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Final Fantasy XVI Producer Explains Game's Lack of Ethnic Diversity

posted on by Kim Morrissy
Naoki Yoshida explained that the story is set in a geographically isolated region, although scholars say this view of history is anachronistic

IGN posted an interview with the Final Fantasy XVI creative team on Saturday addressing the game's themes, gameplay, and inspirations in depth. One particularly controversial question and response centered on the game's representation of ethnic diversity.

The game is set in a fantasy world inspired by medieval Europe, and the most recent story trailer features mostly pale-skinned characters. This includes the protagonist Clive and the other major characters. When asked if the full game will feature more ethnically diverse characters, producer Naoki Yoshida responded that it will not reflect the scope of the modern world's ethnic diversity, explaining that the story is set in a geographically isolated region.

He stated that the design concept "always heavily featured medieval Europe, incorporating historical, cultural, political, and anthropological standards that were prevalent at the time." Due to the constraints of this setting, the staff felt that it would be challenging to incorporate the same level of racial and cultural diversity in modern-day Earth or Final Fantasy XIV without disrupting the "narrative boundaries." Yoshida remarked that although the genre is fantasy, the story is still nevertheless rooted in reality, and therefore assigning distinctive ethnicities to the protagonists and antagonists would risk "triggering audience preconceptions, inviting unwarranted speculation, and ultimately stoking flames of controversy."

Finally, he commented that he hopes that the focus of the story is less on the characters' outward appearances but rather on the individual complexities and diverse nature of human beings.

Yoshida's comments have sparked discussions about representing ethnic diversity in historically inspired fantasy settings. Although some fans support Yoshida's commitment to historical authenticity, scholars say this particular view of history is anachronistic.

"As a scholar of the European Middle Ages who works on race, it is interesting to see how pop culture adaptations and gaming depict peoples of the European Middle Ages, and from what sources researchers uncover what people may have looked like," Dr. Mary Rambaran-Olm, a public scholar specializing in medieval literature and the European Middle Ages, told ANN. "As with any part of history and any region of the world, history is messy and complicated. This is no different in the European Middle Ages that for the longest time was understood to be “all-white” or predominantly so with no influential contact with the world outside of Europe. This, of course, to specialists who study the Middle Ages, is not true nor accurate.There is plenty of archaeological, historical, literary work and otherwise that shows migration, interaction, trade, settling, and so forth of people from Asia and Africa. I am not sure what information and research was provided to Mr. Yoshida, but it certainly did not meet current research standards. I'm sure the final product is beautiful, but it isn't accurate."

Dr. Rambaran-Olm gave the example of the late 7th to early 8th century African abbot Hadrian as an example.

"We have to remember that with the spread of Christianity in early medieval Europe, many of the bishops, monks, and otherwise came from Africa. These men (and possibly women) were not all white, and they left their mark merging cultural traditions from their homelands with new traditions, setting up schools and enriching cultures across Europe, particularly in places like England. I'm not sure what Mr. Yoshida means with regards to 'anthropological standards that were prevalent at the time' but there is plenty of recent work on what 'race' meant in the European Middle Ages."

Dr. Rambaran-Olm cited her own work and the works of professors Geraldine Heng, Caitlin Green, Paul Edward Montgomery Ramirez, Cord Whitaker, Matthew X Vernon, Sierra Lomuto, Erik Wade as examples of research that discuss the topics of race during the medieval European time period.

"It appears that none of this current research was taken into account for this project, and more worryingly it may have relied on outdated and white-washed narratives and research. This reliance on outdated research perpetuates the error that Europe was an 'all-white' area," Dr. Rambaran-Olm said.

One of Final Fantasy XVI's most significant inspirations, the Game of Thrones television show, recently incorporated a more racially diverse cast in its House of the Dragon prequel series.

The single-player action RPG will launch for PS5 as a PlayStation console exclusive. While an initial livestreamed trailer had listed a PC release, trailers and its website do not list a PC version.

Square Enix's Creative Business Unit III division is developing the game. Naoki Yoshida (Final Fantasy XIV) is producing Final Fantasy XVI, and Hiroshi Takai (Final Fantasy XIV) is directing the game.

Yoshida stated in June that the game was in its "final leg of development," with the game's development team focusing on polishing the game. Yoshida previously stated that "complications stemming from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have delayed the game's development by almost half a year."

Source: IGN (Kat Bailey) via David Cherry, Stephen Totilo

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