It’s no secret that Game of Thrones has been a major influence on Final Fantasy XVI — the developers have said as much. “When we first started creating the game, we had our core team of about 30 members very early on buy the Blu-ray boxset of Game of Thrones and required everyone to watch it, because we wanted this type of feel,” producer Naoki Yoshida told Eurogamer earlier this year.
And man, does it show.
The first few hours of the roleplaying game feel designed to show you just how edgy Final Fantasy can be. The previous entry was a wholesome road trip about friendship, told through things like photography and cooking. This game goes in a completely different direction. Characters have sex on-screen (though it never gets all that explicit), battles are Red Wedding-level gruesome (they definitely get explicit), and everybody swears... a lot.
This isn’t entirely new — Aerith said “shit” in Final Fantasy VII Remake, and it was pretty weird — but the sheer amount of cursing in FFXVI is unheard of for the series. Characters throw around fucks constantly, whether they’re running away from danger or being attacked by a beast. The level of cursing is no different than, say, an HBO series, and at times the game can feel like God of War or The Witcher. (Clive, FFXVI’s protagonist, even sounds a bit like Geralt, and has a giant dog like Jon Snow.) But even if the tone is common in modern fantasy, it’s still jarring for Final Fantasy.
It’s hard to really pinpoint what makes a Final Fantasy game a Final Fantasy game given that the series reinvents itself constantly. It can be a cyberpunk climate change parable or a complex political drama. But even at its most serious, with stories about love or betrayal or the fate of the planet itself, the series is also pretty goofy. The most recent game had a campy scene in which the main character disguised himself as a woman, and Final Fantasy VIII — billed as the first in the series centered on romance — had an ongoing joke about hot dogs. That tonal dissonance is part of the appeal. When a game lasts for dozens of hours, lighthearted moments are a welcome breather.
There aren’t many of those moments in Final Fantasy XVI. Even series trademarks that are pretty silly, objectively speaking — like chocobos, which are steeds that look like giant chickens, and moogles, which are basically sentient stuffed animals — are presented with complete seriousness. Very few jokes are cracked. I’m not sure if I’ve seen a genuine smile. And that darker undertone isn’t just a superficial thing — it’s pervasive. It’s not just in the cutscenes and the battles but also in the chatter you hear around town as characters make not-so-subtle innuendos about unsheathing their “blades” or ask who you had to “bend over for” to get a royal pardon.
Also, there are items like this:
That tonal consistency does make Final Fantasy XVI feel more in line with the modern entertainment landscape, where one of the most talked about shows of the year is particularly bleak. And the seriousness is an important part of the story, which, in large part, is about magic-wielding people who have been enslaved and are viewed as subhuman so that the populace is okay with using them like tools to support the kingdom. Painting the world as a dark place full of violence and terrible people makes a lot of sense in that context. You get a visceral sense for that when the blood starts flowing.
But it also has the tendency to flatten out what Final Fantasy XVI is. Don’t get me wrong — it’s a solid game, and it does a lot of really good things; it has a great battle system, interesting characters, and some smart narrative features to help you better understand the continent-spanning story. In other words, it has the elements that I come to a Final Fantasy game for. But none of those things are improved by gratuitous sex scenes or copious swearing, which instead makes the world feel like any number of other fantasy series on the surface.
Franchises, Final Fantasy, in particular, are allowed — and should even be encouraged — to change constantly. It’s what keeps them alive and interesting. But in this case, adding a bloody, gritty edge to Final Fantasy actually dilutes what makes it so special. And that’s a fucking shame.