Movie Review: Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV

Posted by DarkChaplain at 10/03/2016
The magical kingdom of Lucis is home to the hallowed Crystal, but the menacing empire of Niflheim will stop at nothing to make it theirs. War has raged between the two for as long as most can remember.
King Regis of Lucis commands an elite force of soldiers dubbed the Kingsglaive. Wielding their king's magic, Nyx Ulric and his fellow glaives stand before the crown city of Insomnia, fighting to stay the inexorable advance of Niflheim's imperial army.
Before the overwhelming military might of the empire, King Regis can only salvage his kingdom by accepting an ultimatum—he must cede all lands outside the crown city, and see his son, Prince Noctis, wed to Lady Lunafreya, the former princess of Tenebrae now captive of Niflheim.
As the war of wills rages, the machinations of Niflheim transform Insomnia into an awe-inspiring battleground, pulling Nyx into a struggle for the very survival of the kingdom.
Yes, this isn't a book. No, I don't care about that. I'm a Gamer, and Final Fantasy has been a big factor in my life for various reasons. I want to talk about this movie prequel-thing to Final Fantasy XV, formerly Versus XIII, formerly way different from what it is now. I've got the urge to discuss it, and how it fares in my opinion.
Maybe at some point I'll manage to tackle the various written media tie-ins to the Final Fantasy franchise, like On the Way to a Smile, the Final Fantasy VII bridge-anthology to the Advent Children movie (though that might be awkward as it has never been officially released in english, but in German, French and Spanish it has), or the various Final Fantasy XI or XII novels. For now, though, I'm doing this movie.

The Story:
"The magical kingdom of Lucis is home to the hallowed Crystal, but the menacing empire of Niflheim will stop at nothing to make it theirs. War has raged between the two for as long as most can remember.
King Regis of Lucis commands an elite force of soldiers dubbed the Kingsglaive. Wielding their king's magic, Nyx Ulric and his fellow glaives stand before the crown city of Insomnia, fighting to stay the inexorable advance of Niflheim's imperial army.
Before the overwhelming military might of the empire, King Regis can only salvage his kingdom by accepting an ultimatum—he must cede all lands outside the crown city, and see his son, Prince Noctis, wed to Lady Lunafreya, the former princess of Tenebrae now captive of Niflheim.
As the war of wills rages, the machinations of Niflheim transform Insomnia into an awe-inspiring battleground, pulling Nyx into a struggle for the very survival of the kingdom."

The Trailer:

The Review:
Kingsglaive is a chaotic action flick. That's to be expected from a Square Enix / Final Fantasy movie at this point. Advent Children was that, and The Spirits Within was it too, under Squaresoft. Kingsglaive, however, was better than I had expected. While things fall apart quite a bit in the second half (mostly coinciding with Lunafreya's screen presence), I didn't not enjoy it. It made me groan in a lot of places and frustrated me with some of its characters, but overall it was a fun movie to watch.

The movie kicks off with a flashback sequence about the ongoing war waged by the Niflheim Empire. King Regis (played by Sean Bean... Poor guy) of Lucis visits the allied kingdom of Tenebrae with his son Noctis, who is recovering from an incident. Niflheim strikes and dashes the party, killing the queen of Tenebrae, capturing her children and forcing Regis to flee with Noctis.
Noctis, of course, is the protagonist of Final Fantasy XV. This twelve-years-ago intro, and the short post-credits scene that mirrors the game's intro, are the only times you'll see the guy in this movie, though. It is placed parallel / as prequel to the game, showing what happened in Lucis during the prince's absence. Personally, I'm cool with that, as Noctis hasn't been very appealing to me since they apparently lobotomized his character somewhere between when it still was Final Fantasy Versus XIII and it becoming XV.

