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Final Fantasy 16 Has No Business Abiding By Historical Realism

Final Fantasy 16 is all about historical realism, and according to a recent interview with producer Naoki Yoshida, it isn’t willing abandon that notion or disrespect such narrative boundaries out of a fear that it will disrupt its overall vision. For some weird reason I am still struggling to comprehend, a JRPG with elemental gods beyond our comprehension and monsters roaming the world, people of colour is somehow going too far. It isn’t the first time we’ve heard that excuse, but it’s still exhausting.

Last month saw a trailer released for the game that provided a more detailed glimpse into the fantasy realm of Valsithea, and fans were very quick to notice that this very imaginative place was also very white. No matter how you look at it, this is an omission that needs to be raised and talked about. So IGN did just that, and the answer from Yoshida had me rolling my eyes and wishing the medium wasn’t still repeating the same tired bullshit.

He’s always been nuanced and respectful in his answers whenever I’ve spoken to him, but the response here clutches at straws that shouldn’t exist in the first place. Final Fantasy is a series renowned for taking us to gorgeous new locales with each and every game, and not once has it opted for historical realism to justify its lack of diversity.

I’m just a basic white girl, but even from my perspective his reasoning comes across as ignorant at best, and downright offensive at worst. Final Fantasy 16 looks incredible, and is clearly taking inspiration from the Game of Thrones and The Witcher 3 (two pieces of media that also happen to be very white) when it comes to creating a relatively grounded world for us to lose ourselves in. Much like when Yoshida tried to justify the gradual whitewashing of Y’shtola in Final Fantasy 14, the logic being applied here doesn’t make any sense, and in the context of a franchise that is constantly reinventing itself comes across as a shallow excuse for a shortcoming the development team is only just becoming aware of.

The team is Japanese, so this cultural divide is also worth taking into consideration, but Square Enix is so often talking about the need for a global audience, so surely this slight should have been taken into account from the beginning. Nope, so now it’s time to play damage control and act like this omission was always a part of the plan.

“The story we are telling is fantasy, yes, but it is also rooted in reality,” says Yoshida. I am all for historical accuracy, but Final Fantasy 16 isn’t being historically accurate at all by claiming that Medieval Europe and the surrounding territories were whiter than vanilla ice cream. We know that people of colour have been settled in England and other countries for thousands of years, and there is ample evidence of racial diversity across the Holy Roman Empire in spite of what traditional history classes might have us believe. Following the many conquests of Alexander the Great, we saw Asian, Greek & Egyptian culture bleeding into Europe alongside its people. These examples aren’t things I painstakingly researched, but small points being made by fans on social media who are pissed about how narrow this pseudo medieval vision of Europe happens to be, and how Final Fantasy 16 should be doing so much better.

This isn’t realistic, but a cliched rendition of classical fantasy tropes that Square Enix decided was going to be white and little else from the very beginning. That outlook is problematic in itself, and how at some point, during development, the research was clearly done before a decision was made to incorporate a cast of largely white, privileged characters who don’t fairly represent the players who will soon fall in love with them. Final Fantasy isn’t a stranger to people of colour either, with so many entries featuring White, Asian, and Black characters. To suddenly pull out this excuse just doesn’t hold water, and has sadly killed my hype for the game.

Perhaps the complete experience is hiding a few unexpected surprises, and there remains a hidden vein of diversity yet to be uncovered, but Yoshida’s long-winded and insubstantial answer has me believing that won’t be the case, and he was trying to conjure up a defence centred around historical accuracy that was never going to stand up to scrutiny. The series is arguably more culturally prominent than ever before, and Final Fantasy 16 continues to look incredible, but I sorely wish it would open its eyes and realise the world it seeks to take inspiration from is so much more diverse than Square Enix would like to believe.

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