Fantasia 2019 Review: BRAVE FATHER ONLINE Is An Adorable FINAL FANTASY Movie

Finally a video game movie that just makes you wanna hug stuff.

Let’s get this out of the way: Brave Father Online (like the Japanese TV show it’s based on) is primarily a feature-length commercial for Final Fantasy XIV. It isn’t a commercial the same way Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is a “commercial” for the world of Pokémon. Brave Father Online takes it several steps further by making an overt correlation between playing Final Fantasy XIV and finding overall life improvement. The film wants to assure you that if you play Final Fantasy XIV, you can make friends you can always talk to. If you play Final Fantasy XIV, you can bond with your family. If you play Final Fantasy XIV, you can meet the love of your life. Final Fantasy XIV has all of the answers, apparently.

Yet, despite all the naked commercialism of Brave Father Online: Our Story of Final Fantasy XIV, I was charmed by the film. The melodrama presents a fantasy of what video games are like, and for the duration of its two-hour runtime, I happily bought into that fantasy because it offers a pleasant quality that most video game-adjacent media hardly bother to.

Brave Father Online is based on a Japanese TV miniseries called Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light (which I haven’t seen). Both were produced with the cooperation of Square Enix—hence why the Final Fantasy franchise is painted with an almost religious reverence—but neither are actually adaptations of FFXIV (like Sony’s upcoming TV series). They’re really just dramedies about a father and son who play the game together and learn more about each other in the process.

Akio is a young advertiser who loves to play the MMO Final Fantasy XIV to unwind. Although he’s reticent in real-life, in the game world he has online friends with whom he shares everything, as he feels more secure in his anonymity. When Akio’s workaholic father Akira retires, his newfound freetime puts into stark relief how little Akio actually knows about his stoic father. Suddenly driven to learn more about Akira—and recapture the joy the two shared while playing Final Fantasy together on the Famicom when Akio was child—Akio comes up with a plan to get his father to play FFXIV, hoping that the anonymity it provides will get his father to open up.

The best part about Brave Father Online is that, although it’s an advertisement, it still follows the advertising ethos that Akio (an advertiser) follows in the film: only sell products that you genuinely love. The makers of Dad of Light/Brave Father Online clearly love Final Fantasy and the RPGs of its ilk, because they get most details right, to satisfyingly humorous effect. Everything from the presentation of the game world (the film uses surprisingly cinematic in-engine FFXIV assets) to the script’s observations of MMORPG weirdness breathes authenticity. We get a scene that captures the inanity of naming your first role-playing character, followed by grueling montages of level-grinding, followed by a gag about MMO avatars never having to dress for the weather. Brave Father Online understands what it’s like to be either an avid player or a novice, and it blends those dueling perspectives for some great jokes.

Yet for all the ways the film is wise to video game mechanics, there are plenty of areas where Brave Father Online feels naïve. And I mean that in a good way. In its efforts to make Final Fantasy and its surrounding community as palatable as possible, Brave Father Online excises all the toxic masculinity and aggressive gatekeeping that plague modern video game culture. What we’re left with is a quaint reality where video games are a source of joy and a medium for collaboration and expression. There’s so little room for judgment that the main character is a grown man who plays as a feminine avatar with cat ears, and the movie doesn’t dwell on it at all. It’s just presented as normal, because in the film’s hyper-idealized world, it is.

I much prefer this fantasy to the very toxic and outdated take on video games and fatherhood that we got from Steven Knight’s Serenity earlier this year. Is it weird that Square Enix told an intergenerational Final Fantasy story to help breed future generations of loyal FF fans? Sure. Hell, it may even be unethical. But I’d be a liar if I said Akio and Akira’s wholesome Final Fantasy bonding didn’t warm my heart.