REVIEW: Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV

In early November, I bought the game Final Fantasy XV for $15. I thought it was a match made in heaven – XV for $15? Of course I’d sign up for that! I played the game, finished it in less than a week because I wanted to get through the story, and splurged on the Royal Edition, and started a New Game+ with the intent on playing it properly.

I’m enthralled in this game. I just can’t put it down. So when I found out that not only was there a limited run anime that was released for free on Youtube, but a fully-fledged animated feature film surrounding the events of the fall of Insomnia and the death of King Regis, I jumped at the chance to rent that damn film from the Playstation store. I’d heard that it wasn’t that great (thanks Dartigan of Game Sins), so didn’t really come in with high expectations, but I was actually legitimately pleased overall.

Overview

The story follows Nyx Ulric, a character voiced by Aaron Paul whom does not appear in the game (though you can find his corpse and daggers during the Insomnia level). Overall, the film is essentially one long FFXV cutscene (a “video game film” in it’s literal form, if you like), and is even treated as such by the game itself – if you’ve updated or purchased the Royal Edition, some scenes will feel awfully familiar to you, as will the music. None of these voice actors exclusive to the film return in the game, save for Libertus in the Comrades expansion.

Visually, the film is just amazing. There are few words to describe the fantastical feeling you get seeing Nyx warp around like Noctis on steroids – and to think that this is a video game ability that one wouldn’t think would translate well to film mediums, given its mechanics as a player-controlled ability. But it, and other magical capabilities in the game, make that jump to film quite smoothly.

And if you stick around til the end of the end credits, you get a cool cutscene of the chocobros driving to Noctis’s wedding, which pleased me immensely.

Specifics

Camera work: 4

There are times where the focus of a camera shot is confusing, but generally this occurs to display the overarching devastation caused by the events of the film. There is, however, one shot of what was meant to be Insomnia, but you’re instead greeted with some mildly standard-looking buildings that don’t amount to the same kind of dramatic reveal the music and scene was attempting to set up.

Also calling back to the “video game film” vibe is the use of jump or fade cuts to show split seconds of film before closing to a black screen – and this occurs over and over, especially throughout the films introduction. It can get surprisingly tiring very quickly as you wait for the rest of the film.

That said, the visual design of this film is downright extraordinary, paying close attention to detail through use of environmental colour – colours that pop right off your screen. I watched the film in HD – it’s fucking gorgeous to watch. I expected the level of animation from Square Enix having already played Final Fantasy XV, which does utilize some pre-rendered cutscenes, but, as expected, this film takes the design of those cutscenes and ups the experience ten fold.

Sound: 4

Parts where the film’s score and effect work overtake dialogue – to the point where I, having no subtitles available (I rented the film from the Playstation store), had to change from 2 channel to the 5.1 channel. This helped somewhat during the film’s opening combat scenes, but I did find myself changing back occasionally just to see if I could clear up the dialogue. It’s evident that this film was designed to be seen basically only in cinemas.

Like the camera work and overall design of this film, however, the sound improves. And it sounds amazing.

Prop design: 4.5

Unsurprising, given it’s a tie-in to the Final Fantasy game, but props in this film look as if they can be developed by cosplayers if they had a bunch of money to do so. Weapons, bracelets, watches – even the damn cars look downright spectacular. Sometimes it’s hard to get photos down-pat in animations, but when you’re greeted with animated characters looking at photos–it doesn’t actually look half-bad.

There is only one environment in this film that let’s this score down–just as Crow is dropped off by that yellow chocobo-looking logoed truck, if you look too carefully at the place, you can tell just how basic it feels in comparison to the detail used in Lucis and Tenebrae–the latter only getting just a couple minutes of screentime.

Costume design: 5

The Kingsglaive uniform definitely translates better to film than I felt it did in the game. As does the Kingly Raiment, which lets be honest, looks awesome in the parts that King Regis wears it. From Lunafreya’s embroidered satin dress to Titus Drautos’s commander’s chain-mail, a significant time and effort was spent into making the costumes in this film look and feel suitable to the characters wearing them, moving to compliment the character’s movements in ways that honestly seems advanced for this film’s year of release–or maybe I just hadn’t watched enough animated films of 2016.

Textures do these particular garments so much justice.

Special effects: 5

This entire film is one large special effect. There is no point where the animation falters even slightly. It is an absolute joy to see.

Music: 5

One of Final Fantasy’s greatest strengths is its continuing use of music to establish a game’s native environment. Fans of the game will be treated to the track Somnus about a third of the way through the film.

The music composed by both John R. Graham and Yoko Shimomura complements the drama and combat that builds throughout the movie.

Story: 3

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©2016 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved.

If you’ve not played Final Fantasy XV, you’re bound to get very confused, very quickly, as the film does little to really establish itself as independent of the game. Yes, it uses characters not seen in the game at all (Nyx is barely referenced in-game past the reference in the Insomnia level, and Regis gets about five or six minutes of screentime in FFXV tops), but it feels that the entire point of the film was to bridge the gap in a player’s understanding of what occurred in Insomnia.

Those who play FFXV unpatched or without the Royal Edition, such as myself at first, will not have scenes from the film to inform you what exactly happened, just Noctis, Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus learning that Insomnia was attacked and Regis was killed in the fallout. They’re not even aware that Luna was in country, let alone with Regis at the time of the film’s taking place.

