Since my earliest days of playing video games, I have always loved Final Fantasy. Having played every game in the series, I mean it when I say that I love them all in their own way (even the Lightning trilogy). You see, RPGs gave me something that other video games didn’t: female characters. In any of the Final Fantasy games, you could count on at least one of the three different types of female characters:
Kind-hearted, quiet character: Aeris, Yuna, Rydia
Kickass, kind of mean character: Tifa, Celes, Lightning
Spunky, anime-esque character: Rikku, Selphie, Penelo
Of course, this is a quick over-generalization of the female characters in the series as a whole. Sure, I could lump every female character into one of those three categories and it would seem like Final Fantasy just writes stereotypes, but play any one of these female characters and I doubt you’ll feel that way after. Celes in Final Fantasy VI starts off as cold and untrusting, but by the end of the game, after letting down her guard and then participating in the opera sequence, one of the most beautiful moments in video game history, she’s a changed character. Rikku in Final Fantasy X is loud, bratty, and over-the-top ridiculous, but her character belies a darkness that you only realize halfway through the game. There’s so much more to all of these characters in the Final Fantasy universe, male and female, than meets the eye.
I highlight this long-winded character background because I need to prove that above all else, Final Fantasy is a series that has historically done great things with characters, especially female characters. Which is why I am so utterly disappointed in how female characters were treated in Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV.
Kingsglaive is a movie set in the FFXV world, years prior to the start of the events of the game, and focuses on the war between the evil Empire of Niflheim and the good guys in Lucis. It’s meant to set the stage for the story within the game, giving gamers a chance to learn and explore the realm, the wars, and the history before playing. Ultimately, it’s a marketing attempt to get more people interested in FFXV. I don’t mind this move by Square-Enix. In fact, I’ve loved their previous two forays into the movie business: The Spirits Within and Advent Children. However, Kingsglaive is a mess of a film, riddled with confusing dialogue, poor pacing, and lazy writing, but its most offensive crime is its treatment of female characters.
Disclaimer: I am about to discuss major spoilers from Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. If you have yet to see the film and don’t want to be spoiled, step away now.
Final Fantasy is a series that has typically split playable characters 50/50 in terms of gender and background characters are largely divided in a similar fashion. You can usually expect there to be at least three playable female characters and four playable male characters within any Final Fantasy game (outside of X-2). In Final Fantasy XV, there are no main female playable characters, only Luna who is available as a guest.
In the movie, Kingsglaive, there are four female characters. I don’t mean four main female characters. I mean four, total. Their arcs within the film are as follows: the first is killed in the prologue; the second (who gets one speaking line as a member of the King’s court) is also killed; the third is a magic soldier who is quickly stuffed in a refrigerator (killed), and the fourth is Luna. Let me emphasize this statistic in case it isn’t clear: by the end of the movie, three of those four female characters are dead.
In a series where we’ve seen females take up roles as commanders, soldiers, farmers, villains, summoners, and so many other roles, Kingsglaive ignores that history and is instead absolutely saturated with men. If a character has a name or a speaking role, there’s a 95% chance that character is a male.
The first two deaths I can grumble and somewhat excuse. The first death is the Queen of Tenebrae, Luna and Ravus’s mother who is killed within the opening five minutes. Her death acts as motive for Ravus’s hatred toward King Regis. It’s refrigerator-lite and irritating in terms of writing a compelling narrative, but okay, fine. The woman on King Regis’s court is killed during an attack, along with all its other members and is the least egregious of all the deaths.
The third death, however, the death of the orphan mage, Crowe, is absolutely inexcusable.
According to TV Tropes, the “stuffed into the fridge” trope is classified as:
“A character is killed off in a particularly gruesome manner and left to be found just to offend or insult someone, or to cause someone serious anguish. The usual victims are those who matter to the hero, specifically best buddies, love interests, and sidekicks. In some cases, the doomed character may be killed by natural forces or by a character who doesn’t have the intent to cause someone else angst—in this case, the intent comes from the writer, who wants to rouse strong emotions in another character.”
Crowe, like many of the characters in Kingsglaive, is given minimal development, as the film prefers to focus on its animation and action sequences. She’s tasked with a special mission to rescue Princess Luna from the bad Empire Niflheim and bring her back to King Regis. Why she’s chosen, we don’t know. Even main characters Nyx and Libertus are unsure why she was given the mission, but before she leaves, they make sure to remind us heavily that she is like a little sister to the two men. Off she goes on the mission but before she’s able to accomplish anything, she’s found dead on the side of the road. (We’re talking, one minute she’s alive, next sequence she’s dead; no fight, nothing.) Her death subsequently drives a wedge between best friends Nyx and Libertus, thereby spurning both into their separate actions.
The death of Crowe is not only a lazy use of what could have been a great female character, but it also negatively affects the male characters around her. It’s a move that says, “Nothing short of the death of a loved one could motivate these men into action.” The struggle of war, the destruction of their homeland, the threat of their livelihoods isn’t enough to drive them to action, but the death of a woman who they feel is their own is a personal attack by the enemy and they must have vengeance. For a series that has spear-headed so much equality between genders, Crowe’s death negatively affects not only that growth in the series but it’s also an unfair representation of both genders.
Finally, there’s the characterization of the character who ties FFXV and Kingsglaive together: Luna. Of all the character types that Final Fantasy as a series does well, it’s the feminine, soft-spoken ones I adore the most. Yuna, Aeris, and Garnet are some of the strongest characters Final Fantasy has to offer and because of their shared traits, I had high hopes for Luna. However, throughout the film, Luna is nothing more than a prop. It’s hinted at that she’s an oracle of sorts, but we never see any of her abilities. She has one brief moment of agency when she tells King Regis that she doesn’t want to be sent to safety with Noctis and instead wishes to be by the King’s side. After that, she does nothing with her decision. She spends the remainder of the film letting the male characters make decisions for her, letting them (sometimes literally) drag her from one place to the next.
There are flat characters in Kingsglaive. In fact, most them fell flat in my opinion, outside of Libertus and King Regis, but Nyx and Luna’s depictions are by far the most tiresome. Nyx should have been more than a man chasing after revenge for the death of the women in his life (his mother and sister at first, then Crowe) and Luna should have been more than just a symbol in a human’s body.
Many will say that someone like me is predisposed to hating FFXV and its spin-offs because it’s a game focused on four male characters. While I am upset at not having playable female characters, I won’t judge the game based solely on the gender of its characters. I wouldn’t want that done if the roles were reversed (as was the case with X-2). At the end of the day, I won’t deny that I expect better than average when it comes to the storytelling in a Final Fantasy game and I expect good treatment of its characters, especially the female ones. After Kingsglaive, I don’t hold much hope for that coming true in Final Fantasy XV.
Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is now showing in select theaters around the country and will be available digitally on August 30th.