Final Fantasy and film-making have a long, storied history spanning back eleven years now. When Squaresoft penned their first film with Final Fantasy: Spirits Within, many were disappointed. How could something like this be considered “Final Fantasy“? A few years later, Square Enix decided to try their hand again – this time with Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, which was praised for its fan service but fell flat as a proper film.
2013 saw the conversion of Final Fantasy Versus XIII to Final Fantasy XV and later that year, director Takeshi Nozue and his team at Square Enix’s Visual Works moved forward with a film project that would end up being Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. It, along with the short anime Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV function as two pieces of media meant to shed light on initial backstory to the game – though Square Enix insists Kingsglaive can also work as a standalone movie.
Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV tells the story of the years long war between the kingdoms of Lucis and Niflheim. After scouring the world, Niflheim’s final goal is Lucis – which serves as the last line of defense and bearer of the world’s remaining crystal which protects the royal capital of Insomnia with a magical barrier held in place by its King, Regis Lucis Caelum.
After another unsuccessful offensive against Lucis, Niflheim’s Chancellor Ardyn Izunia steps in to suggest a peace treaty between the two nations. But while outwardly, everything appears in place for this long-sought for peace, Niflheim secretly forages their own dark plans to finally destroy Lucis and steal its coveted crystal. This threat comes to the attention of the Kingsglaive – King Regis’ royal guard – who are tasked to avert it with main protagonist Nyx Ulric thrown into the center of action.
First and foremost, the grand appearance of the film needs to be mentioned. It’s clear Visual Works continues to marvel, having not slept since the days of Advent Children back in 2005. To this day, the studio continues to churn out work for a number of Square Enix game titles including Final Fantasy, Deus Ex, Dragon Quest and even Hitman.
Joining their efforts, Square Enix contracted several external firms to help finish the project including Western 3D studios Digic Pictures, who have contributed to video to games like Assassin’s Creed, Warhammer, Darksiders and Mass Effect along with Image Engine – who worked on numerous film and series projects like Stargate, Game Of Thrones, Jurassic World and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
It’s a very complex process – the faces and bodies of the actors and models for Kingsglaive were digitally scanned and then a total of five weeks over the course of a year were used to shoot motion capture scenes.
The result is simply phenomenal. Never before have characters in a computer-generated film looked as lifelike – as detailed as they are in Kingsglaive. From the small wrinkles in the corner of Nyx’s eyes, to the small details in Lunafreya’s clothing and the individual hairs on the massive Behemoth – everything is truly photo-realistic.
“A fantasy based on reality” is the motto of Final Fantasy XV and the movie wears and sells it incredibly well. Huge monsters, magical spells and weapons mesh with a world that comes straight out of our own with things like cars, cell phones, clothing and architecture to create a contemporary fantasy similar to the likes of Harry Potter.
Visually speaking, the film isn’t just for non-gamers but of course for fans of the Final Fantasy series, as well. Square Enix has packed in loads of familiar nods through classic monsters such as Cerberus, Behemoth, Orthos and even Diamond Weapon from Final Fantasy VII. There’s just enough to let you know – hey, this is Final Fantasy.
The real meat of the movie is had in its action scenes which are fantastically staged and a joy to look at. Between dramatic war scenes, boss fights, car chases and some more personal battles – Kingsglaive has a bit of everything in breath-taking detail. The grand, brutal showdown at the climax of the film is especially one to look forward to. The downside here is most all of these scenes are obfuscated by faulty camera work, so while there’s plenty to see it’s sometimes hard to grasp the whole picture.
Unfortunately, it’s Kingsglaive‘s story that fails to keep up with its impressive visual flair. The first half of the movie was the most interesting to me from a story perspective as it set up the Kingsglaive crew and the nefarious plans of the Niflheim Empire. The plot surrounding the peace treaty and the characters there in particular were cleverly developed. The second half of the film is more action-heavy.
While the film is titled “Kingsglaive,” the members of the group are poorly outlined throughout the entire thing. We end up knowing too little about their backgrounds and motives – character development often quickly brushed over to the point the viewer is left stranded from any emotional connection with them. The main protagonist Nyx Ulric is a typical “I’ll do anything for others” hero who is nearly infallible. He’s joined by the more interesting supporting character Libertus Ostium, who has a small bit of development during the events of the movie as someone not quite happy with the status quo. It’s a shame but for a movie centered around the Kingsglaive characters they sure fell victim to plot, or really, the lack of it.
Of the characters that do standout though, King Regis and Lunafreya were at the top of my list. Regis, a perhaps selfish but fatherly king had several endearing moments. His banter with Niflheim boss Iedolas during the events of the treaty signing in particular were great. On the opposite end, Lunafreya succeeds with her calm personality and inner strength. It’s clear she wants to get things done, even if she appears stubborn at times.
You may be asking: Do I need to watch this movie before I play Final Fantasy XV? The short answer is – maybe. Kinsglaive offers a look at Niflheim’s motives, gives us a bit of backstory on King Regis and the story of Lunafreya’s family. These are interesting developments that set up FFXV‘s world but as a whole aren’t likely to be essential to enjoying the game.
On the sound side of things, John R. Graham and Yoko Shimomura did an excellent job. Graham knows how to accompany the excitement and action of the film and surprised me with some exotic sounds in the urban interiors of Insomnia. The biggest moment, however, was hearing Shimomura’s “Somnus” – a theme long-connected to the game and a reminder that yes, this is Final Fantasy XV.
Lead roles played by Aaron Paul, Sean Bean and Lena Heady afford a very convincing job as Nyx, King Regis and Lunafreya respectively. The secret star in all those though, has to be Darin De Paul who rises in his role as the mysterious and devious Ardyn Izunia wholeheartedly.
Ultimately, I really enjoyed Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. It’s a visual feast with great action scenes and interesting twists. Takeshi Nozue and his team have hit the mark – creating a fitting prologue to Final Fantasy XV proper. Unfortunately, many characters in the film are never sufficiently worked out and the sympathy for them and the main hero Nyx certainly diminishes because of that. Overall though, the things that were there such as the invasion and outcomes attached to that leave me wanting for more. I really can’t wait to see what happens in the final game.