Disclaimer: This is a special version made for media to experience, and contents may differ from the final version. FINAL FANTASY XVI © 2023 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved.
Intro and Presentation Key Points
Thanks to the lovely people over at Square Enix, I attended a Media Tour Event for Final Fantasy XVI to get some hands-on time with the game. I was also given the opportunity to do a roundtable interview with Creative Business Unit 3, the developers behind Final Fantasy XVI. If that name sounds familiar, then you may have played or seen their amazing work on Final Fantasy XIV over several years. These impressions are part of a three-part feature including an article on the roundtable interview we conducted and a video essay going in-depth on the battle system that includes B-roll footage from the demo we played. Each part has information the others may not, so I suggest checking out all three parts of this feature. I need to stress that the media tour’s focus was primarily on showing off the battle system, so much of these features is on that subject. That’s not to say we didn’t learn anything new in terms of lore or story details, but as requested by the developers, I will refrain from spoiling anything and let everyone experience it fresh when the game comes out on June 22nd. It is my suggestion to definitely check out the video essay part of this feature if your primary concern is the combat system for Final Fantasy XVI, as I go into a lot of detail in the video.
Four developers from Creative Business Unit 3 joined us in New York City for the event. They were the Producer of Final Fantasy XVI Naoki Yoshida (also known by his nickname Yoshi-P), Main Director Hiroshi Takai, Combat Director Ryota Suzuki, and Localization Director Michael-Christopher Koji Fox. Before we had time with the demo itself, we were given a lengthy presentation to go over some of the core ideas and principles behind Final Fantasy XVI. We also viewed some yet-to-be-released footage of the game.
Final Fantasy XVI was built upon four main pillars: things that players have always expected from the series. The first pillar is story. They wanted to return to the series’ rich high fantasy roots with a focus on politics, justice, and values. They intend to appeal to not only the younger fans of the series when creating the story, but also the older fans. The developers recognize that Final Fantasy fans who have grown up with the series are now themselves much older, so a balance to appeal to both is necessary. They also wanted to create a game that is complete from beginning to end, and they feel like they have accomplished just that.
The second pillar is characters. The ensemble cast of characters in Final Fantasy XVI each has their own unique arc that plays out as the story unfolds. Although the spotlight is on Clive Rosfield, you experience the fates of all these characters as their paths cross. Without going into some of the spoilers we were privy to, I can go over a broad explanation of each of the main characters.
First, let’s address our main protagonist Clive Rosfield and his family. Clive is the Archduke of Rosaria’s firstborn son. Thanks to actions taken during the story’s opening segments, Clive is sent down a path of vengeance. Clive was given the Blessing of the Phoenix by his younger brother Joshua, and as such, can harness these powers in battle. Clive is also the dominant of Ifrit. As to why or how, you will have to play the game to find out. Clive may be traversing a dark, lonely path, but he is not alone in this journey. With him is his trusty and faithful companion dog Torgal. Yoshi-P wanted to stress that not only is Torgal a great fighter, but he is also cute, and yes, you can pet him!
Next up are Clive’s friends Jill and Cid. Jill Warrick is a close friend of Clive and battles alongside him at certain points in the game. She is the dominant of Shiva, the Eikon of Ice. Cidolfus Telamon is Final Fantasy XVI’s take on the iconic Cid appearing throughout the series. Like other iterations, he is vastly different in this game. Clive and Cid meet up after certain game events, and he acts as a guide for Clive throughout the world. Cid is the dominant of Ramuh, the Eikon of Lightning.
From other nations, we have Hugo Kupka and Benedikta Harman. Hugo is the economic advisor of the Dhalmekian Republic and is best known as Titan, being that Eikon’s dominant. Benedikta Harman is a spy of the Kingdom of Waloed. She is the dominant of Garuda, and was the main boss fight of the demo we played.
The last two are Dion Lesage and Barnabas Tharmr. Dion is the prince of the Holy Empire of Sanbreque; he is also the lord commander of the empire’s Dragoons. He is the dominant of Bahamut, Eikon of Light. Barnabas is the regent of the kingdom of Waloed, and not much is known about him. He is the dominant of Odin, the Eikon of Darkness.
The third pillar of Final Fantasy XVI is graphics. Using the power of the PlayStation 5, they wanted to create a rich, beautiful world that players can enjoy aesthetically. Notably, there was no CGI used in the game. All cinematics, cutscenes, and battles are interwoven using the in-engine graphics system to create a seamless experience. Presenters stressed there will be no load times for any of this. I can attest this was very much the case during the demo. Seeing it in action looks outstanding.
The fourth pillar, and core of our media tour, is the battle system. There are two main parts of the battle system. The first is small-scale battles in which you control Clive himself, and the second (and selling point of the battle system) is the Eikon vs. Eikon fights. These fights have you controlling a summon against another summon and are very impressive. I will discuss this further when I discuss the demo itself because we got to experience an Eikon vs. Eikon fight. It really is a sight to behold.
