Final Fantasy 16 preview — an overdue return to the PS1 glory days

By Lee Brady,

In our preview of Final Fantasy XVI, we finally saw the classic RPG series return to the high standard of its PlayStation glory days.

With the Final Fantasy XVI trophies set for launch on Thursday, June 22, 2023, TrueTrophies was given the opportunity to play over seven hours of the upcoming game on PS5 at an event in London. With its exceptionally well-paced opening chapters and stunning production, not only are we convinced this will be one of the best PS5 games so far, but we’re quite certain that Final Fantasy XVI will bring the series’ reputation back to its early PlayStation highs.

Disclaimer: This is a special version made for media to experience, and contents may differ from the final version.
Final Fantasy XVI preview — return to JRPG PS1 gloryFinal Fantasy XVI preview — return to JRPG PS1 glory

Final Fantasy XVI preview — the Final Fantasy we have craved

A few hours into Final Fantasy XVI, we find Clive absent from a night of drinking in his honor. Among the soldiers, the Archduke’s firstborn son is well-liked, and news of his vanquishing a Morbol near home has raised spirits on the eve of future war. The soldiers banter and sing encouraged by the Archduke’s warm camaraderie, while Clive’s younger brother Joshua, the chosen Dominant of the Phoenix, watches on in forlorn alienation.

Preceded by scenes of warring Eikons and brutal skirmishes between rival factions, and soon to be followed by one of the major setpieces of the game’s four-hour-long opening, it was during this comparatively quiet scene when an epiphany first dawned on me. I scrambled for my journal and wrote the words “is this not the Final Fantasy we have craved?” before circling it to let my future self know how strongly I felt about the question.
Granted, I’ve only been a Final Fantasy fan for a single year, so maybe I don’t exactly know what long-time fans “crave” from the series. Of the eight Final Fantasy games I’ve played in that time, I can only say I’ve truly loved three games in the series: VI, VII, and VII Remake. The rest have all been pretty good — I certainly had a good time writing my Crisis Core Reunion review — though even without childhood exposure, I can tell you the series’ best efforts were in the 90s.

If you’ve played less of the series than I have, or have only played the most recent games, it’s surprisingly difficult to convey what exactly modern Final Fantasy has lacked that long-time fans of the series might crave about the old games. I think game critic Tim Rogers found the best way to put it: “In horse-blinderly-wearing comparison to Final Fantasy VII, every subsequent Final Fantasy does, in fact, lack a little bit of soul.”

Final Fantasy XVI preview — gameplay screenshootFinal Fantasy XVI preview — gameplay screenshot

Whether for trying to equal FFVII’s success or for having tried to one-up FFVII’s design, an essential verisimilitude has been absent in modern Final Fantasy. And it was this thought that struck me while watching the soldiers drink in Final Fantasy XVI. In this moment of calm before the storm, having just sliced my way through invading goblins and having witnessed the needless death of many a Chocobo on the battlefield, I realized I had not once thought about Final Fantasy VII in all the hours I had spent playing Final Fantasy XVI.

Sure, I thought about FFVI while playing FFXVI — the grounded fantasy setting and paperback politics draw that parallel neatly. And, of course, I thought of the game’s many other influences, with HBO’s Game of Thrones being the most blindingly obvious. However, most importantly I also felt Final Fantasy XVI was very much its own thing, with its own soul. And everything I had seen before and after that scene with the soldiers would only serve to convince me that we had, at last, got what Final Fantasy fans and admirers and general onlookers have all been craving — a return to the series’ former, singular, and uncontestable brilliance.

Final Fantasy XVI preview — gameplay screenshootFinal Fantasy XVI preview — gameplay screenshot

Final Fantasy XVI's world and characters will win you over

I can’t emphasize strongly enough how thoroughly Final Fantasy XVI nails its opening seven or so hours in terms of storytelling and pacing. The setting here isn’t avant-garde by any means — it's pretty much Game of Thrones meets Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. However, unlike so many Final Fantasy games, FFXVI understands that if you want to sell your world to the audience, you first need to sell your characters — and boy does FFXVI sell its characters.

Unlike the broodiness of Cloud Strife or the aloof angst of Prince Noctis, Final Fantasy XVI’s lead protagonist Clive Rosfield feels tangibly relatable and easy to root for. He’s your Jon Snow — at times naive and brimming with self-defeating anger, but overall sensible, likable, and suitably heroic. Before we’re even given the driving motivation of vengeance, we find ourselves on Clive’s side because he’s a decent guy — it’s the mark of solid writing.

Final Fantasy XVI preview — gameplay screenshootFinal Fantasy XVI preview — gameplay screenshot

Clive’s squeaky younger brother Joshua is great too — a character firmly aware that he is definitely not the protagonist of this Final Fantasy game, and we can empathize with the insecurities it brings him. There's also Cid, an assured future fan favorite and a clear stand-out from the early game. With the rye charm of Bronn, he and Clive form a Nathan Drake/Victor Sullivan kind of dynamic — though obviously, the more mature tone of the game means there are far fewer quips and far more quiet digs at each other.

