The Final Fantasy series is one of the most beloved video game franchises. For almost 30 years, each game has offered players to explore exciting worlds, colorful characters, epic stories, and ground-breaking visual presentation. At times many argued that the games could rival what was being presented in movies, leading to developer Square Enix to try their hand at creating films based within their popular worlds. Kingsglaive marks the third attempt at creating a feature-length film and is set within the world of the upcoming Final Fantasy XV.
The kingdom of Lucis and the empire of Niflheim have been at war for years, with Niflheim invading other nations to strength its technologically advanced positioning while Lucis is magically protected by its possession of the last known Crystal in the world. But the war has taken its toll on Lucian King Regis, weakened by his need to use the Crystal to fight the adversary. Faced with the detrimental conflict continuing to no end, Regis is willing to accept an armistice offered by Niflheim. But as the signing of the treaty draws near, a soldier in the elite Kingsglaive unit named Nyx stumbles upon the true, nefarious intentions of Niflheim and races to assist Regis and Lunafreya, a pawn in the empire’s plot and soon-to-be daughter-in-law of Regis, to safely secure the future of Lucis.
Each entry in the Final Fantasy video games have been praised for their immersive storytelling. The thing is, though, they take an average of 20-40 hours of gameplay to finish. Trying to adapt that into a 2 hour feature has been the challenge for Square Enix whenever they attempt to make a film and they have resulted in complicated narratives that haven’t come close to reaching the level of excellence. Kingsglaive is no exception to this. While the main story is a bit more linear than the previous two entries, there’s still a number of things going on that are not elaborated on and end up affecting the narrative.
What’s more, Kingsglaive is essentially a prologue to Final Fantasy XV. The film runs parallel to the opening moments of the game. And it ends in a way that viewers essentially have to play the game to see what happens next. Non-gamers or non-fans of Final Fantasy will likely be annoyed by this while Final Fantasy fans will be feeling more anxious to play the game right then and there (at the time of the film’s theatrical release, it would be another few months before the game launched). To their credit, director Takeshi Nozue, story developers Saori Itamuro and Kazushige Nojima, and screenplay writer Takshi Hasegawa try to craft the film in a way that it could be viewed on its own. But knowing that it leads into Final Fantasy XV, and elements in the plot being present to remind you of this from time to time, one is sure to feel that they’re only getting a small fraction of the overall story . They’ll have to play a game for 20-40 hours, something not everyone will want to do, to get it all.
The one thing Kingsglaive has on its side being a Final Fantasy film, though, is that the visuals are fantastic. Visual Works, the division in Square Enix dedicated to creating the cutscenes in the games, are constantly trying to improve their animation, specifically motion capture. With the first Final Fantasy film, The Spirits Within, they pioneered the use of motion capture to develop a feature length animated film in creating images as close to being photo realistic that one would swear those were actors on screen and not computer generated characters. With Kingsglaive, Nozue and his team clearly wanted to display the emotions of the characters better than past films to utilize motion capture. In some respects, they pulled it off. There’s little doubt that Regis feels tired, almost helpless from years of engaging in war. The sorrow Lunafreya feels at what the world around her has become in clearly stated. The determination by Nyx to do what’s right regardless of the circumstances is easily recognized. All of these managing to work make for some fine dramatic moments.
The details of the animation are absolutely astonishing at times. The wrinkle lines on Regis visible around his eyes, the scars on the face of a fellow Kingsglaive soldier named Drautos, the leather of the seats in one of the many Audi cars featured, the particles of dust in the smoke emanating from an explosion or the destruction of a building. All of these have been carefully constructed to enhance the photo realistic look of the film. And during major action sequences, audiences are left in awe at how beautiful the chaos being displayed on screen looks. The climatic battle is a fine example of this, showing just how animation can make anything possible.
Of course, as beautiful as the animation is, it’s not without flaws. There are moments where characters appear stiff, particularly when they’re standing around like those in the background during a party scene where Nyx and Lunafreya are speaking. The editing at times is a little frantic, making it difficult to appreciate the look of a scene before cutting away to a different angle seconds later. This is certainly the case in high octane moments like a car chase leading up to the final battle at the end. Another flaw is matching some the voice acting to the character performance, which is generally the case for the English dubbing of a film that’s primarily Japanese despite Western-based features. One of the supporting characters, named Libertus, I never quite felt sounded as he looked, which is funny because the voice actor Liam Mulvey was also the motion actor and physical model for the character.
Kingsglaive is noted for having high profile actors voicing the three main characters. Sean Bean voices King Regis, Aaron Paul voices Nyx, and Lena Headey voices Lunafreya. Game of Thrones fans will be humored at Bean and Headey playing characters who are far more pleasant with one another than they were in the television show. All three turn in very good performances. Paul is probably the stand out as he infused believability into Nyx. Bean provided the right tone of humanity into Regis. Headey was the one choice I found most curious, though. She gave Lunafreya the air of nobility and sorrow, but sounded older than the character really is. It should be noted that none of the three will be reprising their characters in the game, which will make for an interesting transition for viewers, specifically those new to the franchise.
I like Kingsglaive enough to consider it a decent film. The dazzling animation is well worth checking out and the three main voice actors put forth fine performances. But even I, a Final Fantasy fan, will admit that the narrative has issues that prevent the film from being so much more. It’s not bad, and it’s more linear than the previous two Final Fantasy films. But because there’s still a lot going on that are not expanded upon and that the film is essentially a 2 hour prologue to a game that is to be played for 20-40 hours, it’s tough for me to consider recommending it to others, certainly to those unfamiliar with Final Fantasy.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?