The Final Fantasy series is one of the most successful franchises in the history of video games. Because of their early titles reviewing poorly and selling even worse, the original game released back on December 18th, 1987 for the NES was intended to be Square’s last game. It was a surprise success that lead to dozens of follow-ups, spin-offs, remakes, re-releases, radio dramas, manga, cover albums and more fan-fiction, fan art and cosplay then one could ask for. Because of the series being lauded for complex rewarding gameplay and exploration, memorable characters, epic worlds, great stories, fantastic soundtracks, thrilling plot twists, stunning production values and an absolute cornucopia of pretty boys, it only seemed natural that the world of Final Fantasy would adapt perfectly to cinema… one would hope.
Like many other video game franchises that have been adapted onto the silver screen, Final Fantasy hasn’t had the greatest track record, with the first being a 4-episode Original Video Animation, Legend of the Crystals (1994), a distant sequel to FFV that featured underdeveloped characters and dumb attempts at comedy.
Whilst this was a relatively obscure release, seven years later, Square Pictures unleashed series creator Hiranobu Sakaguchi’s cinematic debut, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001). Featuring an all star cast including Steve Bucemi (The Big Lebowski), Alec Baldwin (Beetlejuice), James Woods (Videodrome) and Donald Sutherland (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) , it was the first feature length CG animated film to attempt realistic looking character models, though the story was more Ray Bradbury through the guise of Robert A. Heinlein then one would expect from the franchise. As a result, the film lost over $100 million, making it a total box office bomb and lost SquareSoft more money then any previous undertaking, forcing them to merge with Dragon Quest developer, Enix, to stay afloat.
The next attempt at a movie took the safe route by making a feature length sequel to the highest selling game in the series with Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005), directed by character designer Tetsuya Nomura (Final Fantasy VII, Kingdom Hearts). Being part of a series of Final Fantasy VII related spin offs, Advent Children was very popular and sold incredibly well on DVD, to the point that it was re-released with extra scenes in 2009. It has been met with a largely mixed reception, with the soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu and visual presentation being met with high praise. However, it has faced criticism for being an unnecessary sequel containing sloppy writing with many plot holes, in addition to poorly written dialogue and inconsistent characterization that often undermined a lot of the development from the original game.
This brings us to 2016, with Final Fantasy XV suffering many delays, changing directors and being in development for a decade, Square Enix decided to release supplementary material to familiarize fans with the world and the backstory. This included Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV, a 6-episode online distributed anime series, and the third feature length film in the franchise, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, directed by Takeshi Nozue, who had previously worked on cut scenes for Final Fantasy IX, X and XIII, and produced by XV’s director, Hajime Tabata.
For generations in the world of Eos, the kingdom of Lucis has been protected by a crystal in a never ending war against the militaristic empire known as Niflheim, who are slowly taking over the world’s nations, thanks to their unsurmountable technological advances and power. Lucis responded by forming a magical barrier created by the power of the crystal, causing Insomnia to remain untouched by the Niflheim’s forces. Meanwhile, Noctis Lucis Caelum was sent to Tenebrae to recover from an injury with the help of his father, King Regis, whom were greeted by Lunafreya Nox Flueret and her family. The Niflheim forces appear in Tenebrae in a coup de tat against the Lucian bloodline, Regis and Noctis escape the attack, resulting in Luna and her family being taken hostage by the empire.
Cut to 12 years later, Niflheim and the forces of Tenebrae fight against Lucis, due to Tenebrae’s apparent betrayal by their ally, as high ranking military officer Ravus blames the king for his mother’s death. Regis forms a group of knights dubbed the Kingsglaive, made up of refugees from the overthrown nations, who fight using magic against enemy forces.
In the middle of a big battle, Nyx Ulric is told to retreat by his superiors due to Niflheim’s firepower, the Diamond Weapon. However, against his orders, Nyx saves Libertus Ostium from being killed by Cerberus. Nyx continues his duties as part of the unit by being a security guard within Insomnia.
Throughout the film, the story is presented through an omnipotent perspective, presenting the conflicts within the Kingsglaive, the Lucian Royalty and the Niflheim Empire, concurrent with the beginning of the game. The film firmly fits within the genre trappings of Science fiction, fantasy and action cinema.
The best aspects of the story are that the political intrigue within the Lucian dynasty is quite fascinating, and some of the world building does make the viewer want to explore Eos when the play the game… and that’s all I have to say regarding the positives.
With a screenplay penned by Takashi Hasegawa (Round About Midnight), one of Kingsglaive’s biggest problems is that the characters are either their just to be cannon fodder without much exploration or complete idiots that have motivations that make no bloody sense.
For example, Ravus witnesses the death of his Mother at the hands of General Glauca, and despite being clearly shown that the empire killed his Mother and thus forcing the Lucian royals to flee, when he’s an adult, he blames Regis for his Mother’s death and wants revenge. This attempt at creating a morally ambiguous character completely backfires due to a motivation that makes no sense, and feeling more like a plot device then an actual character.