Now, the movie makes a 12 year timeskip after the intro, and Lucis' capital of Insomnia is on its last legs. The King has grown old and, while his magical abilities and the Crystal residing in Insomnia maintain a powerful shield around the city, he knows that it cannot last much longer. The crown, and the magic ring of the Lucii Kings need to be passed on to Noctis, for the future of the world, because somehow Noctis is the only one who can save the entire world from Niflheim domination. It really isn't explained well or detailed much, which is understandable for a movie but frustrating if you watch it and constantly get told how an off-screen prince is the key to saving the world when it doesn't give you a real idea of how he's supposed to do that.
So Lucis is screwed, and Niflheim keeps pushing the royal elite strikeforce, the Kingsglaive, further back every day. The Kingsglaive is introduced in a nice, bombastic battle against Niflheim troops and, for the most part, monsters with clear references to series staples. Behemoths and Cerberus feature, and the big effing demon Niflheim drops in, for it to wreak havoc with its gigantic missile turrets, is very clearly a Weapon from Final Fantasy VII in design. While never specifically named, this is cool fanservice that I could appreciate a great deal. It pays homage to some popular designs without breaking stride to explain the reference.

And while I'm on it, the movie also features the Morbol, the nasty green tentacled piece of bad breath that everybody sane who's played Final Fantasy will hate. In a cartoon. For kids. On in-universe TV. It also mentions Chocobos, once verbally (something about Chocobo dung), and another time as part of a delivery truck's branding.
Sadly, I felt those parts a bit more jarring than the Niflheim offensive's use of monsters. Most of the movie is set in Insomnia, which doesn't seem to host any monsters whatsoever. Even when all hell breaks loose, you'll only see humans running, no animals, monsters or otherwise. It seems like a missed opportunity to not have a zoo breakout in there somewhere, even if just in the background. The way it is, Insomnia, for all its use of magic, felt really disconnected from the world at large. This isn't just down to the barrier isolating the city, but down to how much Square Enix tried to stick with the theme of realism for it, in a world full of odd monsters.

I have to clearly say though that the city of Insomnia was beautifully crafted. It felt like a living city with a complicated network of roads and paths, lots of commerce and movement. I enjoyed the architecture of it all, and couldn't help feel impressed. Where Tenebrae has a lot of green and floating islands to show for itself, Insomnia is a large, modern city that is easily relatable.

Beyond that, we don't see much of the outside world. We are told that the Kingsglaive consists of immigrants who were able to "borrow" a bit of king Regis's magical powers and now serve to defend the kingdom. Their old homes were conquered and/or destroyed and they aren't as well-regarded in Insomnia as they'd deserve to be, which causes conflict within their own ranks at times. But we never actually see what they've lost or left behind, which is a shame.

Nyx, Crowe and Lazarus

Like the title of the movie implies, the Kingsglaive is central to the story. While it mostly focuses on Nyx Ulric, the arguably most capable Glaive, who fills the cocky, self-assured hero role of the cast, other members like Libertus Ostium and Crowe Altius are close seconds with bigger parts to play. The three share a deep friendship, which ends up the catalyst for things breaking apart further as the Kingsglaive doubt the king's capabilities and intentions more. Next to the trio there's a Glaive named Luche Lazarus, who is a big jackass and its immediately clear that he's up to no good. The foreshadowing there is pretty heavy-handed.
Command of the Kingsglaive goes to Titus Drautos, who I thought was actually a pretty cool character. It wasn't easy pinpointing him up til the end, but I liked him for what he was and represented.

After the disastrous, Weapon-aided initial assault that introduced the central Kingsglaive characters, Niflheim sends an envoy to Insomnia, who is no other than the Chancellor of the empire. Ardyn Izunia is, without a doubt, a villain. Yes, there's an emperor on the throne of Niflheim, and there's a more obvious and direct villain in the movie, but there is not a shadow of doubt in my mind that this character will be the main villain of Final Fantasy XV. His whole attitude, presence and tone are so obviously sinister and treacherous, it cannot be any other way. I've played enough Final Fantasy titles before to know the drill. It reminds me of how Kefka Palazzo stole the show from emperor Gestahl in Final Fantasy VI, for example, or how Seymour Guado usurped basically everyone in FFX. Those characters only needed to enter the stage for the audience/player to realize they're bad news and probably pulling the strings behind the unfolding evil.

