It’s been a big week for Final Fantasy.
On top of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth being the big show closer for Summer Game Fest, the iconic JRPG series’ next mainline entry, Final Fantasy XVI, held a massive pre-launch celebration in Los Angeles. There, Square Enix held a slew of panels about the story, gameplay and music of the game before dropping a long-awaited demo for the hotly anticipated action-RPG. Since then, the game has consistently been trending on social media with glowing impressions of the game.
I attended the pre-launch event and interview three of Final Fantasy XVI‘s principal cast members: Nina Yndis (Benedikta), David Menkin (Barnabas) and Ralph Ineson (Cid). While Yndis (The Box) and Menkin (Thomas & Friends) are prolific actors who played small roles in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, FFXVI marks their first major foray into the franchise. Ineson, meanwhile, has been a part of mega franchises like Star Wars, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, but nothing to that degree in the video game space.
Together, the trio talked about what it was like to dive fully into the world of Final Fantasy, what they love most about their characters and the passionate — and sometimes humourous — responses they’ve gotten from the iconic series’ fans.
How familiar were you with Final Fantasy coming into XVI and what’s been your big takeaway now that you’ve become a big part of the franchise?
Ralph Ineson: For me, I came into it completely blind. Four years ago, I started working on a fantasy video game. It was only four or five sessions because we were doing joint sessions together with Ben Starr, who plays [XVI main character] Clive. And he turned around and said, ‘you know the game that we’re doing?’ And he told me. I realized what a big game it was, not being a gamer. I didn’t realize quite the scale of it until I arrived in LA a couple of days ago. Then I thought, ‘oh, this is a whole bigger world than I thought.’
Nina Yndis: I had a little part in Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers [as Uimet), but when I started recording this, I didn’t know what I was recording for ages, until quite late in the recording session. As I was finishing my character, they were like, ‘Do you know what this is?’ I go, ‘no, I don’t.’ They go, ‘it’s Final Fantasy XVI, you’re one of the leading parts.” ‘Oh, really? I had no idea.’ And I was kind of the same as Ralph — I didn’t quite understand the scale of it and how big a community it is. So it’s been such an amazing surprise to see and I’ve kind of become a fan myself.
David Menkin: I was also a small part in Shadowbringers; I played a character called Magnus. And then, because of that, they invited me to audition for something else. And then suddenly, I was sent a PDF with hundreds upon hundreds of pages, but then, when I just started piecing things together, I very much understood what it was that I was working on. But thankfully, I knew about the franchise, of course, but I wasn’t like Ben [Starr], who is a huge fan of it. So the weight that was on his shoulders definitely wasn’t on, I don’t think, any of ours. And then, as we now get closer and closer to release, our sphincters are tightening. But it’s also very exciting.
You’ve all worked across different media. What’s it like working on a big game like this, especially one that’s so technologically advanced, compared to films or TV shows?
Ineson: Video game acting is a very specific kind of medium that I love for a very specific reason. When you’re making a film, there’s a lot of sitting around, waiting around for lights to be moved, camera tracks to be checked, costumes to be checked… You don’t have that in a video game session. So it’s you, maybe one other actor, or producer or engineer, and every minute of every hour is filled with acting, revealing the character and really pushing it. So it’s a really intense way of working and brings out some really interesting stuff. It’s a great way of working.
Menkin: Video game acting is one of my favourite mediums. I’ve worked in theatre, film and TV, but what is so interesting about video games is that I’ve played such a variety of different characters. It’s only now, for the first time, that they based a character on my face and my body. No, not really, not at all. [laughs] But it’s amazing to be able to play to go from playing a hero to an antihero to play young, to play old, you don’t get that anywhere, but animation and video games. But working on something as big as this? I’ve worked on very, very big projects before, but this is the first time where I feel that the developer has decided to really bring us into the fold and have us be part of the process from a very, very early point, especially in the marketing and so on. It’s fantastic.
