The developers behind Final Fantasy XVI have described the game to be a rollercoaster ride, where the thrill and emotions fluctuate up and down that makes it one unforgettable experience.
Now that the demo for Square Enix’s latest entry for its flagship series, PS5 players can now sample that rollercoaster ride. And then some.
If the demo is any indication, we might see an emotionally-plotline, and some of the most intimate ones compared to the fifteen previous Final Fantasy games before it, and along with it a welcome switch from an RPG to a full-blown action game with light RPG elements.
The demo will take you through the first chapter of the game. It starts with a set-piece immediately, where you see the Eikons Phoenix and Ifrit duke it out. And if that wasn’t enough, once you assume control of protagonist Clive, you walk a few steps and then be treated with another set-piece, this time a war where troops slash each other to death, and two Eikons Shiva and Titan duke it out.
Final Fantasy XVI is just going ham with the over-the-top frame-rate-tearing set pieces where things explode, particles are flying and you might not even sure what you’re looking at at times. Remember that fantastic set piece with Leviathan in Final Fantasy XV? Okay, what if that takes place in the first two hours. Wild.
And in between that, there’s political intrigue, some rather suggestive scenes (though nothing explicit) and more bloodshed are seen. The latter two elements are something you don’t see in other Final Fantasy games. They went M for Mature for the ESRB rating and it shows. And they’re free to use the F word now as well.
That said, the first chapter is heavy on the cutscenes, locked at 30 fps even on performance mode, so you’ll be spending most of the time basking it in, catching up on what the heck is going on in the world of Valisthea. There’s no lore dumping here, the plot just moves along and you are expected to keep up with what all the characters are up to.
And if you couldn’t, or just needed a refresher on who is that person again who just appeared in this particular moment in the cutscene, just hit pause and enter… Active Time Lore. In a fascinating callback to the Active Time Battle system in past Final Fantasy entries, where the turn-based actions are governed by how fast a bar is filled, Active Time Lore gives you all the cliff notes of any character, location, concept or organisation that’s being mentioned during that part of the cutscene. Confused at who is that giant of a man and that lady that suddenly start feeling up with each other at a corner of a hall in a castle? Well, pause and look it up on Active Time Lore.
There’s also this deeply sombre note to the soundtrack. You hear some of the familiar melodies and leitmotifs from Final Fantasy here, but it goes down a lower octave, with some notes being off from what you’d expect that brings this chilling, goosebumps-inducing, sadness to the action being unfolded. The songs make me sad but it made me feel alive as well. What a performance.
That aside, the first chapter does give you a taste of combat eventually. There’s a tutorial, then there’s a short quest where you clear an abandoned town full of goblins. That particular level is structured linearly, but the way the paths wind up it doesn’t feel like you’re walking through corridors upon corridors. FFXVI is not open-world like FFXV was, but it also remembers the lessons from FFXIII.
Once the combat gets going, it does feel like a bonafide character action game, albeit without all the fun moves unlocked yet. It keeps it simple with one melee and one magic attack plus one Eikonic ability. Yeah, iconic, as you’ll be imbued with the power of the various Eikons. Once you remember the dodge button is R1 and not circle, and get around how the camera seems to need some manual adjustments to keep up with multi-opponent fights, the combat sings. From rewarding players for perfect dodges to having specific combos that can only link when pressing buttons at the right time (Magic Burst are hard to nail consistently but it feels good when once you figured out the timing), I can see the depth of the systems, and it should be promising.
Thankfully, the demo doesn’t just end at that first chapter, in which progress will be transferred. The demo includes what’s called the Eikonic Challenge, which offers more playtime, just so you can mess around with the combat.
But I have to say, with the way the demo ended, that’s got to be one best way to convince demo players to maybe check out the full game. By the end of this rollercoaster ride, I was high on adrenaline, and also an emotional wreck seeing flawed humans on this stage dealing with tragedy. I wanted it to keep going (which it technically does as you get the extra portion to further try out the combat). I won’t be surprised that a significant amount of players immediately throw money for the digital copy right after the demo ended so they can be ready to continue this rollercoaster ride next week.
What Final Fantasy XVI is doing is definitely bold, and totally out of the left field when compared to past numbered entries. Yet this time, the team has a strong vision, is definitely comfortable with the hardware they’re working on, and is going all out pouring the best work they could.
If you have a PS5 and is a fan of Final Fantasy, you have no reason not to check it out, even just to see if the combat works for you or not. But you don’t need to be a Final Fantasy fan to enjoy what I assume to be a rollercoaster the spiral downwards into a tragedy. As in the story, not the game itself. From the demo, Final Fantasy XVI plays solidly well, and I too am already in line for my next ride on this rollercoaster, the full ride this time.
Final Fantasy XVI releases on June 22 for the PS5.
Played on the PS5. Impressions based on the demo available to the public