Is it tropey as all hell? Yes, yes it is. But I don't mind that, as long as the character is designed and written in a way that cultivates that doubt and foreshadowing in a cool way. Which, in this case, I think it did, even though Izunia barely appears beyond his first, pretty good scene.
He offers a ceasefire to king Regis, under the condition of marrying his son Noctis to princess Lunafreya of Tenebrae. Regis thinks he failed Luna and her brother in the flashback, and the two characters know there's more at stake for the world as a whole, so Regis decides to go along with it to save more than just Insomnia, while trying to alter the deal behind the scenes using his Kingsglaive.

Regis I've come to appreciate a great deal in this movie. He's a composed, wise ruler who actually cares about things and is aware of his own limitations. He isn't vainglorious, not hot-headed, knows his role and has his priorities straight. I thought he was well-written and his visual design appeared regal and combined his growing physical frailty with a sense of nobility that made him look like a worthy king. He's got my vote of confidence.

Now, before I get to Nyx Ulric, the primary protagonist, let me talk about Lunafreya Nox Fleuret. Because, oh my god, she's awful. She's easily the worst part of the movie. I don't usually get upset about "damsel in distress" scenarios, but Luna's story here was pretty much that, ad nauseum.
First off, she gets captured in the intro scene. Then she gets detained at the palace of Tenebrae, and her brother (who is a bag of dicks) supports that and has become Niflheim's lapdog. Then she gets used as a political bargaining chip, gets forced to agree to marriage (though to be fair, she wanted that all along so hey, no harm done), gets captured again, makes nonsensical decisions, babbles on about not fearing death and needing to do her duty, gets rescured time and again, up until the very end of the movie, where she makes even more dumb decisions and proves unable to listen to her protectors ("stay hidden" followed by her running into the open, "fly you fools!" followed by her standing to watch anyway, etc).

She's a complete void of character agency. She takes things as they come, doesn't rebel, doesn't have any bright ideas bar one at the very end, which I still cannot decide if it was intentional or down to idiocy, and the only time she actually acts on her own accord to hopefully save the day it is to jump out of a flying transporter and almost falling to her death, only to be rescued by Nyx who chides her for her lunacy.
She's the epitome of the obedient little princess bride who can't harm a fly, and has no discernible skills of her own. I am honestly happy this story was told as a movie instead of part of the actual game, because Luna is bound to be the subject of the most infuriating escort mission in gaming history otherwise.
Throughout the whole movie, she felt dumb as bricks, had nothing intelligent to say and only spouts stuff about her duty being her destiny and how she's not afraid of dying for her cause... which, of course, is never actually elaborated on. Her cause is to support Noctis in saving the world, and that's that it seems. But hey, at least she looks kinda pretty and wears a dress with plenty of skin shown, so fans will probably idolize her anyway.

Comparing Luna here with the old character of Stella Nox Fleuret, who was written out of Final Fantasy XV when it changed its title from Versus XIII, and replaced with Lunafreya, I can only internally weep. If this is the story Square Enix wanted to tell now, then yes, I agree that the kickass Stella with her magical skills and mysterious aura wouldn't fit the bill anymore. They had to replace her with a boring dress-puppet. Yes, I'm still not over Stella's removal. Fun fact: One of the scenes from the movie involving Luna and Nyx seems to be modeled after one involving Stella and Noctis from footage 5 years ago. That's how much was changed over the years.

Anyway, Nyx Ulric has his hands full saving Lunafreya and keeping her safe for a rendezvous with his commander. Whereas the first half of the movie shows off mostly politics, introduces characters and puts the lens on Regis and the Niflheim antagonists, the second half quickly deteriorates into a gigantic action piece. It gives Nyx and his fellow Kingsglaive ample opportunity to show off their skills, which include creating small barriers, throwing fireballs and, most notably, using their glaives to teleport-jump all over the place, something that Nyx excells at.
It is chaotic, but fun to an extent.

