Final Fantasy XVI is a video game that seems to be a magnet for controversy, largely as a result of ongoing comments made by the game’s producer Naoki Yoshida, alongside comments made by other members of the game’s development team.
A fantasy adventure game where players summon huge gods to aid in battle alongside fast real-time sword comat, Final Fantasy XVI initially courted controversy when, in a November 2022 interview with IGN, Yoshida stated that the game would contain predominantly white characters because he wanted to be accurate to “historical, cultural, political, and anthropological standards that were prevalent” in mediaeval europe. This quote drew some understandable pushback, from people pointing out that not only were there people of colour present in mediaeval europe, but also a game where you’re summoning gods to fight alongside you is clearly willing to make concessions to historical accuracy.
However, this past week, Yoshida has once again been the centre of discussions around Final Fantasy XVI, this time because of comments he made about game difficulty, alongside some game design choices impacting accessibility for disabled players discussed in previews for the game.
So let’s talk about accessibility settings, difficulty, and “Gamer Pride”.
Last week, we saw the first gameplay previews for Final Fantasy XVI being published, in which it was revealed that several “gameplay assist” options, to make the game’s single player action combat easier to play, were being offered as in game items, equippable rings, rather than settings to be activated or deactivated in gameplay menus.
While these “gameplay assists” were not ever labelled as “accessibility settings”, either by the game itself or its creative team, it is important to note up front that several of these rings are undeniably accessibility settings in practice. Many of these settings are found in accessibility settings menus in other comparable games, including the recently released Square Enix title Forspoken, and they’re settings that would if implemented in a traditional accessibility menu be really useful tools for disabled players.
The “gameplay assists” offered by Final Fantasy XVI include a ring to slow down time when incoming attacks are getting near to you, a ring for automating the actions of an NPC character, one ring that allows single button combo attacks, one that automates dodges, and one that automatically uses healing items if the player has them available, and their health is below a minimum threshold.
While all of these options are really useful accessibility tools for disabled players, Final Fantasy XVI does not allow players to use all five gameplay assists at once, and offers them with a deliberate trade off. Players only have three accessory slots that can hold these rings, out of their overall six equipment slots. Players are also only allowed to equip two assist rings at any one time, even if they have space for a third, and any slots that they equip these assist rings to cannot be used for other accessories found later in the game, used for boosting stats and improving your character build.
Basically, at most you can only use two out of five assist rings at once, and even if you do, you’re paying a functional cost to access them.
While I had initially hoped that this was an oversight, a choice that was made thoughtlessly, interviews with Yoshida that released during past week have made it clear that there was a lot of deliberate thought put into how this system functions.
Final Fantasy 16 Protagonist Clive, holding a sword, with a burning arm, and a demon rising into the sky behind him, and a castle in the background.
To paraphrase, Yoshida personally hates easy modes, he finds being offered one by a game condescending, and the development team really wants to discourage people mechanically from using the gameplay assists that they developed and included in the game. They would really rather you stop using them as soon as you can, something that does not take into account disabled players, whose need for these assists may last for the entire length of the game.
For today’s video, we’re largely going to be focusing on quotes taken from the Final Fantasy XVI “Gamer Pride” interview with Gamespot, which is where much of the discussion of this topic stems from initially.
“I’m going to be 50 years old this year,” Yoshida told GameSpot, via a translator. “That said, I consider myself a gamer and I have my gamer pride. When playing a game, you always get that part at the beginning where it says, ‘Select your difficulty: easy, medium, hard.’ And again, I have my pride as a gamer, so I’m never going to choose easy. I’m always going to choose medium or hard. But then when you die that first time it says, ‘Do you want to change the difficulty to easy?’ I hate that. I have my pride as a gamer and I hate that.”
Yoshida explained that he wanted to make a system that didn’t put players in a position in which they feel like they’re being insulted, so he turned to game director Hiroshi Takai and combat director Ryota Suzuki for a solution.
“The game still had to feel like you were playing the game,” Suzuki said. “We didn’t want it to be fully automatic. We wanted to have the players still feel like they’re participating in battles, and not only participating in the battles, but having fun in the battles as well.”
“At the beginning we’re going to help you out, but once you’ve gotten used to the controls and have confidence in your abilities, then you start taking away those hand-holding ones and start putting in the ones that power up the ones that you have and start focusing more on your abilities,” Takai said.
So, yeah, pretty direct quotes there. The gameplay assist ring system in Final Fantasy XVI explicitly exists because Yoshida doesn’t like easy modes in games, thinks players would feel “insulted” by offering traditional difficulty assists, and wanted a solution that discouraged relying on options that make the game easier to play. This is echoed by Suzuki and Takai, who both want to avoid the game being “fully automatic”, and want to “start taking away those hand holding” assist options over time.
Final Fantasy 16 Protagonist Clive petting a dog.
As I acknowledge above, Final Fantasy XVI, and its development team, never call these accessibility settings, but in practice that is what they are. Auto dodge and slow motion before an attack hits you are accessibility options for people who struggle to react quickly during combat, either due to motor control, coordination, or cognitive disabilities. One button combos are accessibility settings for players who struggle with manipulating multiple buttons in quick succession, as is the setting for automating your NPC in combat. Auto healing is an accessibility setting for players with low vision, or trouble focusing in visually intense moments. All of these are assists that disabled players are likely to need all game long if they need them, and the fact is that they are being discouraged from and penalised for using them.
I do want to acknowledge a comparison that I’ve seen made a few times this past week, which is people comparing this execution of accessibility settings to the one found in Neir Automata, which also implemented accessibility options as equippable items as part of your build. While these two games do use similar concepts, the key difference with Neir Automata was in that game the player had a LOT more room for equipping items. Players start the game with I believe 40 points worth of space to equip modifications to their character, and the game’s assist options such as auto dodge and auto targeting gunfire were always the cheapest upgrades to equip, minimising their impact on your ability to still customise a full character setup with minimal penalty.
I recognise that this is likely a case of a game’s design team not considering disabled players when designing their difficulty system, rather than an active belief that disabled players should just “git gud” and stop using accessibility settings a few hours in. I recognise this is probably not a deliberate attempt to punish disabled players for needing accessibility support. I get that this is likely a set of game designers simply not thinking about disabled people, and being lasered in on their own ideas of what difficulty should be, and how people should engage with challenge. That doesn’t make this situation suck any less.
It’s frustrating to see a game’s development team recognise that a single player game is going to be difficult for some people to play, recognise the assist options that will help them to have fun, but feel the need to create a contrived system to discourage the use of those very same assists. It’s frustrating to see a design team get wrapped up in their own feelings about difficulty, and how they view players who need more support than them, and create a system that relegates accessibility support to a trade off that players should be expected to get past the need for.
It’s frustrating seeing a game design team understand some of the basic principles of how to make a game mechanically more accessible to disabled players, but stumble backwards into that support, without considering disabled players in that process, and executing support in a way that stops it from being useful for the people who would most strongly benefit from it.
Naoki Yoshida, I know you don’t need these options to enjoy Final Fantasy XVI, but many of us do.