Final Fantasy XVI uses a full real-time action combat system. There are no hybrid modes like Final Fantasy VII Remake and no turn-based approach like many older titles in the series. Recognizing that the industry has been trending more and more toward real-time action combat, the developers also decided that Final Fantasy XVI will do the same. Now, I know many people reading this article may see this and be very disappointed in this news. I understand full well that not everyone enjoys real-time action combat, may not have the skill or hand-eye coordination to play action combat games, or may have a condition preventing you from playing and enjoying games like this. Have no fear: the developers understand this as well and have added a ton of accessibility options to the game, hopefully allowing greater access to Final Fantasy XVI. This happens via Timely Accessories that you may equip at any time.
This wraps up what they wanted us to know beforehand, so let’s head right into the demo itself and get to the real reason everyone is reading this article.
I strongly suggest watching the video footage for a more in-depth look at the battle system where I go into specifics on controls and the general feel of gameplay. You can also visualize much better what I got to experience with the footage provided. Here, I will summarize the main takeaways from the demo and my own impressions.
First up is the Timely Accessories. You may equip these accessories at the start of the game or choose to have them off by default. No matter what you choose at the start, you may still take them on and off at your leisure. Equipping the Ring of Timely Evasion will slow down time whenever you are attacked and give you a QTE button press to evade the strike (the default option is R1). This works every single time you are attacked and is incredibly helpful for anyone having a hard time avoiding enemy attacks. The other one that was heavily emphasized was the Ring of Timely Strikes.
This accessory allows you to press one button (default was square) and do full enhanced combos that would normally require other button presses in a certain sequence. With just these two on, you can essentially play the game with two buttons and still feel like you have control and are a part of the combat. There are other versions of these rings as well. One allows the AI to take control of Torgal in battle so you don’t have to issue commands to him. Another offers auto-potions if you are hurt and need to heal. I am sure there will be more as the game approaches release. I got a chance to use these accessories, and although I didn’t need to, I still tried them on. They are perfect for people who need help playing the game, or those unable to invest the time to become masters of the combat system.
Another area I know a lot of people want to know about is the AI-controlled party members. In the demo, we had Torgal and Cid with us. Final Fantasy XVI does not require you to control the AI party members. They cannot die, they cannot get hurt, and you do not need to babysit them. You control Clive, and that is all. You can give Torgal commands such as Sic, Heal, and Ravage, or you can equip his timely ring and not worry about it. You could not issue commands to Cid: he did his own thing at all times. I much prefer it this way compared to other games. I do not enjoy having to watch AI teammate health or worry about what they are attacking. They are there to assist, and that is all.
The demo itself was split into four parts. You start at the base of a tower with Torgal and Cid and are tasked with climbing the tower for a certain objective. I won’t spoil why or how, but apparently this is set a few hours into the game. You fight through a few soldier groups to get used to the combat and to familiarize yourself with Eikon abilities mapped to the circle button and the shortcut buttons. Square does your basic combo attack, triangle will cast long-range magic depending on which Eikon you have selected, and x is your jump button.
The meat and potatoes of the combat are the Eikon attacks. You cycle through your Eikons with the L2 button, which were Phoenix, Garuda, and Titan for this demo. This dictates what circle, triangle, and the R2+square and R2+Triangle buttons do. For example, your triangle button casts fireball with Phoneix, but more importantly, the circle button becomes Phoenix Shift, a gap closer. Garuda has Deadly Embrace, which drags the enemy toward you, and Titan has Titanic Block, which is a shield. On top of that, the shortcuts for R2+square and R2+triangle become unique abilities to those Eikons. Phoenix has Scarlet Cyclone—a point- blank AOE around Clive—and Rising Flame, which is a shoryuken-like uppercut slash. There were three abilities for each Eikon to map to two buttons, but it did look like there was more to choose from down the road from the ability chart. Each of these abilities has unique individual cooldowns, so your task is to cycle through your Eikons and use up their abilities while waiting for the others to come off cooldown. It makes for some really fun and flashy combos when you do it correctly. My personal favorite from the demo was one of Titan’s abilities that lets Clive grab the enemy and then pummel them to death. Some of these abilities also come with their own quick QTE session to do the most damage.
Combat is quick, responsive, and not overly complicated. You shouldn’t expect Ys-level quickness, but you also shouldn’t expect a Dark Souls slow and methodical approach. It’s about a middle ground between the two. An additional combat feature is L3+R3 entering Limit Break mode for Clive, where he will light his sword on fire and do extra damage. Also, each enemy has a stagger meter in which they will stagger twice. At half stagger, enemies slow down and allow you to do some easier combos and damage. At full stagger, they are incapacitated until they recover, and you do extra damage up to 150%. Timing Limit Break with staggering an enemy is the key to doing the most damage. Torgal can also receive commands via the d-pad, and you can also shortcut healing items there. A reminder here that it’s best to check out the video to really understand what I am talking about.
