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I’m a big fan of the Final Fantasy series. I’m especially enamored with Final Fantasy XIV. Much of the team behind my beloved MMO is working on the next entry in the RPG series, Final Fantasy XVI, which is due to release for PlayStation 5 on June 22. So, yes, I’m pretty excited.

And now I’ve gotten a chance to go hands-on with Square Enix’s next big release. At a special preview event in New York City earlier in February, I spent a few hours playing Final Fantasy XVI. I also got to ask producer Naoki Yoshida, director Hiroshi Taka, combat director Ryota Suzuki and localization director Michael-Christopher Koji Fox some questions about the project.

This preview is based on a special version of Final Fantasy XVI made for media to experience, and contents may differ from the final version.

Action fantasy

I got to play two sections of the game. One was a dungeon featuring several enemy encounters culminating in a boss fight. The other was an Eikon-vs.-Eikon battle. These are special boss fights that have players controlling a giant monster — or, as Final Fantasy players know them, Summon — against another massive opponent.


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I want to emphasize that I was playing an in-development build of the game. Producer Naoki Yoshida noted before I got going that while the team is working on a graphics mode that prioritizes a smooth frame rate, I was playing on a more fidelity-focused mode with a less consistent frame rate.

Combat is fun, but it’s also pretty.

Still, even at this earlier state, Final Fantasy XVI impressed me. My demo took place inside a fortress. I was sneaking my way to the top, fighting groups of enemy soldiers along the way.

The Final Fantasy franchise has drifted away from turn-based battles for some time, but Final Fantasy XVI is the most action-focused entry in the main series yet. In fact, you might want to think of it as an action game with RPG elements. Yes, you can level up and customize your character with new abilities and equipment, but combat is all about melee combos, dodging, parrying and shooting out ranged magic attacks.

Summon your courage

Some old-school diehards may bemoan the focus on action. I can’t do much to soothe anyone who wants something that plays more like a turn-based RPG. I can say this combat system does feel good. Attacks weave into powerful combos with flashy and impressive animations. You can also switch between different stances that give you access to special abilities. Each of these stances corresponds to an Eikon. The Phoenix lets you quickly close in the distance between yourself and an enemy, and it also gives you access to fire magic. Titan focuses on defense, giving you the ability to block attacks and use stone magic.

Each of these also lets you equip two cooldown abilities. For Phoenix, one is an area-of-affect attack. For Titan, one pummels an opponent with a flurry of stone punches which does extra damage if you use it as a counter, timing it right before an enemy attack hits. Since these abilities go on cooldown, you’re encouraged to switch between different Eikon stances often.

You’ll want to use those cooldown abilities a lot. They’re strong, and they also deal a lot of stagger damage. This is a system that should sound familiar to anyone who played the recent Final Fantasy VII Remake. Along with HP, many enemies have a stagger bar. Fill this up, and you’ll put them in a dazed state and have a chance to deal a lot of damage.

Eikon abilities are an important part of combat.

Accessible difficulty

Depending on your familiarity with action games, you might feel worried. But Final Fantasy XVI has a creative way to make itself more accessible. It does not have traditional difficulty options. Instead, you start the game with several accessories already in your inventory. These can help players do certain things automatically. One will have you dodge any incoming attacks. Another one will automatically use a potion whenever your health is low.

The only difference between the game’s two difficulty modes is that one starts you with some of these accessories equipped. But, again, you have these accessories no matter which mode you select, and you’re free to swap them in and and out whenever you want.

So, why not use them? Well, aside from the obvious answer — some players will want to challenge themselves — they do take up accessory slots. So if you have an amulet or ring that gives you a boost in attack power or defense, you’ll need to make space for it and sacrifice one of these helper items. Also, the game has a feature that lets you retry missions in an attempt to get high scores. You’ll get more points if you don’t use those special accessories.

You’ll get a little help from some friends.

Mog of war

Yoshida noted that our demo was focusing on action, but Final Fantasy XVI would still have other RPG elements like sidequests and hub towns. And while he noted that Final Fantasy XVI isn’t a full open-world game, it features several large areas that players can explore.