Another example of a poorly handled character is Crowe Altius, a mage who is sent on a mission to rescue Luna from Niflheim and bring back her to Lucis. Before she leaves, they make sure to remind the audience that she is like a little sister to Nyx and Libertus, though they seem just as unsure as the audience as to why Crowe is given this task. In the midst of her mission, before she is able to accomplish anything, she’s found dead in the trash. Not only is her death poorly handled, as the film expects its audience to care and feel sad for a character they literally know nothing about and cements that she exists solely to give Nyx and Libertus a motivation. So the surrounding war, the destruction of their homeland and tensions between higher ups isn’t enough to motivate them, but the death of a vapid doll who they feel is their own property is the catalyst that gives the two men a reason to fight… uh… hmm… progressive much?
Princess Luna, the main female protagonist in the Final Fantasy XV world, came across a passive prop existing as the clichéd damsel in distress, and apparently has the intellect of a goldfish. While it is hinted that she is an oracle of some kind, the film never takes time to show any of her abilities. In one scene where Nyx and Luna are flying around in a ship whilst Lucius is under attack, with Luna wanting to go straight to Regis, Nyx tells her not to go, and Luna replies with “Not all miracles are made by magic.”, a phrase she constantly says throughout the story. She then takes a leap of faith and jumps out of the ship, determined that she will make the landing. Then Nyx just comes out and saves Luna before she possibly dies, not only making both characters look like complete idiots, but also undermining the belief Luna preaches throughout the film.
In a franchise renowned for well written and realized female characters, that include Tifa, Celes, Rydia, Rosa, Faris, Terra, Aerith, Garnet, Rinoa, Yuna, Ashe, and Freya, Crowe and Luna feel like a massive step backwards in terms of female characters. There have been summoners, commanders, soldiers, farmers, mages and freedom fighters… and Kingsglaive just has female characters that are there to be dragged along as props, or as plot devices to be killed off, giving male characters a reason to take action.
For a film that’s just shy of 2 hours, it honestly feels like it should have been another hour longer, to allow more depth to the characters and for certain revelations to feel properly built up instead of rushed. This mainly comes down to overuse of exposition, where characters tell each other things about themselves rather then actually presenting them, similarly to the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. Because a lot of the characters are movie-exclusive, and thus won’t appear in the game, it’s hard to get invested in the cast when most of them have a lack of screen time, minimal development, or are so poorly written that seeing them killed off can only be a good thing.
Another issue the film has is having too much exposition, leaving the viewers often baffled and confused, which isn’t helped by dull poorly written dialogue. This issue is presented within the opening, where the film apparently expects you to have read at least 50 Wikipedia articles or have watched and read every bit of promotional material for the game to understand what’s going on. It was clearly trying to evoke the introductory sequence to Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, but without giving the audience a reason to care about the world or the ongoing conflict.
Overall, Kingsglaive clearly feels like content that was cut from the game, as it probably would have worked effectively as a 4 to 5-hour long prologue to allow players to explore the world and be able to feel more immersed into the story.
The visuals in Kingsglaive are certainly worthy of praise, with them being handled by Square Enix’s internal animation studio, Visual Works (Final Fantasy VII, Kingdom Hearts) and have been overseen by animation director, Hirotaka Sawada (Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny, Final Fantasy XII). Visual Works’ previous outings in creating cut scenes for video games make them a perfect fit for making animated features, given their crazy attention to detail and always pushing the limits of what CGI can achieve. The kingdom of Lucis, the forests of Tenebrae, the battlefields, the cafes, outskirts and the inside of castles all are exceptionally crafted thanks to the work of Shigenori Suzuki (Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Dissidia: Final Fantasy).
Because the world of Final Fantasy XV is a mixture of the real world and a traditional fantasy one, there’s a contrast with characters wearing fashion designer suits in a world full of fantastical castles and realistic architecture. This immaculate attention to realism can break immersion when there is product placement with characters looking at Samsung Galaxy smartphones, logos for American Express, All Japan Airlines, Uniqlo and probably the most shameless example, a scene where two characters are talking to each other in a car that honestly felt like an excuse to give Audi a corporate blowjob.
The motion capture, with the character models handled by Yusuke Suzuki (Final Fantasy X, Kingdom Hearts), is pretty damn good for the most part and shows how far CGI has come in depicting realistic designs, though they still suffer from the uncanny valley effect plaguing all realistic looking CG characters. They don’t look very stylized, will likely date quickly, and the effect of trying to make clearly animated characters look real just feels off. At least in Advent Children, while the character designs were fairly realistic in terms of build, they still had a stylised look to the faces, avoiding the problem of the animation dating quickly.
