Why Final Fantasy 16 Returned to Fantasy Over Sci-Fi

Final Fantasy 16's dark fantasy tones aren't just a return to the series' roots but a reflection of the modern times we live in.

Final Fantasy 16
Photo: Square Enix

While it’s not accurate to say that every Final Fantasy game is either a medieval fantasy or sci-fi title, those have historically been the franchise’s most popular and prominent genre flavors. Sci-fi Final Fantasy games obviously have fans and have historically been very successful (just look at what Final Fantasy 7 did for the series), but it seems like there is always a loud cry for the franchise to return to its medieval fantasy roots. While some recent Final Fantasy games have tried to blend sci-fi and classic fantasy concepts, those hybrids have done little to quell the cries for a mainline, single-player Final Fantasy adventure that offers a more traditional setting.

Well, Final Fantasy 16 will not only return to medieval fantasy but will prominently feature a dark fantasy style that feels a bit bleaker and much more violent than many previous Final Fantasy titles that utilized variations of that medieval fantasy theme. Why did the Final Fantasy team opt for that theme over all the other options? The answer is pretty simple. 

“As for why we went fantasy…well, that’s just because we all love dark fantasy,” says Final Fantasy 16 producer Naoki Yoshida (via translator) regarding the game’s choice of stylistic theme.

Ok, so the answer isn’t really quite that simple. While Yoshida seems more than sincere in his love for the dark fantasy genre, he says that the decision to go for a slightly more classic setting for Final Fantasy 16 can be attributed to the kinds of Final Fantasy games the team grew up on (and even worked on) and the impact those games left on them. 

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“Over the last 10-15 years, we’ve seen Final Fantasy shift from a classic fantasy game to more of a science fiction kind of game,” Yoshida explains. “For us who all grew up with Final Fantasy from the first Final Fantasy until about Final Fantasy 6, we played those as they came out and they left a lasting impression on us. Those were more of that classic fantasy, that type of gothic fantasy…we really wanted to go back to the roots of the series and bring some of that gothic fantasy back.”

That explanation will certainly be battle music to the ears of those fans who also prefer their Final Fantasy games to have more…well, traditional fantasy in them, but what about the game’s darker and more violent tones? Yes, we’ve seen elements of such darkness in previous Final Fantasy titles, but none of them leaned into those darker design aspects quite like Final Fantasy 16 will. Not only is the game’s intense real-time action inherently more violent than previous variations of the series’ turn-based combat, but the game’s narrative, world, and characters all feel more…intense than they have in the past.

So far as that goes, Yoshida says that the decision to go darker is partially based on their aforementioned love for darker examples of the fantasy genre as well as their acknowledgment that the word has changed quite a lot since the first Final Fantasy game was released.

“For me, as someone who is going to be 50 years old this year, I know the world isn’t all bright and rainbows and stuff,” Yoshida says. “I know that it can be tough sometimes as well as have hope in it sometimes. I wanted to create something that felt real not just for my generation but for the younger generation as well to show the potential of the Final Fantasy series.”