“I know what you think of war, tell me what you think of this peace?”
-Captain Titus Drautos
Can’t anything reassure me that Final Fantasy XV will be good?
After all these years, after all the development changes, the articles, interviews and first impressions, and a Rage Mage worthy Platinum Demo, I am still not sold on Square Enix’s slick new entry in one of my favorite franchises. So when I had the opportunity tonight to take a peep at Kingsglaive, a science fantasy feature length CG film tie-in to the XV narrative, I had hoped that my worries would be abated and that maybe we’d be getting the world’s first “good” Final Fantasy movie.
Sorry, Advent Children fans. I don’t think I need to apologize to the non-existent Spirits Within community.
So the big questions are: What is Kingsglaive about? How does it set up FFXV? Is it a good movie? Does it get one excited for the game release? Let me take your questions in that order, over the course of this review.
Kingsglaive opens with the history of the royal family of Lucis. King Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII (Sean Bean) is taking his family (including a young Noctis, the protagonist of FFXV) to a sort of retreat in Tenebrae when the empire of Niflheim attacks. The Queen is killed by the imperial general Glauca, a hideously armored warrior, and the King flees.
Some time later, the Lucian royal guard known as the Kingsglaive engage the army of Niflheim in a border war to prevent the empire from invading their kingdom. However, the battle turns disastrous when the empire unleashes a gigantic daemon that the forces of Lucis cannot hope to repel. Kingsglaive soldier Nyx Ulric (Aaron Paul) disobeys the order to retreat so that he can rescue his fallen ally, fellow Kingsglaive Libtertus Ostium (Liam Mulvey).
Back in Lucis, the only defense against the imperial advance is a magical wall surrounding the capital city of Insomnia. The real City That Never Sleeps. Screw you, FFIX!
Unfortunately, the magical wall is tied to the powers of King Regis, who is aging and becoming weak. As he knows there is no other option, Regis acquiesces the imperial chancellor Ardyn Izunia’s offer of a peace treaty. The war between Lucis and Niflheim may end on two conditions. One, that Lucis surrender all of its lands beyond Insomnia, and that the king’s son Noctis wed Lunafreya, princess of Tenebrae (Lena Headey).
The threat of the surrender throws the city and even the Kingsglaive into chaos since many feel that the king is abandoning the families of the common folk beyond the walls of Insomnia. But as the signing ceremony of the surrender nears and the emperor of Niflheim himself arrives in Insomnia, the princess is abducted and the Kingsglaive are deployed under the command of Nyx in the absence of their unit captain.
It’s too late by the time Nyx discovers what is really going on. All I have to say is: “Hasn’t anyone in Kingsglaive actually played a Final Fantasy game? I mean, they have TV’s and cellphones and an Audi, but no video games? They should know that an empire always means bad business.”Kingsglaive is, of course, visually spectacular. It should be. Could you imagine if it wasn’t? No, the big catch has got to come in the storytelling department. That’s where pretty much all of the previous Final Fantasy movies have failed, though they were indeed pretty to look at. Easy on the eyes but not so easy on the innate baloney-sensor in every human being’s brain.
This in fact is why I went into watching Kingsglaive expecting not to like it. I didn’t expect to latch onto any characters or feel any sense of narrative tension, or even to largely comprehend motives or direction, or why anything weird happened for any reason. Typically, in the past, I’ve watched movies like this and just had to take weird crap happening at face value. I didn’t expect to be wowed beyond the visuals.
Indeed the first 30 or 40 minutes of the movie, though action heavy, felt like a drag. I got to see the Kingsglaive in action, using all of their “hyper-cool” anime-fighting styles and their impressive warp-strike magic. But jumping into the middle of a battle with characters I knew nothing about, and therefore cared nothing about, with quasi-realistic faces that put me at an unease, was difficult to stomach. I felt I was justified in thinking I wasn’t going to like the movie.
But when it hit its stride, all of the drama about the surrender and the opposition, the tension, between the imperial demands and the throne of Lucis builds. I knew I was slipping into enjoying what I was seeing. Really, from the moment the kooky Chancellor challenges the king’s presence with his typically-Final Fantasy, over-the-top fashion sense, I felt that old tug of good vs evil that will never get old in all the future history of storytelling.
By the time it all starts falling apart and the movie hits its second act action sequences, I even threw out a few cheers and gasps. For my wife’s sake. She was right there beside me, too. Well, and what Final Fantasy fan couldn’t be ecstatic to see the VI’s Ultros cameo in that Niflheim ship?
Or how about VII’s Diamond Weapon?!
Oddly enough, this was one of my worries coming into the movie. Though I knew the franchise name well, I didn’t actually (and still don’t actually) know much about FFXV or its world and characters. Of course I recognize moogles and chocobos and cactuars at a glance in the dark but I didn’t expect to see many of any of those running around this hyper-realistic world of humans. They put Ultros in just for me!
Somebody also said there’s a Yojimbo cameo in there but I can’t be sure.
And that leads neatly into how Kingsglaive sets up FFXV. After Nyx (spoiler: highlight to reveal) rescues Princess Lunafreya and takes up the power of Regis’ magical ring, there is of course the epic duel and then the closing scene moves right into the opening scene of Final Fantasy XV. In this sense, Kingsglaive is like a really, really long prologue cutscene that you just can’t skip.
It’s been called a long and expensive trailer for FFXV but I think it deserves a wee bit more credit than that. On its own, it’s engaging. Even if I never played FFXV in the days to come, I can still say I enjoyed more than disliked Kingsglaive. The emotion doesn’t always find its target in the fleshy bag beating between your ribs, nor will you latch on to every character and understand every convoluted motivation and act of subterfuge. Even the visuals, for all of their impressive quality, cannot reach photo-realism and you can pick out when characters speaking looks tragically fake.
