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Final Fantasy XVI Has Lots of Style and Hopefully the Substance to Back It

FFXVI has fast, flashy combat in the vein of Devil May Cry with a sweeping story we still don't know a ton about (yet).

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Final Fantasy XVI fires in a lot of directions. It’s the first new, numbered game in the series in nearly seven years — the last of which received a fairly lukewarm reception and was plagued by development troubles. It also follows the recent surge in popularity of Final Fantasy XIV: the massively multiplayer game helmed by Naoki Yoshida, who is now producing this game. Finally, it takes the mainline series in its most action-oriented direction yet, drawing explicit inspiration from character action games. FFXVI’s Battle Designer, Ryota Suzuki, previously worked on Devil May Cry in point of fact.

FFXVI at once looks to please fans wishing for a return to form for the single-player franchise, players who may have been drawn to the series for the first time through FFXIV, and newcomers simply interested in a fun, flashy new action game. It’s an order that seems just as wide as it is tall.

Having finally played a few sections of the game myself at a demo event with Square Enix, it’s easy to see all these angles come together. An early, minor boss battle pitted us demo-goers against a pair of bird people, for example. The twins would call down area-of-effect markers taken straight out of an FFXIV raid — flashing lines of color that warned where lightning would strike seconds later. Between which the birds would swoop down, offering openings to parry them out of the air with a stone-infused fist borrowed from a god.

ffxvi garuda

“Eikons,” as these godlike beings are called in FFXVI (and sometimes in FFXIV), are the crux of the game. They feature prominently in the narrative, but also determine what kinds of abilities you can use. The rocky Titan can parry and pound enemies flat, for instance, while Phoenix grants quick fire damage. Later, I used Garuda to call up magical claws to yank down and stun a much bigger boss. You can swap between all of these powers on the fly and chain them together in seamless and stylish fashion (similar to the fantastical weapons in Devil May Cry, in fact).

Style is pretty easy to achieve for any type of player, too. One of the most impressive things about FFXVI is its sliding difficulty options — something I haven’t really seen in any other game before. Rather than just choose “easy,” “normal,” and “hard,” the game grants players accessories that automate or ameliorate particular aspects of combat.

Not that great at timing dodges? There’s an in-game accessory that slows down time right before you take a hit. Prefer to just use the resources already available to you in the game? Another piece of equipment lets you automatically pop a healing potion whenever you drop low on health. Yet another allows the game to control your virtual canine companion so you don’t have to manually order the dog to attack.

The tradeoff is that each accessibility option takes up an equipment slot that could otherwise boost your stats. Thus, players who can take advantage of a higher skill ceiling are still allowed to do so, while those who just have issues with a particular aspect of the game’s combat can sidestep it entirely. All without totally overriding the difficulty of the game.

ffxvi pet the dog
FINAL FANTASY XVI © 2023 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved

Speaking of spectacle, every Eikon in the game gets its own boss fight (or multiple fights). We’ve known about this for some time now. Yet I previously assumed that each played out almost like a mech battle or tokusatsu fight: big monsters punching each other against the distant horizon.

Instead, every Eikon fight is unique and specially scripted. Consider if all of those once-unskippable summoning animations in
Final Fantasies past was its own one-off boss fight. That’s the sense I got for how FFXVI is marrying its past to this new present. These battles also grant you the abilities of each new Eikon, so it is really just a different (and notably much bloodier — this is the first numbered game in the series to receive a “Mature” rating) way to take on their powers.

While the variety is nice to see, I do hope that the fights don’t skew too heavily towards glorified cutscenes. There were a good number of quick-time events strewn throughout the battles — rendering what were otherwise interesting and visually exciting moments a bit simplistic at times.

I… may have even mentioned to a PR representative that I found the game fairly easy.

Suzuki, having gotten wind of this, interjected at the end of our interview to defend “the pride of the battle director.” He reminded me that we had played a modified version of the final game (which you can probably tell from the disclaimers Square Enix asked us to include at the beginning and end of all previews).

ffxvi ifrit

This version gave earlier access a wider variety of Eikon powers; the final release would be a bit more difficult without those same abilities unlocked quite so early on. The Titan parry, for example, quickly became my go-to power during each battle. The timing is tricky, but the damage you deal on follow-up blows is devastating. Yet it appears this power unlocks later in the campaign of the final game.

Each Eikon is further tied to each of the FFXVI‘s major political realms. Clive, the player character, comes from the kingdom represented by Phoenix, for example. His initial sidekick, Cidolfus, hails from a land of lightning and represents Ramuh. And while Clive’s tale is directly motivated by revenge, Cidolfus is more focused on breaking down this hierarchy of kingdoms and raising a revolution. As Yoshida put it, he’s a character that simply believes “people should be free.” Despite the fact that he also wields the power of an Eikon.

It’s still difficult to get a solid read on the specifics of the story beyond these basic motivations. Main Director Hiroshi Takai explained that Square Enix has “had a heavy focus on the action aspects of the game, because that’s what’s new and [they] want to show that first.” Though we should be seeing more of the story and role-playing elements of this role-playing game in the coming weeks. Takai and Yoshida both stressed that side quests will center on the day-to-day problems of common people being ruled under their respective kingdoms, however.

“You see the topics like crystals, and Eikons, and politics,” Takai explained. You have those type[s] of stories in there, but at the core of all of those you have the people: the people in this realm. They have their own quests for equality and happiness and the things that they strive for. And, while this is Clive’s story… through his journey he learns more about these.”

Yoshida added that “In this world, while there are people that are privileged, we have those people that are without power, without money, and without hope. Without even the knowledge that it is okay to stand up against this.”

ffxvi combat

To help connect these stakes, FFXVI is actually split into three distinct eras of Clive’s life — one in his teens, one during his 20s, and one set during his 30s — as he shifts from a simple desire for revenge to broader motivations.

“It’s a playable flashback,” Yoshida said of the teenaged section. “It’s about a two- to three-hour long playable section of the game where you go back and you see Clive in his teens. You see how he was living in this peaceful time before he was consumed by revenge. You see him with his loving brother, and his gentle father, and his strict mother. You see what happens, exactly, that basically triggers this desire for revenge that drives him for the rest of his life.”

When I asked Yoshida if the violence and political allegory was inspired by Game of Thrones, as some fans have compared FFXVI to based on early footage, or if there was something else behind it, he simply said… “Game of Thrones.”

“I like what I like,” he added after a quick laugh, before clarifying that he specifically enjoys the A Song of Ice and Fire series of books on which the popular HBO show was based and “not just the television series.”

Takai, on the other hand, did specifically reference tokusatsu as one source of inspiration that he’s simply “absorbed” over the years and “just comes through” in his work.

Interestingly, he also cited DC Comics film Constantine as a touchstone. Whereas Suzuki specifically called out the early Blade films as something which may have influenced the animation of Clive throughout the game. To which I personally say that both directors have great taste.

Influences aside, Final Fantasy XVI will stand on its own when it launches on June 22, 2023 as a PlayStation 5 exclusive. We’ll know then if the mix of new ideas from Yoshida, Takai, Suzuki, and their teams can turn the slowly flagging series back around, as was previously done with FFXIV before it.

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About the Author


Senior Managing Editor of Fanbyte.com and co-founder of the website. Everyone should listen to their opinions and recommendations sooner.