Can the New Final Fantasy Revitalize the Series?
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Square Enix recently announced Final Fantasy XVI at Sony’s PlayStation 5 showcase. This was surprising for two major reasons. For starters, many weren’t expecting a Final Fantasy announcement in the first place, as Square Enix had just released Final Fantasy VII Remake earlier this year and fans are used to waiting a while between major Final Fantasy games. Then there’s the fact that the trailer for the game looked like a radical departure from the other games in the series. So now the question is, how different will Final Fantasy XVI be, and will it set a new standard of quality for the series?

It’s hard to say. For a while now, many fans have claimed that the series’ best days are behind it. In addition to 15 main series entries, some of which had multiple parts, the franchise contains an unthinkable amount of spin-offs. Quality has, so far, been all over the place. But, despite all the options, many seem to cite the main entries from the 90s as a gold standard. For others, the best Final Fantasy experiences end at Final Fantasy X. But there aren’t all that many elements that unite those first ten games, and the games that followed (MMOs aside) still shared much of the same DNA. Beyond specious claims that the games became too linear compared to their predecessors, it’s hard to isolate what main issues fans have with the newer games. But if they aren’t enjoying themselves, then maybe it is time for a change.

Final Fantasy XVI definitely seems like a change, although the same could have been said about the divisive entry, Final Fantasy XV. But whatever criticism may be leveraged against that game, it was still undeniably a Final Fantasy game, containing a party of heroes in a world of summons, empires, chocobos, and magic. It had a palpable mixture of light and dark, and featured a return to the “open world” style that Final Fantasy XIII was said to lack. Still, it missed the mark.

Final Fantasy XVI can either remix those elements or discard some wholesale. It’s a fact that consumers often don’t know what they want until they get it. Maybe all we can do is nurture our expectations regarding what we want in a Final Fantasy game and, instead, simply demand quality. If there’s reason to be excited at this point, it shouldn’t be for a game that will reclaim some bygone era. It should be for a brand new game that could be great on its own terms. And the people at the helm seem to have the pedigree to produce exactly that.

Final Fantasy XVI is going to be shaped by some of the people who helped make Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn the force that it is today. Naoki Yoshida, who is often credited as the person who helped save XIV after a very rocky launch, is serving as producer on the project and Hiroshi Takai, assistant director for A Realm Reborn, will be the director. Final Fantasy XIV, for those who don’t know, has a very eccentric fanbase and the game features some of the best stories to ever be told in the franchise. Period.

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The new game’s tone looks like it might have some things in common with some of Final Fantasy XIV’s darker stories. One thing that is generally agreed on about the new trailer is that it is dark. It appears to be pretty grim fantasy, more in line with Game of Thrones than earlier Final Fantasy titles like Final Fantasy IX. Of course, that doesn’t mean it will necessarily be overwhelmingly brutal – XIV is a fantastic example of a dark tone tempered with humor and levity. But it does seem like “dark” is the stronger element this time around.

It also doesn’t seem as though the game will take place in a world with advanced technology. Instead, it will be a more medieval style fantasy world, which is something it could share with some of the most popular titles in the franchise. But even if the game were literally set in Midgar from Final Fantasy VII or Spira from Final Fantasy X, it could feel incredibly different based on one major decision alone: the presence, or lack thereof, of a party.

A ton of Final Fantasy games contain motifs of found family and bonds formed in hardship. From a gameplay perspective, customizing the adventuring party, and picking favorites based on personality and battle style, has been a core part of the main series. The trailer seems to be missing any evidence that this series staple will be present in the new game.

That fact alone doesn’t doom the game by any means. In fact, it could be an invigorating approach, and a choice like that won’t diminish all the fun players have had with parties in the other games. And Final Fantasy VII Remake has more entries planned, so fans who love that part of the games won’t starve. But it all poses an interesting question. Final Fantasy XVI has crystals, summons, chocobo, and fantasy elements. It appears to have political intrigue. But is a darker tone and the potential absence of a party something that could keep it from “feeling” like a true Final Fantasy game? Final Fantasy XIV doesn’t have a party in a conventional sense, but it does have prominent characters who save the world alongside the hero character. This is one of the first times we’ve been forced to consider how integral a party is to a Final Fantasy game. If that is the route the developers went to take, where we’ll have to play without that staple, then it surely isn’t a choice they made lightly. Maybe they know something we don’t.

Benjamin Maltbie
Benjamin Maltbie

Writing Team Lead
Date: 10/22/2020

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