Ah, the beat ‘em up; how fondly I look upon you. Whether bloodying my fingers in frustration with Battletoads or dishing out the punches in Double Dragon, this genre encapsulates the simplicity and addictive repetitiveness of button mashing at its finest.
A King’s Tale: Final Fantasy XV pays homage to this bygone age of retro side scrolling goodness, but exchanges oft-brutal traditional difficulty for near laughable leniency. At times it feels like the creators were afraid to challenge players lest it take away from their time playing the main retail game; for which this was really just a promotional aide.
The game was originally a pre-order exclusive with select Final Fantasy XV retailers, but was released for free download on Xbox One and PS4 on March 1st 2017. Nonetheless, with a good 2-3 hours’ worth of content, this is a surprisingly polished experience that combines the world of Eos with a throwback style that’s consistently a pleasure to behold.
A King’s Tale is set “in a fictitious 30 years before” FFXV. It follows a young King Regis as he battles monsters, summons Astrals and fulfils his own coming-of-age arc that mirrors Prince Noctis’ journey in very simplistic manner. This is all framed as a bedtime story told to a young and eager Noctis by his father and as such, there’s little in the way of actual story here. It’s still a charming snapshot of father-son bonding – with subtle undertones of the King attempting to normalise some of the hardships Noctis will later have to face himself.
If anything, the glimpse we do get of Regis and his brothers in arms across the short 1-hour story mode simply renewed my desire for a more fleshed out look at these four characters in their younger days. Each has featured in other FFXV content. Cid and Weskham play side character roles in FFXV, whilst Clarus appears loyally at Regis’ side in Kingsglaive (incidentally, despite being Gladiolus’ father, Clarus’ death is never discussed when the party receive news of Regis’ fate in the main game – one of many underdeveloped character points that will have to be discussed another time).
Each, whilst only fleetingly featured in these outings, both parallels Noctis’ own chocobros and carries the weight of grizzled experience. Cid especially lives up to the long-running staple series name despite his short appearance in XV. Like an aged Cid Highwind (FFVII, and the best Cid; don’t agree? Fight me bro), he made me want to see more of the characters in their heyday. Final Fantasy XV wasn’t necessarily the place for that, but unfortunately A King’s Tale doesn’t scratch the itch either – making it all the more pressing instead.
Cid, Clarus and Weskham serve as little more than powerful attacks that can be called upon by Regis as the player builds their combo meter. They can be used frequently and take out enemies with ease, further simplifying the experience. The story mode has two difficulties: Easy and Normal. However Normal feels easy and Easy verges on boring for its lack of challenge. I died twice over two playthroughs (one on each difficulty); not something you might expect from a brawler.
This isn’t necessarily a problem; and A King’s Tale is still mostly a fun experience. Gameplay fuses cues from classic brawlers with the FFXV world, affording the player a simple set of attacks that include light/heavy attacks and a shield bash. These can be strung together in short combos that can stun enemies or launch them into the air, and Regis will automatically warp strike enemies if he happens to be at a certain range from them. However, targeting can’t be done manually, generally locking on to whatever creature is directly in Regis’ sights. In fact, combat is very much FFXV-lite; incorporating options for fire, ice and lightning magic alongside ally attacks and powerful Armiger strikes.
A satisfying variety of classic series enemies make appearances, and each is a delight to see in its reimagined FFXV-retro mashup style. You’ll encounter everything from Cactuars and Goblins to Behemoths, Marlboros and Tonberries. All have different strengths and weaknesses; be it blocking certain weapon attacks or being invlunerable to some magic elements. As the game gets going you’ll find yourself swamped by all sorts of combinations of these enemies, keeping you on your toes and forcing you to utilise the full breadth of combat options available to you.
There’s great pleasure to be found in wiping out a horde of enemies perfectly: shield bashing a Bomb into a group of enemies to blow them up, launching a Skeleton into the air before slamming it down to the ground in pieces only to deflect a Cactuar’s needles back at it and clear the screen with a fully charged fire spell.
Once the short Story Mode is completed once, 25 Dream Battles are unlocked. Taking place in the now-sleeping Noctis’ dreams, each is an arena-style battle where hectic waves of enemies flood the screen. During this onslaught, the player can complete bonus challenges such as avoiding damage or completing the battle without using magic. These vary in frustration levels, however most of them are entertaining to complete; and this is where most of your time will be spent in the game.
A King’s Tale’s greatest draw is the crisp and colourful retro-style animation and matching soundtrack. The energetic chiptune music was stuck in my head for hours, whilst the beautiful artwork both harkens back to the golden age of sprite-based Final Fantasy games and eschews a distinct FFXV style.
A King’s Tale: Final Fantasy XV is a basic brawler that never claims to be anything more. There are no paywalls here, and as far as free games go this is a mindless but gratifying little gem. If you’re a Final Fantasy fan or a beat ‘em up veteran, there’s really no reason not to try A King’s Tale. And with a full 1000 Gamerscore (and equivalent PlayStation trophies), it’s a worthwhile, if unchallenging, experience.