Where to begin??? The words Final Fantasy and “movie” make for a difficult combination. As gamers we’ve been beautifully whisked away to universes of immense wonder in the Final Fantasy series. Filled with unforgettable characters and some truly heartbreaking moments at times, it would seem likely there’s a great deal of potential to be had in transitioning from games to film when it comes to this series.
Unfortunately we’ve mostly been let down by every attempt at this. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, while not a terrible movie necessarily, just failed to feel at home in the ever expanding universe of Final Fantasy. It also failed to create a stable platform for Final Fantasy movies. Square Enix’s second attempt at a movie with Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children was perhaps one positive step forward, and about a million steps back. The plot failed to have any real substance of its own—instead reverting to a cheap way to suddenly pull Final Fantasy VII’s antagonist back into the universe, suddenly reuniting all the main characters for an epic fight sequence. Rubbish!
If there’s anything to be said about these movies, however, is that they are mostly gorgeous and, especially in the case of Advent Children, have some very entertaining martial arts sequences. And I say martial arts largely because these really are more than just fights: They’re pretty impressive to watch and contain a beauty and art form onto themselves.
Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is, hands down, the best attempt at a Final Fantasy film, but it ultimately falls short of its true potential.
There’s a lot riding on Final Fantasy XV as a whole. With the atrocity that was Final Fantasy XIII, it’s easy for many gamers to lose faith in a future for this series—not to mention the fact that Final Fantasy XV has been in development for the last decade and was rebranded and rebooted at least more than once. Final Fantasy XV’s potential success is paramount to the continuation of Final Fantasy beyond just that of the successful MMO before it.
To be fair, I will say that I enjoyed watching Kingsglaive. This is a fun, entertaining and downright gorgeous film, but it mostly stops there. The politics are sloppy, the characters deserve so much more and the movie largely feels like a party you weren’t really invited to, but you’re kind of enjoying.
It’s hard for me to go into an deep review without watching the film at least once more, but I’ll unpack my experience here as best I can.
If anything, Kingsglaive does a decent job at establishing the setting and conditions for the upcoming game. I personally feel like I now have a better sense of the world and the events which set everything into motion. This doesn’t come without a few issues, however.
Despite an opening monologue that explains the world Final Fantasy XV is to take place in, I spent a great deal of time trying to keep track of everything that was going on. Unfortunately when you’re dealing with countries and empires that are entirely made up, it’s kind of hard to remember who is supposed to play what role. This is largely the reason why so many books, games and movies have clear cut good guys and bad guys. And you know what? That’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes a bad guy should just be a bad guy. Honest storytelling shouldn’t be ashamed of plot elements that work if it has something unique to tell. I got the impression from Kingsglaive, however, that they were trying to show more sides to the conflict between different nations, but I just never really felt convinced of any sort of nuance, and was probably more confused than anything else. It feels like the plot wants to explore the nuances of international politics, but sort of just assumes the viewer will instantly understand it all.
This would be fine if it didn’t take up time that, in my opinion, could’ve been better spent exploring the characters. By the time we arrive at some of the pivotal moments for each of these characters, it’s somewhat difficult to understand what all the events around them truly mean for each character. I would’ve liked to have seen more of Nyx’s experience in terms of being an immigrant serving in a different country’s secret service, and how that affects his place in the world and what all the approaching chaos means to him as a result. I would’ve enjoyed seeing Luna having to face the fact that her role as a princess comes with added weight and cost. I also would’ve liked to see more of a connection between Nyx and Libertus. An honest, human moment of expressing love and friendship between the two of them would have done this movie wonders. For each of these examples, we do get some hints of it. Nyx realizes how important King Regis’ work has been for the world and his people who have been affected by war, and Luna does seem to understand how vital her actions are, but each time these topics arrive, there’s so little foundation that it simply feels shallow.
Kingsglaive by and large would’ve been a much better film if it had been centered more on the characters than on the wonky attempts at world-building—especially since the ambient experience of the upcoming game can carry the burden of letting the player learn more about this world. If we could’ve seen more of who King Regis actually is, the loss of his city, and the uncertainty of his son Noctis’ fate could’ve been so much more moving. If Nyx’s experiences and history were more of the focal point, his actions would’ve carried an added weight that would’ve been emotional. Each moment these characters must face their narrative destiny is mostly satisfying, but there’s still the sense of untapped potential in nearly every line of dialogue. It’s bittersweet.
This movie is, in all honesty, a bit of a missed opportunity. It’s a shame. I feel as if the standard for these films should be much, much higher. All that being said, I’m sure I will gladly watch Kingsglaive again in the future. Despite a plot that’s a little hard to follow and make sense of, and characters whose potential is mostly underutilized, the visuals are simply stunning, and almost frighteningly lifelike—certainly worth watching for that element alone. There’re also some tremendously entertaining action sequences. This is an incredibly fun and entertaining movie, but it lacks the depth it deserves. It doesn’t make any of the mistakes that a film such as Advent Children makes, but at the same time it doesn’t seek to improve a great deal on them either. I walked out of theater disappointed not because I felt I wasted my time, but because I genuinely wanted more out of this movie.