Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV – An in-depth review by a fan, for fans

It’s been two weeks since Square Enix released Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV digitally and less than one month to go for the physical copies of the film to hit stores. However I’m sure many will view me as late to the party in terms of reviews given that many larger names in the industry already took their crack at it with the theatrical release earlier last month.

But the thing is I have a real problem with how reviews of Kingsglaive have been done so far. Not because I disagree with them. The overall opinion is clear: the plot is ridiculous (as is Square Enix’s specialty) and Square Enix really didn’t put in enough effort to make us emotionally attached to the characters. I agree with both of these points and will talk about them as we go on.

However, a lot of the reviews are as all over the place as the “beautiful mess” big entertainment outlets have deemed the film to be. You have reviews like James Mielke’s from Rolling Stone that clearly didn’t even want to touch the movie with a 30-foot pole, and it shows. Its first posting described Lunafreya as the “a long-lost member of the Lucis royal family,” showing he was already falling asleep within the first five minutes. The review has since corrected itself in that detail stating she’s from Tenebrae, but still deems she’s long-lost and gets several other details wrong, showing the review was done under obligation and paycheck rather than interest.

Other reviews such as from the likes of the Verge, Forbes, and even Kotaku claim the plot was difficult to follow (and because I will be breaking it down for you shortly you’ll find that no, it isn’t. The movie spells things out for you quite clearly, and that ends up feeding one of its greatest weaknesses). All the while having to waste space describing what Final Fantasy XV (FFXV) even is and dedicating paragraphs to making fun of character naming schemes (Really? Latin-based names in fantasy fiction movies are too hard for you to grasp? You’re all better than that).

I know why these review outlets have to be rather generic: their readership is large and a hefty portion of them are going to be unfamiliar with the franchise. So you have to treat every article as if it’s someone’s first time ever stumbling upon the film or the game franchise it’s based on.

However these reviews don’t help the actual consumer base Kingsglaive is targeting to decide if it’s worth dropping money for it.

Just like how the Avengers and other superhero films target the audiences who have been fans of those characters for years, Kingsglaive was made for the fans following FFXV. And just like people who aren’t into comic book heroes won’t ride the superhero mega film trend train regardless of how packed that train gets, people who aren’t even the least bit interested in FFXV are not going to find Kingsglaive enjoyable.

Let’s make some things clear:

  1. If you are not a fan of Japanese cinematography or storytelling tropes/styles, you will not like Kingsglaive. It bathes itself in these styles and Japanese culture. And it’s not a bad thing if that’s not for you because that genre styling is not everyone’s cup of tea. But this review isn’t going to change your mind if you’re in this camp.
  2. If you are a fan of the above or FFXV, then be prepared to treat this more like an action prequel movie. The film is gorgeous to look at, and it allows fans to bask in FFXV’s universe. The downside is it does fall short on an emotional level.

So! For those still reading and actually have an interest in the film, but are still unsure of making a purchase, let’s dig in!

So what is the movie about? Is the plot really that convoluted?

Kingsglaive sets the stage for the upcoming PS4 game Final Fantasy XV (Nov. 29th release), and as such, describes the events that were put into motion for the main conflict Noctis and friends will have to face within said game. Everything from this point forward is either said via exposition or character dialogue within the film itself: no prior knowledge of the game required. And everything up to the spoiler tag has been made common knowledge through trailers and official sneak peeks on YouTube.

The film begins with Princess Lunafreya describing the long and hard war that has taken place between the Empire of Niflheim and the Kingdom of Lucis. Niflheim is a country bent on conquest, and has marched on several smaller city-states that lie both between the two nations and those under Lucis control. This includes the former neutral nation of Tenebrae, in which Lunafreya is princess.

The capital of Lucis, Insomnia, is the last grand city than can stand up to Niflheim’s might thanks to its magical crystal nestled within the King’s palace. King Regis of Lucis has used his magical connections to the crystal (granted by his royal bloodline) to erect a barrier around Insomnia, rendering it impervious to Niflheim’s attacks which are comprised primarily of machines called Magitek. So science and technology vs. magic. However Niflheim won’t take that lying down, and as such have focused their energies on those smaller city states outside of Insomnia’s walls that are still technically under Lucis rule, but can’t be protected by the king’s magic barrier in the hopes of drawing Regis’ forces out from behind the walls and into open combat.