While the action itself seems well executed and animated, I have to object to the confusing camera work and overabundance of special effects. Yes, it is magic, yes it should be flashy, but don't blind the audience with lights and pull their attention from A to B to C to D to E while constantly changing the camera angles and throwing glitter at them. Those instances got more and more frequent as the movie neared its climax, and I can't say I was a fan of that, even though I liked the teleport-jumping in theory. The way it was visually represented felt overbearing and exhausting, and often glared or blurred the action to the point where it was tough to pay attention to what was happening.

Initially I didn't much care for Nyx Ulric. He seemed like the generic cocky bastard hero that has come so many times before. In a way, yes, he is exactly that. As the plot progressed he is shown to be much more capable than that, however. He's quick to put 2 and 2 together, makes daring maneuvers, catches on to traps and uses all he knows to do his job. Especially towards the very end, when he is on his last legs and applying for support by the Lucii gods, he is shown to be strong of character and morals, which made me glad. He didn't take the easy route but instead shows defiance and selflessness, working towards a cause rather than personal glory.
I have to admit to liking his character a great deal, and thought him to be written pretty well. While he begins as a show-off, he backs it up with all his actions throughout the movie and turns into a good protagonist to cheer for. To me, he seems like a far more interesting protagonist than Noctis.

Now we should talk Action. The movie is full of it. Explosions, mayhem, teleport-daggery, magic swords, giant statues fighting Kaiju-esque Weapons a big final boss battle, thrilling escape scenes... They put a LOT of flashy action setpieces and destruction into the film, showing off just how adept at CGI Square really is nowadays. They blend motion capture with 3D animated scenery to the point where I had to ask myself if I was really looking at 3D renders rather than live action characters in a real environment. Technically this movie is a marvel, even at its meagre 23.976 frames per second (which, sadly, added a lot of motion blur and confusion to fight scenes. Yes, this movie would've benefitted from being 48 or 60fps instead). It is a well choreographed, if a bit overdesigned, piece of bombastic action that should get the audience's blood pumping.

Square have always been ahead of the game in that regard, with Final Fantasy VIII back in the day featuring one of my all time favorite FMV scenes (among many other great ones, mind you), and who can really complain about Final Fantasy X's incredible Blitzball intro scene? But then The Spirits Within happened and almost bankrupted Squaresoft, making the merger with Enix necessary.

For some reason even that near-fatal experience didn't detract from Square's desire to pursue near photorealistic CGI graphics and amp up the graphical fidelity aspects of their titles. Some of their games, especially on Playstation Portable, were so full of stunning prerendered cutscenes that they had to recycle a lot of playable sections to get the game itself to fit onto the small storage capacity of the UMDs. Final Fantasy XIII, my most-loathed mainline title in the series, was so concerned with flashy CGI scenes and graphics that it really didn't have much to offer in terms of gameplay. Even the battles were overchoreographed with lots of flashy lights.

So it was inevitable that Square Enix would make yet another movie tie-in to Final Fantasy. Next to the messy The Spirits Within and the Final Fantasy VII sequel Advent Children, Kingsglaive looks pretty good. It is probably the most appealing of the three when it comes to demographics beyond fans of the series. It isn't overly bloated with terminology (like with the creatures it features), even though it references events from past generations. It can be a bit confusing at times with its magic shenanigans, but not more so than the usual action fantasy flick that hits cinemas. The biggest problem is that, after the movie is over, the story definitely isn't. The movie plot continues in the game, and while that particular chapter is done and over with, a full resolution isn't forthcoming.

