People might be working off some false assumptions about Final Fantasy as a series, and Final Fantasy 16 would like to correct that. Speaking with Producer Naoki Yoshida and Art Director Hiroshi Minagawa, the developers made it clear that Square Enix wasn’t actively looking to push rating as a selling point. “We weren’t trying for an M rating from the start,” said Yoshida, who was answering a question about the more mature tone that Clive brings to the series.
“I’ve lived long enough to know how harsh the real world can be,” said Yoshida. That outlook colored the way the team approached both Clive’s personal story and the world of Valisthea at large. There’s a time and a place for, say, the happy-go-lucky nature of Zidane’s early journey in Final Fantasy 9, and that isn’t something Clive has much time to entertain as he grows older. Part of the reason the team wants Clive to be so relatable, Yoshida says, is because “a lot of people were saying that they have this image that [Final Fantasy] is very juvenile.” While that may not be true anyways, there’s a strong argument that Final Fantasy 16 will be enough to finally shed that perception for good.
A Story With Maturity
Making Final Fantasy 16‘s story resonate with a wider demographic means walking a careful balance between accessible themes. Part of what makes Final Fantasy such an appealing series is its broadly sympathetic themes – found family, a desire to do good, and being given chances to make good on one’s potential are aspects of life both children and adults can relate to. Clive’s journey, while being more mature in the sense that it’s a lot more grim than other recent Final Fantasy settings, still has that level of relatability.
“We wanted to create a story that felt very grounded in reality and felt very serious,” says Yoshida, referencing the game’s war-time setting, where armies are losing lives by the thousands in an attempt to gain political or military power. Grounding that is Clive’s fractured relationship with the concept of family, having felt that he failed his brother and the people of his kingdom. In the hands-on preview event we attended in London, we were given a deeper look into Clive’s past and his trauma. He’s a complex character with multiple motivations, but he’s also still a brother who wanted to – and failed to – be there for his younger sibling in their time of need.
Final Fantasy 16‘s story wastes little time in establishing the stakes – there’s immediate concern over an unstable and fragile peace, and tension between Clive and his mother, in spite of a healthy relationship with Joshua. One of Clive’s friends is essentially a hostage taken to ensure peace between Clive’s home and another state, and there’s a blissful ignorance that pervades the fabric of his young life during the flashback that establishes his past. These are story threads that could lead to an enjoyable complexity that ties into multiple characters’ growth, and while it isn’t immediately clear if that will be true, that they’re even present to help lend the story a realistic bent to its fantasy world is encouraging.
Why Clive Is So Relatable
“Playing a character that you know nothing about, it’s kind of harder to relate with that character. What we wanted is for players to be able to relate to Clive, to know what happened to him and know what drives him, so that the player and Clive can kind of grow together on their journey,” says Yoshida, when asked about why players learn so much about Clive so early in Final Fantasy 16 when past games have often withheld protagonist details for later story revelations. It’s a break in the formula that allows for some immediate payoff, as it doesn’t take long to become invested in Clive’s adventure, even during a short hour-long intro in the preview session. We know Clive’s failures; we know Clive feels burdens over his potential; and we know that the power balance of Eikons is shifting and creating a climate for war, and more loss as a result.
Clive’s place in all of this is as someone more people can relate to. He’s not a chosen one – in fact, he was supposed to be, but wasn’t. Problematically building his entire being around protecting his younger brother, Clive is unable to find much meaning in his own existence. He’s searching for something to make him feel like his struggles have been worth it – not unlike many adults making the transition from early life into their later years.
Of course, relatability can only take a character so far in a game like Final Fantasy 16. Clive can still turn into a gigantic demon made of hellfire, and he’s blessed with the ability to switch between Eikon influences to dart around a battlefield and even the odds with ease. Making Clive someone the audience can feel sympathy with but not hindering him with qualities that would slow down the pacing of the excellent Final Fantasy 16 combat system is the balance the series needs, and it’s struck well during the preview session.
Can The Series Take The Next Step In Its Storytelling?
To be fair, it’s not like Final Fantasy actually needs to shed the perception that it’s a “juvenile” series. Most people who actually play the games know this to be false, and the franchise has also made a name for itself in the way it balances its titanic fantasy worlds with slice-of-life humor and silly creatures like Moogles. What will be most interesting about the Final Fantasy 16 story is if it can maintain the blistering, intriguing pace on display in its preview sessions. Clive’s story moves with speed and deliberation, wasting few moments on something that isn’t conducive to either world- or character-building. Even the best Final Fantasy stories of the past have had their moments where they flirt with filler arcs or oddly-placed secondary storylines. Given the tight nature of this mature approach to storytelling, it will be interesting to see if Final Fantasy 16 maintains that cinematic, larger-than-life feel throughout.
It’s also unclear if this step forward in tone is actually a proper movement towards innovation and not just a lateral shift. Being too mature and risking losing the younger audience could be a concern, though the addition of Torgal, the return of the aforementioned Moogles, and some relatable sibling rivalries and emotional responses means that might not be much of a worry in the end. Playing it safe however, whether in combat or storytelling, was never an option. As Yoshida puts it later in our discussion, “You’re just pushing the limit all the time and doing something crazy, and that’s something that I’ve told the development team since the beginning to do with Final Fantasy 16 as well, because that’s what Final Fantasy is.” What Final Fantasy 16 is remains to be seen, but it’s doing its best to be something spectacular and ambitious no matter what.
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Final Fantasy 16 releases on June 22, 2023 for PlayStation 5 as a timed exclusive. Screen Rant was flown to London, England to participate in a hands-on experience of the game for the purpose of this preview.
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