For as long as there has been more than one kingdom, there have been tales of war. Not trying to be glib, just stating the facts. Small disagreements, minute clashes that escalate as populations boon, swirling into a chaos of misunderstandings, conflicts of ideals and simple greed. Now, this is not to say that peace is an impossibility, but that it is a possibility hidden in the depths of the future, one that must be purposefully reached. Additionally, in the world of fiction, war makes for a far more compelling story than peace, especially when said war involves lightning, gods and really, really cool daggers.
XV. Those two letters representing two numbers representing over a decade of waiting, a waiting which is still being enacted. No, my friends, this is not the game you are looking for, but a movie based within its world. A prequel of sorts delving into the story of a protagonist unseen thus far. Rather than add to the tale of Noctis Lucis Caelum (as Brotherhood Final fantasy XV does), Kingsglaive centres on a member of the titular organisation; Nyx Ulric. A refugee from a town assaulted by the Niflheim Empire, Nyx was taken in by the kingdom of Lucis and placed in their overflow slums. Upon realising his affinity for magic however, Nyx was trained as a soldier, eventually becoming the Kingsglaive member we witness in the film. A sad past to be sure, but not one that drives his character development entirely. Does it provide him the perspective to see Insomnia (Lucis’ capital city) as something that must be protected? Yes. But said conclusion is reached more from his established friendships and personal morals than anything else. He sees his hometown as more of a painful lesson, an example of the atrocities of war, than a physical location whose value outweighs any other. A view that is not held by all, leading to a divergence of opinion that propels one subplot of the story along, one that claims the bulk of the screentime.
Following this thought, Kingsglaive is a narrative that contains an interwoven thread of story that is not always what one would call balanced. Whereas a great deal of time is given to Nyx and the development of his career, opinions and allegiances, a number of elements are relegated to the background as collateral. An entire villain, explored in the briefest of definitions, is so inconsequential to the plot that his necessity is questionable, even considering his relation to certain, far more important characters. I could be more specific regarding this,a s of now, mysterious figure, but it really isn’t necessary. Two scenes of import and a hinted backstory that nobody cares about, culminating in a distinct feeling of emptiness with a twinge of confusion. Solid. Of course, he could appear within Final Fantasy XV (the game), but I came to the conclusion that I don’t really care. A number of this films weaker aspects could be explained away by the belief that they will culminate in the game, but I wasn’t playing the game. I was watching the movie. And the movie was not the full experience its individual aspects alluded to. Now, this is not to say that the film is intrinsically flawed, simply that it is not an experience intended to be enjoyed by itself, which is…interesting. Especially considering the much sterner tone of the film, which clashes with the distinct joviality present in the released knowledge of the game and, minor spoiler alert, brief direct element in the the film itself. That isn’t to say the film is devoid of humour, it is just not focused on it.
As the only name that exists within the franchise at large, Princess Lunafreya Nox Fleuret (Luna for short) serves as the pivot on which this film rests. From the get go, we know that she will survive the multiple attempts on her life, the numerous monsters which fight near hear and the countless explosions which occur around her. Why? Because she’s in the game. Tension ostensibly removed. However, it is also interesting to witness a tie in story that will apparently not be told within the core element of this series. A little backstory that is nice, but not necessary. The irony of course being that this cements the film as a tie in to the true product of focus. A shame, considering the strengths of this film. One of which being how surprisingly comprehendable it is for something bearing the moniker of Final Fantasy. An empire forces terms of surrender under the guise of a truce, trickery allows them to (unsurprisingly) backstep on their word and unleash hell, subjugated kingdom fights back. Done. Yes, there are elements involving chess style tactical prediction and more than a few double crosses, but by and large it is an understandable plot. Occasionally moreso than the visuals that encapsulate it.
This film is beautiful, there’s no way around that. The sprawling landscapes, the detail of character models, the organic flow of lightning magic, it is all a treat to watch. Unfortunately however, said elements are also a perfect example of the belief that there can be too much of a good thing. From the first battle sequence, the screen presented alternates between gorgeous and cluttered beyond all get out. Whilst I think lightning, fireballs and a healthy does of teleportation are factors that can create one hell of a fight scene, they don’t necessarily mean anything if no-one can follow them. I myself rewound roughly ten minutes into the film in order to figure out exactly what went down during the Kingsglaive’s introduction and initial fight. With firestorms, lightning bolts, Starship Trooper-esque bug monsters and a demon that is consistently wreathed in smoke, I was simultaneously awed and confused, though the mere existence of said confusion slowly overwhelmed the aforementioned awe. Oddly enough, I found that you adjust to the chaos after fairly constant exposure, lending more impact to the scenes that follow, and although I remember even the confusing scene fondly, first impressions still remain. All of this considered, my main take away from Kingsglaive combat is how awesome teleportation can be. Instigated by throwing a dagger and BAMFing to it Nightcrawler style, Nyx and friend’s main method of transportation never ceases to enrapture. This is no small part due to the lack of perfection in the process, namely the aversion of the trope that thrown blades always hit solidly and land sharp end embedded. Buffeted by strong winds, clanging off sturdy metal and deflected by skilled opponents, the sheer reactionary aspect of this manoeuvre adds a flow to battle and is honestly just endearing. The accompanying sound is also pretty darn sweet and, along with its sister spells, add some memorable heft to the audio, amidst the expected orchestral blare.
Auditorially speaking, the voice over of Kingsglaive is simultaneously impressive and…not. Now the performances themselves are nothing to worry about, bar the strained nature of a few, instead it is the way in which they mesh with the visuals. Though fluidity is a long striven goal of CGI, accomplishing this leads to an inherent disconnect when it comes to personification. Though the voices sound fine and the visual look nice, there is a barrier between the two, a border which stands between a complete suspension of disbelief. I’m not exactly speaking of mismatched lip flaps or clunky dialogue, but simply an odd vibe that disconnects the two. At certain points I was uncomfortably aware of the ADR behind the scenes, feeling less like Nyx and Luche were talking a more like Aaron Paul and Todd Haberkorn were voicing Nyx and Luche talking. Makes it a little hard to sympathise. Luckily this was not always the case, but for those few moments, I was very aware I was watching a CGI film.
With all strengths and flaws considered, I rather enjoyed Kingsglaive. Though somewhat less than a film unto itself, it is certainly more than a simple tie-in. Nyx is a likeable character, performed in a personable way, whose presence of self makes you vie for his success. The world itself carries the traditional Final Fantasy vision of complexity, yet still manages to hold back enough to seem approachable, though your opinions on Audi and billboards featuring Beats by Dre will personally pivot your agreement with this idea. Inherently live action camera techniques, such as sweeping environmental shots, add a conflicted realism that further place this film in a category all its own, though it could certainly do without the multitudinous fades to black. Ruins the flows. By far however, my favourite aspect of this film were the minute background events that are never directly called attention to. Their mere existence adds layers to scenes and push the idea that this is a living world comprised of a million working parts that all need not be focused on. Until they are focused on, completing the cycle and representing this film in its truest form; an above average videogame tie-in film that is pulled in two distinct directions, by countless distinct techniques…with really cool dagger physics.