Final Fantasy XVI Hands-on Preview

Be ready for an emotional rollercoaster.

I will never forget the sobbing that occurred while playing through the end of Ori and the Blind Forest and its sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps. It’s rare that I can find a story within a video game that can beat those feelings. Even Final Fantasy XIV can’t really compare to those endings, as much as I love the stories from that game. But with Final Fantasy XVI, I highly anticipate that the story will bring me to tears, make me laugh, and take me on an emotional journey.

A recent hands-on event for Final Fantasy XVI gave press a small taste of exactly what kind of story director Hiroshi Takai is trying to tell. The demo was “a special version made for media to experience, and contents may differ from the final version.” Press were able to play through the first two chapters of the game, as well as one of the open, explorable areas in the game. 

Final Fantasy XVI is a role-playing game filled with controversy as kingdoms fight amongst each other over magical crystals. Each one has an Eikon they send out to help aid them in the fight, which translates to epic Eikon battles throughout the game where players will get to experience what it’s like to be a powerful, magical creature.

During the first hands-on preview, press got a close look at the combat and what Eikon battles will look like. At this preview, press were given more time with the game, and were able to experience the first few hours of the story. The gameplay covered the entirety of Clive’s early adult life, and the beginning of his journey as an adult. I got a look at the game as it was meant to be experienced up until chapter three, and what I saw was a game-of-the-year contender.

Final Fantasy XVI’s story takes players through an emotional journey

In true Final Fantasy fashion, the game rips your heart out and stomps it into the floor within the first two hours. Final Fantasy XVI’s storytelling captured me the moment I began learning about Clive. The chapter about his childhood sets up the entire premise of Clive’s motives throughout the rest of the story. 

In any story-driven game, I want it to show me, not tell me what’s going on. Final Fantasy XVI does an excellent job of this, and it leaves players with just enough information for them to form their own theories about what happened to set Clive on his grand adventure.

Everything in the game feels like it meshes together perfectly. While the story is arguably the most important part of a good RPG, the graphics, music, and gameplay all play their part. 

Ever stop just to enjoy pixelated grass? I did during my playthrough, specifically when we got to a more lush part of the game, where a wooded area set the scene. Aside from how excellent everything looked, I was impressed with the game’s smooth transference between cutscene and gameplay. The transition was almost completely seamless, and there was barely any visual difference between what was a cutscene and what was gameplay. 

Baby Torgal
Screengrab via Square Enix

Not only did the grass look amazing, but baby Torgal was the cutest thing in the entire game. The little guy stole my heart immediately and if I had been alone during my playthrough, I would have broken the glass in the building from my squealing over how cute he is.

The music was simply exceptional. Final Fantasy XIV fans will recognize the game’s composer, Masayoshi Soken. His brilliance continues in Final Fantasy XVI, and his music was one of the very first things I noticed about the game that swept me off of my feet. Whether engaged in an epic Eikon battle, or experiencing two characters having a heart-to-heart, the music was always something that stuck out to me as particularly spectacular.

Final Fantasy XVI’s combat is worth all of the praise it’s getting

The game has a great story, great graphics, and beautiful music, but what about its combat? Players got an in-depth look at some of the gear and the skill tree in the latest PlayStation State of Play, which saw 20 minutes of different aspects of the game, but players won’t really understand just how good it is until they get their hands on the game.

During my playthrough, my fingers were rarely bored. While in the beginning of the game, mashing one or two buttons is a side-effect of controlling an inexperienced fighter, players were given a few skills they could use right off the bat that feel incredibly impactful. 

Shiva shooting ice
Screengrab via Square Enix

As the game progresses, these skills increase in potency and players will get more of them to use. The more Clive learned about fighting, the less bored my fingers were. I actually felt my mind working quite a bit while trying to maximize my damage by using these skills. 

Many were unsure about trinkets and accessories being the method used to adjust difficulty, but I found it very freeing. It gave me the freedom to experience the game the way I wanted to. Final Fantasy XVI gives players a wide variety of ways to alter their playthrough experience, like the ability to auto-dodge certain attacks , or automatically issuing commands to your trusty dog, Torgal. 

Before I approached the game, I thought I wouldn’t use any of these modifiers, but I found the more I progressed, controlling Torgal was annoying and cumbersome. But I still wanted to control when I used potions, instead of using The Ring of Timely Healing, which auto-uses potions. Players are able to fine-tune their playing experience, making Final Fantasy XVI easy for any inexperienced video gamer to pick up and play. 

Final Fantasy XVI is not without its pitfalls

Some players don’t value exploration, but those that do will likely be left a bit underwhelmed. The rewards for searching the landscape in Final Fantasy XIV are minimal, and those who enjoy collecting items, or uncovering hidden objects only found by exploring will be disappointed. 

Press were given one area to explore, and finding everything took about half an hour. The game is linear, meaning there is no unrestricted open world. Players that do explore will likely find little to collect besides crafting items in their journey.

As Square Enix has stated, this is not the final version of the game, so it is very possible the rewards for going off the beaten path will change ahead of launch. With only one area to explore during the demo, it doesn’t give the full idea of what discoveries and easter eggs might be hiding in some maps. At first glance, it does seem like exploration could be the one weakness Final Fantasy XVI suffers.

Even though the exploration might not be up to par for most players, the combination of feel-good gameplay, a tantalizing story, beautiful music, and graphics that fully immerse you in the beautiful world create a game-of-the-year contender that players are likely to enjoy no matter what experience they may have had with the Final Fantasy franchise before.