Final Fantasy XVI Final Hands-on Preview – Looking Forward While Learning From the Past

The release of Final Fantasy XVI feels like it has a heavy weight on its shoulders. There’s a lot riding on it, and with an all-star cast of developers headed by the likes of Naoki Yoshida, the stakes have never been higher. Creative Business Unit III has a lot to prove, but it feels like they’re up to the challenge.

I was fortunate enough to try out almost 6 hours worth of Final Fantasy XVI gameplay during a recently concluded event with select members of media in the region. This media world tour of the game simply exudes confidence, I thought to myself, and after trying the game out, the confidence isn’t misplaced.

In this preview, I’ll be keeping things as spoiler-free as possible, so I won’t be discussing any story-related content. Instead, I’m here to share my general impressions about pretty much everything else that I can safely disclose and how my anticipation for the game has grown even more after playing.

Disclaimer – This is a special version made for media to experience, and contents may differ from the final version.

Related – Pre-order Final Fantasy XVI and get a chance to meet Naoki Yoshida

I got to play through what would be the opening hours of the game along with a special combat demo that was also made playable to select media outlets last February. Right after I pressed on New Game, I knew I was in for a rollercoaster ride. I didn’t expect the ride to start off with an electrifying Eikon sequence that immediately set the tone for the remainder of the playthrough.

Eikons, or what’s basically known as summons for long-time fans of the series, are at the heart and soul of Final Fantasy XVI. There’s an immediate shift of focus from them just being offensive options and spells to being central points to the ongoing narrative because the Eikons are actual characters in the game known as Dominants, who are basically people that have been granted the power to host these mighty beings and calling upon their power for whatever purpose it may serve.

The opening hours of Final Fantasy XVI thrust players into the heart of this dynamic, with the protagonist Clive Rosfield at the center of it all. There’s a major emphasis on storytelling, far more than previous titles in the franchise, with a healthy mix of intrigue, drama, politics, and conflict. A chunk of playing through the early hours will involve lengthy cutscenes that offer a look at Valisthea and the rumblings underneath its shiny facade. Player-controlled sequences come in short bursts, so expect to be putting the controller down a lot while listening to a lot of dialog.

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

As the first M-rated Final Fantasy game, Final Fantasy XVI offers a darker theme and setting, and it absolutely works. This isn’t your typical fantasy game filled with rainbows and butterflies, so you can expect overly bloody sequences, gruesome acts, and even f-bombs casually being thrown around that all feel natural and fitting to the situation. At some points, you may even forget that this is a Final Fantasy game, but the franchise essence never really goes away through the many references to past titles, especially Final Fantasy XIV, that series veterans will easily recognize.

That said, the production value is off the charts here in Final Fantasy XVI, and one particular standout is its voice acting. Lines are delivered with such nuance and confidence, and there’s hardly anything that sounds or feels out of place. I know many automatically default to the often superior Japanese dub, and while that’s still an option here, the English performances are superb and could reap huge praise when the game comes out.

We also can’t forget to give props to Masayoshi Soken’s masterful soundtrack that gave us chills as early as the title screen. The whole experience is elevated due to new twists in the soundtrack, where something as simple as a choir singing to the classic and iconic victory fanfare track is enough to make us tip our hats. Given the grand scale of this title and the many epic and Eikonic battles that lie ahead, Soken absolutely delivers.

The many trailers of Final Fantasy XVI offer a dazzling look at what to expect, but playing through the game doesn’t show a stark difference. What I’m basically saying is that the game looks as good as advertised – the views are stunning, the effects are over-the-top, and the cinematic sequences are a sight to behold. Creative Business Unit III is clearly flexing its muscles here, and there’s hardly a time during my short playthrough that I wasn’t left impressed with all of the tiny details.

In particular, one Eikon battle was a dizzying array of visual effects that just doesn’t stop until the end of the sequence. At some point, I didn’t even know what was happening anymore because I was so enthralled with the events as I threw my own f-bombs and whispered about how much of the budget went into making this one battle come alive. It’s just mind-blowing, and to think that there will be many more sequences like this left me in awe.

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

Final Fantasy XVI goes all in on the action with a departure from the typical turn-based affair to an exhilarating ride courtesy of ex-Capcom and Devil May Cry 5 designer, Ryota Suzuki. Combat is extremely fluid and combo-based, offering an array of deadly and acrobatic moves that are fast and definitely furious. The opening hours of the game don’t really showcase this at first since most of the battles can be reduced to pressing a single button, so this may leave a negative impression on players due to its simplicity and repetitiveness.

It’s not a bad thing and should be expected to a certain extent because Clive is still leveling up and learning new things as the game moves along. Soon after, Clive’s best boy Torgal joins the mix, adding a few support moves that will instantly add a few more button presses in between everything that allows for a bit more sophistication than just spamming square.

To find out more, I quickly hopped on to the Final Fantasy XVI battle demo, which gave me control of Clive with more skills than I could handle at that point in time. My fears of a “boring” battle system were put to rest in an instant as I could now switch between Eikon abilities and more skills, opening up a whole new layer of combat that almost requires the use of all controller buttons, with such a high ceiling and can certainly intimidate less dexterous players.

final fantasy xvi battle
FINAL FANTASY XVI © 2023 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved.

Thankfully, the developers have included certain “Timely Accessories” that help the player pull off amazing combat feats with simple button presses. These accessories are totally optional and more hardcore players may choose to do everything manually, but I appreciated the inclusion because it offers an easier option for a wider range of players, allowing them to enjoy pulling off these combos without the frustration. The aim is to make everyone enjoy the game, and that’s certainly a checkbox that Square Enix can successfully cross out.

Since these accessories take up an equipment slot, players will be left to choose and give up better equipment for it. There’s a balance that needs to be considered and is a nice touch from the developers to keep things in check.

From what I’ve played, areas are very straightforward and don’t offer too much exploration. It’s hard to get lost, and there’s usually only one way forward that limits players from moving around too much. Still, it’s too early to say if this persists throughout the game. Trash mobs are usually pushovers, but more elite opponents will pose a challenge that resembles a deliberate dance of reading attacks, punishing a reach, and going all-out when you stagger them. These mostly 1-on-1 battles are tension-filled and will take more than simply attacking mindlessly to conquer.

One particular feature that I absolutely adored in Final Fantasy XVI is the Active Time Lore that constantly gives players an easy-to-access lore center where relevant personalities and locations are explained, allowing me to remember the tiny details since I last stopped playing. I love this inclusion, especially since I have the tendency to hop in and out of a game, and I believe many will learn to appreciate it as well.

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

Final Fantasy XVI, amidst the intriguing story and mature tone, is still a Final Fantasy game at heart. The development team has made it so that their learnings from previous titles are reflected in this latest release – familiar elements and Final Fantasy “constants” make a return, and players will find themselves doing side-quests and typical RPG fluff despite the action-oriented approach. Naoki Yoshida and Hiroshi Takai’s Final Fantasy is a new title that isn’t afraid to push forward and evolve with the times while keeping the soul of the series burning bright.

It’s obviously too early to say how this will all play out, but the development team is extremely confident with what they’ve come up with. With only 5+ hours of extremely polished gameplay under my belt, I can definitely feel the same confidence as I wait in anticipation to play more of it when Final Fantasy XVI launches next month.

Final Fantasy XVI is scheduled to launch on June 22, 2023, exclusively on the PS5.

The above preview was based on a special version made for the media to experience, and contents may differ from the final version.

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

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