Remember when Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children blew everyone away with its (at the time) revolutionary cinematics? That is 100 percent what Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy 15 does and then some.
An important thing to consider before watching Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy 15 is just how much content Square Enix has already pushed out in anticipation of a game that's not even out yet. In addition to the movie, there are already four episodes of an anime prequel on YouTube and a playable demo with a younger version of the main protagonist, Noctis. Square Enix wants to suck you into the word of Eos before you even get there — a first for the famed Japanese RPG maker. Unfortunately, you won't find any of the comical, Zoolander-esque scenes from early game footage that inspired memes like the car ride. Instead, you'll probably need to strap yourself in, because it's going to be a longer and way more serious ride.
The context of this grand creative endeavor is essential to keep in mind as you watch the film, unless you happen to feel less forgiving than we did if it were a stand-alone project. Put it this way: Kingsglaive is more of clause, not the leading statement for the world of Final Fantasy 15.
The events here take place parallel to those in Final Fantasy 15. In Kingsglaive, the mechanically advanced kingdom of Niflheim's been at war with Lucis for years, encroaching on the latter's territory. The only thing keeping them from an impending onslaught is essentially the royal family's magic. It's channeled within a giant crystal that casts an impenetrable barrier around the crown city of Insomnia, and also within a group of special-operations soldiers called the Kingsglaive.
Kingsglaive is more of statement, and not a leading clause to the world of Final Fantasy 15
The mysterious chancellor Ardyn Izunia of Niflheim (Edward Saxby) waltzes into King Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII's (Sean Bean) throne room and proposes an armistice on two conditions. One, Lucis must surrender all its territories beyond Insomnia. Two, Prince Noctis and Lady Lunafreya of Tenebrae (Lena Headey) must be wed. As Ardyn's fedora-tipping intensifies, the proposal becomes obviously suspicious. What ensues is a series of undercover missions — some failed and some successful — followed by a very obvious political discourse that climaxes in a chase and a battle that takes up the rest of the movie.
Make no mistake: Kingsglaive is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. I was gaping like a fish for the entire first minute. If you've ever played Final Fantasy 7 or 8, you might remember the huge jump in graphics that the in-game movies made. Final Fantasy 7's awkward (but endearing) blocky faces were replaced with the beginnings of the smooth, shiny faces beautiful enough to represent luxury fashion brands we know and love today. Watching this movie took that feeling and gave it steroids.
The days of rustic kingdoms, à la Final Fantasy 9's Alexandria and other classic series settings, are over. Classic Gothic influence is rife within the palace of Insomnia; expect dizzying attention to architectural detail. It's almost hard to believe everything is computer-generated. But there are moments when the setting seems like it's having an identity crisis. For example, there's a chancellor who looks like he came straight out of Bloodborne and an evil knight who's definitely related to a Dark Souls boss. Twice, you'll even see the Brooklyn Bridge.
But even beautiful visuals can't save a husk of a story. You'll find no achievements in storytelling here nor an ending worthy of your time – Kingsglaive is like a huge, glittery piñata with no candy inside. It's beautiful to look at, but there's nothing of real substance. There's too much introduced in too short a time and numerous attempts to get the audience to emotionally latch onto characters, but none are successful. Several times you'll hear someone grumbling about "this damn war" and that "these are our homes!" Everyone is angry all the time, and perhaps rightfully so, but you definitely don't need to hear about it every five minutes.
Lunafreya tries to display and exercise any power she can, whether it be diplomatic or physical, but she fails to deliver anything of actual significance. She becomes nothing more than a delicate, sickly-looking hindrance and seems to negate any progress that other characters make. The film veers hard in the other direction with Crowe, the only other female character in the film, as if her tomboyish "one of the guys" persona might be able to compensate for the much weaker Lunafreya.
It's the spectacle that makes Kingsglaive worth the watch, not the story. The climactic fight scene — or one of the climactic fight scenes, I should say — is defined by excess. It's a Godzilla-scale fight (one that made Final Fantasy 10's Sin look like a house cat) packed with gravity-defying face-offs and more glitter than a Twilight vampire massacre. But that excess, despite itself, makes for an amazing watch. The true highlight for fans and newcomers alike is seeing the fighting and magic occur on screen in real time — Final Fantasy has never felt so real. "Impressive" is an understatement when it comes to Kingsglaive's bit set pieces.
Alongside seeing their beloved combat on the big screen, Final Fantasy fans can take heart that there are bits and pieces of lore and throwbacks sprinkled throughout the film. For those of you with sharp eyes and ears, you might hear some familiar tracks and spot some well-known bosses and summons on the battlefield. There's one particularly out-of-place monster who shows up in an airship, but if you know your history, you'll recognize that iconic face right away.
Otherwise, though, if you're looking for a movie that'll do the the franchise's remarkable character- and world-building justice, you might be out of luck. This may especially be true if you grew up playing the games and learned to love them for their stories. It's hard to simply generalize about what Final Fantasy as a series is about – each one has its own distinct flavor. But you’ll find that sorely missing in Kingsglaive, where it seems like the previous attempt at a Final Fantasy movie (Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children) bled into this current one.
Kingsglaive is Square Enix flexing its multimedia muscles, and the studio wants everyone to take a long, hard look. The film isn't intended to explain the game it's based on, but instead to whet your appetite for the main course. It's the last big chance to net an audience it wouldn't have otherwise reached with simply releasing Final Fantasy 15 alone. Fast cars, spiky hair, black leather and fluid graphics just manage to bring the film past the finish line. But if you're OK with a flashy, over-the-top action-filled time, this will not disappoint. Treat it as you would any other summer blockbuster – with a grain of salt. It is, after all, still a video game adaptation.