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The Importance of Good Character Motivations in Kingsglaive By Kevin Swijghuizen

This article contains spoilers.

Square Enix recently released Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, a film which functions as a prelude for the upcoming Final Fantasy XV game. Kingsglaive is a two hour, long fully animated film that revolves around the final days of the war between two nations; the nation of Lucis and Niflheim. The film predominately focuses  on several key characters from Lucis and by telling the tale of these characters the film tries to set up the story for the plot of Final Fantasy XV. Sadly, this is where it all goes south for Kingsglaive. The plot is somewhat convoluted because it heavily leans on characters doing things that do not seem to make a lot of sense, which, ends up diminishing the impact of the story. In short, the motivations of the characters in Kingsglaive do not make sense to the viewer which makes the plot very feel very disjointed. In this article I will explain the failings of the motivations for the various characters in Kingsglaive and how the plot suffers because of that.

The Setting

Before I dive into the analysis of the motivations of the various characters in the film I will shortly explain what exactly is going on and who the most important characters of Kingsglaive are. The world of Kingsglaive consists of multiple nations; in the film only three of these are important namely: Lucis, Niflheim and Tenebrae.[1] Niflheim is portrayed as an evil antagonistic nation that is hell bent on world domination. The audience is told that Niflheim has used its cutting edge technology together with a vast array of monsters and demons to slowly, but surely bring the rest of the world under its dominion.

demon

Tenebrae seems to be mostly noteworthy because one of the protagonists hails from that nation; apart from that, Tenebrae is firmly under the control of Niflheim. Finally, Lucis is the last nation to hold out against Niflheim’s inexorable march towards world domination. It has managed to do this because it is the only nation in the world, as far as we know, to have a magical crystal which gives the ruler of Lucis considerable magical powers. The king of Lucis has used this power to erect a magical barrier around the capital city of Insomnia in order to prevent Niflheim from taking the city. This also means that Lucis has basically lost any outlying provinces or lands that it might have formerly controlled and it is solely left with Insomnia. Furthermore, Lucis is home to an elite group of soldiers who are able to wield powerful magic thanks to their king. The film is not very clear on how this actually works but somehow the king channels his power into the members of the Kingsglaive who are then able to perform feats of magical prowess. In addition, all the members of Kingsglaive are from outlying provinces of the kingdom which is going to be critical to the story later on.

The Characters

In this tumultuous setting the story focuses on several characters. First, the audience is introduced to a member of the Kingsglaive named Nyx. He is an extraordinarily skilled soldier whom is fiercely loyal to Lucis and he plays a central part in the story of Kingsglaive. Secondly, there is Regis, who is the king of Lucis and the person who channels all the magical powers from the crystal into the Kingsglaive whilst being able to wield magic for himself as well. Lastly, we have Libertus another Kingsglaive soldier and a good friend of Nyx. He is notable because he ends up deserting the Kingsglaive in order to join a rebellion that opposes king Regis.

Libertus

A Baffling Betrayal

As mentioned before, the way in which the story develops comes across as disjointed. Lucian characters seems to flock to the side of Niflheim at the drop of a hat. In the film, all the people who switch sides are part of Lucis’ elite unit of magic wielding Kingsglaives. At the start of the narrative we see the Kingsglaive fighting as a tight unit against the overwhelming might of the army of Niflheim. They are portrayed as a well oiled grizzled battalion who go out of their way to help each other in their fight against Niflheim. This makes the film feel very incoherent when, later on in story, the Kingsglaive are sent on a rescue mission when suddenly half of the unit turns out to be working for Niflheim as they start backstabbing their former brothers, and sisters, in arms.

Betrayal

In their article “What Makes Characters’ Bad Behaviors Acceptable? The Effects of Character Motivation and Outcome on Perceptions, Character Liking, and Moral Disengagement” K. Maja Krakowiak and Mina Tsay-Vogel argue that the way in which we judge the actions of characters in media is based on two main ideas. Namely, the reasons for a character’s actions, is he or she acting out of selfishness or out of altruism, and, secondly, do the character’s actions have a positive or a negative effect on the people they interact with.[2] The mass betrayal by so many members of the Kingsglaive comes over as bizarre because the reasons for their betrayal do not make a lot of sense. When questioned about their motives the main reason given is that they betrayed their brothers in arms so that they could protect their homes. On the surface this seems like a decent enough motivation. After all, the entirety of the Kingsglaive consists of people who do not live in Insomnia. Instead they were all recruitedfrom neighbouring provinces and considering that Insomnia is literally the last place on the planet that Niflheim has not conquered yet, and cannot conquer thanks to the magical shield, it makes sense that the Kingsglaive soldiers would be keen on ensuring the safety of their homes. However, whenever the audience is shown a glimpse of the outside world, because the majority of the film plays out in Insomnia, it is portrayed as a desolate wasteland that would not look out of place in a Fallout game.

Wasteland Combine this with the fact that Niflheim employs huge demons that destroy huge swatches of land in a single barrage, the argument that they are just trying to protect their homes does not seem that strong considering there does not seem to be anything, bar Insomnia, left to protect. Thus, as far as what has been portrayed in the film the arguments used by the betrayers do not hold a lot of ground.

