It is an understatement to say that Square Enix’s Final Fantasy franchise is one of the biggest in gaming. Throughout its thirty years, the games have shaped the experience of RPGs and crafted masterful and innovative narratives. Every flagship title is met with an intense hype not many other franchises can create.
When Final Fantasy 16 (also formatted as Final Fantasy XVI) was announced at the September 2020 PlayStation Showcase (trailer), it was hard to miss the abundant changes in the tone of the setting and combat. For one, the setting took a lot from Game of Thrones, with regal castles, gore, and British accents abound. The combat looked fast-paced and action-heavy, a far cry from the original turn-based gameplay. To add to that, the team working on the project, Creative Business Unit 3, is most well-known for Final Fantasy XIV (14), a multiplayer title, so it was no surprise that many people had reservations about it. However, as more information and trailers came out, it became clear that it would be creating a new type of Final Fantasy.
Now, with the recently released demo, fans got to see what the future of this beloved franchise holds. Having played the demo myself, I can confirm that Final Fantasy XVI could be one of the best games of 2023.
Personal Attachment to Final Fantasy
For context for my history with the series, my first one was Final Fantasy XIII (13) and XIII-2. While I didn’t get far into the game, the character designs and aesthetics were enough to pique my interest. I don’t think that I was ready to get into a huge world, as well as a gameplay style I had a hard time grasping.
When Final Fantasy XV (15), a new mainline entry in the series (originally a spin-off of Final Fantasy XIII called Final Fantasy Versus XIII) was coming out and directed by Tetsuya Nomura of Kingdom Hearts fame (one of my favorite series of all time), my brother and I were beyond excited. We pre-ordered the collector’s edition, played the demo, and even watched the Kingsglaive film.
Once the game came out, I fell in love with it. The journey of Noctis and his friends on the craziest bachelor party was one that, while flawed, I enjoyed. The music (done by Yoko Shimomura) and the character connection between Noctis, Gladio, Prompto, and Ignis were highlights for me. Also, Final Fantasy VII Remake is one of my favorite games in recent years. But that is a topic for another time.
The First Hour
You play Clive Rosfield in both his teenage and older years. The majority of the demo focuses on his younger self, as well as some of the context for what brought Clive to where we see him in the opening moments. We are introduced to the world of Valisthea and the conflicts that wage on between the different regions. After a short segment of older Clive, we go back fifteen years and meet our other main characters: Joshua, Clive’s younger brother and the Dominant of the Phoenix; Jill, Clive’s friend and future party member; the Duke and Anabella, Clive and Joshua’s parents; and the adorable dog Torgal. Clive, sworn to be Joshua’s shield, wants to prove himself, as he was rejected by the Phoenix. When given a chance to do so in the form of clearing monsters, he hops right onto it.
While I won’t spoil everything since I think everyone should play it, I will say that things escalate pretty fast. The intensity of the situation Clive’s put through extends not only to the cutscenes but to the gameplay. Ryota Suzuki, the combat designer behind Devil May Cry V, was in charge of the gameplay and it shines bright. Everything flows well and the combat is varied, from shooting fireballs to going up close and personal with your sword. Skills can be learned and upgraded, such as a more powerful fire attack or the ability to taunt your opponent. It’s small things such as this that show how creative one can be with their playstyle and tactics.
One of the biggest additions was the Eikon fights. Playing as a huge and powerful god looked amazing in trailers. In the game, it looks and plays just as well. The literal opening moments are you as the Phoenix shooting fireballs at Ifrit. It’s epic and feels straight out of a Kaiju film.
The Second Hour
The creativity mentioned before also extends to the second part of the demo, the Eikonic Challenge. Here, you have three Eikon abilities (Garuda, Titan, and Phoenix) and play a full mission from later in the game where you battle one of the Dominants, Benedikta.
From the start, you can see how varied the gameplay can become, with three Eikon abilities to choose from: Garuda, Titan, and Phoenix. They act similar to the class system in older Final Fantasy games but garnered towards the attacks. For example, one of the Titan’s abilities is to block an oncoming attack while one of the Phoenix’s is to teleport in front of them. They’re interchangeable with a single click, so one can use all of them to create intricate and devastating combos. It was a lot of fun experimenting and seeing how certain moves can prove useful in different situations. For example, using Garuda’s air abilities to juggle enemies in the air and then crushing them with Titan’s powerful fist.
With all of the action is a killer soundtrack by Masayoshi Soken of Final Fantasy XIV fame. Music is key to Final Fantasy, as many of the songs in the franchise are some of gaming’s most renowned. While all of Soken’s songs aren’t in the demo, it sounds fit for the series.
It’s rare to see a demo be upfront about what the game will be, even more so to contain as much as it does. However, it goes to show just how vast the full game will be. The story is much grander and larger, yet the demo still introduces most of the key players we’ll meet. Already, Cidolfus (played by Ralph Ineson of Harry Potter and Game of Thrones fame, fittingly) and Clive (expertly played by Ben Starr) are some of my favorites of the series, as well as Torgal because why not?
If there’s one ilk I had with the demo, it’s the long cutscenes between gameplay. However, as it’s the beginning of the game, so context is necessary. Further information is accessible by pressing the controller’s touchpad, which opens up a glossary of characters, places, and terms the story uses. The cutscenes also look amazing, especially in Graphics Mode.
It’s clear that they wanted to prove to people that it would be different from its predecessors yet retain the high fantasy that made it so popular. Heck, even the dentist for my root canal asked me if I played the demo. They said they did and, while on the fence before, fell in love with it. If Final Fantasy XVI is as good as the demo was, then we’re in for quite a treat.