Reclaiming The Throne
Final Fantasy XV and The Way of Men
II. Only the King…
Throughout European history, the principles of masculinity have been set, maintained and uphold by a comparatively small elite of noble men – landowners, fathers and warriors: In ancient Hellas, the epitome of Homeric virtue, always striving for honour (τιμή) and glory (κλέοσ) among fellow men through triumph in battle (αεί αριστεύειν), was embodied by the aristocratic warriors on the battlefields of Ilios. The Vikings’ forays into Europe, Asia and North America were led by distinguished Jarls who could ensure the expedition’s success through their wealth and loyalty of their kinsmen and were thus both dreaded and idealised. The middle-ages enchanted this bold Germanic spirit with a Christian ethos of love and thus conceived the noble ideal of knighthood and chivalry, which would become the template for an aristocratic notion of manliness throughout the following ages up until the the early 20th century. These “gentlemen” of European nobility saw their last debut in the trenches of the Somme and Flanders, where they were eventually ground to dust by the Machine along with the Old World whose virtues they incarnated. In Japan, the equivalent to the European warrior-noble is of course embodied in the tradition of the Samurai. General Nogi, whose deliberate act of following his emperor to the grave marks the end of the Meiji period, may have been the last true representative of this devoted caste of men.1
Such aristocratic forms of masculinity were always marked by similar virtues of martial prowess, Eigentum2 and the duty to uphold a solemn and grave tradition. The chief embodiment of all these qualities is found in the figure of the monarch – Caesar, King or Tenno – a single ruler among nobles, who wields the greatest military power through his command of the largest host of warriors, governs the greatest property and land and demands loyalty and esteem from all lesser nobles in his realm. With this tremendous weight of might and authority comes the responsibility to protect his Eigentum in the form of country and people and ensure the continuation of the kingly legacy (heritage being the ultimate form of Eigentum) by producing and raising a worthy heir to the kingdom. In the world of Final Fantasy XV, this severe task falls to King Regis CXIII of Lucis, whose name clearly depicts him as the incarnation of the archetype of King and Father.
From Father to Son
The relationship between King Regis and his son Noctis is an integral part of the game’s narrative, despite it being told mostly through additional media like the movie Kingsglaive and the anime Brotherhood. In the actual game itself, Regis makes his sole appearance in the opening cut-scene as Noctis and his entourage leave the Crown City Insomnia on their trip to meet the prince´s fiancée Luna. Their farewell is brief and formal but King Regis’ well-considered words to his son hint at a deep concern and providence, foreboding the cataclysm that befalls Noctis’ home soon after. The parting of father and son at the very beginning of the story allegorises the eventual separation of parent and child and the start of the son’s independent journey through life. But nevertheless, his father’s love and protection go with Noctis on his voyage and their presence is actually embodied by the Regalia, the King’s private car that carries the prince and his party through the world of Eos. It is revealed in the Platinum Demo, that his father’s car has been a comforting and safe space for Noctis since his childhood, because it was the only place where the boy could enjoy the undivided attention of his father, whose royal duties weighed heavy on him. As game-director Hajime Tabata revealed, this idea was actually based on a facet of contemporary Japanese culture: Because public transportation is a much more prominent feature in Japan than it is in the West, many men of social status place high value on their automobiles and many youths accordingly view their father’s car as a kind of “sacred” place and a ride therein as a special honor.
The only time this symbolism becomes apparent in the game is when the party charges into the capital of Niflheim towards the end of their journey. In a mad chase filled with action and suspense, the car shields them from a hail of bullets and shrapnel and thus delivers Noctis safely to his goal while being turned to scrap in the process. In bidding farewell to his trusty steed, the prince conjures up the fond remembrance of his father, whose presence has been watching over him throughout his travels. Moments such as this exemplify the most prominent facet of King Regis’ character: As sovereign and father, he is first and foremost a protector of his own. Not much is revealed explicitly about the King’s relationship with his son, but from the many details scattered throughout the media related to Final Fantasy XV, we can glimpse his deep love and dedication to the prince, coupled with a profound sorrow – for the King knows about the cruel fate that lies in store for his son and thus dedicates his life to protecting Noctis and raising him for his grave and solemn duty as the heir of the bloodline of Lucis and the King chosen by the Crystal. It seems like the young prince sensed this sombre element in his father and often struggled with seeing him weighed down by his responsibilities.
