“When the night has come, and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we see, no I won’t be afraid. No I won’t be afraid, just as long as you stand, stand by me.”
Those are the opening lyrics to “Stand by Me,” the main musical theme to the forthcoming Final Fantasy XV. The use of modern music replete with lyrics is a significant departure from the conventions of the storied series, which had previously utilized only orchestral scores. But the change is altogether appropriate. Unlike the worlds of the first Final Fantasies, which were Tolkienesque by way of Dungeons & Dragons, or the futuristic steampunk aesthetic of Final Fantasy VI, VII, and VIII, the current iteration is the franchise’s first foray into a thoroughly modern setting. Moreover, the lyrics of “Stand by Me” are powerfully primal, using common words like “night,” “dark,” “moon,” and “light” to great effect, milking such for all their cultural–nay, universal–associations. Again, this seems to be keeping in perfect thematic harmony with everything we know so far of Final Fantasy XV, whose linguistic and visual motifs focus heavily on the harmonious dichotomy of light and dark, day and night. These themes are already evident in the multimedia tie-in movie, Kingsglaive, which serves superbly as an introduction to the world of Eos, and if not quite so successfully as a standalone film, is still far superior to the previous efforts of Spirits Within and Advent Children.
The world which Tabata and his team have constructed is in one sense an inverse of the one J.K. Rowling put forth in her Harry Potter heptalogy. Both are settings in which magic co-exists alongside a modern world very much like our own, but whereas in Rowling such are segregated, the magical utterly hidden from the mundane, in Final Fantasy XV both are fully integrated in a singular society. These distinctions achieve vastly different effects. Reading Rowling imbues our own world with a certain mystique, as if ordinary, everyday existence were but a veil for something far more extraordinary. Eos, alternatively, effects less wonder upon the primary creation but works better as a secondary creation – this is a world imaginatively superior to our own, one to which we can briefly escape through works such as Kingsglaive and (come November) Final Fantasy XV. And that is the true success of this film. The plot is serviceable–standard “save the princess” fare of which I’ll never tire till the day I die–but it’s the architecture, the fashion, the landscapes, the names, which all entice me to exist in that world more than merely concern myself with the story (very similar to my reasons for loving the Star Wars universe).
Eos is a world in which it is evident that every denizen possesses a great deal more aesthetic appreciation than our own. I regularly chastise my friends for not dressing more fashionable, but King Regis and his staff could say the same to me. None of their garb would look particularly out of place in our world, especially on a Parisian runway or a Hollywood red carpet, with the wearer needing nothing more than a bit of bravado to pull off the look. Contrast such with the similar futuristic fashion of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, which likewise looked to haute couture for influence, but succeeded only in contrasting the characters’ clothing with current sensibilities. XV, alternatively, extrapolates from and expounds upon those sensibilities, eschewing only the modern penchant for austerity in design, refreshingly employing a “more is more” aesthetic. More buckles, more buttons, more capes, more cords, more fabrics – more fashionable. To hear it described sounds excessive, but to see such in the film is to lament our world of flannel shirts and jean jackets.
Similarly ornate are the palace and all the city of Insomnia in which it resides. Hypocritically, I write this from my sparsely Spartan apartment, but Eos is a world which has never suffered the minimalism of Steve Jobs and Jony Ive. Insomnia’s buildings marry the modern love for brute size and scale with the resplendent grandeur of Catholic cathedrals and Byzantine basilicas. Hardwood, marble, metalwork, and stained glass are all present in precisely the right proportions to one another. How appropriate it is that the royal family should be named “Caelum,” for rarely have I ever witnessed a closer proximate to Heaven.
And on the subject, it is perhaps the names of characters and places which are the most luxurious of all XV’s aesthetic sensibilities. And I truly mean luxurious – nearly all the names are of Latin derivation, inheriting the rich history of the original lingua franca as well as its unequaled euphony. Two of the kingdoms, Lucis and Tenebrae, translate as “Light” and “Darkness,” respectively. Tellingly, it is not these which are at war with one another (implying concordance rather than discordance in the dichotomy). That distinction goes to Niflheim (Old Norse, possibly meaning “abode of darkness”), whose non-Latin origin is more suggestive than its actual meaning as to the kingdom’s lack of civility. The capital city of Insomnia is likely not intended to invoke the sleeping disorder, but rather the literal Latin translation of “sleepless,” implying constant vigilance. Locales mentioned but not seen include Altissia (“most high”), Lunafreya’s destined destination, and Galahd, the province from which protagonist Nyx hails, a contraction of the name Galahad, the Arthurian knight who successfully recovered the Sangrael, suggesting its native son shares the same nobility and heroism.
Nyx’s own name is actually of Greek derivation, meaning “Night,” and in that respect shares an etymological history with Noctis, the player-character of the game, suggesting some similarity between the two. Regis is, appropriately, the king of Lucis, but more importantly is regal in all aspects of his characterization. Lunafreya’s name is unique as a conjunction of Latin and Old Norse. The first element, “Luna,” meaning “Moon,” is in keeping with the motif of light and darkness, and as she is the princess of Tenebrae, so is the moon the principle light in the darkness of the night sky. Freyja was the Norse goddess of beauty. The duel elements are illustrative of Tenebrae’s original inclusion in and enduring loyalty to Lucis, but subsequent annexation and occupation by Niflheim. I could go on and on. Because so many of the names are of etymological origins which are obvious even to non-linguists, such names serve to characterize the characters in the mind of the audience as immediately and effectively as their designs, personalities, and performances. Tabata has proven himself, surprisingly, the equal of Tolkien and Rowling in the underappreciated art of naming his fictitious creations.
Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV as a film is far from being cinema. It itself is not a work of great art among the medium to which it belongs. But in the designs featured in the film there exists evidence of a great deal of artistry, and it is through such that the experience of watching Kingsglaive is unabashedly joyful. Any gamer with plans to play Final Fantasy XV would do well to watch Kingsglaive, escaping into Eos for a few fleeting hours in anticipation of the long journey there come November.