Kingsglaive succeeds where many video game films do not. It unfortunately fails where many films of any origin do: with plot.
Movie adaptations and spinoffs of video games have a rocky history. Even mediocre films like Tomb Raider and Silent Hill are remembered as successes because of utter creative and commercial failures like Super Mario Bros., Doom, Alone in the Dark and many others. While much of this can be attributed to creative bankruptcy, another factor is that gaming is primarily an interactive medium, which doesn’t automatically transfer to a good cinematic experience.
The Final Fantasy series of games has always been different, though. Final Fantasy games are at least partially cinematic. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, this meant watching little pixelated people walk around the screen with big text blocks relaying their dialogue. As gaming has become more technologically advanced, however, so has this franchise, and every game from Final Fantasy VII on has included hours of long CGI scenes that move the story forward.
As such, Final Fantasy is a series more suited to film adaptation than many of its brethren. This is on full display in Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, a cinematic side story to the upcoming game Final Fantasy XV, which is due out in November. Kingsglaive is set in the gorgeous cyberpunk land of Eos, rendered in stunning, boundary-pushing CGI. The characters, led by leading man Nyx (voiced by “Breaking Bad”’s Aaron Paul), King Regis (voiced by “Game of Thrones”’ Sean Bean) and mysterious princess Lunafreya (voiced by “Game of Thrones”’ Lena Headey), are spiky-haired, brave and emotionally stormy, in typical Final Fantasy fashion. And the film is primarily made up of huge action set pieces featuring incredible spell casting and choreography, mimicking the Final Fantasy games’ famously fast turn-based combat. In fact, the in-game battles are some of the best ever adaptations of video game action to film action. As a result, Kingsglaive succeeds where many video game movies fail. It feels like a part of the universe it is portraying rather than an imitation of it.
While Kingsglaive succeeds where many video game films do not, it unfortunately fails where many films of any origin do: with plot. Kingsglaive’s story revolves around a treaty between the magical kingdom of Lucis, where Regis reigns and which is protected by an ancient crystal, and Nilheim, the evil empire that controls all parts of Eos that aren’t Lucis. The titular Kingsglaive is King Regis’s elite group of immigrant warriors, who he has imbued with magical powers, and they are tasked with protecting Lunafreya during the treaty talks. Lunafreya, a princess from a formerly neutral kingdom since taken over by Nilheim, is engaged to marry King Regis’s son Noctis, who is the main character of the game Final Fantasy XV and mostly unseen here. This may sound overly complicated, but it’s not too hard to follow. The bigger problem is that Kingsglaive is a side story and unfortunately feels like one. It seems to begin partway through the real story and concludes well before the true ending. Important events happen off-screen and are mentioned only in passing, and understanding several twists requires the ability to differentiate between several similar looking and sounding characters.
As such, Kingsglaive will probably appeal most to those who intend to play Final Fantasy XV, and definitely to those who have played other games in the series. There are plenty of Easter Eggs relating to the game series hidden within Kingsglaive, which are expected from this kind of film but nonetheless welcome.
The game also has a female problem. This is strange and disappointing considering the game series often features strong, smart female characters. Of the two main female characters in Kingsglaive, one has a violent and confusing storyline and the other, Lunafreya, runs around with a hugely powerful weapon for most of the film but doesn’t use it, instead safeguarding it until she can pass it off to a male character. The only explanation given for this is a prophecy involving a male pronoun. Also, it must be mentioned that unfortunately, like most Final Fantasy settings, the world of Eos is very, very white.
Still, Kingsglaive is one of the better video game movies, and definitely the best Final Fantasy movie. Feature-length Final Fantasy films have been released before and Kingsglaive has learned from their mistakes. The film’s most direct predecessor, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, was incoherent for everyone, but particularly for those who hadn’t played Final Fantasy VII. And the series’ only standalone film, the underrated Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, didn’t resonate with gamers because it lacked dynamic action and focused on science fiction instead of fantasy. Kingsglaive is far more balanced, offering appeal for those unfamiliar with the game series and for hardcore Final Fantasy fans.
With a stunning, unique world, interesting characters and incredible action, Kingsglaive is a spectacle worth experiencing. It’s just a pity that it feels like a sideshow rather than the main event.