It does, however, introduce all the relevant information to enjoy the character action. The cast appears well-contained and wrapped up neatly, doing its own thing away from the game's main cast. And unlike Advent Children, you don't need to know anything going into the movie to understand the characters, and aren't bludgeoned to death with flashbacks. The scenario is familiar enough (a kingdom on the brink of collapse, an empire conquering the world, a princess in distress, the underdog hero stepping up his game) for a more casual audience while giving enough fluff and fanservice for series fans to be happy about.

Still, while I can clearly say I enjoyed it surprisingly much, there were many, many moments in the almost 2 hour movie that had me groan, facepalm and want to bang my head against the wall. Come to think of it, almost all of them had to do with Lunafreya and her nonsense. It doesn't help that she is one of only two relevant female characters, the other being Crowe, and her relevance soon fades.

Libertus, who added a lot of comedic relief early on, seemed overacted, with his voice actor being very shouty most of the time, even if it didn't fit the mood of the scene. His subplot, after leaving the Glaives over his disillusionment with the king, is almost irrelevant. You see him walk into a rebel conspiracy meeting with a grand total of four people attending, only one of which is seen again later. The whole rebel conspiracy was poorly written and glanced over to the point of it not being necessary in the movie at all. It is an extension of the growing unrest within the Kingsglaive immigrants, but doesn't really support the movie. That whole subplot felt like excess weight that needed to either be elaborated on or trimmed away.
On top of that, Libertus is constantly shown taking painkillers, but I didn't feel that was relevant either. I expected some conflict to come off of that, but it really didn't. It was a cheap way to try and make him appear more vulnerable, but the lack of commentary on it really didn't work.

And then we have the Lucii / ring plot device throughout the final stages of the movie. There is little info given about the line of kings, or why they turn into mighty guardian spirits, though it wasn't really needed for the film. What bothered me, however, was the gigantic battle at the end, involving statues of those kings starting to move like hyperactive action figures, fighting the Weapons. While incredibly cool on paper (heck, I loved Pacific Rim and this was oddly reminiscent of that), it also served to create a LOT of chaos around the actual plot-relevant characters. There are scenes where Nyx and General Glauca are riding their respective Kaiju and it is never really made clear if they are controlling them or not.
While on the ground, especially during the final blows of their duel, the big things mirror their fight in the background, at least in part, which is a cool element to have but, in my eyes, overshadowed the more grounded duel. I get that they tried to make this battle titanic and depict massive stakes for Insomnia, but they didn't need to have a giant kaiju battle constantly distracting viewers from the fight that they were, hopefully, emotionally invested in. Glauca, too, was well-done as a character, with some great use of moral ambiguity.

Point being, the movie started drowning in overblown action after the halfway point, with the whole city being on fire and destroyed by the final 20 minutes. Those apocalyptic proportions were full of eye-candy, but detracted from the substance of the plot, all while shoving Lunafreya back into your face. God, I hate that woman so much...
But then, seeing the emotional payoff for Nyx and Glauca was satisfying and, to a degree, saddening. There was a lot of stuff in this feature film that appealed to me, even as I wanted to punch Luna in her pretty face for mucking things up. It wasn't a bad film to watch by any means, especially if all you want is a big, pretty action flick with magic and a clash between reality and fantasy/scifi elements. It won't win any awards for outstanding writing, though it is in places surprisingly good, but possibly for its excellent visual fidelity.
If you intend to play Final Fantasy XV, I would not in any way recommend skipping the movie. If you don't care about the game at all, your mileage will vary, but if you like dumb action movies, this might be right up your alley.

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV easily exceeded my expectations. But then, they weren't high to begin with. It surprised me enough to make me consider rewatching it, and even to possibly buy a Bluray copy for my shelf. I might just have to put a Pepe the Frog sticker on the cover to hide Lunafreya from view...

Kingsglaive on the Official Website

About the Author
DarkChaplain is a big nerd who spends too much time reading and thinking about books, organizing them on his ever-growing shelves, and yet increases his backlog by the month. DC is also an avid Gamer and owns more PC games than he'll ever be able to play. He is certainly spoiled for choice!
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain

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