Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV straddles an unusual middle ground between being a collection of video game cutscenes and a more typical movie. Unfortunately, it seems to portray the worst of both rather than the best of either. Kingsglaive is, before anything else, a lengthy advertisement for the upcoming game Final Fantasy XV.
The story begins with a flashback that’s much too heavy on exposition, explaining that the evil empire Niflheim is invading countries like wildfire, though the film never bothers to explain why this is. The kingdom of Lucius has been pushed back to their capital – Insomnia – which is protected by a wall, which in turn is powered by a magical crystal. While this will all sound very cliché and tired to some (and rightly so), it is at least in keeping with traditional Final Fantasy tropes.
After the opening scene, we flash twelve years forward to an intense battle scene, which also serves to introduce the majority of the cast. Here’s where we meet Nyx (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul), a key member of the titular Kingsglaive, a kind of strange breed of the royal guard and special operations team that can use magic normally only wielded by the royal family.
There’s nothing particularly memorable about Nyx as a character or protagonist. He shows precious little development or personality, but he’s likeable enough, and Aaron Paul does a commendable job at doing his best with the lines he’s given.
Before we dive deeper into the story, though, it has to be said that this opening battle sequence is absolutely gorgeous, and the visual fidelity never really falters throughout the film. Every few seconds you’ll catch yourself gaping at the spectacle, even if it’s considerably marred at points by some questionable direction.
Seeing the Kingsglaive teleport about the battlefield as explosions kick up dust and monsters run amok is truly a joy. Members of the Glaive are capable of teleporting by throwing their weapons – a trick used repeatedly throughout the film – and it’s accompanied by gorgeous particle effects. The scope of battles is grand, and it’s easy to lose yourself in them.
Unfortunately, it’s also easy to lose sight of the action itself. While the graphics are astounding, there wasn’t a single action sequence which didn’t seem a bit confusing. There’s simply far too much happening at any given moment, and there are only glimpses of what action actually matters. This is especially pronounced in the final action sequence – though grand, it loses itself in the spectacle, and becomes nearly impossible to be invested in.
Sadly, it’s also easy to lose any kind of emotional investment in the calmer moments of the film. The exposition from the opening scene never really lets up, with characters stopping at every opportunity to explain something in an unnecessarily long-winded fashion. Kingsglaive seems to be aware of how confusing it is, with all the names of characters and countries being thrown about, but instead of dialling back on the convolution it opts to simply explain everything at length.
As a result, the pacing suffers tremendously. Audiences go from one overly long fight scene to long conversations without any apparent relevance to the plot, then back to another fight scene that overstays its welcome.
With the amazing character models, I’m unsure why Kingsglaive doesn’t try to explain more through movements and actions. The characters are more than capable of expressing themselves through facial expressions, and the writing feels like the bad habit of somebody used to working with older video game limitations, deciding that characters should explain their emotions rather than simply show them.
There’s a further disconnection in a lot of the voice acting. While the three biggest heavy hitters – Sean Bean as King Regis, Lena Headley as Princess Lunafreya and Aaron Paul as Nyx – all do a great job, the minor characters range from decent to bizarre. Some characters that are clearly meant to be quite old are voiced by very young actors, but the most awful of the lot is Libertus, an, unfortunately, major character who far overstays his welcome.
His lines are delivered seemingly at random, with no regard for the character’s emotional state. What’s worse is that the development of his character is similarly haphazard, and at a point where viewers are meant to either empathise with or pity him, I simply wanted him off the screen as fast as possible. There’s about a third of the movie in which Libertus doesn’t get much screen time, and unsurprisingly this is the best part of the movie by a mile.
As mentioned above, Kingsglaive is essentially just an incredibly expensive trailer for Final Fantasy XV. And despite all the problems with the film, it does manage to succeed at this to a large degree. While the writing around the majority of the characters in the film doesn’t succeed, the world itself does. Modern technology and high-fantasy magic are blended seamlessly, and the capital city of Insomnia is gorgeous. Between the pristine streets around the palace and the Midgar-like slums, it’s a world worth exploring further.
That’s really the core of the problem. Kingsglaive manages to sell the world of Final Fantasy XV while bringing up concerns about plot and characterisation. If you’re already planning on picking FFXV up on launch day, this is a movie worth your time, despite the issues. It’s simply gorgeous, and fans of the franchise will find plenty of recognisable faces sneakily scattered throughout.
For those who aren’t fans of the franchise, though, this movie is likely to do a very poor job at selling the upcoming game. If you don’t recognise the name Noctis, this movie probably isn’t worth your time, unless you’re simply after a visual spectacle.
In all, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV fails to stand alone as a movie. The plot is too far-strung and convoluted, characterisation is weak and the action is poorly directed, despite the otherwise incredible graphics. If you’re already a fan of the franchise, consider having a look; the plot still won’t be worth your time, but you’ll probably be able to enjoy the action and franchise references enough to get your time and money’s worth all the same.