Final Fantasy XVI’s Game of Thrones influence belies the series’ history with gritty political fantasy

Final Fantasy XVI‘s demo wears the game’s Game of Thrones influence on its sleeves. Square Enix hasn’t been shy in admitting that the HBO show—and the A Song of Ice and Fire books it’s based on—heavily inspires the game.

Even the setup of the game is familiar. Its prologue, which is the part covered by the demo, involves a group of siblings—including an adopted one—from a noble family who eventually finds themselves caught up in the political machinations of the various houses around them. There’s even a wolf cub to boot.

All this and more may lead some to think that Square Enix is using the show as a template for turning Final Fantasy into a darker, grittier, political type of fantasy. However, that assumption is wrong as Final Fantasy has experimented with this type of political fantasy before. Indeed, the one Final Fantasy game that really delved into it began development well before George R. R. Martin released the Game of Thrones novel. (Read: Final Fantasy XVI gets Mature rating for sex, drugs and hate crimes)

A Song of Fantasies and Tactics

In 1995, a year before Game of Thrones’ release, a pre-Enix merger Squaresoft was preparing to move on to Sony’s then-new PlayStation. As part of this, the company hired Yasumi Matsuno, an up-and-coming game designer who had made his name at Quest with two fantasy turn-based strategy games—Ogre Battle and its sequel Tactics Ogre.

Square tasked Matsuno with creating Final Fantasy Tactics, a turn-based strategy spinoff of the series. To this end, Matsuno leaned heavily on his work on Tactics Ogre, the game where he first started to heavily focus on politics and intrigue compared to Ogre Battle‘s more traditional fantasy bent.

With Final Fantasy Tactics, Matsuno crafted an epic story of politics, intrigue and betrayal. Here, siblings from a renowned noble house find themselves on different sides of a succession war for the throne of the kingdom of Ivalice—a setting Matsuno would return to in later games. Along the way, an ancient conspiracy involving the nation’s religious elite takes advantage of the turmoil in a bid to unleash a great supernatural force in their own, centuries-long bid to take over the land.

Final Fantasy Tactics‘ development predates Game of Thrones but covers many of the same tropes

If it sounds familiar, it’s because these tropes and story beats have been used in more politically-focused fantasy stories well before both Square and G. R. R. Martin used them.

That said, there are more parallels between Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XVI. Both begin in medias res, in the middle of some military action, before flashing back to the happier times in the protagonists’ life. Both end their prologues with a military action that ends an important character dying, setting the protagonist and a few other important characters on the paths they lead in the main game.

It’s perhaps here that Final Fantasy XVI shows its Game of Thrones influence by tying said traumatic event to a betrayal done by a familial character for political ends.

That said, the rest of Final Fantasy Tactics is still rife with multiple betrayals and people being offed for both political and personal ends, all the way to its ending.

Indeed, while Final Fantasy Tactics eventually came out a year after the Game of Thrones novel, some of the events there are more comparable to things that happen in later A Song of Ice and Fire novels.

Beyond Tactics

Nearly a decade after Final Fantasy Tactics‘ original release, Yasumi Matsuno got to write another Final Fantasy game, a mainline one at that—Final Fantasy XII. Here, he once again returned to Ivalice, albeit moving further back into its past, during a more learned time before the dark ages of Tactics.

Once again, Matsuno crafted a very political, intrigue-heavy story. This time, the story revolved around a group of rebels fighting to free the country of Dalmasca from the invading empire of Archadia. Along the way, the rebels, led by the surviving heir to the Dalmascan throne, must once again navigate the complex politics of the Archadian empire, to gain power and support from other nations.

Matsuno brought political fantasy into mainline Final Fantasy with Final Fantasy XII

Along the way, the protagonists’ discover yet another ancient conspiracy tied to the founding of Dalmasca. The game itself ends not with the defeat of a world-ending threat, but with defeating said conspiracy and installing a more Dalmasca-friendly leader on the Archadian throne.

Of course, those familiar with Final Fantasy XII‘s development know that Yasumi Matsuno left the company due to health reasons. That said, his influence was still heavily felt in the game, and in the team itself.

Many members of Final Fantasy XII‘s—and Final Fantasy Tactics‘—development team eventually found their way to working on the Final Fantasy XIV team—hence the Return to Ivalice raid series in that MMORPG, a love letter to Tactics. That same team is the same one behind Final Fantasy XVI, which brings us back full circle.

Now this isn’t to say that Final Fantasy XVI isn’t taking anything from Game of Thrones. The games’ aesthetics and atmosphere are very much in line with the HBO show. However, considering the series—and this particular development team’s—history with this type of fantasy, it’s clear that the show isn’t the sole inspiration for the game.

Indeed, it feels more like the team packaging the themes and ideas explored in prior games, such as Final Fantasy Tactics, in a familiar, Game of Thrones-shaped. And they’re doing so likely in an attempt to appeal to people who’re familiar with the show, but not with Final Fantasy.

Whether or not they’ve succeeded is a question for another time. That said, it’s fascinating to see Final Fantasy XVI‘s dev team return the series to gritty, political fantasy by borrowing from another franchise known for the same.

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Franz Co

managing editor | addicted to RGB | plays too many fighting games

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