Conventions & Events

Final Fantasy XVI Preview: The First 5 Hours

Final Fantasy XVI: The First 5 Hours

Disclaimer: This is a special version of the game made for media to experience, and content may differ from the final version. FINAL FANTASY XVI © 2023 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved.

Thanks to the amazing people over at Square Enix, I got another chance to play Final Fantasy XVI. This time, however, we experienced way more than the combat demo from back in February. This will be a general impression based on my play experience and my thoughts on the gameplay. I will try my best not to spoil any story beats, and I don’t provide any moment-by-moment descriptions, as I was asked not to. This game and franchise mean a lot to many people, including myself, so I understand the need to experience the game firsthand come June 22nd.

That out of the way, I can go into what I played this time around. I got to play approximately the first four hours of the game, covering the very start through the end of The Greatwood stage. On top of that, I also got to explore an open field area called the Three Reeds which takes place a bit further into the game through a separate save file. I heavily enjoyed all the parts of the game I got to play, and playing it again has me fired up for the full game next month.

Before we get to the preview, I want to draw attention to the new video clips on our YouTube channel to go along with this preview, so check those out when you’re done!

Puppy Torgal looks expectantly forward in a Final Fantasy XVI screenshot.
He is so cute!

Opening and Clive’s Youth

We were warned immediately to have our controller in hand and be ready to play the moment we hit start. They were not kidding around; the game starts off with a literal bang. I want to go into more description, but it’s best if players experience it for themselves. After the opening sequence, the game starts in media res as you follow Clive and a group of characters who seem to be on some sort of mission while two other countries are in the middle of a full-scale war. The cinematics of Final Fantasy XVI are on full display here. The transition between moving Clive around to watching the battle unfold is pretty seamless, as should be the case. We were promised no CGI this time around, as all cinematics take place with the game engine.

The battle scene is pretty great to watch. You have two armies running headlong into each other, calvary chocobo units slashing through enemy lines, and catapults launching magic into the other army’s back lines. It hops back and forth between this and a meeting room where there is a discussion and our first glimpse of Benedikta Harman, Hugo Kupka, and Barnabas Tharmr. Then, to top it all off, we get to witness the Shiva vs. Titan battle teased in many trailers so far. The whole sequence flows smoothly from one point to the next, and the best way to describe it all is that it has a Game of Thrones feel to it — but, you know, when Game of Thrones was good, not the later seasons. I also appreciated that the game puts you into the thick of it at the start instead of starting slow. This will hook a lot of new players looking for that immediate dopamine rush to the series.

The game then transitions back a few years to Clive’s teenage years. Final Fantasy XVI allows you to do a combat tutorial, ultimately the same quick tutorial we were allowed to use in the February event. As for combat itself, I don’t feel much has changed since the February event. The combat is as rock solid as before. I am sure there have been a few tweaks to make it smoother, but nothing super noticeable. It’s worth repeating from the February preview that combat in this game is exceedingly smooth and fun. It’s also incredibly accessible to just about anyone. I know the timely accessories are going to be very useful for a wide variety of people who want to enjoy this game but do not like action combat.

After the tutorial, we meet Clive’s younger brother (and the dominant of Phoenix), Joshua, and Clive’s best friend Jill Warick. The most important character you meet at this point is puppy Torgal! And, oh boy, is puppy Torgal adorable. I could go on and on about him, but puppy Torgal steals the show at this part of the game in every scene he’s in. You get a chance afterward to explore the castle of Rosaria and talk to several NPCs and characters. This segment also introduces the Active Time Lore system, which allows you to see more in-depth information on your current locale, characters, enemies, or story recap by pressing the touchpad. After a handful of cutscenes, you receive your first mission as a shield of Rosaria: to deal with the goblin beastman invasion of the Stillwind Marsh.

A menu scree with character selection for the Active Time Lore system in Final Fantasy XVI.
The Active Time Lore System

This is the first time seeing Final Fantasy XVI‘s map screen, where you simply choose the next level/stage destination or head back to previous towns and stages. The map doesn’t seem to be that big, but you definitely get the feeling there are several unique stages with a wide variety of locales to visit. When you enter Stillwind Marsh, you do so with two NPC helpers: Sir Wade and Sir Tyler. The stages are set up linearly for the most part, but I suspect this is intentional due to the time/score attack mode you can indulge in later in the game. Combat areas are not all linear, either, as there are more open field areas to explore as well, which we got to experience at the end of our play session.

For the linear stages, you traverse spot to spot, running into groups of enemies, finding items, and continuing on the path. You normally run into some form of mid-boss in these stages before you reach the end and face off against the boss. For the Stillwind Marsh, that would be the Final Fantasy enemy staple: the Morbol. The fight itself is pretty simple for the game’s first real boss, and Wade and Tyler do a good job of helping you do damage to the beast. This fight is also our introduction to the cinematic strikes, which are flashy quick time events for big boss battles. With the Morbol defeated, the stage ends and you are sent to the map screen to go to the next destination.

A Morbol dispalyes its copious teeth and bad breath in a Final Fantasy XVI screenshot.
Close that mouth, please!

