The opening scene of Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV — a feature-length computer-animated film set in the same universe as the upcoming game — features Princess Luna, played by Lena Hedley, describing a world home to powerful crystals where an evil empire wages war against a kingdom protected by their leader’s magical power. It sounds a bit like a dramatic reading of the Final Fantasy XV wiki, as performed by Cersei Lannister.
For all their success in video games, the creators of Final Fantasy have struggled to translate the franchise into the world of film. First there was the box office bomb Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within in 2001, which was followed by Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, a sequel to the most popular game in the series. Both movies shared the same problems: some of the most beautiful computer-generated visuals of their time, coupled with impenetrable stories leaden with shallow plot turns, forgettable characters, and barrels of fantasy and sci-fi gibberish. Final Fantasy is known for stories that stretch leisurely across a 50-hour-long role-playing game; unsurprisingly, these stories don’t condense easily into 2-hour movies.
Kingsglaive is the best Final Fantasy movie to date, though that is faint praise. The familiar problems return. The films is absolutely gorgeous, set in a spectacularly imaginative world that that blends fantasy and near-future science fiction. Knights wear gleaming armor and matching Bluetooth earpieces, and futuristic shuttle crafts travel between ancient castles nestled in vast, green forests. It’s the kind of world I want to explore — which I can, thankfully, when Final Fantasy XV is released this fall.
But that gorgeous facade is coupled with a narrative that tries to do too much. Kingsglaive is meant to tell a story concurrent with the events of the upcoming game, in which Prince Noctis and friends go on an epic road trip that, presumably, culminates with them saving the world in some grand fashion. The movie follows what happens to Noctis’ father, King Regis, during the same time period. Kingsglaive takes place in the unfortunately named city of Insomnia, a gleaming metropolis that stands protected from the outside world thanks to a magical shield powered by the king himself. But as his strength begins to wane, he agrees to enter into a truce with the enemy, a massive empire known as Niflheim.
I’ll be honest: while I watched Kingsglaive, I could hardly follow what was happening. The movie throws characters, places, and magical elements at you without sparing time to remember who is who, let alone to care. Moments that are meant to be powerful, including a death early on, are robbed of drama because you’re given few reasons to actually empathize with these characters.
Outside of the three main leads — Headley’s Princess Luna; King Regis, played by Sean Bean; and soldier Nyx, voiced by the always-enthusiastic Aaron Paul — I couldn’t tell you the name of another character in the movie. In the best fantasy epics, talk of war and ongoing conflicts is table dressing, an exciting backdrop for a story about people. In Kingsglaive it’s the opposite: the characters take a backseat to a dense, joyless political struggle. Absent is the goofy charm that has made the Final Fantasy XV anime, the game’s other high-profile supplement, such a delight.
Mercifully, the soapy dialogue is interrupted now and then with action. There’s a daring rescue mission that takes place on a massive luxury airship, and ends with a staggeringly huge squid monster being impaled on a skyscraper. Toward the end, Kingsglaive takes on a Godzilla vibe, with towering monsters laying waste to human cities.
At best, the movie serves as a passable introduction to the world of Final Fantasy XV. The world of Insomnia is the standout highlight, a setting that feels, even more so than in previous Final Fantasy games and films, similar to our own. You see Beats logos in shop windows and people drive ridiculously expensive Audi sports cars, and yet royalty resides in a vast, gothic castle, and guards use magic and swords to protect the people. The word feels intentional, like a Christmas tree with every ornament hung just so.
But ultimately, the Kingsglaive story is too muddled to ease viewers to this new world. If you can’t wait another day for Final Fantasy XV, here’s your chance to get get a sense of the setting and characters. But for everyone else, Kingsglaive is little more than explosion-heavy, monster-filled, animated eye candy.
Kingsglaive Final Fantasy XV is in select theaters now, and will be available digitally tomorrow. Blu-ray and DVD versions are coming on October 4th.