Deep into Kingsglaive, after more than an hour of winding through its thick-woven plot, Princess Lunafreya Nox Fleuret and Nyx Ulric are crouching in the dark, racking their brains for a solution as attempt to elude their pursuers. Luna turns to Nyx and says: "True power is not something that is found by those who seek it. It is something that comes to those who deserve it."
This statement is an allegory for another kind of power: the power of the Final Fantasy series and what it's given to fans. In years past, the franchise has lost its way, and forays into other media and genres--see Final Fantasy VII sequel film Advent Children and spin-off game Dirge of Cerberus--didn't always find footing. When the stewardship of Final Fantasy XV was officially turned over to director Hajime Tabata in 2013, he made one thing clear: Square Enix wanted to earn its fans back by giving them a Final Fantasy worthy of their time. Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV--with its star-studded voice cast and jaw-dropping visual achievements--is a step toward that.
In a traditional sense, Kingsglaive isn't a terribly coherent standalone film; it frequently references locations, characters, and elements prominent in the marketing of Final Fantasy XV, the game to which it’s connected. Viewers coming to Kingsglaive with little to no knowledge of what's been happening with XV will likely find themselves lost and have some difficulty understanding why certain plot points and people are so important. But the cliche about "fans of the genre" finding something to love feels like it was conceived for Kingsglaive in the first place: If you’re a Final Fantasy fan, and you’re on the XV bandwagon, the way you lose yourself in Kingsglaive is paved with delight and awe.
Kingsglaive's opening minutes feature heavy narration from Lunafreya (Lena Headey) about the state of Final Fantasy XV's world. The kingdom of Lucis, under the rule of King Regis (Sean Bean), is at war with Niflheim, a country known for using magitek ships, weapons, and robotic soldiers. Twelve years after a particularly vicious attack from Niflheim on Luna's home nation of Tenebrae, Niflheim emperor Iedolas Aldercapt and his chancellor, Ardyn Izunia, present Lucis with a set of very one-sided terms of peace, leading to Lucis' elite military force--the Kingsglaive--to question what they're fighting so hard for. Kingsglaive soldier Nyx Ulric (Aaron Paul), who takes every opportunity to loudly proclaim he's the hero of the film, is caught up in the conflict and ultimately finds the fates of many resting on his shoulders.
If you've been paying attention to the slow drip of information on Final Fantasy XV, Kingsglaive will answer many of your questions. What the circumstances behind the betrothal of Noctis--the son of King Regis and protagonist of XV--and Luna? Where is Luna while Noctis is out road-tripping with his friends? Kingsglaive is a side story that takes place at the same time as some of the events of Final Fantasy XV, delivering a picture of the conflict brewing in Noctis' absence that goes above and beyond what a string of cutscenes could. It's informative, though it’s also a little heavy-handed with its casual use of proper nouns and references to other world events. You'll have to pay close attention when characters speak, or you'll miss crucial hints leading up to major revelations and plot twists. Additionally, the film is sprinkled with Easter eggs and references to previous Final Fantasy games, as well as unmistakable visual nods to early footage of what was once called Final Fantasy Versus XIII. But again, if you haven't been into Final Fantasy before now, you will miss these things.
Some plot points, too, fall flat. In one particular instance, the audience is given a rather bizarre emotional leap as the explanation for one character's story arc and the surrounding circumstances make it hard to digest. Another major revelation is delivered with a slight ring of cheesiness, diminishing what is undoubtedly going to be a powerful element players will run up against in the main game. These moments are few and far between, however, and they can't take away from Kingsglaive's shine.
The film is bright, flashy, and constantly in motion. Battles are choreographed dances, showered in the spark of spells and the icy crackle of magical barriers. Ardyn sneers and waves his arms with the charisma of someone who may be slightly mad. Aldercapt and Regis verbally spar, their passive aggression laying a thick cloak of tension over their scenes together. The Kingsglaive make frequent use of the Warp Strike technique we see Noctis using in the XV demos, trails of purple fire following them as they hack and slash their way through enemy soldiers. And the film's climax itself is a visual treat--a flurry of combat that will leave you dazed as the credits roll.
Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is an exemplary work from a team that knows they must continually earn their power--that power being the ardor of Final Fantasy fans. The casting is on point, and the visuals are sharp and spectacular. As a film, audiences may have some problem chewing on what’s essentially a beautiful story dump ahead of Final Fantasy XV's release. But as a Final Fantasy film, it's a tribute to all who have touched this series and who have been touched by it--a labor of love for the fans who ask for more from their stories. The power and the praise that Kingsglaive lends XV's team is well-deserved indeed.