Gamers know the storied saga of Final Fantasy XV‘s decade-long production marred by platform changes, thematic upheavals, and personnel moves. It wasn’t until this past spring that the scope of the Final Fantasy XV Universe was unveiled to include an anime series, spin-off games, and the full-length feature: Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV.
It’s easy to write off any type of multimedia tie-in as nothing more than fluff, but with names like Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Lena Headey (Game of Thrones), and Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings) attached, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV had enough star power to prove cynics wrong upon its reveal. However, was that star power enough to hold Kingsglaive up as a solid entity in and of itself, or did it fail to prove its doubters wrong? Read on and find out.
Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV
Director: Takeshi Nozue
Release Date: August 19, 2016
Kingsglaive takes place in a fantasy world (Eos) made up of multiple countries that historically held magical crystals with extraordinary powers. In the present world, however, the kingdom of Lucis is the only nation to possess a crystal, which they use to create a force field to protect its citizens. The crystal grants powers through the Ring of the Lucii, which has traditionally been passed down the line of Lucis’ kings. Meanwhile, the empire of Niflheim has used their advanced weapon technology to conquer all of the world’s kingdoms, leaving Lucis as the only nation able to withstand its attacks.
The film opens with an introduction to the world and its governmental mythos, specifically introducing us to Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII (Bean) and his son, Noctis, in the country of Tenebrae, where Noctis was recovering from an undisclosed near-death illness. However, their meeting is ambushed by Niflheim soldiers attempting to assassinate both Regis and Noctis, leaving the queen of Tenebrae murdered. Regis attempts to flee with Noctis and the Tenebrae princess, Lunafreya Nox Fleuret (played as an adult by Headey), but she decides to stay behind to protect her injured brother.
Ten years pass, and the war between Niflheim and Lucis is still raging on. Regis has created an army force, the Kingsglaive, to protect Lucis against both monster and Niflheim attacks. Kingsglaive centers itself on three primary members – Nyx (Paul), Crowe, and Libertus. Nyx is the hero/savior type, Crowe is the stereotypical female badass, and Libertus is the well-meaning, but over-emotional friend.
Sensing that Lucis will succumb to Niflheim’s relentless attacks, Regis agrees to relinquish control over all of Lucis’ territories outside of Insomnia, where the palace resides, and marry Noctis to Lunafreya, in order to sign a peace treaty. However, this peace agreement causes waves among the Kingsglaive that will change the face of Lucis forever.
Gamers that have played modern Final Fantasy entries will feel at home with Kingsglaive‘s visuals. The entire feature feels like an exended cutscene taken directly out of the games. However, in saying that, it feels too gamey. While the film looks damned good, it never felt like it could stand toe-to-toe with any other Hollywood CGI feature film. Visual Works, the division within Square Enix that primarily developed Kingsglaive, has the ability to create something truly worthwhile, as seen in the multitude of action scenes and dating as far back as Advent Children. If only they had the freedom to create something new and original without the need to tie to a video game, but Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within still casts a large enough shadow to prevent Square Enix from taking that leap of faith.
And it’s this fear that ultimately holds the entire film back. Set as a prequel to Final Fantasy XV, many of the plot points and characters in Kingsglaive are meant to be Kingsglaive-exclusive and will probably have no real bearing or mention in Final Fantasy XV beyond easter eggs or “wink-wink” references to die-hard fans. Yes, Regis, Lunafreya, and the Niflheim antagonists will play large roles in the game, but Final Fantasy XV‘s main brotherhood of Noctis, Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus aren’t present in the film outside of a post-credits scene. Kingsglaive is meant to set the tone for Final Fantasy XV‘s world and to flesh out themes and plots that were too large to be explored in the game proper, but I couldn’t help but brush off how greatly unnecessary it is in the grand scheme of things. Will I appreciate Final Fantasy XV more because of Kingsglaive? Probably. Will you miss out on key story arcs and plot points in Final Fantasy XV if you skip Kingsglaive? Definitely not.
It’s a shame, too, because Kingsglaive does have the star power of Paul, Headey, and Bean to help make Kingsglaive better than what it’s supposed to be; honestly, I feel these castings were meant to add surface-level levity and PR fluff to an otherwise average film. The performances themselves are pretty standard of what you’d expect from Headey and Bean, although Paul’s performance had flashes of his ability to break out of the typecasting his successful take on Breaking Bad unfortunately left him.
It’s hard to critique a multimedia tie-in of its own accord rather than how it stands on its own when said tie-in’s purpose is to supplement the main product. It’s because of this that Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV ultimately fails to stand up as a true self-contained piece. If Kingsglaive were to be shed of its relationship to Final Fantasy XV and given the space and freedom to tell its own story, this would be an entirely different review.
As a gamer who will dedicate at least 100 hours into Final Fantasy XV, I can appreciate Kingsglaive for what it is. As a film critic, however, I can’t look past Kingsglaive‘s inherent fluff factor. With that said, correlate your expectations of the film with you interest in Final Fantasy XV before you decide to devote time to watching the film.