Halfway up the tower, you run into Benedikta as she summons a mid-boss very familiar to Final Fantasy XIV fans. As she is the dominant of Garuda, she summons her sisters Suparna and Chirada to attack you. This is the first big battle of the demo. You must turn attention to the aggressor at the time, as the other will stay back and cast spells from afar. I noticed two main things in this fight. One is that the game has a very Final Fantasy XIV-style approach to ground targeted AOEs, namely avoiding them. Staying in the correct spots allows you to avoid all damage without having to hit the evade button. The other thing is the cinematic attack sequences that happen. After you do enough damage, a cutscene plays in which you must do basic quicktime events, such as pressing R1 to dodge or square to attack, and watch as Clive and Torgal team up against the sisters in some incredibly flashy sequences. If you input correctly, you will see the sisters take damage or Clive dodge out of their attacks. Miss and the opposite holds true; Clive is thrown around and takes damage himself. Not too difficult and nothing groundbreaking in terms of gameplay, but I will say that the choreography for these scenes is great in this game’s engine.
After the mid-boss fight resolves, you are again tasked with the tower climb. This is a good spot to go into detail on how you explore the world of Final Fantasy XVI. So, Yoshi-P and his team wanted to stress that Final Fantasy XVI is not an open-world game. They instead zero in on certain parts, set pieces, and areas of the world they have built and flesh them out for immersion and fun. They also added that a few areas are designed to be big and fun to explore. This tower, however, really was not. It’s pretty straightforward and (for the most part) linear, though you do need to interact with some gates and find different pathways when the obvious ones are blocked. Torgal has a cool mechanic when you press L3 outside combat and he will show you the way in case you are lost. Trust the pup’s nose and you can find your way.
At the top of the tower is the fight against Benedikta. She can fly and has command of the winds due to her ties to Garuda. She also can manifest two giant talons to pick up Clive and throw/slam him around the arena. If you thought the Chirada and Suprana fight was flashy, then you haven’t seen anything yet. This fight can get pretty wild with its cinematics, and the arena becomes a warzone of tornadoes and rubble flying around. Along with abundant cinematic attacks, we have some awesome angry dialogue between Benedikta and Clive. I can understand thinking all of this is a bit much. Someone having trouble and dying to a boss a lot would get frustrated having to sit through these scenes time and time again just to get back to where they lost. I suspect I am nitpicking, though, because I still think they look absolutely amazing and want to see future fights just for these parts. The demo ends when you defeat Benedikta. Well, I shouldn’t say that, as there was one more part to this demo that was even more impressive.
Eikon vs. Eikon Fights
This is the sparkling gem of the Final Fantasy XVI battle system and for a good reason. We were allowed to do the Ifrit vs. Garuda fight for this demo. Before I get into it, I need to explain why these fights will be the star of the show come release time. Creative Business Unit 3 wants to stress that each Eikon vs. Eikon fight in this game will be 100% unique in terms of gameplay. No two fights play the same, and there are no recurring matches: they are one-and-done deals. From what we learned and saw, they very much will be. One of the fights looked like a shoot ‘em up, another had Ifrit in a high-speed battle as he traversed terrain, and another looked like it was a Final Fantasy fighting minigame. Yoshi-P described it best as each fight as its own unique NES game. Nowadays, games blur genre lines all the time, but back then, it was “this game is this genre,” and that’s it. This is the approach they had for these fights. For Ifrit and Garuda, it was a wrestling match between two giant monsters, almost like watching and playing a wrestling game. And that’s exactly how this played out. Ifrit plays way differently than Clive for this fight. He is slow, lumbering, and has some weight behind his attacks. Garuda also is way less agile and more devastating with her size. The real amazing part is the cinematics that unfold during this fight. Limbs get torn off, Garuda gets burned, Ifirt gets piledriven, and you get the idea. It is very impressive to watch and play. I am sincerely looking forward to seeing the rest of these fights once the game comes out.
Demo Loose Ends and Warp-Up
Some loose ends to talk about include the ability list and the equipment screen. There are a lot of abilities for Clive to learn from his normal attack actions. Some abilities allow you to counterattack after dodging, or some allow you to do a long-range flame slash if you hold square. Each ability can also be powered up and mastered if you spend enough points. Note there are no permanent choices in the game: you can refund your points whenever you want. There is also computer assistance for using the points if you can’t decide. There are also unique abilities for each Eikon power, and it looks like it has room to grow as the game goes on. On the equipment side, Clive can equip a sword, waist armor, and a bracelet in battle, along with three accessories. The equipment we had and found wasn’t too varied, but it had features like powering up certain Eikon abilities or straight stat boosts. Should be interesting come full release.
Overall, I would say I really enjoyed the combat system and the demo. I am a fan of action combat and am no stranger to games with quick and fun combos. Final Fantasy XVI will definitely appeal to fans of these types of games, but I also think they took a good approach to appeal to everyone. I was already sold on the game before this, but this only added to my hype. There is more information released in the developer interview, which I suggest you read to supplement these impressions. I want to once again thank Square Enix, their PR team, and Creative Business Unit 3 for inviting me to the event and allowing me to experience this game for myself. I can’t wait for June 22nd to play the whole thing because to quote Yoshi-P himself, I am looking forward to it.
Don’t miss the other two parts of this feature: A video with more of my impressions and a breakdown on the battle system, plus an interview with the FFXVI development team: