Final Fantasy 16 preview: the biggest reason to buy a PlayStation 5
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Featured Image Credit: Square Enix
A mighty, flaming giant stands in a swirling storm. An equally imposing creature, imbued with the elemental power of wind, is poised and ready to unleash hell. The clash is a thing of theatrical brutality. The land is devastated by the chaos, but I stand victorious. The flaming giant has now transformed back into human form. Known as Clive Rosfield, he is the protagonist of Final Fantasy XVI.
See the game in action here
Ahead of its release, Square Enix invited media outlets to attend a hands-on preview event with Final Fantasy XVI. We were given a presentation by producer Naoki Yoshida and writer Michael-Christopher ‘Koji’ Fox before being let loose on two sections of the game, although the developers explained the final release will differ slightly from the demo.
First, a little bit of worldbuilding. Clive Rosfield’s world is called Valisthea. Made up of several different nations, each has a Mother Crystal, an Eikon, and a warden. The former is basically an energy source, likened to an oil field by Yoshida, while Eikons are essentially godlike creatures we know from past Final Fantasy titles as summons. It’s after explaining this that Yoshida reminds us that each FF title is a standalone story, so newcomers needn’t be concerned by the enormous ‘XVI’ in the new game’s title. As for wardens, they’re basically the hosts for the Eikons, able to wield the might of the entity they house.
The different countries within Valisthea have been involved in a cold war for some time, but things escalate and Clive’s life changes for the worse, as conflict tends to do. Teaming up with Cidolfus (that’s right, there’s a Cid), our hero sets out to put things right as best he can.
Loading up the game, I was struck by the visuals of Final Fantasy XVI. This is possibly the best looking game I’ve seen on the PS5, and that’s no small feat considering Horizon Forbidden West is also available on the platform. The characters are masterfully brought to life, with realistic features and details, and the world is simply stunning. From the textures to the lighting, this is a game that seemed to look at Demon’s Souls and tell it to hold its beer.
The element of Final Fantasy XVI that I was most preoccupied about before the session was its combat. Designed by Ryota Suzuki, who previously worked on Capcom’s Devil May Cry 5, I was intrigued by what he would bring to the real-time, hack-and-slash style of the upcoming RPG. In short, I was elated.
We’ve seen gameplay of this style in a handful of Final Fantasy titles in recent years, from Final Fantasy XV to FF7 Remake, and even 2022’s remaster of Crisis Core, but FF16 is a whole other level. It’s compelling in its feel, fluid without any beat being lost in the flow, as you strike blow after blow upon the enemies who dare stand against you. At times, it’s power fantasy, while at others it pushes your limits. During one particularly grand battle, I was so close to death that I felt truly alive, and then felt the unbridled satisfaction when I grabbed victory with a slash just as my foe was winding up for the finishing blow.
This feeling is something Yoshida specifically described in the presentation. He talked about the idea of trying to make the game feel like a roller coaster, and this effect has been achieved masterfully. Bouts against tougher foes are exhilarating, with the sense of danger always there, reminding you not to get too reckless.
The ‘roller coaster’ vibe really comes into play during the summon battles. Final Fantasy XVI sees Clive and others physically transform into their summons, instead of merely inviting AI-controlled allies in to help sway a fight. This means you are in control of the action, and it produces a truly grand sensation. Each blow, both given and received, pulses through the DualSense, and the stakes have never seemed higher when your health bar is drained by your opponent’s handiwork. Like a theme park ride, the battles feel exciting and nerve-wracking, with the constant threat of things going wrong ever present.
The game’s combat is made up of attacking, jumping, dodging, and wielding a selection of special moves. These are all done with separate button inputs, and you’re able to change the specials by using L2. Each set of additional commands, all inspired by the game’s Eikons (more on that anon), add elemental based attacks, blocks and more, bringing a bit of flair to each fight.
Combat also features quick time events, where you either press square to attack or R1 to block. Sometimes you mash the button, depending on the situation in hand. These QTEs added a sense of participation to moments that otherwise felt more like cutscenes, as to be expected, but they never hindered the game’s fluidity.
Interestingly, Final Fantasy XVI doesn’t have difficulty settings like other entries in the series. Instead, FF16 has items called Timely Accessories, which essentially modify the gameplay experience to the user’s preference. These include adding a dodge prompt, which displays in the middle of the screen and gives a short timer around a big R1 prompt. There’s also the option to have dodges done for you, and you can even have all combat set to just the square button.
I have until now neglected to mention Torgal, the canine companion of main character Clive. This ruggedly handsome hound fights alongside you in battle, either responding directly to your commands using the left D-pad, or automatically if you equip the relevant Timely Accessory. This pooch packs a punch, and can even heal you in battle. Truly the best boy, and, yes, you can pet the dog.
Then we have the Eikon fights. Firstly, Eikons are the summons of FF16, and see the return of familiar entities like Ifrit and Shiva. These deity-like creatures bestow upon Clive sets of special moves to use in human form, but they are also available for Clive (among other characters) to transform into. When two Eikons duke it out, it’s quite the spectacle and is described by Yoshida and co. as having a ‘pro wrestling’ feel. Watching these enormous beings wail on one another with no disregard for the world they’re trampling all over is pulsating, and carries the same spirit of Wrestlemania thanks to some theatrical choreography and audacious collateral damage.
Lastly, I feel I need to mention the voice acting. The performances from Ben Starr (Clive), Ralph Ineson (Cidolfus) and Nina Yndis (Benedikta) were all shining examples of what can be done in this medium. Instead of the typically more anime-inspired style we’ve had before in Final Fantasy titles, there’s more of a Western feel to the voice work here, akin to The Witcher 3. This more grounded manner highlights the subtle intonations within each line of dialogue and makes for a more immersive experience.
Although my time with Final Fantasy XVI was less than an hour, I’m already hooked. I’ve thought of this game every day since playing it, which is great news considering I bought a PS5 almost entirely because of this game.
The gameplay is gripping, with compelling combat. The world is visually amazing. The characters feel real. While there’s still months to go before release, I’m convinced Final Fantasy XVI is a game no PS5 user will want to miss.
Access to Final Fantasy XVI provided by Square Enix. The game releases 22 June, 2023 for PlayStation 5.