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Final Fantasy XVI brings the series back to its fantasy roots

After so many years in a futuristic fantasy setting, Final Fantasy XVI takes it back to the series' roots.

A little while ago, I opened an article on the best Final Fantasy games by stating that the “final” part of Final Fantasy doesn’t mean that much anymore. Now, let’s discuss the “fantasy” aspect as we wait for Final Fantasy XVI to drop.

When the series began, it certainly lived up to the medieval fantasy stories that influenced it. Dragons, magic, crystals that bestow powers upon their wielder — the original Final Fantasy became the prime example of a fantasy RPG.

Yet over the years, the vision of that fantasy evolved heavily. Even from the very beginning, there were science fiction and urban fantasy inspirations for specific details. From the late 90s onward, however, it seemed like that became more or less the dominant style for the series, with traditional fantasy taking a backseat.

That’s set to change with Final Fantasy XVI. The latest game in the perennial franchise takes it fully back to its fantasy roots. It may be far darker than anything the series has ever produced, but it also pays homage to the series’ origins. Let’s explore how Final Fantasy lost its fantasy identity and how XVI seeks to reclaim it.

Where the fantasy begins

Final Fantasy IV
Final Fantasy IV had plenty of pure fantasy elements on display.

We’ve all heard the story by now: Final Fantasy was Square’s last-ditch attempt to retain relevance and profit in the video game industry. While that story is fairly embellished, it does make sense when you consider the origins of the series.

Fantasy RPGs were in a golden age during this time, both on consoles and PCs. Final Fantasy was the peak for some, but other series like Dragon Quest, Ultima, and Secret of Mana kept the fire burning brightly. A pure swords-and-sorcery vision of fantasy ran through a lot of these titles, and Final Fantasy is no exception.

The first five games, in particular, are heavily inspired by traditional fantasy. Various influences can be spotted, including medieval fantasy, fairy tales, and ancient mythology. Many of those threads continue through the rest of the series, including several of its summons inspired by mythical and fantasy figures.

Although the series leaned heavily into fantasy elements for the first few titles, Square knew it had to experiment a bit as Final Fantasy continued. That might explain why the fantasy started to feel less relevant in future games.

At some point, the magic begins to fade

Final Fantasy VII Remake
It could be argued that Final Fantasy VII began the trend towards sci-fi.

It should be noted that even as far back as the original Final Fantasy games, you could see a bit of inspiration from science fiction. Not only were there T-rexes and WarMechs walking around, but the game’s story ended with time travel into the past to save the world. Then there’s Final Fantasy IV, which sent players to an alien base on the moon.

So it’s never been 100% pure fantasy, even from the beginning. Final Fantasy VI, however, brought even more sci-fi elements to the table. There’s Magitek armor, automatic weapons, and steampunk machines everywhere. It’s a very specific version of future fantasy, but one that still represented a stark contrast from the games before it.

Then comes Final Fantasy VII, which upped the science fiction elements up to 11. It was one of the hugest launches of its day, which no doubt motivated Square Enix to keep leaning farther away from fantasy. That game (alongside Final Fantasy VIII) featured futuristic cities and tons of modern technology, basically setting the aesthetics for the rest of the series.

With exceptions like Final Fantasy IX and the MMO entries, Final Fantasy cemented itself as an urban fantasy series. You’ve got characters wielding realistic guns (and sometimes gunblades), playing what basically amounts to water polo volleyball, and just straight-up driving sedans. And many of those titles still charmed people, make no mistake. But if you directly compared them to the original titles, you definitely notice the discrepancies.

Final Fantasy XV completely redefined the combat and transitioned the series fully to an action-RPG system. As a result, many thought that fantasy would also fall by the wayside for good. But it seems like that’s not the case.

Why Final Fantasy XVI brought fantasy back

Final Fantasy XVI Development Update
Just from its key art, you can see how fantasy takes center stage.

As with any long-running franchise that’s evolved so much, there’s a divide in the Final Fantasy community on its fantasy evolution. Many modern fans grew up with the series post-sci-fi-ification (tried my best with that one) and will defend the shift. But others, especially those who have been with Final Fantasy since the beginning, want it to return to its roots.

But that division doesn’t end there; it extends to Square Enix staff itself. There’s been a lot of people who worked on the Final Fantasy series over the years. Naturally, that means that if you ask every one of them what their favorite game in the franchise is, you’ll get several different answers.

That’s true of the Final Fantasy XVI team as well. However, it seems like many of them have a fondness for the settings of the original games. So it felt appropriate to bring the fantasy elements back to the forefront for the 16th installment. Plus, it gives fantasy fans a way to jump back into the series.

Epic battles, epic worlds

Final Fantasy XVI Combat
It’s a flashy fantasy game for sure.

Final Fantasy XVI is not just a fantasy game, however. It’s an epic fantasy game. Not just in the sense that it’s got incredibly awesome combat and extremely exciting battles — although make no mistake, it definitely has that if the previews are to be believed.

It’s also an epic fantasy in the sense that it’s a dark, pithy story about heroes, family, and magic. Protagonist Clive Rosenfeld, the son of the duke of Rosaria, explores the world of Valisthea on a quest to avenge his family. Along the way, he inherits the power of the Eikon Ifrit, giving him fantastical powers that makes him a force to be reckoned with.

This is shaping up to be one of the darkest entries in the series; it seems to have earned its Mature rating from the ESRB. Whereas Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin earned its mature rating with swear words and an edgy tone, Final Fantasy XVI is a dark and brooding tale in the wake of old mythology. It’s not only striking on its own merits, but it’s a fantastically dark way to bring the fantasy back to Final Fantasy.

Explore the fantasy world of Final Fantasy XVI

Final Fantasy XVI World
The fantasy world of Valisthea beckons us.

Given the series’ longevity, it was probably inevitable that the series would return back to its fantasy roots. Yes, Final Fantasy VII Remake was extremely popular and sold well, but it’s just one part of the franchise’s identity. Final Fantasy XVI promises to continue the action-heavy gameplay as VII Remake and Final Fantasy XV while bumping up the fantasy back where it belongs. I doubt the urban and sci-fi influences will go away completely, of course. Hopefully, XVI will prove that the pure fantasy aesthetic is still important to fans.

You’ll be able to dive into this fantasy world before long. Final Fantasy XVI is developed and published by Square Enix. It will launch exclusively for the PlayStation 5 on June 22.

Pre-orders for all versions of the game are available now. You can pre-order the game yourself via our Amazon affiliate links below. Every pre-order receives the Braveheart weapon DLC and Cait Sith Charm DLC for in-game items.


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Are you looking forward to playing Final Fantasy XVI? What’s your favorite Final Fantasy game? Let us know!

Daniel Hein

Daniel Hein is either A) a lifelong video game fanatic, writer, and storyteller just sharing his thoughts on things, or B) some kind of werewolf creature. We're not quite sure which yet. He also makes mediocre video game retrospectives (and other content!) on YouTube where you can watch him babble on for hours about nothing.
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