Yndis: I remember when I first started doing video games and how odd it was to record just on your own. And very often, as you walk into the booth and you start recording, you don’t have anyone to play against. At drama school you learn different acting techniques, but it’s always with other actors, so you’re acting off of each other. But with video games, you’re very often and at drama school just there by yourself. I didn’t have the privilege to record with anyone during Final Fantasy. So all of my recording sessions, I was there on my own. And very often, the other characters hadn’t been recorded. So I was against nothing. So that is the main difference: you have to use your imagination a lot, and just react to nothing. And also, with film and TV, because you’re acting with your whole body, you can see your facial expressions, so you don’t have to do anything extra. With video games, I find, no matter how realistic the performances are supposed to be, you still have to put a little bit extra into your voice because you’re only conveying the emotions through your voice. You don’t have your face to help or anything else, so that’s also interesting. And it’s something that I developed after a while of doing more and more video games.
What is it that drew you to your characters in XVI? What do you like the most about them?
Ineson: I really liked him. I’d like to hang out with him. I’d like him to be my mate. It’s just fun. But he’s got a little rundown look through it. And he’s very loyal. He’s one of my favourite characters I’ve played for a while.
[To Ineson] Have you become aware during this whole process that there’s a Cid in every Final Fantasy?
Ineson: Yeah, yeah, exactly!
[To Ineson] How do you like yours compared to the others?
Cid, Cid, or Cid?
Trying to work out our favourite Cid in a Final Fantasy game is cidly getting out of hand.
In the meantime, we've written this article chronicling the chronology of Cids: https://t.co/5DDxneaErd
Who's your favourite? pic.twitter.com/JxfxGGnECq
— FINAL FANTASY (@FinalFantasy) January 6, 2023
Ineson: Well, I tried not to look at the others. We’re meeting everybody and they’re all going, ‘oh, I love Cid!’ There’s a big pressure not only to put your own stamp on it, but to keep the family name alive, as it were. I don’t want to be ‘the shit Cid.’
Who wants to be the shit Cid? So there’s a certain pressure to keep that going. But I’m really happy we had such a great time. Especially me and Ben working together to get the relationship between Clive and Cid, and I really hope it comes across on screen because we had great fun.
Yndis: Benedikta, I’m in awe of her. She’s got so many qualities that I wish that I had, so it’s so nice to be able to explore those qualities and play around with her performance. I just love how ferocious she is. She’s so fierce and unpredictable and tough.
Ineson: And foxy as well. Tough combination.
Yndis: Yeah, exactly. And I need to implement more of her in me.
Ineson: That’s terrifying.
Yndis: [laughs] Mildly terrifying.
Ineson: I’m staying in the same hotel as you — I don’t want you to come around like Benedikta.
Menkin: Where Barnabas and I intersect is kindness — he’s magnanimous. [everyone laughs] He’s so chatty!
Yndis: He talks so much — it’s like, ‘Barnabas, give us a break!’ [everyone laughs]
Menkin: I have no idea if sarcasm will come across in text. [laughs] But I’ve got to say, there’s something to be said for having to find out what drives the character you’re playing. If you’re playing a villain, a bad guy, somebody that is very, very different to you, you have to find out what drives them, and what they see as their goal so that you can then find that in yourself. Because our goals may be slightly different, but it feels the same. And that’s how I made sure that I could lock into who Barnabas was. So you go for faith, and you make it somebody who is so violently driven, and also is utterly sure that what they’re doing is the right thing.
You all said that this whole experience was discovering how big Final Fantasy is. So on this journey — at this pre-launch event and leading up to it — what’s it been like to see the love people have for this 35-year-old franchise and the excitement for XVI? Do you have a favourite interaction with a fan throughout all of this?
Ineson: Last night, I went out — we were going to Angel City Brewery. We went to meet a bunch of influencers and developers and guys who are here today. I got there and I was with a friend of mine who lives in LA. We got to the door and I had no physical ID. I didn’t realize that was a rule. So I got there and the guy at the door was like, ‘there’s absolutely no way you can come in.’ And I was, ‘ugh.’ And I don’t like to ever try to pull ‘the card,’ as it were. So I was about to walk away when my mate was like ‘there’s a load of people in there and they’re here because it’s a video game — the big video game being launched this weekend, he’s one of the main voices in it.’ And he goes, ‘oh yeah, what’s the game then?’ And I went, ‘it’s the new Final Fantasy.’ And he went [leans back incredulously] and said, ‘go on in.’
