What makes a king?

(spoilers for FF15 follow)

That’s a question worth researching. It’s not often that games put you into the role of the king himself, with his boring duties and bureaucracy and fancy suits – more often, you are the young loveable prince, or in more dark-oriented games, a challenger to an empty throne. Two recent games stand on different sidesand have a different outlook: Dark Souls 2 and now Final Fantasy XV. They effectively ask themselves the same question, but the answers differ somewhat.

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Noctis spends his nights catching frogs, a task befitting the king

FF15 makes you the king almost immediately: leave the city, and a couple fuel stations later, the King is killed, meaning you are now next in line. Well, no formal incoronation, but whatever. After all, what’s the point? The game makes it very clear that the king is the one who sacrifices himself for the people, as everyone has sacrificed so much for him. Noctis still behaves like his old prince self for most of the game, and when he does finally act like the king he’s supposed to be, he doesn’t last long. Of course, that’s exactly as predicted. Fate is just that. Good thing for Noctis that he didn’t know for a long while.

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The Bearer of the Curse: seeker of fire, coveter of the throne, occasional tamer of dragons, possible brandisher of giant meat cleavers

Dark Souls 2 on the other hand, features a traveler who wants to claim the throne of Drangleic for himself. Or perhaps he doesn’t quite want to, but he doesn’t have much of a choice. In this sense, the two games don’t differ that much – kingship in media is almost always a matter of fate rather than choice. In fact,the original game was pretty close to FF15 in scope: get on the throne, link the fire, presumably die very painfully, etc. The DLC chapters make things a bit more difficult, and then a different answer arises – the king might be one who, simply by being, unites the people and makes the kingdom. The concept of sacrifice, while implied, is not quite as readily approved – in fact, Vendrick gets a lot of contempt for sacrificing everything on a futile attempt to stave off the curse. The sacrifice that is asked of the king, instead, is to surpass one’s self. Seek strength, the rest will follow. You might even defy fate… eventually.

What makes a king then? Is it self-sacrifice, or surpassing one’s own limits? Or perhaps both. Either way, being king is clearly a dangerous business in videogames, seeing as how often the one who is crown doesn’t have survival in his to-do list. Unless you are a random generic NPC king. In which case, you can enjoy your long-lived life while shouting “Welcome to Cornelia!” to random passerbys.

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