Final Fantasy 16 made me question the very core of this series

What is the essence of Final Fantasy? It’s a question that comes to mind a lot during the preview period for Final Fantasy 16, which is due out next month.

While the game harkens back to the medieval setting and retains some of the series’ hallmarks, it’s also a departure with its action combat and streamlined modernization. Some fans lamented the lack of turn-based combat; Others feel that this game is not the Final Fantasy they know and love.

In a recent hands-on preview, I had the opportunity to interview producer Naoki Yoshida, art director Hiroshi Minagawa, and localization director Michael Christopher Koji-Fox, so I had to ask them this question.

Funnily enough, they all had different answers.

Final Fantasy 16 video preview

“For me, I think it was about being challenged by something new,” said Minagawa. “If you look at Square Enix’s Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy IPs, the biggest difference between those two, I think, is if you look at Final Fantasies, they’re always trying to challenge something and try something new. And as a developer, I think:” Well, if I’m going to work on Final Fantasy, I have to follow those steps. I have to challenge something and also try something new.”

“It’s one of those really tough questions in that, do you want to get that feel of a Final Fantasy game. So what does Final Fantasy feel like? Is it the characters? Is it the monsters? Is it the dialogue?” Subtract koji fox.

“There are different things each time. But I think in the end, it’s about having a unique story with each one, but still having a sense that they’re connected in some way, which is very difficult, because the worlds are all different, the characters are all different, the settings are all Different. But when you play Final Fantasy, you know it’s Final Fantasy.”

and why is that?

Koji Fox said, “It’s because you have these threads that run through the series, you have your Moogles, you have the names of your spells, you have the names of your weapons, and there are all these callbacks to everything that don’t require any prior knowledge, but for someone who’s played the previous games, they can enjoy it.” Doubly so.”

Finally Yoshida: “I think, for me, a Final Fantasy game is about making that cinematic experience. You think of going all the way back to the original Final Fantasy on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, you start, you play the game a little bit, you get to a certain point, and then you finally get That opening scene, and that really cinematic experience, separates itself from other games and makes it feel more like a movie.

“I remember it being very traumatic for me when I was playing it when I was younger for the first time. And so in Final Fantasy XVI we did pretty much the same thing, we were inspired. So you were playing the game for the first time about two hours. And then you finally got a screen. title because we were inspired to reproduce that in Final Fantasy XVI.”

Koji Fox, Yoshida and Minagawa.

Yoshida also reassured fans of the series that they’ll find plenty to enjoy here, with typical Final Fantasy elements and an action fighter accessible to all. However, he acknowledged that some players would “still be very vocal” about wanting turn-based combat, but that “if we haven’t convinced these people yet, they probably won’t.” He hopes that will change once the game is over.

While playing the game myself, I wanted to think about these different things in the series. This preview started at the beginning and lasted a few hours to include the intro and a little later. I will not include spoilers for the stories.

Square Enix also confirmed that this opening, focusing on Clive’s youth, would be playable as a demo before the game’s release, though a release date was not provided.

As mentioned earlier, Final Fantasy 16 is an action RPG with real-time combat and is an absolute rush to play. Combat director Ryota Suzuki is a Capcom veteran who choreographed Devil May Cry 5’s combat. As a result, Clive’s quick and fluid combination of abilities, juggling enemies, and switching between Eikon combos feels more like Dante’s.

Here Minagawa’s comments about trying something new come across more clearly. The Final Fantasy series has repeatedly experimented with new combat systems and 16 is no different. Combat here is new to the series, now in line with other popular RPGs, with the clear goal of expanding the series’ audience with this game.

From the start, Clive’s moveset feels intuitive with a gradual sense of progression as new abilities are unlocked using ability points earned in battle. The combat is calculated – and dare I say – Dark Souls-esque. Boss battles in particular require players to back off, read enemy patterns, then dodge and strike at the right time, with Monster Hunter shadows too. It’s tactical and satisfying, even if (at least at first) it lacks some of the intricate strategy of previous games.

Clive fights a dragon boss

Clive fights Morpole

Clive Battles Bighorn

Cid and Clive battle in a forest

Battles in Final Fantasy 16 are great and exhilarating.

There’s a strong influence of Western fantasy too – Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones in particular – and that’s new to the series. It’s not just a gritty medieval setting; Clive and Torgal parallel Jon Snow and Ghost, there’s a new Hodor-like character in Cid’s Hideaway, and one shot at the start of the game is almost identical to Gandalf and the Balrog scrambling as they fall through the air.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I like fantasy more based on reality,” Yoshida said, when asked about these influences. “We wanted to create something that really resonated with a lot of people. And when we saw how Game of Thrones, and before that the Song of Ice and Fire series, really resonated with gamers, we knew that was something we wanted when we first started creating the game. We had our core team of 30 very early on buy a blu-ray box of Game of Thrones and told everyone to watch it, because we wanted that kind of feel.

