Whenever a new Final Fantasy comes out, fans of the role-playing video game, which became famous in the 1990s for using the medium to tell deep, epic stories with large, diverse casts, hope that it Would be about to make the franchise relevant again.
Entries have missed the mark for the past decade and a half. The most recent installment – Final Fantasy XV, released seven years ago – was for many with a disappointing story line and forgettable characters. Even its makers won’t defend it.
Square Enix, the studio behind the 35-year-old franchise, is trying to right some wrongs with the June 22 release of Final Fantasy XVI for PlayStation 5. , the studio is trying to meet the expectations of a dedicated fan base while attracting new audiences.
For Final Fantasy XVI, this means moving away from features that are fundamental to every game in the main series, including the ability to manage an expansive party of characters and a quirky, whimsical tone.
Now, players will control only one character, adopting the structure of successful role-playing games such as The Witcher and God of War. And in its ambition to tell a story that rivals “Game of Thrones,” it’s the first installment to be rated “M” for Mature because of its gory violence and gratuitous use of vulgarity.
Square Enix says the game will focus exclusively on the narrative of Clive Rosefield, a prince seeking vengeance following the destruction of his kingdom and the murder of his brother. Players will follow the new character from adolescence through adulthood to understand his motivations and eventual transformation.
Final Fantasy XVI producer Naoki Yoshida said, “We wanted to restore faith in the Final Fantasy series by going back to those roots and focusing on the story – and trying to make up for what happened during Final Fantasy XV. ” said through an interpreter in a recent video call.
Final Fantasy XV left an embarrassing mark on Square Enix due to its confusing story. Major plot points were left ambiguous due to the decision to distribute narrative details over an animated film and an anime series. Some downloadable content that was meant to expand the background of important characters was completely canceled,
But it remains an open question whether Final Fantasy XVI’s renewed focus on story substance will resonate with gamers.
If Square Enix goes too far towards serving nostalgic fans, it risks creating the impression that Final Fantasy is out of touch with current gaming trends; If it focuses too heavily on new audiences, it may be scrutinized for abandoning its roots. trying to please both groups – as it did with Final Fantasy XV, which got overall solid review Because of its high production values - it can be safely landed somewhere in the middle of the plane of creative mediocrity.
Star Wars audiences saw a similar dynamic play out in the recent trilogy. Although critics praised its second episode, “The Last Jedi”, for its fresh take on space opera that suggested any average person could be a Jedi, franchise loyalists loathed it for breaking sacred canon. . In response to the backlash, those violations were reversed in “The Rise of Skywalker,” one of the most harshly reviewed Star Wars films ever.
Final Fantasy’s most defining core gameplay feature — the turn-based battle system, where players toggled through a party of characters and chose an action like casting a spell at an enemy — was laid to rest more than 15 years ago. Was.
Although some still prefer that system, Yoshida said, gamers — and he’s no exception — had come to expect fast-paced action as consoles became increasingly powerful.
Final Fantasy XVI would take a surprisingly darker tone than the previous installments, which were more lighthearted and accessible, even for children. The game begins with the invasion of the protagonist’s kingdom and the brutal slaughter of his family. Yoshida said he took this direction to reflect the harsh climate of our time.
“By showing the bad, it emphasizes the good that’s there and makes it feel more real,” he added. “But you know, at its core, Final Fantasy XVI is also a story about love, and it’s a story about hope.”
Yoshida stated that the decision to focus on a single character in Final Fantasy XVI was largely inspired by its modern combat design. Players controlling Clive must rely on their timing and reflexes to attack and dodge opponents. Adding more characters to the party would have required the player to learn multiple skill sets, which Yoshida said would have made the game too complex.
Narratives centered on a single character often conform to Joseph Campbell’s concept of the hero’s journey, where an individual ventures into the unknown, overcomes a crisis, and returns transformed. That formula has produced such video game heroes as Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter, as well as Link in The Legend of Zelda and Lara Croft in Tomb Raider.
Still, that structure can constrain game designers, said Souvik Mukherjee, assistant professor of cultural studies who leads research on video games as a medium of storytelling at the Center for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata, India . Because the camera largely remains on the protagonist, other characters the player encounters appear to exist only to assist the protagonist.
Pointing to Red Dead Redemption 2’s story of gang member Arthur Morgan and his deteriorating relationship with the group’s leader, Dutch van der Linde, Mukherjee said some games using that approach have managed to tell compelling stories. Find ways.
However, Square Enix may struggle to achieve a similar feat. The stories of some of the biggest hits, such as Final Fantasy VI (1994) and Final Fantasy VII (1997, which was rebooted in 2020), were unveiled from the points of view of multiple characters and intersecting narratives.
The first few hours of Final Fantasy XVI reflect the game’s attempts to tell a complex story involving multiple kingdoms at war. The game will test whether Clive’s solo journey, where he encounters a few allies but is mostly accompanied only by his dog, will be a successful storytelling mechanism for this narrative.
The series also has a rich history of portraying strong women, such as Final Fantasy X’s Yuna, who is determined to exorcise an evil demon, and Final Fantasy VII’s Tifa Lockhart, a childhood friend who appears in that game. Hero, Cloud saves Stryfe from the One. mental breakdown.
Brianna Wu, a video game developer and longtime fan of the franchise, said that the fate of the women is another reason Final Fantasy XV upset fans. The game gave little time to the protagonist’s fiancée, Lunafreya Knox Fleuret, before she was murdered, and the hypersexualized Cindy Orm, a mechanic who was constantly revealing cracks.
“As a gamer who loves Final Fantasy for having powerful women, I think they have been on the wrong track for a long time from a representation perspective,” she said. “Clive looks interesting, but I’m really waiting to see what they do with their women.”
Square Enix producer Yoshida said Final Fantasy XVI’s story will resonate with gamers across generations. Following Clive from youth to adulthood, he said, the story line will relate to young players stepping into the real world and older gamers who have seen what the real world is like.
Perhaps more important is whether Clive’s story will turn a fading franchise into the influential game it once was.