It’s a big year for the Final Fantasy series and its fans. A new mainline title with Final Fantasy 16 is on the way, the next main entry in the franchise coming after the seven year wait since Final Fantasy 15. A new mainline Final Fantasy game is always cause for excitement, but what we’re seeing with 16 is something even more special.
The latest game in Square Enix’s RPG series is taking things back to basics, and returning the Final Fantasy franchise to a medieval setting. The game’s trailers (and the free demo) shows us a world divided between warring kingdoms, with knights, swords and castles. It’s a classic medieval fantasy, one that we’ve all probably seen many times in many forms. It may be a familiar setting, but in my opinion, a return to it has been long overdue for the Final Fantasy series.
Not So Final Fantasies
The Final Fantasy series is named after the desperation of creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, being a final effort to create a successful game. It was his ‘final fantasy’ game he would attempt to make before giving up on the industry, but it was a game that would become a smash hit. As such, it wasn’t the final fantasy, it was just one of what would become sixteen main entries in the series. Despite the original Final Fantasy game being set in the medieval times, the series has gone on to many different settings and time periods in the following entries.
The steampunk industrializing world of Final Fantasy VI is one such example of how the franchise began to turn away from its medieval roots. This transition was solidified by the ‘dieselpunk’ grungy aesthetics of follow-up Final Fantasy 7, complete with power plants, motorbikes and human experimentation. The futuristic fantasy of Final Fantasy 7 pushed the series to new heights, especially in the United States and Europe, and set a trend going forwards.
The most recent mainline entry, Final Fantasy 15, is almost completely modern. Despite the magic and the regal vibes of locations like the Citadel, this game is firmly set in a time period similar to ours. Noctis and his crew go on road trips in a sleek car, stopping off at gas station diners for a bite to eat and even use smartphones.
All of this is to say that, despite its origins as a medieval series, there really aren’t that many Final Fantasy games that actually fit in that category anymore. At most, there are seven main entries that would firmly fit the descriptor of ‘medieval’, these being 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9 and the upcoming 16. This may sound like a considerable amount of medieval-themed games, but the timing of Final Fantasy 16‘s release also plays a part in my belief that it’s a necessary return.
It’s About Time
Seven out of sixteen entries being medieval may not seem like a big deal, but the timing of these entries paints a better picture. The last truly medieval entry in the Final Fantasy series was Final Fantasy 9, which was released 23 years ago. That’s right, it’s now been more than two decades since the last time a Final Fantasy game went medieval.
The timing of Final Fantasy 16‘s release is also no accident. 2022 marked the 35th anniversary of the Final Fantasy franchise, and could have also been the original intended release year for the game. While there is no explicit confirmation the game would ever have released in 2022, producer Naoki Yoshida confirmed the game’s development was delayed by almost six months. Given that we’re six months into 2023, it’s not hard to see how, had the release not been impacted by the pandemic, we could have been celebrating 35 years of Final Fantasy with this next mainline title.
Even if it’s a few months late, Final Fantasy 16 serves as an excellent reminder of how far we’ve come in the 35(ish) years of the Final Fantasy franchise. It takes things back to the basics with its medieval setting, re-establishing the franchise from the successful core foundations it was built upon, and integrating all the flair, flash and polish of a modern action RPG game with more than three decades of improved gaming technology.
Lost The Fantasy
Okay, so the timing of Final Fantasy 16 is great and all, and it might have been a while since the last medieval entry, but why do I think the medieval time period is so necessary to return to right now? I’m actually a big fan of the more futuristic entries, with Final Fantasy 7 and 15 both being franchise favorites of mine. I’m also one of the few people in the world who actually enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII, so I’m certainly not against the technological weirdness of some of the newer franchise games. One thing I’m slowly starting to feel however is that Final Fantasy is becoming a lot less, well, fantasy.
Of course, there are still some fantasy elements in Final Fantasy, such as the magic, the monsters or the gravity-defying hairstyles, but the futuristic stuff isn’t that futuristic anymore. Midgar, the City of Mako in Final Fantasy 7, may be built in a way we don’t have in the real world, but the story of a corrupt corporation draining the planet of its resources isn’t a fantasy, it’s every day. The roadtrips of Final Fantasy 15 may have some extraordinary visuals, but it’s still just driving in a car and listening to the radio.
With the rise of new, cutting edge technology such as the booming AI industry and the push towards a potential ‘metaverse’, stories about futuristic dystopias aren’t as fantastical now, and feel much more like grim reminders of what we’re already experiencing. That’s exactly why the medieval experience is the way to pivot the series towards now. A world without complex technology, a world without corrupt corporations, a world built within and not in competition with nature – that’s a real fantasy.
The beautiful kingdoms of Final Fantasy 16 may be holding dark secrets, with a plot seemingly thick with betrayal and bloodshed, but it feels like enjoyable escapism to me because it’s not something we have to worry about. I can become invested in Clive’s story as an outsider, but we’re not going to be facing any of the problems that we’re dealing with in the present day, at least not in any literal sense. Sure, we have wars being waged in the real world, but they’re not being fought on horseback with swords and with the help of gigantic magical Eikons.
Been There, Done That
Not only therefore is the timing just right for a return to the medieval side of Final Fantasy from a franchise perspective, but also in terms of what we’re going through in the real world. A return to a more primitive, natural and tribal world might be just what we need for an action-packed escapist adventure; one that isn’t being offered by many other big gaming companies at the minute.
A lot of recent and upcoming games are using the reality we have as inspiration for their titles. Just look at Bethesda’s next project with Starfield, an exciting game that will take us to a space-faring future, a far cry in its setting from the medieval fantasy of The Elder Scrolls series. The same turn towards a futuristic title can be seen in CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077, which shifted away from the medieval brilliance of The Witcher franchise in favor of a hellish, neon-lit dystopia that’s as believable as it is horrifying. There are plenty of excellent games in recent years giving us some kind of depressing look at the future, such as System Shock, Horizon Forbidden West and The Outer Worlds to name just a few more.
For me, Final Fantasy 16‘s offerings are a breath of fresh air in the AAA gaming industry of 2023, with a focus on the story, the action and the fantasy. I’ve experienced a lot of brilliant art lately that warns us about the future we’re heading towards and the world we’re living in, but now I’d like a break. It’s been a long time coming for a return to the past for the Final Fantasy series, and in my opinion, it’s about time too.
What do you think? Do you agree that a return to the medieval period was overdue for the Final Fantasy series? What would you like to see next? Let us know in the comments below, and keep your eyes on GameLuster for more gaming news and Final Fantasy 16 coverage.