Final Fantasy 16 Needs To Learn From Many of 15’s Mistakes

I have the utmost respect for Final Fantasy 15, but it is a game that remains held back by a selection of massive flaws. Square Enix acknowledged as such upon its initial release, promising to address major narrative issues and gameplay inconsistencies with future updates and downloadable content that would help the JRPG reach its true potential. Several expansions and a full re-release later, I’m still not convinced it achieved such a goal, but its willingness to strive for more was undeniably admirable. A messy development cycle, iffy story, and identity that feels detached from the series still hold it back – fortunately, it seems Final Fantasy 16 is poised to address all of these problems and more.

If you aren’t familiar with the history of Final Fantasy 15, it began life as Final Fantasy Versus 13, a spin-off that would take place in the same universe as the Final Fantasy 13 trilogy with much of the mythology that defined it also making the jump. If you think I’m using the word Final Fantasy too much, I’m very sorry. Versus 13 remained in development hell for years, with only a few trailers being revealed over the course of almost a decade until Square Enix decided to cut its losses and rebrand the project completely. Now it was a mainline title, although many of the characters and designs remained.

This likely explains why the launch experience was so fractured, failing to tell a cohesive story as it leaned on its excellent cast of four cute boys to drive forward our interest in the overarching plot and world in which we explored it. The road trip was enough for some, myself included, but I couldn’t help but feel that what Final Fantasy 15 really wanted to be wasn’t here, with Square Enix opting for a compromise that would ensure the game felt like a finished product, even if hardcore fans were left wanting more. It’s a messy game, but one worth celebrating because of all it managed to achieve given the compromises involved. This legacy only makes me more excited for the next entry, which is set to learn from all of its predecessor’s mistakes.

Helmed by Naoki Yoshida and Hiroshi Takai, who players will know from their work on Final Fantasy 14 and The Last Remnant, Final Fantasy 16 is shaking up the usual personnel in favour of a new team, one that isn’t afraid to alter the series’ identity in pursuit of a bold new vision – and it looks fantastic. Granted, we’ve only seen a single trailer and a few pieces of official art, but the 16th instalment of Square Enix’s iconic series possesses a level of confidence in its world, story, and characters that reassures me, providing an aura of expertise that simply wasn’t present in the last game.

Taking clear inspiration from western fantasy, specifically Game of Thrones and The Witcher, this new venture feels like a classical exploration of the series’ core themes with crystals, timeskips, and giant deities all being introduced like they’re the most normal things in the world. Acting as producer, Naoki Yoshida knows how to manage an outing of this scope, having morphed Final Fantasy 14 from an embarrassing failure into one of the biggest modern games on the market. Square Enix saw his potential, and likely hurled this mainline entry at him with zero hesitation. The darker tone and more serious approach to narrative is classic Yoshida, no longer relying on the tired melodrama that has long defined the franchise.

While much of the game remains under wraps, from first impressions, Final Fantasy 16 appears to be a more concentrated affair. The Battle of the Twin Realms is mentioned in the trailer as a major event, hinting that perhaps we’ll be exploring two vast kingdoms each with their own distinct environmental features and political ideologies. The main character, Clive, has sworn to protect Joshua, a young boy who happens to be holding the powers of an ancient god within him. Once his home is taken under siege, everything goes wrong and a timeskip seemingly occurs. Our hero then has to contend with his own mistakes, hoping to take back his home and seek vengeance for those who have fallen under his protection. At least, that’s what I’ve gleaned from the trailer and lore tidbits provided by Square Enix. Beyond this, much still remains a mystery.

But that’s the beauty of it. Even knowing this little, Final Fantasy 16 already has a focused vision it seems to abide by across its world, characters, and narrative. Its predecessor had none of this, fumbling over the finish line and hoping that it had enough charm amidst its inconsistent campaign to keep us satisfied. Instead of rebranding a game that had existed on the sidelines for over a decade, Square Enix has built this new adventure from nothing, ensuring it remains coherent and doesn’t commit the same mistakes. Now that I think about it, Final Fantasy 12 was the last game in the series that wasn’t held back by being a convoluted trilogy or a weeaboo Frankenstein of disparate elements that simply didn’t gel together. That game came out in 2006, so it’s taken Square Enix a monstrously long time to find its footing again – so here’s hoping it’s onto a winner.

E3 2021 is right around the corner, and I imagine Final Fantasy 16 will be a flagship title for Square Enix to showcase during the digital show. I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that it’s closer to release than we think, with the publisher also wanting to avoid the horrendously overlong development cycle that plagued previous titles. Final Fantasy 7 Remake and Final Fantasy 14 have done so much in restoring the series’ damaged reputation, and this medieval blockbuster could complete the trifecta and once again cement Final Fantasy as the greatest JRPG franchise on the planet. As a lifelong fan, it’s good to see the glory days make a return – I just hope they stick around this time.

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