The Ups And Downs Of Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV
The Final Fantasy series was instrumental in making gorgeous cutscenes an integral part of the gaming landscape. With its tradition of amazing cinematic sequences, the series’ move into animated film seemed like a natural transition. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within hit theaters in 2001, and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children released in 2005 – but the projects faced different problems that kept them from being wholeheartedly embraced by the Final Fantasy community. With Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, Square Enix takes another shot at bringing its flagship franchise into the movie world.
I watched the English version of Kingsglaive, which is out in select theaters this week and is releasing digitally later this month (with a Blu-ray and DVD release slated for October). While the team clearly learned lessons from the past, the film still has some elements that miss the mark. These are the highlights and the low points of this feature-length exploration of Final Fantasy XV’s universe.
Up: Game Preparation
First and foremost: If you’re already planning to play Final Fantasy XV, you should watch Kingsglaive. The movie takes place parallel to the early parts of the game, and is a window into the turmoil at home (the city of Insomnia) as players are on a road trip with Noctis and his friends. Kingsglaive features several characters who play prominent roles in the game, like Luna and King Regis, and the connection feels more significant than any other spin-off media I’ve seen before. I’ve only played the first chapter of Final Fantasy XV (for our cover story), but I can already tell that what happens during this film will send major shockwaves through the larger narrative. It isn’t a typical “fill in the unimportant gaps only hardcore fans care about” story expansion; Kingsglaive puts you in a better position to understand and enjoy the opening hours of Final Fantasy XV.
Down: Standalone Potential
When viewed as a limb of the larger Final Fantasy XV body, Kingsglaive is valuable. When viewed as a standalone movie, its appeal diminishes significantly. You could still enjoy it if you aren’t going to play the game, but don’t expect the same kind of experience you would get from a film that doesn’t connect to a larger video game universe. The minds behind the movie’s production seemingly made an effort to make it more accessible to non-fans than Advent Children, but it still doesn’t cross the threshold into the realm of wide appeal. The story and characters are all chipped off a larger stone, so as an isolated tale, Kingsglaive feels incomplete.
Up: The Action
Kingsglaive has some great battles laced with impressive action that lives up to the Final Fantasy legacy. With enormous monsters, hijacked airships, and one-on-one duels, the movie doesn’t give you much time to breathe. The focus on conflict allows Square Enix to highlight outstanding fight sequences, including slick teleportation moves and magic-infused attacks that come together in stream of relentless and well-choreographed encounters. Some might dismiss the movie as “one long cutscene,” and it does feel like that to an extent. However, compared to Advent Children, the story elements have been pared down and simplified in order to keep the adrenaline flowing at a steadier pace.
Down: Character Moments
The price you pay for the bevy of cool action scenes is that you don’t get much narrative downtime, leaving the cast without room to develop. Most of the characters are encompassed by simple archetypes (like “noble hero guy,” “evil rival,” and “screw-up friend”), and in case you don’t pick up on it immediately, they usually have a scene devoted to explicitly laying out the obvious roles they occupy. This kind of heavy-handed exposition doesn’t allow for nuance, and King Regis alone gets the opportunity to shine. I was especially disappointed with Luna; for all of the talk about the team’s desire to make her a strong character in the FF XV world, she can’t seem to do much for herself in Kingsglaive. Hollywood voice talent Aaron Paul, Lena Headey, and Sean Bean do solid work in the leading parts, and the supporting voice cast is also good. However, the overall lack of connection to the characters is a letdown, and makes their individual stories feel like afterthoughts.
With cutting-edge tech and jaw-dropping effects, Kingsglaive is a gorgeous fragment of the Final Fantasy XV universe. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but I was consistently impressed by every element of the presentation. The characters look lifelike, and their motion capture and animation is excellent. The various spells, weapons, and monsters make battles and other action sequences awe-inspiring affairs. Plus, the overall art direction is cohesive and stylish, making the city of Insomnia feel real while still retaining its fantasy elements. Regardless of the cracks that show in other aspects of the movie, it’s always a visual treat.
Down: Crowded Cast
Role-playing games like Final Fantasy often have 40-plus hours to introduce conflicts, build villains, and resolve story arcs. Kingsglaive has much less time than that, but doesn’t appropriately scale back its ambitions in terms of its cast or subplots. As a result, the number of characters and their exploits are more than the movie can support in under two hours. With a few superfluous villains and allies, the tale feels unfocused; important story beats can’t land with much impact if you can’t keep the characters and their motivations straight. I wish the movie had trimmed down the roles, which would have freed up more time for the important characters to become interesting. As it is, the stage is too full to allow room for growth.
Up: Nods to fans
To avoid spoilers, I won’t go into much detail here, but Kingsglaive has several cool surprises for longtime fans of the franchise, like some familiar-looking monsters. This won’t tip anyone’s opinion on the movie one way or the other, but it’s a treat for loyal Final Fantasy players.
Despite issues with the characters and story, Kingsglaive is the best Final Fantasy movie yet. For some people, that might seem like a low bar to clear. However, I’ve always found them entertaining, and I enjoyed this one most of all. Square Enix has honed the art of flashy, acrobatic action, and that skill is on full display for most of the movie. In fact, the action is such a top priority that it takes up a bit too much real estate, crowding out the narrative opportunities. That’s okay if you just want to watch a movie with a bunch of sword fights and cool monsters, but storytelling has always been a core pillar of the Final Fantasy brand. The story takes a disappointing shape when viewing Kingsglaive as an isolated experience, though fans may see the tale as setting the table for Final Fantasy XV more than something meant to stand alone. As a prelude to a much larger adventure on the horizon, Kingsglaive made me even more excited to watch this world come together – and it delivered plenty of thrills along the way.
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