I did not expect Final Fantasy XVI to be one of the year’s biggest lightning rods for gaming controversy but here we are. The Square Enix action-RPG hasn’t even been out a full month, and fans are already losing it over how well the game may have sold. It’s already crossed 3 million copies shipped worldwide (good!) but sold less well in Japan and has already fallen off a cliff in its second week (bad!). Now players are parsing PlayStation 5 install bases and firing back at corporate analysts to defend the honor and hype of one of the most beloved gaming franchises ever.
Here is some important context. Final Fantasy XVI is the first new entry in the series in seven years and comes as some longtime fans are desperate for a massive “W.” After a decade plus of middling sequels that never quite rose to the narrative and cultural impact of the peak SNES and PlayStation years, they want something of a comeback outside of remakes (Final Fantasy VII) and MMOs (Final Fantasy XIV). At the same time, Final Fantasy XVI eschews some of the more conventional trappings people associate with the franchise like turn-based battles and convoluted upgrade systems. On top of that, grim fantasy hit Game of Thrones is one of the inspirations, and you can feel that constantly throughout the 45-hour game.
This primordial soup of gamer feelings has made much of the discourse around the game completely unhinged. Is Final Fantasy XVI good or bad? Is it really a Final Fantasy game? What even is a Final Fantasy game? Any criticism—like around the game world’s erasure of people of color or its underwritten female characters—has been treated by some of the most fanatical devotees, in classic Final Fantasy villain fashion, like an attack on god itself. And now fans are riled up about the biggest gamer debate of them all: how well is the game selling?
Get ready for some math. Square revealed on June 28 that the game shipped 3 million copies in its first week. That doesn’t fully equate to actual sales, but it was a strong number nonetheless for a third-party PS5 exclusive. Still, there were troubling signs. The game debuted at number one in the UK, but physical sales dropped by 78 percent the following week. Data out of Japan told a similar story. Famitsu reported 336,027 physical copies sold in the game’s first week, and only 37,763 the second, an 88 percent drop.
But the worst news seemed to be in the comparisons to previous Final Fantasy games in Japan. Though both games faced similar second week drop-offs, Final Fantasy XV sold 716,649 physical copies to start in 2016 and Final Fantasy VII Remake sold 702,853 physical copies at the beginning in 2020. Final Fantasy XV also shipped 5 million copies globally its first day, compared to 3 million for the latest game. This culminated in a Bloomberg Japan report on July 6 calling out the apparent gaps. It even included a damning quote from Toyo Securities analyst Hideki Yasuda calling it a “tough result,” blaming it in part on pre-release marketing that made the game seem like something detached from the series’ history.
Final Fantasy XVI defenders, however, are quick to point out mitigating factors. The PS4 install base was over 50 million units at the time of Final Fantasy XV’s release, while the PS5 had sold only 40 million units as of April. The Japan sales data also doesn’t track digital copies, which now make up a majority of most game sales. In the UK, the launch split for Final Fantasy XVI was 56 percent digital to 44 percent physical, pointing to many hidden sales that just aren’t captured in the current physical data. Final Fantasy XV also launched on Xbox as well, while Final Fantasy XVI is PS5 only (though in hardly any Xboxes sold in Japan, making that more or less irrelevant for the data there).
Even if Final Fantasy XVI’s numbers are strong overall, they aren’t quite blowing anyone away. Instead, they’re adding fuel back onto the ever-burning fire over Final Fantasy’s core identity and continued existence, especially around trying to cater to a broader audience versus doubling down on RPG nerds. “Some say FF16‘s weak sales are due to elements out of Square Enix’s control,” tweeted Bloomberg reporter Takashi Mochizuki. “No, it wasn’t. It was Square Enix that decided to launch the game on PS5 only, on June 22, at $69.99. No one else’s.”
RPG Site owner Alex Donaldson was more cautious. “Based on the typical digital share of titles in Japan this generation that we /do/ know about, unless FF16 has unusually large digital numbers, it’ll still be about 20% behind 15,” he tweeted. “And that’s not the end of the world, innit—but is interesting to look at to consider the future.”
All of the angst around the game’s sales began even before it was released, with a report that Square Enix was worried about bad pre-order numbers and producer Naoki Yoshida touting an “18-month plan” to increase the game’s sales using community engagement and word-of-mouth. The game eventually coming to PC, and possibly Xbox Series X/S, would likely be another part of that post-launch growth strategy. All of which is why Yoshida reportedly wasn’t that concerned about sales during the game’s first week. Even if super fans are. True to type, they want to see number go up—or figure out excuses for why it’s not.
We’ll get a better idea of how the game’s actually selling as more sales data is released in the coming months. Until then, fans can chill and just enjoy the fact that the game itself, for all its problems, shortcomings, and divisive departures, is still pretty amazing.