Drawing the line
As a monarch, Regis’ duties lie not only with his own blood but also with his people and it is perhaps in his function as a guardian of his nation that the character shines most brightly. As stated above, the monarch represents the epitome of aristocratic masculinity and on his person converge the primal principals of manliness and the majesty of high culture. According to Jack Donovan, the original duty of men is “to establish and secure ‘the perimeter’.”3 He acknowledges that in a survival scenario, men will always form small groups, create a distinct group-identity, work together to claim and secure land for their group and defend their perimeter against nature and other groups of men. Inherent in this process is the distinction between us and them: the drawing of a border, the protection of “what is inside the circle of flickering light” and by necessity the exclusion of those outside the perimeter. Men are thus programmed to define and defend their Eigentum at all costs, because without them guarding at the verges of civilization “there can be no human happiness, no family life, no storytelling, no art or music”.4
In the spheres of higher culture, us becomes the people, the perimeter becomes the nation and the responsibility to secure and strengthen these realities is no longer executed by small groups of men but transferred to the sovereign, who is chief among men. The monarch thus represents the shared identity of his people and exercises their right to sovereignty by enforcing their claim to the nation through the authority invested in him. In the world of Final Fantasy XV, the King of Lucis is endowed with special powers granted by his link to the divine Crystal, that let him defend his homeland from the onslaughts of Niflheim by summoning a giant ethereal Wall around the capital of Insomnia. By effectively cutting off the city from the rest of the world and excluding those outside the Wall from the nation, Regis manages to preserve the life and identity of his people inside the perimeter. It is only after the enemy invites itself into the heart of the city under false pretenses that the Wall eventually falls and darkness and destruction descend upon Lucis. The fate of the nation as well as its people is directly tied to the person of the King, as sustaining the Wall around the capital is literally draining the life of Regis and rapidly accelerating the aging of his body. The common soul of Lucis is thus manifested in the fatherly person of King Regis, whose violent death at the hands of a traitor ultimately marks the downfall of the kingdom. It is only through his son and heir that the nation can be reborn, the perimeter be reestablished and the chaos be dispelled by order.
Following the Voice of Blood
For Prince Noctis, his father is above all an important role model and an ideal to strive towards. The son’s journey as a whole can be interpreted as his quest to become worthy of his father’s heritage and earn the right to succeed him on the throne of Lucis. In this context, King Regis is a representation of the essential virtues that separate the grown man from the selfish boy: Duty and Responsibility. Whereas the boy child is a sheltered entity, depending on others for nourishment, guidance and protection, the adult man is distinguished by agency, the will to fight for his own and the willingness to answer for his actions. Truly embracing these qualities is a difficult challenge that every man has to face for himself. It is all the more severe for him who inherits something great.
The weight and magnitude of Noctis’ heritage as King of Lucis is manifested in an important artifact, around which the main plot of Final Fantasy XV revolves: The Ring of the Lucii, which houses the spirits of the past Kings – Noctis’ ancestry – and holds the power to draw upon the divine Crystal. The circular, unbroken fashion of the ring symbolizes the continuity of the ancient lineage and the connection of the ring’s heir to his forebears. Initially, embracing his role as the inheritor of the sacred bloodline and accepting the duty and responsibility that come with it, proves as too heavy a burden for the young prince. After having failed to protect his fiancée, who sacrifices her life to deliver the ring unto him, Noctis is smitten with despair and a devastating sense of weakness and impotence. This completely paralyzes the prince and inhibits his initial resolve to avenge his father. The ring, i.e. his royal duty, now seems a terrible onus, looming over his consciousness and mocking his frailty. It is only through dire conflict and struggle that Noctis manages to break free from his apathy: In the heart of enemy-territory, alone and bereft of his powers, he is forced to discard his boyish reluctance and finally face the destiny embodied by the ring of Lucian kings. From the moment he slips it onto his finger, there is no way back to the carefree days of youth and the only path left is forward into the lurking darkness.