Enter the first big action scene of the film and the introduction of the Kingsglaive. The Kingsglaive is a special military force made up of youths and refugees from these city states which Niflheim has attacked who fled to Insomnia for sanctuary. For whatever reason these youths are compatible with the crystal’s magic. So King Regis grants these youths access to his and the crystal’s magic in exchange for their service to fight Niflheim and reclaim their homelands they originally hail from.

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Nyx Ulric: Galahd native and film protagonist

This story in particular centers on Kingsglaive member Nyx Ulric and his experiences throughout the film. After the initial war scene Niflheim sends its chancellor, Ardyn Izunia, to offer a peace treaty to King Regis. Ardyn requests two things on Niflheim’s behalf: to surrender the smaller city-states under Lucis control to Niflheim, and for Regis’ son Prince Noctis to marry Princess Lunafreya of Tenebrae. And thus the plot of the film evolves from there.

Everything else plot-related from this point will be in a bullet-point list and hidden in a spoiler tag. These are massive spoilers. Do not read them if you want to avoid spoiling the film for yourself. I literally only made this list to debunk everyone saying the plot was hard to follow. Once again, every single thing in this list is explicitly stated in the film itself:

Spoilers
  • Essentially from this point we see a huge rift in relationships between members of the Kingsglaive. You have those like Nyx who believe in King Regis and wish to repay the favor of taking them in. Then you have those like Libertus (Nyx’s friend) who feels Regis is a cowardly king who uses them like tools and nothing more.
  • Nyx is reassigned to guard duty at city borders for ignoring an order to retreat, despite the fact it was to save a fellow soldier’s life (aka overused trope of war movies). Here we see fellow guards being dicks and saying that due to Insomnia’s peace there’s no need for immigrants like Nyx and the Glaive to bring their war into the walls. So here we have a clear impression of how citizens of Insomnia see the war: let the rest of the country burn. We don’t care because we’re safe!
  • King Regis and his council have a large meeting deciding whether or not they should accept Niflheim’s terms. They eventually agree to. This outrages several Kingsglaive members because the city-states they called home and were fighting for are now being forfeited as bargaining chips for the capital city’s safety. They feel their place and efforts were pointless.
  • Crowe is tasked with traveling to Tenebrae to pick up Lunafreya and escort her to Altissia for her wedding with Prince Noctis. Crowe is betrayed and murdered while on the job. Nyx is moved to castle guard.
  • We cut to Tenebrae and see that Lunafreya is more of a hostage than an actual princess, for she’s trying to escape her home at the urging of her maid. However Lunafreya’s older brother Ravus stops her and shuts her in her room, claiming she shouldn’t sympathize with Lucis as they are the enemy. Lunafreya tries to remind him that Niflheim soldiers took their family away, not Lucis, but Ravus doesn’t listen.
  • We then learn the Emperor of Niflheim has forced Lunafreya to come with him and Ardyn to Insomnia in Lucis. This obviously scares the shit out of Regis and company because it clues them in that their attempts to intercept Lunafreya were known. Nyx is made Lunafreya’s bodyguard, Regis tries to pursuade her to leave the city and follow the original plan. Lunafreya refuses.
  • The captain of the Kingsglaive is informed of Crowe’s dead body being found. Nyx and Libertus mourn her death and Libertus in his anger over the entire scenario drives him to quit the Glaive and leave his post. If Regis won’t leave his throne and defend the lands beyond the wall, he will himself on his own terms.
  • Nyx goes through Crowe’s possessions that the Kingsglaive Captain let them have. This includes the hair pin which was to be Lunafreya’s wedding gift and Crowe’s watch. Both are important later, hence why the camera stays on them for so damn long.
  • There’s a large party celebrating the treaty where everyone gets to mingle. Nyx gives Lunafreya the hair pin Crowe was carrying for her. Lunafreya is later then cornered and threatened by General Glauca of Niflheim’s army.
  • Libertus finds an underground liberation/rebellion team and agrees to tell them all they want to know about the Lucis royal family.