He compared this set up to the recent God of War games. You have a hub area. From there, you can move onto the next part in the main story or you can go back to a previous area to explore or do sidequests. Director Hiroshi Taka noted that this hub town is where you’ll find RPG staples like a blacksmith that can help you craft items. You can also access a Hunt Board that can task you with specific monsters to fight (this is a feature that should sound familiar to Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy XIV fans). Taka also said that the sidequests won’t feel like filler. You won’t have to go find five leather pelts, for example. Instead of fetch quests, the optional content will offer players a way to learn more about the game’s world and characters.

Honestly, a giant lightbulb probably appeared over my head when Yoshida brought up God of War. During my demo, I was trying to figure out what game this was remind me of. Sure, combat has traces of other action games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta, and there are still lots of traditional Final Fantasy elements in play. But, yeah, Final Fantasy XVI reminds me most of the two recent, Norse-centric God of War games.

Now, it’s hardly a one-to-one copy, but like God of War, Final Fantasy XVI’s player character, Clive, has a lot cooldown abilities locked behind different stances. For Kratos, these are his different weapons. For Clive, these are the different Eikons. Heck, Clive’s Limit Break — a Final Fantasy staple that lets players build up a meter before unleashing a special attack — puts players in an empowered state that also lets them regain health. It’s a lot like Kratos’s Spartan Rage ability.

Good boy!

Heal mutt

You even have a companion character that you can order around. Kratos had his son, Atreus, and Clive has his trusty hound, Torgal. You can use the D-pad to issue a few specific commands, like telling him to heal you. I’m not exactly sure how a dog has the power to magically heal a human, but I’m not upset about it.

Torgal is Clive’s most constant companion and looks like the only one that players can direct commands toward. Other characters will join your adventure, but they will act on their own.

Speaking of characters, these were another highlight of my demo. I’m not giving away any spoilers, but I already got a glimpse at some interesting motivations and relationships. This is also perhaps the most adult Final Fantasy I’ve ever seen. One character even dropped an F-bomb… twice!

Big bosses

Speaking of the F-bomb dropper, they featured in a big boss fight at the end of my demo. This was also the highlight of my little look at Final Fantasy XVI. The fight was a good test of my combat skills, but it’s also dazzlingly cinematic. Spectacle has long been a part of the Final Fantasy soul. As a kid, I have to admit that I felt drawn to the series because of big spectacles like the opera scene from Final Fantasy VI and the elaborate Summon sequences from Final Fantasy VII.

Speaking of Summons, I did also try to get to try out an Eikon-vs.-Eikon fight. This is a different flavor of boss battle, and each one will offer different mechanics. The one I played didn’t feel too dissimilar from normal combat. But while Clive is agile and fast, my Eikon form was powerful and lumbering. If Clive is Goku, then his Eikon form is Godzilla.

These battles are even more cinematic, sometimes to the point of excess. You can often find yourself watching the action instead of participating in it. But, hey, the action is intense and captivating to watch. And other Eikon fights look to switch things up even more. One that I saw in a short video demonstration before I played my demo looked like an on-rails shooter that reminded me of Panzer Dragoon.

Bosses are a highlight.

Victory fanfare

Final Fantasy XVI looks to have the makings of a great action game. If it’s RPG elements can deliver, this should deliver one of the most exciting — and accessible — experiences that the franchise has ever offered.

A lot of its success will likely come down to the execution of its story. This is, after all, what has made Final Fantasy XIV such a special experience for me and so many others. From my demo, I was impressed with the quality of the voice acting and character animation. The potential for a memorable story looks strong.

Going into 2023, Final Fantasy XVI was my most anticipated game of the year. After my demo, I still feel that way.

This preview is based on a special version of Final Fantasy XVI made for media to experience, and contents may differ from the final version.

FINAL FANTASY XVI © 2023 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved.

Square Enix provided travel and lodging during this preview event.

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