This article contains spoilers for Final Fantasy 16.
The Final Fantasy 16‘s team isn’t ashamed of the many ways that HBO’s Game of Thrones influenced the latest entry in the famed RPG franchise. For the most part, they shouldn’t be. Some of Final Fantasy 16‘s best ideas were clearly inspired by that series (and the books it is based on). However, Final Fantasy 16 also suffers from some of the same flaws that eventually turned Game of Thrones into a pop culture laughingstock. None of those flaws are more bizarre than the decision to pay homage to one of Game of Thrones‘ most shameful moments.
At the risk of glossing over a ton of plot points (which this excellent video will help you catch up on), Final Fantasy‘s final moments see protagonist Clive Rosfield face off against the game’s final boss, Ultima. Yes, the legendary Ultima is in Final Fantasy 16, and it turns out that Ultima’s actions quietly shaped nearly all of the major events of the game.
The battle against Ultima is arguably the greatest set piece in a game that isn’t exactly hurting for set pieces. The stunning visuals, the sweeping music…you’ll probably die a couple of times during this battle simply because you’re distracted by how beautifully constructed the whole thing is.
However, if you make your way to the final stages of this fight, you’ll trigger a sequence in which Clive and Ultimata participate in a brief battle of words. The conversation culminates with the following exchange:
Ultima: “Mortals! The world you seek is but a fantasy!”
Clive: “The only fantasy here is yours. And we shall be its final witness!”
Truth be told, I don’t hate that line. It’s an incredibly awkward way to phrase and deliver that basic joke, but it’s really just a cute little moment that helps cap off an intense and incredible sequence. It’s basically an action-hero one-liner that feels true to Final Fantasy‘s style of humor. It’s corny and designed to appease the “they did the thing” crowd, but it’s enough to either love or overlook.
However, it seems that the Final Fantasy 16 team really wanted to make sure that you understood the reference. In fact, they wanted to be so sure that you understood that reference that they essentially repeat the same joke later in the game in a strangely familiar way.
During Final Fantasy 16‘s post-credits sequence, we watch a family of unfamiliar characters going about their day. Through context clues (such as a young boy’s inability to conjure magic) we soon figure out that this scene occurs many years after the events of the main game. It seems that Clive’s plan to defeat Ultima and save the land of Valisthea worked, but it obviously came at the cost of the magic that the people of Valisthea once relied on.
Toward the end of this post-credits sequence, the camera zooms in on what seems to be a very old book. The cover of the book is inscribed in an unfamiliar language, but we are soon told via subtitles that the book was written by Joshua Rosfield (Clive’s brother, presumably, though we were previously led to believe that he had died during the confrontation with Ultima). More importantly, those subtitles inform us that the name of that book is “Final Fantasy.”
If this all sounds a little familiar, it’s probably because the final episode of Game of Thrones featured a similar sequence. In that show, Samwell Tarly hands Tyrion Lannister a book called “A Song of Ice and Fire,” which seemingly serves as an in-world record of the events of the show (though we’re told that it suffers from some notable omissions). Of course, that’s also the name of the real-world book series that Game of Thrones was based on.
To be fair, Final Fantasy 16‘s take on that concept isn’t quite as jarring as Game of Thrones‘ version of that gag. After all, the other major events of Final Fantasy 16‘s finale are generally more engaging than the events of Game of Thrones‘ finale, and seeing a completed book called “A Song of Ice and Fire” just set up too many easy gags about the (still incomplete) real-world novels that name references. Of course, nothing will be worse than the time that Baz Luhrmann ended The Great Gatsby by having Tobey Maguire’s Nick pull out a manuscript called “Gatsby” and handwrite “The Great” above the original title. That was a particularly low moment for everyone involved.
Even still, I had really hoped that the seemingly agreed-upon stupidity of that Game of Thrones moment would be the final word on this tired trope. It’s one of a handful of cliches solely designed to make the dumbest audience members suddenly feel smart for understanding the most obvious reference imaginable. It’s an eternally lazy joke, and it is often representative of the poor decisions that led to the reveal of that gag.
Yet, no matter how many times that cliche is parodied (Arrested Development features a particularly memorable take on that joke), there always seems to be someone who is willing to try to make it work under the assumption that it is significantly more clever than it ever is.
What’s especially frustrating is that Final Fantasy 16 already features some final act problems that recall the issues that eventually led to Game of Thrones‘ creative downfall. They’re not nearly as bad, but the game also struggles to balance its universal threats with the more human and grounded plot points it emphasized up until that point. What the game really didn’t need in its final moments is a blatant reference to one of the great creative disasters in modern entertainment history. Besides, Final Fantasy 16‘s climax already features a much more entertaining version of that same basic joke that should have satisfied the apparently overwhelming urge to get the name of the franchise into the game.
Ultimately, this scene will not define Final Fantasy 16‘s legacy in the same ways that a similar scene became a handy reference point for Game of Thrones‘ botched finale. Even still, a reference within an even worse reference probably wasn’t the best way to cap off what is an otherwise often fascinating story.