A King's Tale: Final Fantasy XV

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Square Enix for PS4 and Xbox One, originally released in 2016.
A King's Tale: Final Fantasy XV is a short strategic beat ‘em up that was originally released as a preorder bonus for Final Fantasy XV but was made available as a free download a few months later. The game is something of a fairytale adventure based on events in King Regis’ life – narratively preceding the events in the main game – which are told to his son Noctis as a bedtime story in lieu of the stories he has heard so many times before. Chapters are bookended with the king sitting at the end of his son’s bed recounting his admittedly embellished tales while his son wonders which bits are true and which are fantasy… and even taking a pause to reference the storytelling delivery in The Princess Bride.

In all, the story isn’t meant to be taken seriously, and much of the in-game narration is set up to establish new enemy types or simply play out as offhand comments between father and son… some of which are painfully punful. And when Regis is killed during gameplay, the king comments that it’s not how the events actually unfolded (e.g., just seeing if his son was paying attention). The overall story tells of the appearance of mysterious crystals, one of which has caught the attention of a shadowy baddie who speaks without being seen until the game’s final encounter.

The opening area acts as a tutorial, explaining the basic combat mechanics which demonstrate that the player can perform a light and heavy attack, raise a shield and perform a shield bash, and perform a dodge roll. Early enemies can be defeated in typical beat ‘em up fashion by alternating between weak and heavy attacks to perform various ground and air combos. Soldiers will often defend against light attacks but can be damaged with heavy attacks, while skeletons will defend and retaliate against most direct attacks unless the player stuns them first with a shield bash.

This early foray into differing strategies for defeating enemies is core to the overall experience, as each of the game’s enemies requires a different combat method, adding layers of complexity as multiple enemy types are encountered simultaneously. For instance, bees can fire stingers toward the player, which can be deflected back at them for heavy damage, provided the player gets the timing right… which can be difficult when trying to perform a multi-hit combo against another enemy. As such, prioritization of threats is also very important.

When hovering bomb enemies enter the playfield, they may be ignored, as they move slowly and take a long time to explode; or, the player can bash them with his shield to knock them into other enemies for heavy damage, or knock them into each other to set off a chain reaction. Cactuars can launch spines at you, similar to bees, but they are tough to kill since they retaliate against any strikes unless you stun them three times in rapid succession, after which they become easy pickings.

The tonberry causes you to slow down when standing in the light of its lamp, so taking it down early is important if you hope to take on large groups of enemies. However, the light bearer is tough to damage and can pull out a knife that kills you in a single strike, making it important to look for the telltale yellow lines that let you know that it is about to strike. There are several major enemies as well, including behemoths and iron giants, and each of these foes requires multiple blows to destroy, and many can defend against your attacks.

Fortunately, you have a few additional tools at your disposal outside of melee combos. Throughout the adventure, you gain access to three different types of elemental magic in the form of fire, ice, and lightning, per Final Fantasy tradition. By holding down a button, you can charge these spells up to three levels, making them stronger and covering a greater area – think FIRE, FIRA, and FIRAGA – but charging them for too long can leave you open to attack. As expected, fire can burn enemies, lightning shocks them, and ice slows them down, and some enemies are weak or strong against certain magical attacks. Magic can only be restored by killing enemies (usually flan) that drop glowing blue pickups.

In addition, as the young not-yet-king Regis meets up with his friends Weskham, Cid, and Clarus, they are each added as support characters which may be summoned onto the battlefield once the player has done enough melee damage without taking any in return. These three companions are each assigned to a different button combination and they each attack differently, with one striking, one slashing, and one shooting.

Building up a longer series of strikes allows the player to summon Armiger spectral weapons, but even this tactic has additional layers of depth, as the attack becomes stronger based on how many of your companions you have summoned previously without taking any damage. Each time you summon a companion, a symbol appears over that character in the HUD, encouraging the player to alternate between them. Once all three have been called, activating the Armiger causes all of the companions to return to the battlefield while time freezes. Rather than just dealing damage to every onscreen enemy Golden Axe-style, each companion jumps to a different enemy and delivers a powerful strike, followed by a strike from Regis with a collection of summoned spinning swords.

With a variety of melee attacks – and enemies that react differently based on how they are attacked – along with elemental magic and support allies, an incredible amount of strategy is required on the part of the player in order to prioritize and defeat enemies and perform crowd control. Simply running in mashing the ATTACK button is a surefire way to meet a quick end, and lots of enemies must be defeated between checkpoints, so players must regularly change up their strategies if they hope to survive.

Visually, the game offers large and detailed sprites but with very little animation, and there is not much variety to the backgrounds. Each enemy has a health meter that appears below it, but these are narrow, and the dark purple-on-black color scheme can make it difficult to tell how much damage an enemy has taken. Additionally, the player’s own red health meter can overlap with enemies in close combat.

The game can be completed in a single sitting and culminates in a final boss battle that throws everything at you. Once the game has been completed, a Dream Battle mode opens that allows players to take on groups of enemies in standalone scenarios with secondary goals, such as defeating enemies without using magic or surviving without taking any damage.

A King's Tale: Final Fantasy XV was published by Square Enix and was developed in collaboration with Empty Clip Studios, Powerhouse Animation, and Mirum Studio. The soundtrack was composed by Bill Kiley.