Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
As great as a 20-30 hour game can be, sometimes it’s nice to have a bite-sized experience which you can cruise through in one sitting. Serving as a prequel/side story to the core Final Fantasy XV game, A King’s Tale is a short beat ’em up that only lasts 1-2 hours and is free-to-play on either the PS4 or Xbox One.
The game is presented as a bedtime story told by King Regis to his young son, Noctis. Regis tells of an overwhelming invasion of monsters and demons that took place several years ago and how he and his friends pushed back against the tide. It’s fantastical and charming, but there’s also an air of mystery around it. Did these events actually happen, or is the King embellishing in order to tell his child a more entertaining bedtime story? The game plays with this question a little bit, but I still wasn’t convinced one way or another by the time the credits rolled.
Those familiar with the Final Fantasy franchise will notice several little nods (mostly in the form of enemies) to the series, but those new to Final Fantasy can jump in to A King’s Tale and be able to follow along perfectly fine. Sure, this isn’t a traditional Final Fantasy game, but what is available here is still fun and engaging and offers a new type of experience for the franchise.
Instead of turn-based RPG combat, A King’s Tale is a side-scrolling beat ’em up. You actively move around and attack your enemies in real time, but that doesn’t mean the game is lacking in depth.
You have an array of light, heavy, and special attacks at your disposal, with several enemies only being weak to certain forms of attack. Weaker enemies can typically be dispatched with a combo of light attacks, but some may need to be hit with heavy strikes to lower their defenses or stunned with certain combos to even make them damageable. There’s really only a few combos and special moves to learn, but with such a short length it doesn’t need to be too complicated.
Thankfully, you aren’t alone in your fight against the demons. Regis can summon one of three friends to the field to deliver massive damage to a random enemy. To do this, you have to string together a series of attacks without being attacked yourself. Weskham, Clarus, and Cid are extremely helpful in tight situations, but they never feel like actual developed characters. Perhaps this is different in Final Fantasy XV proper, but I haven’t actually played that game so I don’t know.
There’s also an ultimate ability called “Armiger” which deals heavily concentrated damage to one foe. This can be an absolute life saver when going up against some of the larger and more deadly enemies, but it requires skill to pull it off. Similar to summoning your friends, you have to successfully land multiple hits without taking damage to charge your Armiger meter. You can unleash the attack as soon as it’s full, but there’s also a way to increase its power. If you can land enough hits to be able to summon all three of your friends in a row, you can use the ultimate version of Armiger which summons all three friends to help with the attack.
There’s also a magic system which is incredibly helpful. There’s only three elements (fire, ice and lightning) to control, but each spell has 4 levels. The first level deals a little damage and introduces a status element (burn, freeze, and stun), but the higher levels deliver stunning displays of power that fill up the entire screen and obliterate everything in their way. Your magic runs on a mana system that’s recharged by killing enemies and picking up mana drops, but the amount of mana restored from said drops is minimal. This limits how often you’re allowed to use magic, but it’s a worthy penalty when considering its strength.
Whether it’s your own melee attacks, the help from your friends, or your small arsenal of spells, there’s a decent variety of enemies to face. From goblins and killer wasps, to giant samurai and belching bundles of tentacles, there’s a constant stream of new foes introduced. One of the best parts about the enemy roster is that none of them feel like reskins of another. They all have different attacks, animations, and weaknesses. There was always a sense of surprise with each new enemy as well as a minimal learning curve for how to handle them.
Aside from the short campaign, there’s a series of “Dream Battles” that challenge you to fight set groups of enemies with optional objectives. I’ve only completed about half of them, but they seem to be fun little side activities that double as a way to practice your skills. One may task you with performing a specific combo a set amount of times before the end of the challenge, where another might see you completing multiple waves without getting hit. They won’t keep you coming back for repeat sessions, but they’re a worthwhile endeavor to mess around with for a while.
Lastly, what ties everything together is great pixel art and music. Simply put, A King’s Tale is a fun game to look at and listen to. It’s bright, flashy, and has some terrific looking magic effects and animations. Likewise, the music is fun and upbeat and adds a lot to the experience. The tunes are catchy and had me bobbing my head along with them, so I think it’s safe to say they did their job.
While not your typical Final Fantasy, A King’s Tale delivers a fun beat ’em up experience that is far from being your worst option for an evening in front of your television. Its combat system is considerably easier to wield than the more traditional games in the franchise, but a decent move set, varied roster of enemies, and flashy magic system offer up an acceptable amount of depth. Along with a great looking visual style and catchy soundtrack, A King’s Tale is free-to-play, meaning you really don’t have much to lose by checking it out.
– Zack Burrows