Final Fantasy 16’s demo is packed full of mindblowing AAA details

By Lee Brady,

Final Fantasy 16's PS5-exclusive demo showcases at least five examples of what AAA game design polish can achieve.

Final Fantasy XVI trophies are finally set to drop later this week, and to help put in the time, we've been playing the demo of what we hope will be one of the best PS5 games so far. While the blockbuster cutscenes and stellar combat certainly make quite an impression, we've found at least five tiny details in Final Fantasy XVI's demo that exude AAA game design polish.

FFXVI AAAThere's definitely a shine to FFXVI.

Lee

FF16's PS5 demo doesn't waste your time

When we talk about the kind of AAA game design we see in Final Fantasy XVI, we often talk about the detail of the graphics, or the consistency of the frame rate, or the literal file size of the game — and that's fair enough. These features stand out to players and are — frankly speaking — expected of big-budget AAA games. Indeed, I doubt I would have written our flowery Final Fantasy XVI preview if what I had played had looked and ran like garbage.

That said, if we're talking about AAA polish, the conversation needs to go a little deeper, because the real indicator of AAA polish is all the little things. While the full game has yet to release, Final Fantasy XVI's demo suggests its developers not only had enough money to buy the nicest graphics around, but also enough money to buy the time required to test the gameplay and player experience within an inch of its life — a fact that makes itself known in the small details.

For example, one tiny design choice that jumped out to me while playing FFXVI's demo was how the player doesn't need to press a button to pick up items. From Horizon Zero Dawn to God of War, it feels like AAA games love nothing more than to have you press a button every time you want to pick up a stray piece of junk in the world. In some ways, you could argue it builds immersion, but at the 40-hour mark, is it really all that immersive to be slamming a button twenty times a minute just to pick up twigs and rocks?

Final Fantasy XVI's demo does away with the middle man, letting each bright blue shining item in the world glide automatically towards the player as they approach. It's elegant in its simplicity, and it's also the kind of flourish that designers can so easily miss when their game is 80 hours long and 400 digital miles wide. You still have to press a button when opening item chests, but since these are rarer, the button press feels more like a confirmation of having found something.

FFXVI polishGetting off the beaten path pays off.

Exploration brings out FF16's world

Speaking of items in FFXVI's PS5 demo, did you notice how clever all the item placements are at the start of the demo? Maybe you spotted a shining blue item hovering visibly during the combat tutorial with the Lord Commander, for example. After the tutorial, if you make a beeline for the item, you'll find the staircase leading to it is blocked off. To grab it, you have to walk the long way around, passing several NPCs who all impart a little bit of world-building detail as you go.

How about in the Rosfields' gardens just a little later? There's an item placed near the far wall, prompting you to step away from the path where Joshua is standing just to pick it up. As you do, you'll see Bearers — magic-wielding slaves — tend to the hedges with their powers. These details aren't force-fed to you, yet if you have a curious enough mind to depart the linear path for the sake of a blinking light, then the game rewards you on both fronts with a useful item pick-up and some food for thought on how this world functions.

FFXVI AAAAn item looms in the rafters.

When you consider how big of a team is needed to create a AAA game like Final Fantasy XVI, and then think about the fact that item placements and the creation of worldbuilding elements fall under two completely different wings of a development studio (game design and story design, respectively), it soon becomes a small marvel that light touches like these happen in any game this size. Yet here they are, a prime example of just how much time FFXVI's designers had to bring its world together.

Active Time Lore is simply staggering

We've already talked at length about why Final Fantasy XVI's Active Time Lore feature excites us, and now that we've played around with it ourselves, I'm afraid there's no going back. Having the power to pause the game and read a little history lesson on the characters and setting we're currently looking at will simply have to be the norm; I don't care if you're designing something as lore-rich as The Witcher or as irreverent as Crash Bandicoot.

FFXVIBooking up on all that rich Final Fantasy XVI lore.

The fact that you can whip out a detailed whos-who of Valisthea with a long press of the touchpad is a staggering showcase for AAA excess, and I mean that in the most positive way imaginable. With Active Time Lore, something as superfluous as a bestiary has been given prime-time accessibility. While it might not be as deep or as compellingly written as The Witcher 3's various lore catalogs, it at least feels like reading along to a Shakespearean play mid-performance, showing a thousand times more polish than anything like this ever has or will ever actually have to.

Torgal can hold your hand, but only if you ask

As you make your way through the PS5 demo's second half, in which you storm a fort to fight Benedikta, Garuda's Dominant, you'll find you finally have free reign over Torgal — the canine equivalent of God of War's 'Boy.' Now, to be clear, Torgal is a prime example of AAA money going where it should be going, because there's no way a perfectly responsive, aerial-combo-making wolf buddy can be cheap to implement.

FFXVI TorgalFinal Fantasy XVI's Torgal (as a pup).

That said, one very small feature that you might completely forget about is the ability to use Torgal to point you in the right direction if you get turned around in one of the demo's occasionally twisty action stages. If your sense of direction in 3D space is at all lacking, this feature is a godsend — particularly when you get turned around fighting in one of the fort's dozen enemy arenas.

It's very easy to imagine how a game with less AAA time and polish might have handled such a feature. Instead of having our expensive wolf friend point us in the right direction, you can imagine a big red arrow on the screen popping up as Clive turns 180 degrees to orientate himself toward the exit. You can imagine the designer's concern that casual players might get lost and frustrated, though without FFXVI's budget, they might have to fall back on paying voice actors to bark "hey, where are you going?" every time the player faces the wrong way.

FFXVI"Alright, now which way did I come in?"

Contrast this with the Final Fantasy XVI demo's confidence to just let the player roam back and forth, potentially in the wrong direction, as much as they like without prompt. Should we get lost, we simply hold the left analog stick, and hey presto, we know where to go. Should we forget that, then all the permanent dead bodies and open doors should give it away. Either way, Final Fantasy XVI can clearly afford to be as hands-off as you like, which is quite the statement.

Everything just works in the Final Fantasy 16 demo

All of the above examples of AAA polish are what we might consider 'small' compared to features like graphics and frame rate. In truth, however, they're still a whole lot bigger than the myriad of little touches you can find laced through the entire FFXVI demo. Think about the game's menu, which stylishly frames Clive's actual in-game model from different angles as you scroll through it. Or how about the fact you can use both the directional pad and the analog stick to navigate the menus in whichever way feels more comfortable?

FFXVI AAAThose clean, legible, user-friendly FFXVI menus.

When a big enemy gets half-staggered, the game plays a soft shattering sound to let you know it's time to get some critical damage in. You also can't directly affect your party member's stats, but you can still see a little classic pixel rendering of them tucked in the bottom of the attributes screen, harkening back to all those classic games we recommended you play before Final Fantasy XVI's launch.

Above all else, none of these features feel awkward or fiddly — Final Fantasy XVI just seems to work as intended. Sure, performance-wise, it might not hit a perfect 60fps on PS5, much like every other AAA game of this scale. True, we can always imagine more features and different design approaches that might make the game feel better. From what we've been shown so far, and looking at what actually is here, it's clear the developers have really considered Final Fantasy XVI from top-to-bottom. That makes us all the more excited to find out whether that AAA polish remains consistent when we get our hands on the full game.

FF16 demoStill so much left to see.

What did you think of FFXVI's demo? Are you excited for the full experience when Final Fantasy XVI launches on PS5 on Thursday, June 22, 2023? Let us know down in the comments below.
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.
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