It’s been a long, long time since a new mainline numbered Final Fantasy entry took the industry by storm. Final Fantasy 15 released on the back of a tortured and protracted development cycle, and was a bit of a mess. Final Fantasy 13 was wildly divisive and was on the receiving end of fierce criticism for its extreme linearity, among other things. Final Fantasy 12 was deemed by many series fans to be too divergent from Final Fantasy traditions in more ways than one, though its reputation has, to be fair, improved significantly in the years since its release.
The last time a new numbered Final Fantasy game was universally (or near-universally) praised upon release was Final Fantasy 10. That was twenty-two years ago. There’s absolutely no denying that Final Fantasy obviously still remains an absolute behemoth of the gaming medium, but equally inarguable is the fact that the series has lost much of that prestige and luster over the years. Where once it would routinely deliver genre-defining and industry-shaking games, now, you have to go back 22 years for the last time that happened.
Lately, however, it seems like the winds of change are coming. Final Fantasy 16 showed incredible promise back when it was first unveiled in 2020, and it’s looked increasingly good with each new showing- and we’ve had a lot of showings. Clearly, the gravity and importance of this release isn’t lost on the development team handling the game, because it’s not just the fans and those looking at the project from the outside in who’re desperate for Final Fantasy 16 to avoid the mistakes that some of its predecessors have made- its developers seem to feel the same way. In particular, they seem hellbent on ensuring that they don’t trip into the same pits that 2016’s Final Fantasy 15 did.
What were some of Final Fantasy 15’s biggest issues? The biggest, without a shadow of doubt, was its story. The core cast of the Hardy Boys was fun to hang out with, sure, but the story of the game as a whole was an incoherent mess. That, of course, is because it wasn’t the full story- it was just part of a larger tale that Square Enix, in all its wisdom, decided to tell across multiple cross-media projects. If you wanted to have any hope of following Final Fantasy 15’s story, you’d have to first watch the animated film Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy 15 and the animated series Brotherhood: Final Fantasy 15 before playing the game. Many events crucial to the overarching plot happened off-screen in the game, leaving you wondering, more than a few times throughout the experience, just what the hell was going on.
For a series that has always been known for its captivating stories, that’s a big red flag. Yes, some of these problems were fixed to some extent with the release of Royal Edition, but a) they were just slightly less problematic at that point, and b) the base experience, which is what many people’s experience with the game was, wasn’t up to scratch. So as we said- a big red flag. And it’s one that Final Fantasy 16 seems keen on avoiding.
Its developers have, in fact, explicitly said that they want to avoid those same mistakes, that telling a cohesive standalone story was something the development team decided to do early on. In a recent interview with Easy Allies, FF16 producer Naoki Yoshida said, “You kind of have to look back on what came before when approaching development, and looking back at the most recent, Final Fantasy 15, to see what they did right and what they did wrong. While there’s a lot of things that people enjoyed about Final Fantasy 16, there’s also people that were upset that it wasn’t a complete story or that they were promised certain things that ended up being canceled, and we wanted to make sure that we cover those in Final Fantasy 16 – as in we were going to focus on telling a complete story from beginning to end and not make those same mistakes as 15 did.”
Now, telling a complete story from beginning to end should be a pre-requisite in any game. Of course it should. But Final Fantasy as a series loves to expand on its universes with spinoffs, direct sequels, cross-media projects, you name it. That the dev team at Square Enix decided this time to shed all of those excesses and focus on crafting one, single standalone experience is, on paper, the bare minimum- but they’re not exactly known for their consistently sound decision making at Square Enix, so suffice it to say, we’re more than a little relieved that Final Fantasy 16 won’t suffer those same pitfalls.
And did you notice how Yoshida brought up “certain things that ended up being cancelled” for Final Fantasy 15? He is, of course, referring to the game’s ambitious post-launch roadmap, which originally included plans for six DLC episodes. Only three were released, with the other three being cancelled- which means an incoherent half-complete story was left forever unfinished. Final Fantasy 16 is tackling that problem from two directions, because not only is it being billed as a complete, self-sufficient story, Square Enix also has no plans right now for any DLC for the game.
Speaking recently with Game Informer, producer Naoki Yoshida said, “It’s a one-off game. We’re asking players to pay the full price for this experience, and so we want an experience that’s going to equal the amount of money that players are going to be paying and we want them to have satisfaction equal to what they paid or even more than that.” Encouraging words, to say the least.
Then there’s the matter of FF16’s open world- or the lack thereof. While it’s easy to give in to the urge of expecting every major AAA release in today’s day and age to be open world, that’s not what Square Enix is doing here. With Final Fantasy 16, the development team’s primary focus has clearly been on telling the story they want to tell (the game has over 11 hours of cinematics, after all), and wanting to avoid diluting that, and wanting to avoid creating an open world for the heck of it, was why they decided not to do an open world setting. And interestingly enough, once again, they looked at the stumbles of Final Fantasy 15 while making that decision.
“If we look back at Final Fantasy 15, a lot of the criticism about that game was kind of centered on the story,” Yoshida told Game Informer. “‘Some of the storytelling elements weren’t as good as they could have been,’ or, ‘Towards the end, the story kind of loses its focus,’ or, ‘We have this story that needs to be told in DLC’ and then that DLC gets canceled so it can’t be told.
“So there are lots of problems there with the storytelling that we find. And for Final Fantasy 16, we wanted to make sure that again, our focus [is] on storytelling so that we can cover those gaps that [FF15] had.”
“For example, if you create this open world of the 23 wards of Tokyo, then basically, your story has to take place in the 23 wards of Tokyo, and it can’t take place outside of that,” he continued. “You can create more areas outside of that, but then that takes a lot of resources, and the more that you create, then the bigger chance that you have of that giant area that you created becoming empty, and that’s the one thing that players hate the most: [a] huge open world but there’s nothing to do in it.”
Now, it’s worth pointing out that not everything Final Fantasy 16 is doing has gone down well with some sections of the series’ fanbase, at least in the lead-up to launch, chief among them being its action-heavy combat and its focus on just a single playable character. There are FF fans out there who feel the upcoming action RPG is losing the essence of the franchise. Of course, the essence of Final Fantasy is a nebulous concept, to say the least, because this is a series that has radically changed its identity time and time again- but whether or not Final Fantasy 16 does end up falling foul of however you define that essence is something we’ll only find out when we actually play it.
FF16 may make mistakes – that’s always a potential danger with pretty much every single game in existence, regardless of the franchise or the developer – but if it does, they will be new mistakes. And if nothing else, it’s incredibly reassuring to know that the major blunders Square Enix made with Final Fantasy 15 won’t be rearing their head again.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.