You follow Nyx, a member of King Regis Lucis Caelum’s Kingsglaive, with friends Libertus and Crow when Niflheim Empire demands Lucis’s surrender through terms of a peace treaty – parts of Lucis would be sacrificed to the Empire, and Prince Noctis, Regis’s son, would be to marry Princess Lunafreya of Tenebrae. Because Regis is becoming too old and weakened from maintaining a magical wall repelling Niflheim attacks, he decides that the only course of action is to agree, even if he’s not totally convinced of the sincerity of the offer. From this point onwards, the plot gets a little murky. Here’s a casual, yet long-winded explanation.

When Luna is kidnapped by a bloke called General Glauca just prior to Regis and Niflheim emporer Iedolas Aldercapt about to sign the peace treatry, Nyx asks Regis to deploy the Kingsglaive to rescue her, discovering a hidden fleet at her position (because he worked out she was wearing a homing beacon that would have been gifted to her by Crow, a fellow member of the glaive whom was killed “because the Kingsglaive is nothing” ~ Luche Lazarus, member of the Kingsglaive believing the Empire is better?). The glaive is deployed and rescues her, but it’s a trap, leaving King Regis without his Kingsglaive when Niflheim go back on their word and attempt to attack Lucis from within.

For reasons unknown, most of the Kingsglaive betray Nyx and Luna, killing the remaining loyal glaives, and our two protagonists escape. Gladio’s father Clarus is killed by Glauca while he protects Regis. Luna demands to return to King Regis – she fails to explain why to Nyx, though it’s implied to players of FFXV that this may be for the Ring of the Lucii.

Ravus (seeking revenge for he and Luna’s mothers’ death?) takes the Ring of the Lucii and attempts to put it on for . . . reasons? Power? He loses an arm because of it.

Nyx, Luna and Regis manage to escape from Glauca and Ravus, albeit only temporarily. Regis tells them both to go to Altissa to meet with Noctis. Regis remains behind to cover their escape and is lost when Glaucus kills him. Because of his death, all members of the glaive lose their magical capabilities. For some reason, Libertus, who at this point had joined up with a resistance against Regis’s decision to sign a peace treaty, ends up on the news as a “suspect” . . . because reasons? It’s implied that the group he ended up with may have been behind one of the explosions or something, but it’s never stated. At all.

Long story and bunch of action sequences short, the evil members of the glaive and Glauca stop Nyx and Luna from outright leaving Lucis – Libertus works out that Glauca is Titus Drautos, the Kingsglaive commanding officer. Because Drautos is wearing what is essentially a power armor, he’s near impossible to stop, so Nyx put’s on the Ring of the Lucii and manages to convince the Lucii to lend him their power until sunrise. He leaves Luna in Libertus’s care and proceeds to kick Drautos’s ass with the power of the past kings of Lucis.

With Drautos gone and Nyx disintegrating upon sunrise, Libertus and Luna part ways, as Luna states she can travel less conspicuously without a member of the Kingsglaive (though she doesn’t use those specific terms).

If you’ve not played the game, the above would not be at all compelling. I don’t think I’d have enjoyed this film as much as I have if I hadn’t played FFXV. There are holes where the story either did not have enough time to explain, or they were honestly forgotten due to the sheer scope of what they were trying to cover – because it is honestly quite a large hole the game left to fill. But as much as Aaron Paul’s Nyx keeps your attention, there are simply too many small and confusing twists and turns before you can catch up to the rest of the film. For example, it took me at least two viewings before I finally caught why Crowe was killed and left dead in a ditch – and it was a throwaway line from Todd Haberkorn’s Lazarus, and even with his explanation which was mediocre at best, her death was totally meaningless, having no impact on the story but driving Libertus away from the Kingsglaive.

Speaking of Libertus, the character pops pills throughout the film, as if it’s meant to be important later, but there seems to be no consequence and it is only ever addressed once by Nyx long before any kind of important conflict has actually occurred.

It’s the small disappointments in this film that just gradually add up to the story feeling lackluster, the attention to detail in the overall production and visuals falling short where the plot threads are concerned. The reveal that General Glauca actually being Kingsglaive commander Titus Drautos was given little fanfare – it doesn’t help that there was only a three second establishing shot of Glauca to begin with, whereas Drautos was more ingrained in a viewer’s understanding – his betrayal to the Empire was more shocking than his being Glauca because we’re left confused as to who “Glauca” is.

Unless you played the game (and read the in-game dossiers), you would not know who Clarus Amicitia actually is – thus his death when protecting King Regis feels of little impact to anyone but Regis, whom supposedly saw him as an old friend. For those still unaware, Clarus is actually Gladio’s father.

The Kingsglaive betraying one another felt downright confusing and counterproductive to their actual goal – which, up to that point, had been protecting Lucis. Given that they were chosen for this role, to suddenly abandon it at the first sign of the Empire winning is overall out of character. Even more troubling, Ravus’s part in the entire film is negligible at best, serving only to explain how he ended up with a prosthetic arm – but even then, the explanation is only given a short slice of time before events promptly move the film forward with little regard to whom would become an anti-hero of FFXV. Episode Ignis did this explanation more justice than the film did, which says a lot.

It’s a shame that the film’s overall plot is solid at best, but it loses its way and fails to provide it’s characters any kind of justice by the time you reach the end.

Conclusion

Having played the game to completion, this was actually a fun experience and helped to explain just what the hell happened in Lucis when Noctis and his entourage were out of town. Though it fails to live up to the expectation of expanding upon the characters brought forward by Final Fantasy XV, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV does it’s best to try and capture the attention of both FFXV players and regular movie goers – though how well executed this attempt was is up for debate.

I found myself enjoying this film moreso than I initially expected. It walks away with a ridiculous 87% (somehow squeezing into the “best film ever” category), a score held up by it’s visuals and sound alone. Say what you will about it’s story, it is an experience to be had.

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