  • On the day of the treaty signing ceremony Nyx notices that Crowe’s watch has started counting down, but he has no idea why and assumes it’s a glitch. Later while on guard duty he is informed by another Glaive member that Lunafreya is not with the Emperor of Niflheim’s party. He rushes home and realizes the watch is possibly a warning of a trap, like a bomb countdown or something similar. He demands his fellow Glaive member to look into things.
  • Sure enough there’s eight or so Niflheim surprise ships stationed outside of Insomnia’s walls and Lunafreya is with them, hostage. Kingsglaive captain can’t be reached through their radio channel. So Nyx barges in on King Regis, tells him what’s happening, and pleads with him to deploy the Glaive in the captain’s stead. Regis agrees and puts together a plan of his own for defense.
  • Nyx takes charge of the Glaive and attacks the ships while cutting to banter of the treaty meeting, which has a lot of foreshadowing.
  • Surprise, surprise (not), there’s traitors within the Glaive. While Lunafreya escapes with Nyx the majority of the Kingsglaive is compromised.
  • Surprise, surprise (not), the treaty was a hoax and Lunafreya was bait. A standoff between Niflheim and Lucis congressmen takes place in the meeting room. However Niflheim troops manage to find the magic crystal that grants Regis (and therefore his Glaive) his magic. They destroy the chamber and cart the crystal off into the sky because that was what Niflheim wanted all along. That special barrier that protect the city falls.
  • Robotic/android soldiers are deployed by Niflheim and begin murdering the councilmen in the meeting room. Niflheim’s emperor and Ardyn take off while General Glauca comes in to assassinate Regis. Ensue big battle there.
  • A magic family ring belonging to the Lucis royal family is suddenly introduced, and I admit this came out of fucking nowhere. Ravus (Lunafreya’s older brother) came to Insomnia to take the ring and use its power to get revenge on King Regis for losing his mother the day Tenebrae was attacked (Boromir style, bitch!). However the ring rejects him, his arm catches on fire, Regis gets the ring back.
  • Nyx helps Regis and Lunafreya briefly escape. Regis asks Lunafreya to take said magic ring to Altissia and give it to Prince Noctis. He then leads them to a secret passageway to escape, stays behind, and erects a barrier so that General Glauca can’t directly follow them. Glauca kills Regis.
  • Cue chase scenes where Nyx tries to get Lunafreya out of Insomnia, which includes carship chases, more attacks from traitorous Kingsglaive members, and monsters that track them. Nyx learns the hair pin he gave Lunafreya is what’s tracking them. With Regis dead there is no longer a conduit connecting the Kingsglaive to the magic crystal, so Nyx can’t use his powers anymore. No warp-strikes, no fire, nothing.
  • Kingsglaive Captain finally gets in touch with Nyx and tells him to meet in a certain city sector so they can evacuate.
  • Libertus appears after an eternity off screen and realizes that the underground resistance he helped was actually orchestrated by Niflheim, who promised to grant the city-states they hailed from freedom of either superpower’s rule if they aided in the assassination of Regis. Libertus moves to try and make things right.
  • Nyx and Lunafreya reach the evacuation rendezvous point, and are attacked by another traitorous Glaive. Libertus comes to the rescue and General Glauca’s true identity is revealed.
  • With all hope looking lost Nyx puts on the royal magic ring and is then held in a ghostly realm very much like where Frodo goes after putting on the ring where he can see the nine Wraiths. Here Nyx is judged by the past kings of Winterfell Lucis and is eventually allowed to wield the royal family’s magic for the fight, but he will die the following morning.
  • Nyx returns to the realm of the living, drives off Glauca and asks Libertus to get Lunafreya out of Insomnia. He gives Lunafreya the ring to deliver to Prince Noctis.
  • From this point until the end of the film is a very large action and battle scenes showcasing the potential of the Lucis king’s magic through Nyx.
  • When morning comes Lunafreya parts ways with Libertus for some reason stating she needs to go to Altissia alone.
  • Movie ends with Nyx and Glauca beat up, Nyx is fading to ash slowly as the sun rises.
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Regardless if you read the spoilers or not, every single point I mentioned was said within the movie itself. Keep in mind I only watched the film once. It got pretty ridiculous at times and doesn’t really follow through emotionally, but the plot is simple, familiar with a lot of other fantasy movie plot lines (to a fault, to be frank), and is spelled out for viewers who are willing to pay attention. If you can follow The Avengers or Game of Thrones, then you can follow Kingsglaive without any issues.

