Final Fantasy 16’s "story mode" could make room for classic JRPG fans

By Lee Brady,

Final Fantasy XVI's difficulty options will allow PS5 players to affect how the game feels, and it just might help classic JRPG fans get on board.

Final Fantasy XVI trophies will soon be with us once the Final Fantasy 16 release date rolls around this summer, and if there's one aspect of the game we're very curious to see more of before launch, it's the game's "story mode" setting. Most "easy modes" don't really warrant a discussion, but when Final Fantasy XVI's story mode difficulty could potentially make the game feel more like a classic JRPG — well, then it deserves some attention.

Final Fantasy 16Final Fantasy 16 could be hiding its classic JRPG spirit.

Each mainline Final Fantasy instalment has always endeavoured to be its own thing, and Final Fantasy XVI seems to mark the biggest shake-up yet for the series that brought us some of the best PlayStation JRPGs of all time. Sure, Final Fantasy XVI's Eikons might just be a new name for the classic Summons, and warring kingdoms fighting over magical MacGuffins is about as Final Fantasy as it gets, but FFXVI shifting the series towards the hack-and-slash genre is certainly no small change.

Fans of the Final Fantasy series have been understandably polarised by Final Fantasy XVI's lean towards action-heavy combat — particularly the fans who have felt increasingly abandoned since the JRPG glory days. While Final Fantasy games have always had the potential to be difficult, hack-and-slash games are challenging in a completely different way, requiring a far higher proficiency with a controller that might alienate fans of the series' more strategic elements.
It's an unfortunate scenario, as it leaves many Final Fantasy fans feeling a little left out about the next entry in the series, and what it means for the future of the franchise. That said, there was something we picked up on in an interview with the game's director, Hiroshi Takai, that suggest the designers of FFXVI have not only put a lot of thought into their maintaining their vision of a Final Fantasy action game but in also offering classic Final Fantasy fans a way to play Final Fantasy XVI that sounds almost like a secret JRPG mode.

In the interview (translated by Siliconera), Takai details the game's two difficulty modes: "action mode" and "story mode." 'Action mode' would seemingly be the default, having Final Fantasy XVI function almost like a Devil May Cry game — emphasising real-time reactivity rather than the pause-start approach used in one of the best action RPGs on PS5 and PS4, Final Fantasy VII Remake. It'll be a challenging mode, but not so challenging that you "won't feel like trying to beat a boss battle over and over again."

FF16Boss fights won't leave you screaming like Ramuh.

Final Fantasy XVI's 'story mode' is the mode that might appeal to JRPG fans, but not because it's simply easier than 'action mode.' While enemy attack frequency and durability are lowered, the game will reportedly be nearly as hard on story mode, with Takai saying: "You might think there is a huge difference between the two modes, but there isn’t." No, what makes story mode so interesting from the perspective of JRPG fans is how it lets the player use "support accessories" to tailor the game's difficulty, and even change the way the game feels to play.

For example, one support accessory called the "Auto Attack Ring" allows the player to repeatedly hit the action button to execute complicated attack combos, rather than having to memorise and perform various different inputs. Another support accessory called the "Auto Throw Ring" slows time on an incoming opponent's attack to allow for easier dodging. There will apparently be a wide array of support accessory options for players to mess around with throughout story mode, many of which will come in 'auto' and 'semi-auto' varieties for players who want to fine-tune the challenge.

FF16That wily PS5 finally gave Final Fantasy the fast graphics needed to go full action.

What we think is fascinating about FFXVI's support accessories, especially when paired with the game's classic level-up mechanics, is that it essentially allows the game to function far more like a classic Final Fantasy JRPG. The designers have spoken before about trying to map the classic attacks of a Final Fantasy character onto an action game — now players will just have to remember these are mapped to individual button presses instead of a menu.

By taking some of the reactivity out of the game's combat, especially with the use of optional rings that make dodge windows far more generous, Final Fantasy XVI would effectively be tuning its combat to resemble a very quick-paced JRPG — which just so happens to be exactly what the classic Final Fantasy JRPGs were. If you've ever endured the demands of Active Battle System in Final Fantasy V-through-IX, then you'll already know how difficult navigating a menu in a tight time limit can be — FFXVI simply replaces that navigating the process with memorised button presses (and probably some light menus because that's a lot of actions to cram onto a controller).

FF16Hopes are high for the next era of PlayStation JRPG.

Classic Final Fantasy was always intended to be a more action-driven RPG series, with some classic entries leaning into the genre harder than others (remember having to perform Street Fighter combos to pull off moves as Sabin in Final Fantasy VI?). Final Fantasy XVI seems intent to finally be the mainline Final Fantasy that goes all-in on the action genre — but it certainly seems like there is still hope here for fans who were only button-mashing in earlier Final Fantasy games because they were just super impatient waiting for their attack meter to fill up.

Let us know in the comments whether you're intrigued by Final Fantasy XVI's approach to difficulty and what your hopes are for one of the most exciting upcoming PS5 games of 2023.
Lee Brady
Written by Lee Brady
Staff Writer Lee keeps one eye on the future (Astro Bot), one eye on the past (PS1, PS2, and PS3 games), and his secret third eye on junk he really likes (Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Sonic). A PlayStation fan for over 25 years, he loves replaying classic games via PS Plus.
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