The latest entry in what’s arguably the most famous RPG franchise looks to be quite a departure for the series. In the lead-up to the title’s release, the team behind Final Fantasy XVI at Square Enix has been open about their desire to make a very different game. Not only does the next Final Fantasy sequel have a much darker tone than other series entries, but it is also abandoning turn-based combat. Despite leaving behind aspects fans have come to expect in a Final Fantasy game, the title is also a return to form of sorts thanks to its high-fantasy setting.
Thanks to the inclusion of incredible talent on the development team, Final Fantasy XVI is shaping up to be a strong Game of the Year contender. I’ve been a fan of the series since the NES original and have played every main numbered entry. After a mixed reception from longtime fans like myself toward Final Fantasy XV, the radical departures of Final Fantasy XVI are a welcome reprieve. These are the 6 things I’m most looking forward to about the game when it releases on June 22.
Real-time Character Action Combat
The Final Fantasy series has long been associated with turn-based combat. From the very beginning of the franchise, players faced random encounters and defeated foes through the input of menu-based commands. While the series would iterate upon this formula in later entries, series like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest that came to define the characteristics of Japanese-developed role-playing games have traditionally gone hand-in-hand with turn-based battling. After gradually dipping toes into the real-time combat pool, Final Fantasy 16 is finally making a definitive switch to action.
Thankfully, the pedigree of the team behind Final Fantasy XVI leaves the transition to real-time combat in very capable hands. Combat in Final Fantasy XVI is designed and directed by Ryota Suzuki, whose credits include Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Devil May Cry V. Both the trailers and hands-on impressions of the combat indicates that the title is every bit as fun to play as the combat director’s previous work. One of the biggest complaints regarding Final Fantasy XV‘s combat was that it felt like the characters were on autopilot. Now, players will be directly controlling Clive as the only character and will be responsible for inputting button commands to execute flashy combos and takedowns.
To help bridge the gap between the series’ turn-based past and action-heavy present, accessibility rings have been implemented. The “accessibility rings” appear to go a long way toward welcoming players who might not be used to character action games. Players will have the option to equip accessories that elongate parry windows or even cause Clive to dodge automatically. For players who love Final Fantasy but prefer turn-based combat, the devs have incorporated a fair middle-ground.
Genre-Bending Eikon Battles
A large component of Final Fantasy XVI‘s narrative is the world’s Eikons – the game’s version of summons. Each nation in the fictional world of Valisthea is responsible for its own Eikon, and the humans who can summon them are called “Dominants”. Trailers for the game indicate Clive will eventually gain control of the Ifrit Eikon and will use it to battle other Eikons in the game’s climactic boss battles. Naoki Yoshida, producer of Final Fantasy XVI and the mastermind behind Final Fantasy XIV, has said these battles will be genre-bending spectacles.
One of the battles shown during the first press hands-on session was said to be influenced by professional wrestling. During this encounter, the Eikons on-screen grapple and engage in a brutal melee befitting of their size and scale. Other, yet-to-be-seen Eikon battles are also reportedly influenced by other gaming genres. One of the Eikon fights is supposedly influenced by Danmaku (bullet-hell) shoot-em-ups. As a massive fan of Shmups and RPGs, the prospect of a Danamku Eikon battle is just too cool.
The Eikon battles also appear to shake things up regarding the new combat system. Clive will spend most of the game’s time combatting foes on foot. The Eikon battles provide a necessary shake-up to the new formula by flipping the script on mechanics and encounter design. While there will be boss battles that Clive handles more traditionally, the Eikon fights promise to be the highlights.
A Compelling Narrative With Political Intrigue
Final Fantasy XVI is breaking new ground as the first title in the series to receive the “M” rating. Press for the game claims that the narrative will be much darker than previous series entries, with some comparisons being made to HBO’s Game of Thrones. The story centers around protagonist Clive Rosfield and his quest for revenge. As far as what he’s getting vengeance for, we’ll have to wait until the game releases for confirmation. Speculation suggests it has something to do with his brother Joshua, the Dominant of the Phoenix Eikon. Details surrounding the game’s plot indicate that the story is split between 3 periods of Clive’s life. The game will begin during his teenage years and follow him across multiple decades.