The real issues regarding the film’s plot

The problem with Kingsglaive’s plot isn’t that it’s difficult to follow: the real issue is that it breaks the universal rule of “show, don’t tell.” The way the plot is delivered doesn’t really allow the viewers to connect with the cast on an emotional level because it’s mostly told through exposition, and a lot of it. And when characters are too busy describing the plot to the audience, that means they’re not letting us learn about the characters as people. They become chess pieces. And while the film certainly did have a lot of points that they needed to convey, it could have been done a lot better.

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King Regis and the opposing Emperor prepare to sign the peace treaty

For example, the scenes of the actual peace treaty ceremony where Regis and the Niflheim Emperor goad each other are probably some of the best in the entire movie. You see these two old kings that are well aware of each other’s moves and intentions, yet they’re so classy in how they play word games with each other that we not only see some dark foreshadowing, but we learn how these two men think. Come on: King Regis’ eyeroll was perfect a perfect example of this. Kingsglaive needed far more scenes acted out like this one.

But instead we got more scenes like Libertus constantly saying Crowe’s like a little sister to him, but we never actually see the two interact enough to prove that what he says about their bond is believable. So as the plot takes its twists and turns we see scenes that we’re supposed to feel sad or angry for the characters…but we don’t. Because again, we’re being told to feel that way by the movie instead of letting the characters just bask in all of these complicated emotions that would come from being in the scenario that they’re in.

I also feel that a lot of the emotional shallowness comes from Square Enix’s need to keep as much of the FFXV game under wraps as possible. Throughout the film we constantly hear that “the Prince is our hope,” “we must protect the Prince,” “Take this to my son,” but we never once see Noctis’ face in the main film.

This is a huge problem. As a fanbase we’re already well aware of why Noctis isn’t in Insomnia. We’re aware of his relationship with his father thanks to Brotherhood, and we know what he looks like, but him not being present anywhere in Kingsglaive sucks out a very important emotional component. It makes Noctis become a nearly faceless entity similar to Serah in Final Fantasy XIII: everyone and their bloody mother wanted to save her but we didn’t understand why she was so emotionally important until the end of the game because we didn’t get to interact with her. We could only go by what the characters told us about her, which makes a lot of the efforts feel pointless. And every time in Kingsglaive they reference their prince, we get the same effect because he’s never once shown in the main film interacting with anybody.

Just because the cast feels a certain way about a character doesn’t automatically mean the audience will too. If you want us to be emotionally attached you have to give us reasons to be attached: show us a face, show us a memory, a little interaction…something!

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Noctis as depicted in Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV

I’m not saying Noctis should have been front and center. After all this wasn’t his story. However I do think that they could have included the scenes we’ve seen previewed through various videos where Noctis is informed of his wedding and saying goodbye to his father. They wouldn’t have compromised the game and it would have strengthened our emotional ties to both Regis and Lunafreya. We would have better understood their absolute loyalty and love as well as Noctis’ innocent frailty that those two characters keep hinting at because we would have been showed, rather than told. We would have had both a face and a memory to link those characters’ love and fear with.

No viewer should have to rely on outside sources to know about all the characters brought up in the film and their role, and there’s no excuse for his absence seeing as we see plenty of Noctis and the gang through Brotherhood. Square Enix is borderline spoiler territory for the game anyway, so turning Noctis into a faceless entity in the film was just an utterly bizarre choice to me.

So at the end of the day I should have bawled my eyes out more than once, particularly towards the finale of this movie. But I didn’t. And that’s probably this film’s biggest crime. I knew I was supposed to cry. I was given all the cues a film could give like an applause sign over a live audience. Yet the emotional impact wasn’t there to force the tears out. There was plenty of potential to set a truly emotional stage to get us as a fanbase pumped to strike back at Niflheim within the game later this year. And as big a fan as I am for FFXV and as much as I had fun with Kingsglaive…Square Enix did fail in this regard with the movie, in my opinion.

So as a short recap: while the plot is not nearly as difficult to understand as most review outlets are making it out to be, I can’t help but agree that it does fall short in getting me emotionally invested.