Final Fantasy XVI is out in mere weeks, arriving on PlayStation 5 on June 22. And while the game looks like it’ll be quite a bit of fun to play, questions over the radical shift in tone for the series remain. And in a recent blog, the developers shared some of the thoughts, considerations, and challenges that went into making this new, darker Final Fantasy. As it turns out, Moogles, the adorable series staple, proved both stylistically and technically demanding.

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With a series that spans multiple mainline entries and many spin-offs and sequels, Final Fantasy has had many twists and turns over the years. But perhaps none have aimed for such a sharp departure from tradition like Final Fantasy XVI does. Drawing inspiration from recent hit games like God of War and dark fantasy works like HBO’s Game of Thrones, Final Fantasy XVI is reportedly dark, grim, edgy, or, as the studio often categorizes, “mature.” While fans will argue, correctly, that Final Fantasy always had difficult themes, the games often had cheery moments and adorably cute characters. One such example are the Moogles, chibi-esque magical creatures who kinda look like what would happen if you tossed a cat and a teddy bear into a blender and then stuck a pom-pom on its head. Though according to the game’s producer, Naoki Yoshida, it wasn’t easy keeping that tradition of cute alive.

Yoshida: ‘The moogle was the most challenging thing’

Addressing the new art direction, which aspires for a greater level of realism without losing a dream-like, fantasy spirit, Yoshida said that “the greatest challenge, on a fundamental level, was the moogle.”

Yoshida elaborated:

The development team was worried that the moogles would both be too difficult to create, and wouldn’t fit the feel of the world, but our Assistant Producer was like, “I don’t care, just put them in the game!”

In the end, we took her advice and put one in the game but it was a lot more work than we expected.

The moogles weren’t just a stylistic change, as their furry bodies also proved technically challenging with the PS5’s “Performance Mode,” which sacrifices enhanced visual effects to raise the frame rate of the game to a higher and more consistent level. On that front, art director Hiroshi Minagawa said:

The biggest moogle problem arose when we were implementing performance mode, towards the end of development.

Performance mode alters the appearance of the polygons slightly, and we particularly struggled with the moogle…it just ended up with less fur.

It kind of ended up looking like a hedgehog! We were like: “Is this a moogle? Hmmm…”

Eventually, we ended up putting in some processing specifically for the moogle.

So there it is, folks. I firmly expect “Moogle Processing” to be slapped on the front of the box.

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The remainder of the interview with the development team spans multiple topics and includes some very pretty screenshots of various environments. Unlike Final Fantasy XV, Final Fantasy XVI won’t be set in an open world, which will hopefully mean more intentional set pieces and environments.

Clive rides a chocobo in a fantasy desert setting.

Screenshot: Square Enix

I may be skeptical of this whole “mature tone” business, but damn these look like the kinds of worlds I’ve missed from a mainline Final Fantasy game.

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