Already the plot of Final Fantasy XVI seems like a distinct departure from Final Fantasy XV. While the “boy band” aspect of that game’s narrative gave the series some much-needed levity, the return to high stakes is refreshing. The game’s setting of Valisthea is a complex and detailed world, with clearly defined political alliances and tenuous diplomacy. The promise of mixing classic Final Fantasy elements with a more mature narrative grounded in political intrigue is enticing. Additionally, the return to a high-fantasy setting where technology and magic exist side-by-side calls to mind classic Final Fantasy games. In particular, the setting is eerily reminiscent of what is arguably the best game in the series – Final Fantasy VI.
The team behind Final Fantasy XVI even incorporated an in-game guide to help refresh players on certain story elements. The developers themselves acknowledge that the story is more complex than previous entries and may be confusing. The inclusion of this story guide is another example of the team’s efforts toward accessibility.
A Thorough Lore and World Guide to Complete
Names of towns, monsters, shops, and side characters indicate Final Fantasy XVI is influenced by Greek mythology. To take this a step further, players have access to a character named Harpocrates at their base of operations. Harpocrates was the god of secrets in Greek mythology and serves as the game’s de facto historian. In between exploring Final Fantasy XVI‘s world, players can return to the Hideaway – the main game hub. At the Hideaway, Clive will upgrade skills, buy gear, and unlock secrets that will guide him to new missions. This incorporation of in-game progress checkers is a boon to completionists looking to discover everything about Valisthea.
As Clive explores the world and encounters enemies and NPCs, entries are added to a notebook. Clive can then take these entries back to Harpocrates to discover their significance and learn more about the game’s world. As he discovers more about the world, Clive levels up the Thousand Tomes and gains bonuses toward further exploration. The feedback loop that Final Fantasy XVI incorporates incentivizes players to explore. For a completionist like myself, having an in-game progress tracker toward exploration is a welcome metric.
Additionally, after visiting Harpocrates, players can attend lectures at the Hideaway with Vivian. Attending these lectures also grants bonuses toward exploration and unlocks new quests to complete. Vivian’s lectures can help players refresh on the connections between Valisthea’s kingdoms and inhabitants.
Clive’s Canine Companion Torgal
The switch to real-time combat in Final Fantasy XVI means the player’s party will be quite different. Instead of controlling a group of heroes like in other series games, the player only controls Clive. Alongside Clive is a rotating cast of companions who come and go throughout the different time periods of the game. The one exception to this is Clive’s canine companion Torgal, who will be with the player for the game’s duration.
Torgal’s presence during combat and ability to customize his AI behavior calls to mind other games like The Last Guardian. Hopefully, Torgal’s presence is less of a gimmick and more of an actual benefit to combat. As a dog person, I love the idea of having one accompany me through my Final Fantasy XVI journey. Clive will also have Chocobos available to ride and human AI companions, but Torgal is my personal highlight.
Charting a New Course Forward for Final Fantasy
Above all else, the main thing I’m looking forward to in Final Fantasy XVI is the prospect of pushing the series forward. I grew up playing Final Fantasy and it continues to be one of my favorite series. As a longtime fan, Square Enix’s direction for the franchise has occasionally been frustrating. I enjoyed the lighter tone and mechanics of Final Fantasy XV, but it didn’t “feel” like Final Fantasy. Truthfully, I would consider Final Fantasy XII as the last great single-player series game. The duality of pushing the envelope while returning to the series’ past glories is exactly what I think Final Fantasy needs.
If the risks taken in Final Fantasy XVI prove to be successful, the series has a bright future. Every Final Fantasy game is different in terms of both its stories and mechanics. In fact, the whole point of the Final Fantasy moniker is that it indicates the final adventure for each game’s world. Final Fantasy XVI is challenging what fans could and should expect from a series title. As a result, future series games may be just as innovative in their design.