenery expected from high calibre animé studios, others such as “Homecoming” simply appear lifeless with little motion. Although it may be a question of taste, looking at a static image while the scene is supposedly conveying a warzone, is undeniably unrealistic.

It terms of audio, the most apparent feature for any _Halo_ fan will be the inclusion of the franchise’s signature orchestral score. Elements of this score permeate throughout the episodes and are an excellent companion to the visuals, crescendoing at moments of triumph while providing haunting undertones when necessary. In addition, the voice acting is believable and the effect work matches what’s happening onscreen well.

A Blu-ray release wouldn’t be complete without a host of supplements and _Halo Legends_ doesn’t disappoint here either. While “Halo: Gaming Evolved”, a 30 minute feature investigating the success of the franchise, and “The Making of Halo Legends” are both included in the 2 disc DVD version, “The Story So Far” is exclusive to the Blu-ray edition. This supplement, simply an overview of the _Halo_ universe, and the making-of both include numerous interviews with the people involved in the creation of the franchise, ranging from authors to executive producers. These documentaries are definitely worth watching for fans as they are informative and, more importantly, well produced. However, there is some cross-over between them meaning that occasionally you’ll end up watching the same interview twice. Finally, there’s an audio commentary by the directors Frank O’Connor and Joseph Chou, that runs for the entirety of _Legends_. While it would have been nice to see a video commentary (usually found on modern Blu-ray releases), this still adds another layer of information relating to the design choices and the philosophy behind _Legends_.

By removing the constrictions inherent to a video game, _Legends_ elevates the franchise’s plot from a shallow premise developed for a game to an all-encompassing universe of intertwining narratives and story arcs. Throughout Legends there are moments that _Halo_ fans will absolutely adore and for that reason alone it would be easy to recommend. However, with a musical score that is instantly recognisable, top-notch video quality and a range of worthwhile supplements, the _Halo Legends_ Blu-ray is a meaningful addition to any fan’s collection.

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