What Defines A Final Fantasy Game In 2023?

What Defines A Final Fantasy Game In 2023?

The first Final Fantasy came out in 1987. Ever since, each new game in the beloved role-playing series has pushed it to grow, change, and often subvert fans’ expectations of what it can be. Final Fantasy XVI might be the biggest test yet, in some ways harkening back to the medieval world-building the series used to be rooted in while fundamentally changing the formula in others. So what exactly makes a game a Final Fantasy, and does Final Fantasy XVI past the test?

Out June 22, it comes five years after the release of Final Fantasy XV, swapping mid-century modernist vibes for swords, armor, and dingy stone castles reminiscent of Game of Thrones. You play as a warrior named Clive on a quest for revenge, but unlike most of the prior games, there’s no turn-based dimension to combat, you only control one character the whole time rather than a larger roster of comrades, and the traditional RPG progression is streamlined into a formality that barely registers.

Story-wise, Final Fantasy XVI feels right at home in the series tradition of political conflict wrapped around mythological showdowns, while gameplay-wise it feels more like Devil May Cry with crystals, with simplistic skill trees you can max out in just a handful of hours.

The results have won praise from many reviewers, but provoked others to recoil at a future in which Final Fantasy no longer feels like an RPG. This potential existential turning point has fans on Reddit and Twitter asking each other similar questions. “But for me, there’s one undeniable thing with FF that no other game can do, and that is what makes it FF,” wrote one fan on the Final Fantasy subreddit. “It’s the feeling of a truly wondrous, grander than life, granular romp through a huge beautiful world and a beat-by-beat engaging story that centers character drama within international and cosmic turmoil.” Another fan had a simpler answer: “Final Fantasy is when the currency is called gil.” The game certainly fulfills all of those requirements.

For others it’s a question of genre: It’s not Final Fantasy if it’s not an RPG, and RPGs consist of certain core tropes and mechanics. “From what I can see, the only aspect that FF16 lacks compared to other FFs is multiple playable characters, but there are plenty of single-character games that are still RPGs,” wrote a fan in a separate thread. “It still has EXP, towns, customizable skill combinations, shops.” Some players pushed back, pointing out that while these systems appear in the game on paper they’re bereft of meaningful opportunities to tinker with party composition or character builds.

Read More: The Best And Worst Parts Of Every Mainline Final Fantasy

What’s the official answer for what a Final Fantasy is? “Each main game features an exciting story, often centered around defeating a powerful enemy set on destroying the world,” reads an official description of the franchise over on the PlayStation website. “You can expect epic fantasy settings, a memorable cast of characters, magic-infused combat that usually involves calling forth summons and a few recurring elements.”

According to Square Enix Vice President Yoshinori Kitase, a veteran developer on the series since the ‘90s, the only requirement for a Final Fantasy game is that it has crystals. Final Fantasy XVI producer Naoki Yoshida told Bloomberg his definition is a game with “a great story, great game design, cutting-edge graphics, great music,” and moogles and chocobos.

I asked Kotaku staff writers and editors, from hardcore fans to people who barely ever played the games, what the name Final Fantasy means to them. Surprise, surprise, it means something different to everyone. You can continue the slideshow at the top to see how everyone’s opinions compare.

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