The much-anticipated latest title in the Final Fantasy video game franchise, Final Fantasy XVI (FFXVI), finally released for PlayStation 5 last week. It is the first totally new title in the franchise since Final Fantasy XV (FFXV) came out back in 2016. Even though the game has only been out for a few days so far, reviews have been coming back very positive, and the game has been challenging what it means to be a Final Fantasy title. There is one glaring thing that could have been done better, though, and that is setting gamers up with the knowledge they need to really understand the intricate story and characters. From the very beginning of the game, there are a lot of words and names thrown around with little to no explanation. The political system of the countries at war has almost no history or context given. The characters are presented like players should already know who they are.
This would be fine, considering it avoids massive, boring info-dumping that can really hurt immersion when playing a game – if players already have the needed background information. As it stands, loading up FFXVI for the first time, even if you have played all the previous Final Fantasy games, the only things you are likely to understand are the names of the Eikons, and things like chocobos and moogles. For everything else, you are going to spend ages reading what the in-game archive, the “Thousand Tomes,” has to share if you really want to understand what is going on. Could this have been avoided altogether? Could players have picked the game up with a working background knowledge of Valisthea, Clive and his companions, and the Crystals and Dominants? The short answer is yes, because this was done before the release of FFXV six years ago. Before the game itself launched in the autumn, a short anime series called Final Fantasy XV: Brotherhood along with a CGI movie called Kingsglaive: FFXV both set up the background and history, characters, and lore before players ever loaded the game.
Wrap Your Head Around the Politics
It is no secret that Final Fantasy games tend to have really complicated political systems and entire government structures within them, and they are definitely hard to understand when you first pick up a game. When it came to FFXV, Kingsglaive did a good job giving some background information on how the Crownsguard worked, and Brotherhood also showed bits and pieces of the politics in Insomnia to break it down even further. FFXV opens with a war starting, and it is easier to understand who the different nations are, where Lunafreya is from, and more thanks to the movie and anime
FFXVI does not have the same benefit. It also opens with nations at war, but shares little about why, or who any of the names being dropped are. What is the Iron Kingdom? How do they relate to Clive’s kingdom of Rosaria? Why is everyone so obsessed with Crystals?? Who are the two massive armies fighting each other on the battlefield? A bit of background information would have gone a long way.
Understand the Context
Beyond the politics, some context would have been great for picking up FFXVI. Brotherhood was great at explaining why the four leading men were on a road trip together, and where they were going. It gave a reason for them to be outside the city when disaster struck, and made the start of the game that much smoother. It was easy to pick up the game and understand where in the timeline of the story everything was taking place, and why it was happening.
FFXVI could have greatly benefited from this as well. Even just an understanding of words like Bearers, Crystals, and Dominants would have gone a long way to understanding the start of the game and getting the most out of it. We found ourselves constantly pausing the game to read what the words meant in the game menu, or heading back to the Hideaway to talk to Loreman Harpocrates and pouring through the Thousand Tomes just to understand what the characters are talking about and why it all matters.
Get to Know the Characters
What FFXV: Brotherhood did the best was introducing the characters that players would be spending the next 50+ hours with, and making you care about them before ever playing the game. It gave backstories to all four of the leading men, as well as Lunafreya, showing how they met, where they came from, and how they got to where they were at the start of the game. It brought them to life and made you care about them and their stories, so you were already interested in what was going to happen next when the game launched.
FFXVI has a lot of well-written, deep characters as well, with backstories, history, and more. But they are all brand new when the game begins. The trailers only really introduced names like “Clive” and “Joshua,” so they were familiar, but we knew little about them. Of course, this is how most games start, with brand-new characters that we get to know through playing. But with a game as massive and rich as FFXVI, it is a missed opportunity to not get players excited about and interested in these complex characters before ever playing the game. It makes everything that happens at the start of the game have more of an impact, too.
Arguably, there was no reason to have to hype people up for FFXVI any more than they already were. Final Fantasy has such a long legacy, reaching all the way back to 1988 when the first game was released, that all new titles in the main series capture the hearts of loyal fans and curious newcomers with little effort needed on the part of Square Enix. Diehard fans can always be counted on to buy the games on day one.
However, releasing an anime or a movie – or both! – would have definitely built up the hype for the release even more. Plus, while fans of the larger series are likely to always buy the latest title, new fans may be on the fence about committing when they are unsure what to expect. Something accessible like an anime series lets potential players ease into the new game, deciding if they want to learn more about that world and those characters or not. It also makes picking up a game with the number “16” in the title less intimidating when you feel like you maybe should have played 1-15 first.
Overall, Final Fantasy XVI had a successful launch and has been well-received, but it could have been even better if Square Enix had made an anime like FFXV: Brotherhood or even Kingsglaive before the release. Players could have understood, and thus enjoyed, the story that much quicker, eliminating feeling so overwhelmed and letting them feel more invested in Clive’s story right from the start. When a game is going to present this much lore and this complex of a world, having something to get players ready for it (and to get them excited!) would have been good business.
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