This is not helped by poor lip-syncing, with mouth movements not matching the audio, as the 3D scan actors are not the same as the voice actors, creating a feeling of awkwardness. Seriously, if your going to a motion capture animation, allow the voice actor to be involved in the 3D scan process, to end up with better lip-syncing and to have more natural mouth movements.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children used the advantages of animation to create action sequences that were dazzling, well framed, over the top and had a kinetic quality one would find in wuxia films, except with pretty boys wielding spiky hair and giant swords. By far the worst part of the cinematography in Kingsglaive is unfortunately the action sequences, as they go for the style of action one find in films such as Taken 3, with hectic shaky cam, poor framing and incomprehensible editing, which is very disappointing.
For example, there is a 10 second shot of Libertus fighting a monster on the battlefield, and there’s 16 cuts, making it hard to understand what’s going on. In the same scene, where Nyx is fighting Cerberus, there is around 28 cuts that have poor framing and is so incomprehensible the viewers are likely to be baffled. In the medium of animation, using shaky cam for action sequences is quite frankly a stupid idea, since there are limitless possibilities to creating great action set pieces, as shown in films such as Sword of the Stranger, End of Evangelion, Redline and Akira.
Another issue with Kingsglaive is the editing, handled by Keiichi Kojima (Final Fantasy XIII, Front Mission Evolved) with scenes constantly cutting to black, 46 times in total, making it feel more like a modern movie trailer and gives Kingsglaive the feeling of a poorly strung collection of cut scenes that so happens to have been released in cinemas.
Its almost as if the editors just recently discovered how to cut and fade to black in Adobe Premiere, meaning the editing lacks flow, structure and overall feels amateurish.
The score was composed by John R. Graham (The Forger, Bitch Slap), with additional tracks by Yoko Shinomura (Super Mario RPG, Xenoblade Chronicles). While a few tracks such as “Prologue”, “Luna” and “Somnus (Instrumental version)” do stand out and have effective composition, a lot of the score sounds like temp music one would hear from a Hollywood superhero blockbuster. Perfectly fine and suits the film, but is not very memorable and feels a bit safe. Compare this to the soundtrack of Advent Children, which featured the work of famed series composer Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy I-X, The Last Story), featuring strong use of piano, strings, violin and chorus that results in nice melodies and haunting cues that stand out, such as “The Promised Land”, “Divinity II” and “Cloud Smiles”. It probably helps that the Advent Children soundtrack featured remixes from the original game. There is one scene that does feature the Final Fantasy Opening Theme that feels weirdly placed in the background during a crowd scene.
The voice acting in Kingsglaive is a bit of a mixed bag, with famed actors such as Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad, Eye in the Sky), Lena Headey (Game of Thrones, 300) and Sean Bean (GoldenEye, Les Miserables) acting as the lead characters, whereas many of the minor characters are voiced by people known for working on anime English dubs, such as Wendee Lee (Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Fushigi Yugi), Dan Woren (Persona 3, Bleach), Jamieson K. Price (Planetes, Metropolis) and Michelle Ruff (Your Name, Sailor Moon). The acting all over the place, with some of the acting coming across as pretty decent and well acted, while others don’t fare so well.
For example, Sean Bean’s performance as King Regis is very commanding and fitting of the character, giving his character a sincerity and authoritative quality that makes him a convincing ruler. It’s a shame that he isn’t playing Regis in the game, acting is some of the best in the film. However, in the case with Libertus, voiced by Liam Mulvey, his performance felt very cringe worthy, often sounding like he has something in mouth, always out of breath, and whenever he tries to do a dramatic scene, comes across as forced and unnatural.
The sound design and SFX are done pretty well, with the sound of wind, the clashing of swords, gunfire, screaming soldiers, vehicle sounds and explosions doing a fine job of adding to the scene, yet never becoming distracting.
Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is a baffling mess of a film. While the visuals and audio work is beautifully effective, the movie does a very poor job at getting one interested in playing the game, given its meant to act as a prologue. It has badly written characters with poorly explained backstories and motivations, too much exposition, incomprehensible fight choreography, feels rushed with many plot holes and has incredibly questionable editing. As a prologue, it doesn’t work, making me question if the game will suffer from the same writing problems and inconsistencies that this film suffers from. It had a lot of potential, but it ultimately feels like a missed opportunity, feeling more like an extended trailer for the game that was created from poorly truncated cliff notes. While die-hard fans will appreciate some of the call-backs and references to the games, as a film, it is neither engaging or exciting, and combined with all of it’s writing, editing, pacing and characterization problems, makes the audience feel dumbfounded and frustrated.
If for some reason, after reading this review, you still feel inclined to see it, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is available on Blu-ray and DVD, as well as available for streaming on Amazon Prime, Xbox Live and Playstation Network. The film is also included for free with the Deluxe Edition of Final Fantasy XV.