But the Ring of the Lucii is not the only way in which Noctis connects with his ancestors. An equally important symbol of his growth and communication with his forebears are the Royal Arms, which the prince gathers from the various graves of his royal forefathers scattered throughout the world. These spectral weapons encompass the souls and talents of prominent former Kings and Queens of Lucis and greatly embolden the prince’s strength and abilities. Each weapon is remarkably unique and the whole arsenal (the “Armiger”) embodies the distinct characters and convictions of the Lucian sovereigns of yore, fierce warriors and conquerors as well as wise defenders and oracles. Through visiting the grave mounds of his ancestors and assimilating their powers, Noctis performs an ancient symbolic rite of initiation that marks the reaching of maturity for young men in various traditional societies. Through figuratively entering the “realm of death” (the grave) and returning with a part of his forebear (the weapon), the youth is “reborn” as a continuation of his ancestor and thus earns the rank of adult in his society. In Noctis’ case, this means claiming the strength of his forefathers and proving worthy of his title as Chosen King.
A true King’s accession
The final step in the prince’s long and arduous coming of age process is confronting his father and taking over the royal sceptre from him. Deep within the enemy’s bleak fortress, Noctis ultimately reclaims King Regis’ glaive, the “Sword of the Father”, which his renegade brother-in-law Ravus had taken from the dead King’s hands, and adds it to his arsenal of Royal Arms. At this moment, all the pieces of Noctis’ character development are finally in place and the prince is ready to come face to face with the divine Crystal and embrace his fate. His eventual transition from boy to man is illustrated through a figurative 10-year time skip, after which Noctis reemerges from the Crystal as an adult, dons the mantle of King and returns to Insomnia to reclaim his fatherland and restore the light to Lucis. His maturity and heritage of Regis are expressed in a fundamentally altered character design: Whereas the young Noctis is dressed in a youthful leather jacket, T-shirt and boots, the newborn King sports a beard, a noble black shirt with suiting jacket and classy leather shoes. His new outfit displays various similarities to King Regis’ character design, such as a crutch-like adornment on the right leg, and thus clearly emphasizes the metaphysical reunion of father and son at the end of their journey.
In all of this, the story of Final Fantasy XV portrays itself in a strikingly a-moral fashion. Nowadays, we are quite used to films and books forcing some kind of distilled moral judgement on their recipient: “Don’t be prejudiced!”,“Don’t seek revenge!”, “X has feelings, too!”, and so forth… The polar opposite to this kind of contemporary Slave morality is found in the mantra that Noctis adopts during the latter half of his adventure: “A king pushes ever onward, accepting the consequences, and never looking back.” Not once does the prince question the rightfulness of his cause, ponders the motives of his enemies or considers a peaceful alternative to the Reconquista of his homeland. He rather accepts his destiny unapologetically, embraces the struggle and grows to fulfill his duty to his loved ones. Final Fantasy XV makes no attempt at teaching us how to “be a good man”. Instead, it shows us what “being good at being a man”5 could look like withought getting caught up in moral or ethical quarrels, which is quite astonishing in today’s mainstream media landscape.
2 The German expression is used in this context because it carries far greater implications than simple material property. It literally translates to “That which is ones own” and thus encapsulates also the connotations of family, tribe, heritage and influence. The Odal rune o, which is connected to the German word “Adel” (“nobility”), perfectly captures this meaning, as it can be interpreted as a deliberate border drawn around an estate.
3 Jack Donovan, The Way of Men, p. 12.
4 Ibid., p. 13.
5 Ibid., p. 79.