Bolstered by the rest of the early game's convincing cast of characters, I felt inevitably drawn into Final Fantasy XVI’s world. I soon found myself caring about the encroaching threat of the White Walkers The Blight, the bickering between the various kingdoms, the treatment of the Dominants, and even the politics of the monstrous Eikon that leads Clive down the path to revenge. If that all sounds like a bunch of standard fantasy jargon that you can hardly struggle to care about, trust me — Final Fantasy XVI does an exceptional job at making you care.

Final Fantasy XVI preview — gameplay screenshootFinal Fantasy XVI preview — gameplay screenshot

A Final Fantasy that plays as good as it looks

Near the end of my Final Fantasy XVI preview, I was able to check out a small section of the game’s open world. It was a fairly straightforward road between two checkpoints that players could abandon to pick up some scattered items, typically guarded by some tougher early-game beasts. I would definitely need to play a lot more of the open world to know definitively how this side of the game holds up, but from what I played the scale seemed suitably reined in, closer to God of War than Final Fantasy XV.

In this open-world section, I’ll note that besides starting one very simple side quest, there was essentially nothing to do but get out there and start picking fights with stray animals. If that sounds beyond dull, then let me surprise you, because it was exactly what I was hoping for at that point. I was having such a great time messing around and getting good at Final Fantasy XVI’s combat that the moment the game just let me go to town at my own pace, I was in heaven.

Final Fantasy XVI preview — gameplay screenshootFinal Fantasy XVI preview — gameplay screenshot

The Devil May Cry design ethos brought along by designer Ryota Suzuki is plain to see, with FFXVI even sneaking in some staple moves from the series like Dante’s ‘Stinger’ and Nero’s excellent ‘Devil Bringer.’ Combining DMC's open-ended combat design with God of War 2018’s more accessible approach to the action genre results in Final Fantasy XVI feeling fast and fluid without the player feeling overwhelmed by having to learn too much.

In this open-world section of the preview, Clive had unlocked both his fiery Ifrit moveset and his wind-based Garuda moveset, and I soon found myself effortlessly hopping between the two Eikons. I found setting up Clive’s combos blissfully easy, issuing an explosive move from Ifrit to send a foe flying and then juggling them mid-air with Garuda’s slashes. Dodging and parrying felt similarly responsive both in boss fights and against hordes of smaller foes, and never once did I feel Final Fantasy XVI relinquishing my control of the action.

Final Fantasy XVI preview — gameplay screenshootFinal Fantasy XVI preview — gameplay screenshot

In my time with the game, I only encountered two small issues that could foreseeably become larger over a longer play session. One is how the player controls your dog buddy Torgal. His moves are mapped to the directional buttons, which also house the quick item select options. So, if the player accidentally hits the left arrow (like I did at least five times), you might find yourself chugging potions instead of setting up combos with your boy, Atreus dog. This might sound rather avoidable on paper, but in the chaos of battle, a single finger slip can happen rather easily.

The other issue I found was with how the game handles switching between Clive’s Eikon-powered movesets. This pivotal action is entirely mapped to the L2 button, which swaps through the movesets in a fixed roulette — sort of like how you swap weapons in Grand Theft Auto. With a little practice, the player can easily learn how many presses it takes to switch to the moveset they’re looking for, but it is certainly a lot less precise than action games of this ilk typically allow for, and I found myself occasionally overshooting when there were more than two Eikon sets to choose from.
I couldn’t possibly say, even with Final Fantasy XVI’s difficulty-managing options, whether the combat manages to keep all the old turn-based fans on board. However, what Final Fantasy XVI does accomplish is something admirable in its own right — it makes good on the potential of the game's pure action design. It’s a shift for the series, and that comes with a few control issues that could use a bit more finesse, but what they’ve accomplished here is remarkable and, more importantly, insanely fun.

Final Thoughts

Final Fantasy XVI's opening hours feel like a miracle — both for fans of the series and for players hoping the next big PS5 exclusive manages to raise the bar for this console generation. The game looks outlandishly good — I played entirely in 60fps mode and I couldn't detect a single blemish in the visuals at all. More importantly, the game also plays outlandishly well, and my hopes are high that it can stick the landing for its 35-hour-plus runtime.

FFXVI

We were informed at the event that a large chunk of what we played would be released as a demo on PS5 closer to launch, so I beseech you all to try it out and feel the polish of those opening hours for yourself. As I said, since my time with Final Fantasy XVI, I’ve been itching to return to the game's world to see the conclusion of Clive’s story. At last, we might be on the brink of a return to classic form for Final Fantasy — Final Fantasy XVI's PS5 release date of June 22nd, 2023 can't come any faster.
Lee Brady
Written by Lee Brady
Staff Writer Lee keeps one eye on the future (Shadow x Sonic Generations), one eye on the past (PS Plus Premium games), and his secret third eye on junk he really likes (Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts games). Then he uses his big mouth to blurt out long-winded opinions about video games.
Hide ads
View discussion...
Hide ads