Is FF14 The Most Adult Final Fantasy Yet?
Spoiler Alert: Spoilers about very minor plot details
Brightly coloured scenery and elaborately dressed characters make “adult” the last thing you’d associate with Square Enix’s popular series. But those playing with their latest installment, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (FF14), will no doubt have noticed that suddenly it’s not all as sweetness and light, apart from the expected minor titillation of the avatars' aesthetics.
The first moment that it hit me about just how adult the storyline has gotten, was moment at Little Ala Mhigo were a character gets raped. That’s right, raped! Of course, you don’t actually see it happen, and the word “rape” isn’t outrightly mentioned; all these things are still rather veiled. But the suggestion is unequivocal; the Garleans have taken to raping refugees displaced by its conquest. And it doesn’t stop there.
Here in the scarred lands of Eorzea, adult issues and themes run riot. It might initially seem that Square Enix are outright trying to shock their players, leaving somebody else to think of the children. Along with rape, there’s plenty of bad language (shite, bitch, piss, bastard, whore), and more sexual innuendo than you can shake a sex-toy at; especially the trio of NPCs at Highbridge.
Parts of the storyline that are plain lewd, or frighteningly morbid. For example, at one point you have to clear out some, er, “lively” peeping toms spying on scantily clad bathing female Miqo'te. And then, at Camp Drybone, you have to collect cadavers and bury them. You’re also sent out to investigate a string of murders where young women are found dead with their faces mutilated beyond recognition. The list goes on.
Behind the bright lights lies something darker.
All Grown Up?
But when you think about it, Final Fantasy, consistently praised for its deep storylines, have always covered grim or complex issues. There’s the collateral loss of life from the acts of terrorism that Cloud Strife and AVALANCHE commit at the beginning of Final Fantasy VII. Also, there’s genocide at the opening of Final Fantasy IV. Not to mention a whole host of merciless killings at the hands of many of Square Enix’s antagonists and their pawns.
So, has Square Enix really suddenly developed a penchant for narrative nasties? Ultimately, maybe the answer is both "yes" and "no". Part of what may be the reason is that we, as a fan-base, have grown up. Back when we were teenagers, some of the more severe themes were something we probably didn’t think too deeply about. Now, older, wiser, and perhaps more jaded, things like non-consensual sex and gruesome killings just trouble us a bit more.
But on the other hand, maybe Square Enix acknowledges we're older. With a survey by Pixwoo finding that the average age of gamers is no less than 35 years-old, it could be that they’re more open in creating a game with more overt adult themes, especially when graphically violent games such as Saints Row, Grand Theft Auto, and Hotline Miami dominate the sales charts.
It does seem that there is more grown-up content than before: lecherous guild masters, rank racism, and the rest. Whereas in earlier installments, although we had a bit of violence and unnerving scenarios, it's usually been more about the usual existential crises and rites of passage etc. that became familiar hallmarks for the series.
Even if it makes people a little uncomfortable, or startled at how risqué things have gotten, it all adds to one of the most complex and involving stories that the series has seen so far. I for one, applaud it. It might be dark and adult, but it just makes even the more absorbing in a genre that’s either too emotive or too shallow.