With the ramp up to the release of the latest major iteration of the Final Fantasy video game series well and truly beginning, it's hardly a surprise to see Square Enix leverage every possible vector to promote the game. We've already seen one animated Final Fantasy XV effort arrive in the UK in streaming form via Brotherhood, but that is but a little brother to the CG epic that follows in the footsteps of the likes of Advent Children in offering the visual spectacle of a theatrical film set in the game's universe.
Indeed, the events within Kingsglaive run parallel to those of Final Fantasy XV itself, taking place on the world of Eos where the kingdoms of Lucius and Niflheim are at loggerheads in a war which has increasingly become one of attrition thanks to Lucius' ownership of a crystal which allows its land to be protected by a massive and seemingly impenetrable magical barrier.
However, it seems that this war might be about to come to an end, with the offer of a truce tabled by Niflheim - a tempting offer for Lucius' king, as the years catch up with him and his waning power also means his ability to protect his land and people is shrinking. Of course, no deal for peace comes without a price, and in this instance one of Niflheim's demands is to occupy and take ownership of all land outside of Lucius' main citadel of Insomnia - a decision that understandably angers the immigrant population that lives in these areas. This anger is also reflected within the ranks of the Kingsglaive - themselves an elite unit of immigrants granted the ability to use and wield the king's magical powers to reflect his will whenever and wherever required. While some of the Kingsglaive have an unwavering loyalty to their ruler, others feel betrayed by a peace treaty that sacrifices the homeland they've indirectly fought on behalf of for so long.
All of this pales in comparison to the true threat at hand however - inevitably, Niflheim's olive branch of peace is in fact merely a ruse hiding some nasty thorns designed to end the reign of Lucius' king and bring the entire nation under Niflheim's control. Can the Kingsglaive remain sufficiently united to defend Insomnia and their king from this threat?
On the surface, Kingsglaive looks like it should have plenty going for it - a pretty standard sci-fi fantasy story that nonetheless has plenty of avenues to explore, with a smattering of elements that could be both relevant and thought provoking regarding immigration, loyalty and fealty. Yet, somehow, the film manages to take all of those topics and render them utterly lifeless. There's simply no sense of passion throughout Kingsglaive - this is a film where lots of things happen, of that there can be no doubt, but none of these events really feel like they have any impact within the sterile world which has been created around them. Perhaps if you're already deeply ensconced within the world of Final Fantasy XV from the other media produced in the build-up to the game's release you'll find it a different proposition, but as a first taste of that world it's tepid and flavourless; a by the numbers production that feels like an episode in ticking boxes.
Anyone who watches anime is used to its core concern as a promotional form for other media, be it manga or video games, but there's something particularly craven about the product placement throughout Kingsglaive. Of course the film is trying to sell us on buying Final Fantasy XV - that much is a given - but at times it's hard to remember even this as the film feels more like a very long advert for Audi. I mean, it's a very nice Audi, and I would like to own one given the chance (if anyone from Audi UK is reading this...), but the existence of a 2016 model car in this sci-fi world frankly feels silly, as if someone had accidently imported some assets from Forza Motorsport into a Final Fantasy game. There's plenty of other equally daft product placement sprinkled throughout the film, although at least "spot the incongruous real-world product" is a fun little game to divert attention from some of the movie's other glaring flaws.
Just as the film's story is solid but utterly joyless, so there's a similar feeling of technical accomplishment eclipsed by a lifeless, sterile feel to Kingsglaive's animation. At times, the movie's visuals are incredible - there are spells where you forget you're watching a CG animated film, such is the detail and realism on show. However, this only makes the moments where the animation's shortcomings rear their heads all the more jarring, with characters often staring oddly into the middle distance even when they're talking to another character right in front of them, while the big set piece action scenes often descend into the kind of busy, impossible to follow mess that plague Michael Bay's Transformers movies. Just because you can render an incredible number of detailed objects on-screen doesn't mean that you should.
The real knife into the gut of the film however is its voice acting performances, which are atrocious. While the presence of some big names on the cast steady the ship, even the likes of Sean Bean sound bored with the role they're playing out, while others ham up their performances like they've just been given the lead role in the school play. Then again, at least these efforts are better than some of the film's borderline incompetent performances that leaves you wondering whether they dragged people off the street to record some lines. One suspects that this is simply a factor of the film's production being rushed - there are lots of lines of dialogue here where you'd expect the director to demand another take, but instead we're left with a lot of shabby first attempts at reading lines.
When push comes to shove, there's part of me that wishes Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV was worse - at least there's sometimes entertainment to be had from a truly bad movie. Instead, Kingsglaive is simply utterly dull and mediocre, existing in a lifeless vacuum where film-making is reduced to ticking boxes and cramming a pair of Beats by Dre headphones into scenes to meet a quota. If this film was supposed to rouse my passions and send me heading off to pre-order a copy of Final Fantasy XV, it's failed miserably. Then again, I really should check out where my local Audi dealership is...
Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV screened in Glasgow and Edinburgh as part of Scotland Loves Anime 2016