As a fan of lore, world building, and Final Fantasy in general, I was excited for Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. Here was an opportunity for Square Enix to tell a supplemental story, to get players invested in its newest ensemble of quirky characters, and to set up the next numbered entry in the #FinalFantasy franchise with a CGI companion film.
On the surface that seems like a good thing, especially when there's so much compelling content in Kingsglaive. I enjoyed it — a lot, in fact. It’s exactly what I expected out of a Final Fantasy movie, which is to say that it's overstuffed with ideas, themes, melodrama, action and beauty. Then I popped in my game disc and was utterly dumbfounded. Turns out #Kingsglaive isn't supplemental at all. In fact, it seems pretty essential to understanding anything whatsoever happening in Final Fantasy XV the game.
And let me be perfectly clear, that's not OK.
Coherence Sold Separately
Now, to be fair, other Final Fantasy games have also been pretty incomprehensible when it comes to their narratives (subtract II from XV to see what I'm talking about). However, a messy story is one thing; requiring a separate purchase to get the full picture — in addition to buying a $60 game — is another. It's no solution at all, even though other game developers have also required separate purchases in exchange for coherent storylines.
The #Halo series has suffered from leaving players in the dark if they haven’t read or watched all relevant companion pieces, Mass Effect 3 made its most crucially important squad member DLC (Javik), and Asura’s Wrath basically forced players to buy its true ending separately. Video games have developed a bad track record when it comes to these sorts of shenanigans, and now Final Fantasy can be added to the list.
That’s because Final Fantasy XV is basically ignoring everything happening in Kingsglaive, while Noctis and his best buds cruise around the countryside without a care in the world during the first few hours of the game. Noctis might as well be on another planet as he chitchats with scantily clad mechanics while his home city of Lucis is being destroyed in the background.
Not to mention, there's absolutely no context given to why he's on this road trip to begin with. Is this some kind of weird bachelor ritual? Who is this Lunafreya woman, Noctis’s betrothed? What are the implications for this arranged marriage? Just what the hell is going on?! Well, if you wanted to understand any of this, you should have bought Kingsglaive. Shame on you.
Substance With Style
Adding insult to injury, Kingsglaive doesn’t only provide a lot of context Final Fantasy XV is completely absent of; it also contains a lot of the franchise’s flamboyance. The lush CGI effects, the OTT action scenes, the overwrought backstory — it’s all in this two-hour movie, bursting at the seams, hoping to get into fans’ hands.
Unfortunately — or fortunately, for those who aren’t into gorgeous pomposity — XV is also slow to start. Don’t get me wrong, it’s actually kind of nice getting eased into the open-world #SquareEnix has so lovingly created, but at the same time this feels like a missed opportunity, considering how the film starts with a bang.
Kingsglaive thrusts you immediately into a freakin' war. It's so intense that it creates a different problem if you have actually watched the movie before playing XV, like you're apparently supposed to. That being: Noctis and his crew seem completely jaded and downright apathetic, given what's happening around them. You would never know it if you didn't watch the movie, but Noctis's kingdom of Lucis is on the brink of defeat as they fight off the invading empire of Niflheim.
As a last-ditch effort, Noctis's father King Regis has agreed to sign a treaty in the hopes it will bring peace between the two kingdoms — which also happens to be the basis of Noctis’s arranged marriage. That's kind of important information to have, but why would anyone assume any of this is happening, considering the blasé attitudes of these four young men.
The movie mostly follows Nyx and a few of his fellow soldiers who are all in the Kingsglaive, which protects the realm of King Regis and, by extension of the treaty, Lady Lunafreya. In addition to the action-packed opening of the film, there's palpable tension as King Regis welcomes his enemies into the city to sign the treaty. Though it's very convoluted, Kingsglaive is quite the introduction — full of high stakes, excitement and lively characters. For lack of a better comparison, it feels like an episode of Game of Thrones where you know everything is about to go horribly, horribly wrong.
Yin And Yang
Kingsglaive isn't perfect by any means. The fact that there’s too much material here to be contained in a separate movie should say something in itself. There are constant cutaways, way too many characters, twists that don’t always make sense, and magical powers and kaiju that need further explanation. But it’s also a ton of fun if you can stick with it. Also, these are issues that could have probably been resolved during a 30-plus-hour main campaign.
The characters are actually endearing. Nyx is a great cocky protagonist, even if he is a little bit too much like Snow from Final Fantasy XIII. Lunafreya is an excellent heroine as well, who quickly convinced me that she was way out of Noctis's league. King Regis is also humanized in a way that the game has yet to do after seven hours. It can’t be understated just how much both the heroes and the villains needed this characterization, because Final Fantasy XV has completely forgotten to do any of it thus far.
When the kingdom of Lucis falls and Noctis subsequently learns about it in XV, we get these brief flashes of scenes from Kingsglaive in the game. It’s simply not enough to convey the full scope of what has happened to Noctis’s home to his family. Also, even if you have seen Kingsglaive, these flashes only serve to remind you of the story that Final Fantasy XV is missing during its introduction. The best comparison I can make here is to Metal Gear Solid V. Yes, both of these sequels play incredibly well and grant players freedom unlike anything found in previous games of their respective franchises. However, they also seem to lack what made previous games stand out, which are their elaborate, complex narratives.
My solution for Final Fantasy XV? The studio should have made it more like Assassin’s Creed III. Stay with me. Cutscenes are an important part of certain franchises. The elaborate CGI in Final Fantasy games is just one of those things fans expect. However, rather than giving us a two-hour cutscene to start the game (at an additional price), why not let us play through some of Kingsglaive as Nyx before switching to our main protagonist Noctis? Sort of like how in Assassin's Creed III we start with Haytham Kenway before switching to Connor.
Nyx is a much better character than Noctis to begin with. He possesses the same sorts of powers, so we could have gotten a more elegant tutorial than what's included in the game, while being charmed by a far more charismatic lead. Not that it takes much to outshine Noctis. He's basically a series of shoulder shrugs so far — the male equivalent to Bella Swan in Twilight (don’t ask me how I know that).
Also, how exciting would it have been to start a new Final Fantasy with a prologue that is an all-out war, similar to Lost Odyssey, with a character you've never seen in any of the trailers leading up to the game? It would have gotten spoiled for many, I'm sure, but my guess is it would have caught a lot of players by surprise as well — in a good way, not in a Raiden from Metal Gear Solid 2 way. Regardless of shock value, it sure as hell would have been a lot more riveting than this:
I admit, this may not be a perfect solution, but it's better than what Square came up with after a decade of development. Plus, paying more than a game's retail price for a complete experience isn't acceptable. And that's not to say Final Fantasy XV isn't a fun game or worth its price tag. Quite the opposite. I've loved playing the game so far. At the same time, it hasn't fully captured my imagination in the way I had hoped.
While the franchise still clearly demonstrates the team at Square Enix's ambition, it's too bad that the improvements to the game's design seem to have come at the expense of the game's narrative. That certainly didn't need to be the case.
What do you think? Should Kingsglaive have been part of Final Fantasy XV?