And he was a huge guy — he’s like four inches taller than me. And it wasn’t until Final Fantasy came up that he was like, ‘oh my god, go in!’
[To Ineson] So after the game launches, are you just going to keep saying, ‘I’m Cid from FFXVI?”
Ineson: Yeah, everywhere! ‘That’s me!’ It’s a powerful, powerful thing.
Menkin: I’ve got to say, the fandom is amazing. They have been so welcoming. They know virtually nothing about the character that I play, but they know the name of Odin [the Eikon summon to whom Barnabas is attached]. They understand what’s going on and they’re so excited. And I’ve got to say that it’s been kind of overwhelming, actually, to see how positive everyone’s been, and then speaking to them. They say that this is how the fandom is — they get along so well, even though they’re competing with their podcasts and YouTube channels and stuff like that. They all like each other. That’s not the case everywhere else.
— David Menkin (@davidmenkin) June 11, 2023
Ineson: Yeah, I’ve been a part of Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Harry Potter, all those fandoms, and I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in, and I don’t ever come across a more respectful fandom and people who love what they’re actually into. There’s no kind of bitching or anything like that; they absolutely love it. It’s a real positive vibe compared to some of the other things.
Yndis: I second that. It’s been so overwhelming and heartwarming. I remember when some of the first previews came out and I didn’t quite realize the scale of the game back then. And one of the lines that my character says is, ‘fucking dog!’ and it’s when Torgal [Clive’s dog companion] bites onto her neck. And obviously, that created a huge reaction to people being like, ‘Oh my God, no, don’t be mean to Torgal!’ But the thing was, no one was mean to me. Everyone was kind like, ‘We really like you, you’re great, but please don’t be mean to Torgal.’
[To Yndis] Because people sometimes conflate the actor with the character, right?
Yndis: Yeah! They speak to me as the character sometimes, so I was expecting some fire back because she can be kind of ferocious. Everyone’s been so lovely — it’s genuinely such a heartwarming and loving community.
Menkin: And they’re funny.
Yndis: They are funny, yeah!
Menkin: You don’t always get a sense of humour as well.
Some behind the scenes bringing Benedikta to life… I know that camera angle is EXTREMELY flattering, and I’m so happy I got to see deep up my nostrils in every session👃 #FF16 @SideGlobal @SquareEnix #BenediktaHarman pic.twitter.com/HsrZgFfLrc
— Nina Yndis (@NinaYndis) April 26, 2023
[To Yndis and Menkin] What was one of the funniest things you’ve heard from them?
Menkin: Hmm… It’s mostly the tweets we get sent. For example, there’s a Benedikta Harman Instagram account.
Yndis: [laughs] Yes! I’m going to show you. [takes out her phone and opens Instagram] ‘Benedicta Harman has started following you,’ and then they just like every single picture on my Instagram.
[To Yndis] That must be a surreal almost out-of-body experience to see your character in a bunch of your notifications.
Yndis: It’s so weird, yeah!
[To Yndis] But flattering too, right?
Yndis: It’s so flattering. It’s really funny. I’ve had some really funny comments on Twitter — people call me different things.
Menkin: I get called ‘Barney.’
Yndis: I get called “Mommy Benny.” People call me ‘Mum.’ Which, I’m like, ‘yeah, she’s got a motherly feel to her, sure?’
Menkin: I mean, I wouldn’t want [Benedikta] as a mother! [laughs]
Ineson: I don’t want her as a mother, good God! She’s absolutely nothing like my mother, I’ll tell you that much!
This interview has been edited for language and clarity.
Final Fantasy XVI will launch exclusively on PlayStation 5 on June 22nd.
Image credit: Square Enix