The latest Final Fantasy video game is being scorched for not catering to diversity and identity politics.
Final Fantasy XVI is the latest installment of one of the most popular video game series going back to 1987. Despite largely being made by Japanese game developers, many installments of this series, especially in its early days, were influenced by Western European fantasy settings and tropes.
While some more recent Final Fantasy games have leaned toward science-fiction, Final Fantasy XVI is a return to form. But being set in a European medieval fantasy setting does not protect it from woke critique.
Gaming review site Kotaku praised the game as “the best Final Fantasy in ages,” but had a major issue with its lack of racial diversity.
The review appeared to argue that if a world can have magical powers, then it shouldn’t play to racial expectations about European-themed fantasy settings. “A more meaningful approach to diversity does not seem too outlandish in a world where a little blonde boy can transform into a giant bird made of fire,” it said.
Screenshot from the official website for Final Fantasy XVI.
A review published in Eurogamer earlier this month also slammed the game for being “conspicuous for its ethnic homogeneity.”
“Leaving aside the fact that there were Black and brown people in medieval Europe, this justification rings hollow given that several locations take open inspiration from north Africa and the Middle East, with towns that, for example, riff on Islamic architectural traditions and attire, but are predominantly or exclusively populated by anglophone white people (I hedge, here, simply because I haven’t been around and talked to everybody),” the review said.
Screenshot from Final Fantasy XVI’s official website.
In November, creators explained why this game would not be that racially diverse, focusing rather on diverse personalities within an isolated medieval European region.
“Ultimately, we felt that while incorporating ethnic diversity into Valisthea was important, an over-incorporation into this single corner of a much larger world could end up causing a violation of those narrative boundaries we originally set for ourselves,” producer Naoki Yoshida explained. “The story we are telling is fantasy, yes, but it is also rooted in reality.”
Final Fantasy XVI screenshot.
He added that “it can be challenging to assign distinctive ethnicities to either antagonist or protagonist without triggering audience preconceptions, inviting unwarranted speculation, and ultimately stoking flames of controversy.”
“In the end,” Yoshida said, “we simply want the focus to be less on the outward appearance of our characters and more on who they are as people — people who are complex and diverse in their natures, backgrounds, beliefs, personalities, and motivations. People whose stories we can resonate with.”
In May, Eurogamer spoke with the creators of this installment of Final Fantasy about how they looked to western influences, such as Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, to create their latest game.