It’s fair to say there’s a lot of pressure on Naoki Yoshida to deliver with Final Fantasy XVI. The producer is credited by Square Enix and its fans for being the main person responsible for turning around the fortunes of Final Fantasy XIV, the MMO which was originally released in 2010 to widely negative reviews.
Just three months after the release of Final Fantasy XIV, Square Enix realized the launch had been disastrous and decided to task Yoshida – who had been acting director in the early stages of Dragon Quest X – with putting the trainwreck back on the tracks. Appointed as the game’s new post-launch director and producer, Yoshida guided his team through a complete revamp of the game, which then re-launched in 2013 as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.
What was originally a disaster in the making had been salvaged into a critically acclaimed re-release, one that continues to enjoy a thriving online community nine years later. It’s now so popular that the release of its Endwalker expansion – whose mere two-week delay moved Yoshida to tears as he apologized – caused the servers to crash.
There can be little doubt of Yoshida’s ability or his passion, then, which on paper should mean Final Fantasy XVI is in safe hands with him as producer. An ever-evolving MMO and a standalone graphically groundbreaking single-player adventure are two very different things, however, and that’s why the future classic status of the next entry in the series can’t be considered a foregone conclusion.
Final Fantasy XVI – ‘Revenge’ trailer
There are already debates among fans with regard to some of the more contentious elements of the sixteenth main title. One of these is the game’s battle system, which appears to be even more action-oriented than Final Fantasy XV was and may feel closer to something like Kingdom Hearts.
Yoshida has already conceded that some players will be unhappy with the combat, particularly Final Fantasy veterans for whom anything other than turn-based battles would be considered sacrilege. As he puts it though, this ain’t your daddy’s Final Fantasy (or words to that effect), and that’s exactly the point.
“We want the world, especially the younger generation, to play the game,” Yoshida told Japanese site Comic Days earlier this year, claiming that many players in their late teens and late twenties have heard of the Final Fantasy series but never played it. “Also, the mainstream games nowadays are intuitive games where you press a button and the character shoots a gun or wields a sword, and the traditional RPG style of turn-based command fighting is no longer familiar to them.
It is also a fact that people are becoming less familiar with the old-fashioned style of RPGs, where you fight by selecting turn commands. That’s why the battles in Final Fantasy 16 are very action-based. We want to make people all over the world think that Final Fantasy is a great game.
“Of course, I don’t think we’ll be able to satisfy everyone’s demands, so I’ve told everyone on the team that the first thing we need to do is to make something we think is fun, and make sure it reaches the people who like it.”
Other concerns are thematic in nature, one being the notable lack of diversity in the game, especially given that the series’ previous few notable characters of color have been accused of relying on stereotypical tropes.
Yoshida, acknowledging that his answer could be “disappointing” for some players, has claimed that because the game borrows its inspiration from medieval Europe, it couldn’t realistically be as diverse as the real world without “causing a violation of those narrative boundaries”. .
Putting aside the fact that people of various ethnicities did in fact live in medieval Europe, there are some who feel that Yoshida’s answer is a bit of a cop-out in a game that allows you to summon demons, wind elementals and ice goddesses but for which person with dark skin would be breaking “narrative boundaries”.
That’s a debate that will undoubtedly continue after the game’s release, but it’s also going to be curious to see how the overarching storyline is received, especially because it promises to be the most mature game in the series.
“Yoshida has already conceded that some players will be unhappy with the combat, particularly Final Fantasy veterans for whom anything other than turn-based battles would be considered sacrilege.”
According to the game’s recent ESRB rating, there are frequent blood splatters, severed hands, slit throats and sexual content, as well as swearing – hardly revelatory in video games in general, but nevertheless it’s further than Final Fantasy has gone to date.
It’s going to be interesting, then, to see how this all comes together when Final Fantasy XVI is finally released on June 22 (assuming that it doesn’t get pushed back again). The trailers already shown have been visually stunning, and as long as they’re representative of the final experience players could be in for something rather special, as long as the above talking points don’t rub them the wrong way.
As far as Square Enix is concerned, in Yoshida it trusts. So far, the producer has given the studio no reason to doubt his abilities, and if this next mainline Final Fantasy is handled with the care he gave the revamped FFXIV it’s likely that trust will be strengthened even further.