But is it better than Spirits Within? Yes. Yes, it is. And I will also say it was less cheesy compared to Advent Children and it was easier to tell what was happening and why in Kingsglaive.
The 8-bit Review
“We spared no expense” must’ve been tattooed across the forehead of every artist involved in the making of this film. It looks gorgeous. It is clearly the most visually majestic CG movie I have ever seen. The wizards at Square Enix’s Visual Works studio made Pixar look like a little kid drawing with crayons. Girl, I spotted peach fuzz on the inside of Nyx’s earlobe in a close-up shot! General Glauca’s shining crazy-armor is amazing, and the reflective surfaces gleaming everywhere (like on the Audi) are a feast for 20/20 vision. Any time a character used magic in the movie, it was just so striking. I gasped. I did.So why not a 10? Well, for all the digital magic rendered here, the facial movements were the worst of anything else in the movie. There were times when the lips matched up well with the dialogue and when they didn’t, and when they didn’t even seem to be moving at all and characters looked like mannequins with bobbing heads. It was distracted enough to remind me that this is just a CGI tie-in film for a video game, despite the momentary surprises when it felt like I was looking at a real flesh n’ blood actor.
Also, the editing was jumpy, especially in the action scenes. That’s probably just a minor complaint. All in all, the movie will visually impress even the most crotchety of moviegoers.
Coming from a franchise (mostly) helmed by musical genius Nobuo Uematsu, Kingsglaive does a fair job of rising to the occasion. I even heard the Final Fantasy “Main Theme” in there at one point, reassuring me that they haven’t totally thrown out everything from the series’ past for the sake of smart graphics and anime tropes.
The soundtrack is moody and there’s a sense that this has the weight of a “real movie” with a mature score. It puts on no airs and does its best to portray a sense of great loss with the tragedy of Lucis and the heroism of Nyx.
Did any new theme stand out to me? Not really. But Nyx and King Regis’ and Princess Lunafreya’s voice work was more than serviceable. Plus, my wife called out Regis as Sean Bean right away.
Kingsglaive does a stand up job of getting the audience to feel emotionally invested in Nyx. Somewhat. We don’t feel all of his feelings. At least I didn’t. I did feel the rage of his betrayal and the loneliness of his actions, but I don’t know why he laugh-cried before the old kings, or why he was the man he was. Can’t even remember what bit of backstory he gave (for no good reason) out of the blue when he and the princess were trapped in that building.
The movie takes on all the weight of fantasy politics and wars that have come to characterize the Final Fantasy series, but Kingsglaive wisely doesn’t dwell on the macro-story of the clash of nations and people with funny names so much as it becomes a story about one man, for which it is a better movie. The empire is after the sacred crystal of Lucis but that doesn’t really matter for the sake of Kingsglaive, does it? Nyx matters for this story.
A huge cast of characters yet I could tell who the protagonist was. I didn’t feel either that everything was sacrifice for the sake of “universe building”. That didn’t entirely keep it all from seeming overly complex, however. Still, it was a narrative told above par, if only because the bits I didn’t immediately understand I could simply file away as cliché in the tired old “evil empire invasion” scenario.Stick around for the post-credits scene!
Family Friendliness: 7/10
There’s some light profanity sprinkled throughout, never gratuitous, and the violence in the film is heavily stylized and firmly set in the realm of fantasy. I was surprised how often the scene zooms or pans away from what would be a gruesome wound or fatality. It is by no means a film without violence yet it has the sensibility to know what it wants for itself, for its visuals and story to be the draw rather than violence.
Central to the story of Kingsglaive is the game of cat and mouse played out between Lucis and Niflheim, a classic good vs evil narrative with obvious villains and equally obvious heroes. There shouldn’t be anything here to surprise or move to tears. Heroism, self-sacrifice, devotion, duty, magic vs technology, embracing the past vs shaping the future, the usual fare. At the heart of Kingsglaive is the fact that its righteous characters care about others and I welcomed Nyx as a just man who wasn’t over-concerned with the horrors of his own past or too self-conceited or hard-boiled to care about anyone else or treat human life as utterly common.
The legacy of King Regis ought to play into a discussion of Kingsglaive’s themes with his care of his son and his request of Nyx as a man and not as a monarch, but I think I’d need to see it again to comment.
Throughout the entire movie, the empire seemed like a formidable threat. Of course we know that Nyx is a highly trained, magical soldier of the Kingsglaive but that didn’t make him seem invincible.
Are we talking about the first “good” Final Fantasy movie? Yeah, we just might be. Don’t let the so-called critics at Rotten Tomatoes with their nasty 13% score on the tomatometer fool you into skipping this movie. If you plan to play FFXV or are a fan of the franchise, odds are you’ll probably enjoy it more than you expect. And just ask my friends. I like next to nothing. Yet I liked Kingsglaive as a unique, self-contained, earnest drama that was able to put all tie-ins aside.
My Personal Grade: 7/10
So did Kingsglaive make me excited for FFXV later this month? In some ways it did. I can’t say I understand any more about FFXV or what that game is all about after watching this one movie, but I do feel like I have a little more investment in this particular universe and I do want to see what happens next. More so than all the varied trailers and the demo and the articles and the rumors and the waiting, Kingsglaive managed (even for an iota) to do what I thought might just be impossible in the end. It made me look forward to FFXV with optimism.
Kingsglaive is currently available in physical and digital copies and it will also be bundled together in various editions of FFXV.
Aggregated Score: 7.1
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