Furthermore, if we look at Krakowiak’s and Tsay-Vogel’s theory, we can see that there is another problem with the motive of the betrayers. Namely, it is unclear whether or not they are acting out of altruism, because they want to protect the people who are left at home, or out of selfishness, because they can see the writing on the wall and want to save their own hides. It is important to note that the film barely pays any attention to the majority of the Kingsglaive and thus the audience has not gotten to know them at all which further obfuscates their motives. This idea is further strengthened by David A. Pizarro and David Tannenbaum  in their paper “Bringing Character Back: How the Motivation to Evaluate Character Influences Judgments of Moral Blame”. In this paper they argue that one of the ways in which people judge other peoples’ actions is based on the, moral, character of the perpetrator.[3] This is where the confusion comes in because it is unclear whether or not these people act out of altruism or selfishness. Thus, the story of Kingsglaive suffers from this pivotal moment in the narrative when several members of the Kingsglaive fall upon their brothers in arms. As it unfolds it makes little sense because it goes against what the audience has seen before, that they are a group of battle hardened soldiers who desperately try to stand against the overwhelming might of Niflheim. Furthermore, the explanation for their betrayal also leaves a lot to be desired because of the way in which the film portrays the outside world. It is all well and good to want to protect your homes but when the outside world is depicted as postapocalyptic it makes the audience wonder whether or not there is still a home left to protect. Finally, because the Kingsglaive traitorsare a faceless majority, it is very hard for the viewer to determine whether or not they are acting out of selfishness or out of altruism which further feeds into the confusion that the audience feels when the betrayal starts. Ultimately, it is this lack of clear motivation and the failure to properly explain why they felt the need to betray their comrades that really hurts the story of Kingsglaive.

A Gullible Rebel

Lastly, Libertus is another character whose actions detract from the story. As mentioned before, Libertus is a good friend of Nyx, but he ends up leaving the Kingsglaive because he becomes frustrated with the way the war is going. When a close friend of him and Nyx dies on a secret solo mission, he decides that he has seen enough and leaves the Kingsglaive to join a rebellion whose goal is to dispose of the Lucian king. Later on in the film, after Niflheim is thoroughly destroying Insomnia, Libertus shows up again and confesses to Nyx that he worked for the rebellion but that he had no idea that they were helping Niflheim conquer Insominia. So once again, the audience is confronted with a character whose actions are completely baffling. Not only did he join the rebels who oppose the King of Lucis, and thus also his former brothers in arms and, thus, also his closest friend Nyx, he also does not realize that his actions are directly helping the Niflheim invasion force to lay waste to the capital city.

 

Insomnia

Once again a character in Kingsglaive seems to act in a completely irrational way. His main modus operandi is his drive for revenge but he seems to be lashing out, bizarrely enough, unknowingly against the people he fought to protect.

If we once again look at K. Maja Krakowiak and Mina Tsay-Vogel we can see that Libertus is acting out of selfishness; he is hurt by the actions of the king and he wants revenge. However, the other half of K. Maja Krakowiak and Mina Tsay-Vogel theory indicates that we further base our judgement of people on what kind of effect their actions have on other people[4] This is echoed by David A. Pizarro and David Tannenbaum  who argue that people are judged differently on whether or not their  actions cause accidental harm or deliberate harm[5] This is what makes Libertus’ actions so confusing because he is certainly trying to cause deliberate harm, namely taking down king Regis, but by doing so he causes accidental harm, allowing Niflheim to completely destroy Insomnia, which also leads to the death of his best friend Nyx. It is this conundrum that is inherent in Libertus’ decision to join the rebels that makes it so hard for the audience to relate to and understand his actions which ultimately leads to confusion. It is this confusion about why and how a character like Libertus acts that detracts from and actively hurts the story that Kingsglaive is trying to tell.

Conclusion

Kingsglaive raison d’être is to set the grand stage on which Final Fantasy XV is supposed to play out. It introduces some of the character that are going to play an important role in the game itself and it gives the future player some of the background information of the setting. However, it does not do a very good job at presenting a believable story to its audience. This is due to the fact that the actions of the people who are key players in Lucis’ downfall do not make sense from a narrative point of view. Instead of creating characters who had valid reasons and clear motives to turn on Lucis the audience is presented with characters who betray their former allies and friends just because the authors of Kingsglaive apparently needed a betrayal in their story. Sadly, because of this lack in the narrative, the story that Kingsglaive tries to tell comes over as disjointed and confusing which, exemplifies the importance of having properly fleshed out character motivations because else it detracts from the believability of the narrative.

Works Cited

[1] Kazushige Nojima. Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. Square Enix. 2016

[2] Krakowiak, Maja K., and Mina Tsay-Vogel. “What Makes Characters’ Bad Behaviors  Acceptable? The Effects of Character Motivation and Outcome on Perceptions, Character Liking, and Moral Disengagement.” In Mass Communication and Society 16 (2013): 179-199. Routledge. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.

[3] Pizarro, David A., and David Tannenbaum. “Bringing Character Back: How the Motivation to Evaluate Character Influences Judgments of Moral Blame.” Web. 19 Oct. 2016.

[4] Krakowiak, Maja K., and Mina Tsay-Vogel. “What Makes Characters’ Bad Behaviors  Acceptable? The Effects of Character Motivation and Outcome on Perceptions, Character Liking, and Moral Disengagement.” In Mass Communication and Society 16 (2013): 179-199. Routledge. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.

[5] Pizarro, David A., and David Tannenbaum. “Bringing Character Back: How the Motivation to Evaluate Character Influences Judgments of Moral Blame.” Web. 19 Oct. 2016.