Two weeks ago, Square Enix released a new story trailer for its upcoming RPG, Final Fantasy XVI. There’s just one noticeable problem—there doesn’t seem to be a single non-white character in it. So IGN asked producer Naoki Yoshida about whether or not the game would feature any Black people or other people of color. Unfortunately, his response made me go “Yikes” in real life.
Yoshida explained that the fantasy world of Valisthea was based on medieval Europe, and they wanted to limit the world culturally and geographically. “Valisthea was never going to realistically be as diverse as say a modern-day Earth…or even Final Fantasy XIV,” he said, as if he was being asked to incorporate every race on the entire planet. “Ultimately, we felt that while incorporating ethnic diversity into Valisthea was important, an over-incorporation into this single corner of a much larger world could end up causing a violation of those narrative boundaries we originally set for ourselves.”
Which begs the question: Why did they enforce a “whites-only” boundary in the first place?
After acknowledging that the real world is more diverse than Valisthea, he continued, “The story we are telling is fantasy, yes, but it is also rooted in reality.” Which is it, Yoshida? You can’t say that your fictional world isn’t bound to reality, and then use reality to explain why Black people can’t exist in Valisthea. Pick a struggle and stick with it, please.
What’s really frustrating about all of this is that Black and brown people have always existed in medieval Europe. If the creative leadership had done more research or checked their biases, then they might have noticed that Black people have been living in Britain for two thousand years. Or that some Black Europeans were canonized in the Holy Roman Empire. Or realized that Iberia was under Islamic rule for approximately 500 years. Instead of a realistic imagining of medieval Europe, we got FFXVI instead.
I emailed Square Enix to ask how it decided on whether or not a story element violated the developers’ “narrative boundaries,” and I’ll let you know once I’ve gotten a response.