On the face of it, Final Fantasy 16 seems to be taking the franchise in a bold and refreshing new direction, jumping wholeheartedly into the realms of an action RPG. However, so much of what makes a Final Fantasy game remains. There are Moogles and Chocobos, a friend named ‘Cid’, and the protagonist, Clive, is a gruff, moody git with a tragic backstory. With its blend of the old and the new, it’s shaping up to be one of the best Final Fantasy games yet.
We recently got to go hands on with Final Fantasy 16, starting off with the game’s opening few hours with a teenage Clive, before jumping ahead to later in the game to roam the open world and a combat demo. Through this we got to experience a wide range of what Final Fantasy 16 will offer.
You’ll play as Lord Clive Rosfield, son of the Archduke, big brother to Joshua, brother-figure to Rosaria’s ward Jill, and son to a Disney-level disapproving mother. Joshua is the Dominant of Fire, the sole person who can channel Phoenix and use Fire magic without a Crystal. In a world positively dripping in practical applications of magic, this is clearly a huge deal.
Joshua bestows upon you the Blessing of the Phoenix, letting you wield some Fire magic in the same way, albeit to a much lesser extent. In return, you are his Shield, sworn protector to who is also the future king of the Grand Duchy of Rosaria — a settlement on the western reaches of the continent of Storm.
There are seven other dominants that the world’s doctrine speak of, who together are supposed to form a sort of protectorate. Each dominant is blessed by franchise favourites, from Ramuh and Shiva to Titan. However, unlike the previous games where you can happily release Ifrit to blow the hell out of a lowly soldier or Chatterpillar, these almighty beings are as respected as they are feared. When things get out of hand, cities are wiped off the map. If you see a Dominant about to lose control, you run; your very life depends on it.
So, for once, you are not the star of the show. You aren’t an almighty SOLDIER who can wield any time of Materia you can get your hands on, and you’re not SeeD. What you are is a soldier turned elite assassin – OK, so there’s some similarities – with a tragic backstory and a reason to glower when nobody is looking. It’s still a Final Fantasy game, after all.
These limitations are actually a breath of fresh Aero in the early game that we experienced. While you do learn new spells, being locked into just Fire magic for the first stretch of the game lends itself to a fluidity of combat that is quite refreshing. Rather than having to worry about elemental affinities and rock-paper-scissors, you can simply let loose and whale on the opponents. You are armed with normal sword-based attacks, and the limited abilities conferred on you by Joshua — and you’re rather effective with it. The sum total is a rhythmic quality to battles that is just innately satisfying.
There are also two types of combat, in a sense. You have your average encounter that pits you against your standard low-level enemies, and you have ‘Formidable Foes’; bosses that not only come with (heavily telegraphed) QTEs for the epic moments, but performance-based rewards that net you gil and exp, along with items.
Taking down a Formidable Foe is also when the victory theme plays (yep, the one you’re probably singing right now); though this time it has lyrics. We asked a bunch of people at the preview event, but nobody told us what they were or what they meant.
Returning to the lore, and if you’ve already forgotten the above, don’t worry about it — it’s a JRPG and the lore, while moreish, can go in one ear and out the other. Heaven help you if you go away and come back after a few months. Fortunately, the game features a nifty new Active Time Lore (ATL) system to help fill in the blanks.
One of the worst things about exposition in games is when NPCs tell you stuff your character should know, having grown up in the same world as them. Here, all of that is done away with; if it’s something Clive should know, the person talking to him doesn’t insult his intelligence by explaining it. When Jill tells you she will praying to Metia for your success, you have two options: you can either carry on doing what you’re doing as the conversation plays out, or you hold the ATL button, pausing the game and bringing up a contextual menu of relevant topics to the conversation.
Want to know more about Metia? Click the Metia bubble and get a short blurb that catches you up. Back out of it and the scene continues as normal. It’s as unobtrusive as it is elegant, and we hope to see more of this style of storytelling in the future. Oh, and if you’re curious, Metia is a red star in the sky.
There’s more that we could say, from how Clive gets the mark on his face to how he unlocks additional spells, but that starts to veer towards spoiler territory. You will learn all of this for yourself with an upcoming playable demo that will be released before launch – the demo is going to be the start of the game, lasts a couple of hours and focuses on Clive in his youth. Instead, lets wrap up with how excited we are to see the franchise take a new direction, and one that doesn’t involve a boy band simulator.
Instead, the look and feel of Final Fantasy 16 harkens back to Final Fantasy 12, but with a gruff, adult exterior; the sleek, modern combat that has evolved over recent titles; and a slick veneer that we could only dream of back in 2006. The game really is incredibly gorgeous, and for all its high-def grit and serious themes, it feels like one of those games you sink into like a hot bath and just smile.
Final Fantasy 16 is shaping up to be a very, very good game.