“As for Lord of the Rings, I remember reading the novels when I was in middle school. Of course I’ve seen the movies a few times, but I never really thought of that scene…as similar to that. But now that you mention it, it really seems [similar]. ”

Minagawa also spoke of the influence on the art style: “If we want to create something that has that kind of Western feel, we have to look to the West for that kind of inspiration. And so things like Game of Thrones are things that we look at, because that kind of of things that do not exist where we live in Japan.”

Cid, Clive, and Torgal close in for battle

Chocobo charges into battle

An intense political scene around a table

A king and a mob in a castle area in Final Fantasy 16

You don’t know anything, Cliff Rosefield.

Accessibility is also an area where the team is experimenting. The latest round of previews included details of the ring system that provides various buffs to aid in combat, though the downside is that these rings replace other accessories.

Yoshida explained that the team did not approach accessibility “any differently than we approached Final Fantasy XIV”. That means the same features will carry over from 14 to 16, including visual and audio alerts to help hearing-impaired players, “because we know we want to have as many players as possible playing the game.”

As for the loops, some of them affect the gameplay to the extent that you can play it with one hand, or just by pressing one button. “It made it accessible not only to players who aren’t very good at action games, but also to players who might not be able to use both hands,” Yoshida said.

I asked if rings take up space from accessories, players who use them will be at a disadvantage.

An emphatic “No,” Yoshida replies, before explaining that the ring’s accessories are overpowered, making the others’ gear obsolete. For example, if the ring allowed Clive to dodge automatically, there would be no need to equip a defensive accessory because it wouldn’t get hit anyway.

Another welcome addition is the Active Time Lore system, which – at any time – allows players to view a glossary of characters and current locations, and is handy for keeping track of the plot – especially if you’ve been taking a break from the game for a while.

Lore active time system

Lore active time system.

So, what about the classic Final Fantasy elements that Koji Fox mentioned? Final Fantasy 16 has Chocobo. It has Moogles. It has icons to summon powerful crystals. It has familiar spelling names. evil empire. Battle against Morpole, complete with a halitosis attack. It is a distinctly individual experience that propels the series forward, while sensitively nodding to the past. I’m particularly fond of the little pixel characters in the menus for each party member, as well as the battle music that apparently references Final Fantasy 8.

But Yoshida’s comments on Final Fantasy being a cinematic experience seem more relevant. The series has always focused on story, and in the PS1’s heyday, was known for its use of cinematic FMV files.

Everett Icon

Shiva icon close up

Titan Icon up close

Shiva vs. Titan Icons

Calling has never looked better.

There’s no need for FMVs on the 16. It seamlessly shifts from exploration to combat to realistic cutscenes and back again in impressive fashion. And while the story itself is a slow burn with gradual exposition, it’s presented comprehensively through cinematography that feels like playing a movie. Almost every shot is worth taking a screenshot of, and there’s a (slightly limited) photo mode too.

Beyond the thrilling and thrilling Eikon battles, lush, sun-drenched forests, and spark of combat, Final Fantasy 16 is a character-driven story and it’s the performances of the main characters that really impress. There’s a lot of warmth and harmony between them, and the storytelling was clearly a real focus for Yoshida and his team. For all his sense of dizzying scale that puts the likes of God of War to shame, the nuances of his facial expressions stood out to me: squishing noses like a kiss of two natures; hidden groove of the eyebrow; Rolling tears shine. Or chomping at an apple. And although the world of Valisthea is bleak, it is lightened by a sense of humor. “Someone’s got the hump,” Sid quipped during one fight in a thick Yorkshire accent that made me chuckle. These are not just personalities, but deeply connected people, feelings, and turbulent relationships. Torgal puppy is also adorable.

Benedicta smokes a pipe

Young Clive and Jill

The characters in the scenes are wonderfully contrasting.

What I really wanted to see in this demo was more RPG elements and customization. I’m still not entirely convinced here, though it’s understandable that the start of the game will be a linear and focused experience. Players can upgrade Clive’s abilities, craft new equipment, and enhance existing items, but there is no party management or physical customization. I also didn’t see a lot of open field areas, some side quests, or even minigames. There are plenty of chances that this will still be around later in the game.

With all this in mind, how is Final Fantasy then? It’s clear from the team’s varied answers that Final Fantasy means something different to everyone. Each game in the series is unique and Final Fantasy 16 is no different. Whether Final Fantasy is “enough” for fans remains to be seen; It sure is me.

But is this a PS5-exclusive action RPG with a character-driven narrative of high drama, satisfying combat, and cinematic storytelling? Without a doubt.

This preview is for FINAL FANTASY XVI © 2023 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All rights reserved are based on a special version made for media experience, contents may differ from the final version.

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