As the highly anticipated June 22 release of Final Fantasy XVI draws near, fans of the iconic franchise eagerly await what promises to be a new and thrilling addition to the beloved series.
I was lucky enough to go hands on with Final Fantasy XVI, and even had the opportunity to interview some of the key members of the development team. After my time with the game, I came away with a deep appreciation for its many strengths, and am convinced that it will become an essential PS5 title.
One thing is certain, Final Fantasy XVI has assembled a stellar line-up of creators, each with a proven track record of delivering unforgettable gaming experiences. Leading the project is producer Naoki Yoshida, widely regarded as one of Square Enix’s most beloved figures and the mastermind behind Final Fantasy XIV, which he transformed into a massively successful title. Yoshida has brought with him key members of his XIV team, including Masayoshi Soken, the composer responsible for XIV’s soaring score, who will create the soundtrack for XVI, and Michael-Christopher Koji Fox, the mastermind behind XIV’s intricate lore, who will oversee localization, writing, culturalization and lore for the title. Ryota Suzuki, the Capcom veteran responsible for Devil May Cry 5’s satisfying combat, heads the combat department, while art direction is provided by Hiroshi Minagawa, whose credits include Final Fantasy XII, Tactics, and XIV. At the helm of this all-star team is Hiroshi Takai, a Square Enix veteran known for his contributions to the SaGa series and The Last Remnant. With such a talented group of creators, Final Fantasy XVI promises to be an unforgettable gaming experience that fans won’t want to miss.
Below, I’ll share some of the standout aspects of the title that left the greatest impression on me, and that I believe will make this game an unforgettable experience for fans of the series and newcomers alike.
The thrills of real-time combat and high-octane Eikon fights
In Valisthea, nations are safeguarded by Eikons, enormous and potent creatures each harnessing an elemental power. These mighty beings reside within Dominants, mortal hosts blessed with the ability to summon their respective Eikon’s incredible strength. As nations clash, Eikon fights make for bigger-than-life combat. Channeling Japanese Kaiju culture from the likes of Ultraman, Evangelion, and Attack on Titan, boss battles will see grand showdowns between Final Fantasy’s Titan, Garuda, Shiva, Ifrit, Phoenix, Bahamut and more, each battle entirely unique in their setting, movement, and gameplay.
And when these colossal creatures aren’t engaged in battles, the protagonist Clive Rosfield is equipped with a range of combat abilities he learns as the story progresses, peppering them in fights to execute impressive combos.
“We drew a little bit of inspiration from the Final Fantasy V ability system in the sense that Clive learns abilities from the Eikons he encounters on his journey, and can combine them in countless unique ways to create a powerful arsenal of techniques,” says Ryota Suzuki.
With this Devil May Cry 5 veteran leading the way and Final Fantasy XVI departing from turn-based battles to focus on real-time combat, the gameplay felt fast-paced, intricate, and incredibly exhilarating.
A high skill ceiling yet accessible gameplay experience
Perhaps one of the things I found most impressive and exciting about XVI’s combat system is how the title does away with difficulty settings. No need to choose between easy, normal or hard at the beginning of your playthrough: you will have two options: action-focused or story-focused. Behind these two options, there’s in fact a singular experience, with enemies just as ferocious in the story-focused mode as they are in the action-focused one, with the single difference that picking story-focus grants players access to a particular set of accessories from the very start of their playthrough.
To make the game more accessible to players who may be less familiar with action gameplay, Final Fantasy XVI features a variety of helpful accessories. There are five to choose from, each offering unique benefits and picking the story-focused setting will let you equip two from the get go. One accessory slows down time to make it easier to perform perfect dodges, while another fully automates the controls of Torgal, Clive’s loyal canine companion. One accessory automatically uses potions when your health is running low, and another automatically dodges incoming attacks for you.
Perhaps the most visually striking accessory, however, lets you dish out a series of powerful combos and finishers based on your available cooldowns at the (repeated) press of a single button, showcasing the full breadth and intricacy of the combat system for virtually none of the price, and making for a flashy experience. With these accessories, Final Fantasy XVI is designed to be accessible to a wide range of players, regardless of previous experience with action games.
However, action gamers – do not fret. The skill ceiling is even higher in the third setting you’ll get to pick once you finish the game. Aptly named ‘Final Fantasy’, the New Game+ mode will provide players with an extra challenge should they be up for it, not only increasing the strength of enemies but also their placement throughout the game as well as providing players with full-on different battles.
A narrative landscape of high fantasy and political intrigue
Unlike its predecessor, which ventured into more modern territory, XVI takes us on a journey back to the roots of the franchise, immersing us in a world of high fantasy that draws inspiration from medieval Europe. The realm of Valisthea is built around powerful Mothercrystals that provide aether, the magical force that has been a staple of the Final Fantasy universe since its inception. As nations form around these crystals, each developing its own customs and philosophies, a delicate balance emerges, punctuated by periods of precarious peace. But when the aether starts to drain, tensions rise, and deep political conflicts threaten to tear Valisthea apart.
Against this backdrop of uncertainty, players will embark on Clive’s journey, a tale of revenge with his own personal, unique motivations. And of course, he won’t be traveling alone.
According to Naoki Yoshida, individual stories will be essential. “We have a vast ensemble cast,” says Yoshida. “Each character is unique in their backgrounds and motivations, and each has their own unique arcs that play out through the story. And while the main focus of this story is on Clive Rosfield, as he seeks vengeance for the loss of his family and nation. Through his journey, players will witness the fates of many other characters as well.”
To support this rich narrative, Final Fantasy XVI will feature a brand-new system called Active Time Lore, or ATL for short.
“Our story is deep and focuses on the characters, but we wanted to make the world feel alive and give reasons for why things are happening,” says Michael-Christopher Koji Fox “We created a history that goes back over 1500 years, which influences the story.”
This very in-depth feature is integrated throughout and will allow you to pause the game at any point, even mid-cutscene, and get tailored lore prompts to refresh your memory on a character just mentioned, a nation’s history, or a particular event that took place.
“We have hundreds of entries available,” Koji Fox continues, “but players can also choose to ignore them and enjoy the game without feeling bogged down.”
Technical prowess fuelled by PS5’s hardware
Final Fantasy XVI sets a new standard in technical achievement that cannot be ignored. Its vast and beautiful world can be explored with ease, seamlessly transitioning between battle, exploration, and cutscenes without any pesky loading times. Thanks to the incredible speed of the PS5’s SSD, players can immerse themselves in a non-stop rollercoaster ride of gameplay. But that’s not all either, the DualSense wireless controller adds a whole new level of immersion with its impressive range of haptic feedback.
“In terms of the haptic feedback, we take the sound effect data from our cutscenes and transfer it into vibration data,” says Hiroshi Takai “While an explosion will obviously create a big vibration, it’s the smaller sounds and subtle variations in vibration that really stood out to us. It’s like going from one generation of controllers to the next.”
The portion of FFXVI that I had the opportunity to play was a vertical slice of the main questline, which took place a few hours into the game. During this segment Clive Rosfield was accompanied by Hugo Kupka and Torgal as we tracked down one of the dominants. In this pursuit, we ventured through a castle and encountered numerous enemies, culminating in two thrilling boss battles. It’s important to note that the version of the game that I experienced is still in development and may undergo further changes before its final release on June 22, 2023.