Of the many ways that Final Fantasy 16 differentiates itself from pretty much every other mainline Final Fantasy game, it’s the game’s dark medieval fantasy tones that have stuck with me most. Many have compared Final Fantasy 16 to Game of Thrones in terms of its tone, content, and themes and that’s a pretty fair comparison. We’ve seen things like palace intrigue and kingdoms vying for power in previous Final Fantasy games, but Final Fantasy offers a more adult take on those concepts. Its narrative and world are filled with blood, cursing, and, yes, sex.
The Final Fantasy franchise has always had a strange relationship with sex. The very first Final Fantasy game featured a topless Medusa creature that was censored in the North American port of the title. Mind you, the offending nipple was no larger than an 8-bit pixel, but it was apparently a big enough deal for Nintendo of America to decide the mythical creature needed a modesty top.
The North American versions of Final Fantasy 4 and 6 (2 and 3 in the West) also included censored character designs, though many of the original character designs in those instances didn’t even feature any notable nudity. It seems that the censors simply felt that the originally scantily clad characters were just a bit too sexually suggestive for Western audiences.
“Suggestive” is the keyword here. The Final Fantasy franchise has long featured overtly sexy characters (even when those characters’ original designs were sometimes censored). You don’t have to look hard to find decades’ worth of fan art devoted to those characters. You could probably fill an SSD with sexy Final Fantasy 7 fan art and fanfic stories alone.
During all of that time, though, the Final Fantasy franchise has been pretty shy about showing (or even openly discussing) sex. For instance, Final Fantasy 7 features an implied brothel (or Hostess Club) called the Honey Bee Inn, but the only things you’ll find in that club are fairly modest bee costumes, a drag-focused sidequest, and a ton of double entendres.
Romance has typically been a big part of many Final Fantasy games (especially Final Fantasy 8), but all that flirting between those very sexy characters rarely actually results in sex. The times it did potentially result in sex are so strongly coded that you may not even know such scenes exist.
For instance, in Final Fantasy 7, there’s a hidden scene that heavily implies that Cloud and Tifa may have slept together. However, it’s not only incredibly easy to miss this sequence, but the scene itself largely consists of Tifa waking up with her head on Cloud’s shoulders and the two being teased over what may have happened the night before.
The closest the series got to a more adult portrayal of sex in Final Fantasy‘s earlier days was a scene in Final Fantasy 10 that showed Tidus and Yuna embracing in a lake in an almost ritualistic manner. The scene certainly left a mark on some young gamers, but that’s really just a testament to how rarely the series suggested that such physical intimacy (beyond the occasional kiss) was part of a romantic relationship.
To be clear, Final Fantasy 16‘s own “sex scenes” are also pretty modest. They largely consist of things like one character straddling another or two lovers embracing each other while nude. There’s also a brothel in the game that is actually a brothel rather than a “wink, wink” brothel.
For the most part, though, you won’t see anything in this game that you haven’t seen elsewhere. The nudity is “partial” (at best), and we don’t actually watch anyone have sex. For all of the Game of Thrones comparisons that Final Fantasy 16 has garnered, the game doesn’t come close to matching even the most modest sex scenes in that show. In fact, forget about Game of Thrones. Final Fantasy 16 doesn’t even come close to matching Mass Effect in terms of the explicitness of its sex scenes.
That’s not really the point, though. Final Fantasy 16‘s sex scenes (such as they are) are significantly less important than the fact that sex clearly exists in this universe. Many of the game’s primary characters are even driven by their sexual desires. Though they sometimes weaponize those desires (or fall victim to them), sex in Final Fantasy 16 is more often treated as not just a part of many relationships but as a part of the human experience. For a game that is clearly interested in making many of its major characters feel like actual people, having those characters discuss, desire, and, yes, have sex ends up being an important part of that seemingly simple goal.
More importantly, Final Fantasy 16‘s acknowledgment of its characters’ sexual desires and activities feels far more refreshing than it should at a time when so many examples of MCU-era blockbusters sexualize their characters without ever acknowledging sex in a meaningful way. As many others have previously pointed out, the MCU is a place where some of the most physically attractive actors in the world go to never have sex or even have their characters express basic sexual desires. Even the most compelling MCU relationships (Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter, Wanda and Vision) have largely been devoid of even the simplest sexual acts or other showcases of physical intimacy. It wasn’t until Eternals that an MCU movie featured anything that was even close to a sex scene. Despite the hype, though, that scene ended up being confusingly basic and somehow even tamer than the smoldering glances the MCU typically relies on.
It’s not just the MCU, though. So many modern blockbusters in the MCU era of popular entertainment have turned to the idea of “sexy, but not sexual.” As noted above, that’s a model that Final Fantasy has also followed for quite some time. Sometimes, the decision to cut certain sexualized content comes down to censorship requests from a rating board or similar governing organizations. In more recent years, though, more and more major pieces of entertainment have simply decided to ignore such subjects out of fear that they may alienate even hypothetical groups of viewers.
Granted, there have been numerous controversies over the years regarding mishandled sex scenes and inappropriate behavior on film and television sets. However, that’s not what I’m talking about in this instance. This isn’t about forcing actors into situations they are uncomfortable with. This isn’t about putting explicit sexual scenes in PG-13 or Teen entertainment. This isn’t even about the immediate return of the kind of explicitly sexual erotic thrillers that were so popular in the ’80s and ’90s. No, my real concern is with the many modern pieces of blockbuster entertainment that are scared to even acknowledge sex, much less portray characters who consider sex to be a noteworthy part of their lives.
I know there are a lot of (often valid) concerns that come with how sex is portrayed in entertainment. What I don’t know is when or why so many people in power seemingly decided that the most acceptable solution to those concerns was to ignore the subject entirely whenever possible. Well, that’s not a solution. It’s a dangerous concession with ramifications that may not properly be felt until the actual solution to this debate becomes much more complicated and far more important. It’s also one of the reasons why entertainment made for adults is becoming an endangered species at a time when the idea of “never growing up” is being catered to and exploited at an alarming rate.
Well, Final Fantasy is finally growing up. Mind you, Final Fantasy 16 is not a perfect example of how to showcase and discuss sex in video games. It may not even be a perfect example of how to showcase and discuss sex in a Final Fantasy game. What it is, though, is a rare step forward for a major franchise that was previously content to do what so many major franchises do about sex: pretty much nothing.
I don’t know where Final Fantasy goes from here on this topic, but at a time when so many major pieces of entertainment ignore sex entirely to avoid scaring people off, Final Fantasy 16 “dares” to acknowledge it in a way that might turn people on.