You’ve probably heard this before, but Final Fantasy XVI is a pretty dark game. Even with brightness settings maxed out, there’s a lot of gruesome violence, emotional gut punches, and moments that make you question how rotten humanity is at its core.
One of the central motifs in Final Fantasy XVI is the way the world treats Bearers, who are constantly seen as trash. There’s no shortage of historical and real-world comparisons you could make here, and Square Enix really wants you to feel it because of who you play as. Clive Rosfield goes from basically royalty to a dreg of society overnight, which many NPCs will make very clear to you early in the game.
Bearers are treated like tools because they can use magic, but critically, they’re not even treated like humans. They’re more meaningless than the dirt beneath your feet -- which is honestly problematic in more ways than one. I mean, how many firagas does it take to cause a revolution?
The real problem, though? I find it really hard to believe anyone would antagonize someone like Clive. I mean, look at him.
Who would bully this guy? Who would look him up and down and say, “Yeah, this is a man I can spit on with no repercussions. Surely he can’t slap the skeleton out of me.”
Creative Business Unit III frankly did too good of a job creating Clive, making him one of the most badass-looking protagonists in Final Fantasy history. Look at this Daedric-armor lookin’ one-man army. Look at his resting “I have nothing left to lose” face. Look at how many edges he has. I’m not the kind of guy who goes out and picks fights, but if I were, I’d say, “OK, let’s wait for the next guy.”
Of course, I don’t want to belittle one of the central thematic elements of Final Fantasy XVI. Treating any other human being as a tool (or even worse) shouldn’t be condoned, under any circumstances. The Brand on Bearers’ faces is a pretty on-the-cheek yet effective way to show the ugliness of blind prejudice. Everyone who smacks Bearers around looks like a total knob, and they would absolutely be the villain in a ‘90s Disney movie.
And I get it -- despite his intimidating aura, he's no better than the rest of the Bearers once he's branded. That's the point. It's classism on full display. The prejudice is so strong that the people of this world see even someone like him as beneath them. It's a grim reflection of humanity and our history. Our textbooks tell stories of how we’ve treated others in even worse ways, regardless of their stature, strength, or other characteristics. Hell, there are news stories from the past three years that are just as awful. Final Fantasy XVI is holding up a mirror, showing how ugly we can be when we forget the humanity in others.
But do they really have to make every other Bearer look like a ragged pushover? Maybe I’m not far enough into the game yet, but a majority of the Bearers in Final Fantasy XVI’s early game look like they get a disadvantage on strength checks. When some knights push them around, you feel pity for the Bearers and contempt for the knights. It’s like when someone kicks a puppy.
When Clive enters the scene after getting Branded though, he’s treated exactly like that puppy on the receiving end of the boot -- except he’s like Sif from Dark Souls. Outside of the first hour of the game, we don’t really see many examples of intimidating Bearers broken down by society, so it makes Clive stick out like one of the spikey bits on his limit-break arm. Seriously, he’s like if the Iron Throne were a human being.
The Bearer’s Brand is meant to be a mark of the pariah. It strips people of their hopes, dreams, wants, and needs. They're stripped of their humanity, rendering them to be nothing more than something you bark orders at. It signals that it’s OK to abuse this person, which is downright disturbing.
Clive, however, has so much “main character” energy that he makes that Brand look like he’s the chosen one in a Jujutsu Kaisen spin-off. The tattoo looks so cool on him that it passes along a weird second-hand coolness to other Bearers, no matter how much Final Fantasy XVI wants you to believe otherwise.
Obviously, all of this is (kind of) a joke. There’s a deeply serious story that Square Enix and Creative Business Unit III is trying to tell here, and I’m on board to see how it shakes out. Maybe they could’ve toned Clive’s look down from a 20 to an 11, though.