The game moves pretty fast here with a handful more cutscenes, followed by another stage concluded by a very iconic boss that I will not spoil. After the boss battle, the player is then thrust into the first of Final Fantasy XVI’s big set-piece battles, an Eikon vs. Eikon battle. This Eikon battle is a treat to play and watch. This battle is way different from the Ifrit vs. Garuda battle from back in February. To avoid spoilers, I won’t say who the combatants are or the theme of this fight, just that Creative Business Unit III has absolutely kept their promise that each of these Eikon vs. Eikon fights are unique and play radically different from each other. Having experienced two of them, I can attest that this is the case. I cannot wait to experience the rest. This is easily my most anticipated part of the game apart from Torgal.

Cid and the Hideaway

With Clive’s earlier years behind us, Final Fantasy XVI thrusts you back to where it started. Through another stage with another very awesome boss fight, you finally meet up with Cidolfus Telamon, otherwise known as Cid. Cid takes Clive to the Hideaway: a hub area of sorts that you can access for the rest of the game. The Hideaway is (in my opinion) just big enough that it works as a locale for story reasons but also small and compact enough that it is useful as a hub area. The NPCs are all accessible and a short distance from one another, and the bar area, called the Fat Chocobo, is pretty quaint. From the Hideaway, you can do a few things via the NPCs. You can visit the blacksmith Blackthorn to upgrade or make new equipment. Charon, aka Old Nan, sells items and equipment for you to use and stock up on. Otto and a few other NPCs have sidequests for you to complete for them.

Hippocrates II (aka Tomes) allows you to view past Active Time Lore info, a bestiary, and story recaps. He also rewards you for bringing more information to him in a cool lore level-up system. You can practice your combat skills at the Arete Stone, a simulator that doubles as a place to do the time attack missions for previously played stages. The simulator is very much set up like a fighting game’s training mode. You can adjust speed and enemy density, then toggle things like invincibility, damage, etc. It is in-depth and thought-out for those who want to master the game’s combat. One of the coolest things in the Hideout brought over from Final Fantasy XIV is the Orchestrion. You can change the music of the Hideaway to something you like whenever you want, assuming you acquired the in-game music scroll via shopping, sidequests, or game progression. Hell, there is even a Spoony Bard NPC singing away in the bar area. The Hideaway definitely has a lot of charm, and I look forward to seeing more of it.

Final Fantasy XVI screenshot of a Spoony Bard playing music in Cid's Hideaway.
Now it’s officially a Final Fantasy game!

To cap off our gameplay demo, we had access to the next stage of the game, The Greatwood. Cid and Torgal both join you for this stage, which, as its name implies, is set in a giant forest. First thing: not only can you pet Torgal whenever you want (the first thing I did when I had control here), but you can give him treats as well. If that’s not game-of-the-year material, I don’t know what is. The Greatwood is much longer than the Stillwind Marsh; even though it’s still fairly linear, it’s much more open than the marsh. Cid is a joy to have as an NPC. He is funny, has a fantastic voice actor, and, dare I say it, is a bit of a wise guy.

I should also note that you can now see 16-bit spritework of each of your current party members in the menu screen, including Torgal. This goes for any NPC that joins you, and I found it a nice touch. It was also nice to play a stage in a lush and bright area because it’s a nice contrast to the rest of the stages until now. There are two bosses for this area. The big one is the Fafnir, a large lizard that rolls around like an armadillo and tries to run you over as you fight back. The other is Midnight Raven, a human assassin who has a cool gimmick of disappearing and then repairing behind you. Like the rest of the boss fights, these battles were fun and varied with some impressive cinematics thrown in. That was the last of the main game we were allowed to experience, but the session wasn’t over yet.

A Final Fantasy XVI screenshot featuring a large wall and an icon in the middle displaying "spin cycle".
That’s a big washing machine!

Open Field Area

To finish the session, we loaded a save file from a bit further into the game with Clive, Jill, and Torgal in an open field area called the Three Reeds. This part was far less linear than the other stages in Final Fantasy XVI because you can go off the beaten path to explore and fight monsters, do sidequests, or take in the scenery. There was one sidequest and a main quest to access here, but we could not do them due to spoilers. Information on why or what is going on here is sparse. I can say that Jill fights much differently than Cid or the other NPCs so far. She, having the power of Shiva, fights with a lot of magic and can often freeze enemies solid for easy picking. It was also nice to off-road in these areas and run into minibosses from earlier in the session as random monsters in the field. If you’re expecting some vast open world, this isn’t quite that big. Still, it’s definitely a nice change of pace from the other parts of the game. It took me about 30-40 minutes to explore the entire zone within the spoiler limitations. Enemies included goblins, scorpions, and hornets, but also Big Horn bulls, which is a throwback to a Final Fantasy V boss.

This part of the game also did have two abilities I had yet to see: Clive’s Flames of Rebirth and Aerial Blast. Both are large finisher attacks to set that offer massive damage with long cooldowns. Flames of Rebirth allows Clive to grow fire wings and pelt the area in front of him with an extreme explosion, and Aerial Blast allows Clive to send a huge tornado that tracks down and swallows up enemies. Both are very flashy moves and a welcome change from his other Eikon abilities. I can only assume we will be able to do the other Eikons’ signature abilities later in the game as well.


Getting to play Final Fantasy XVI again was an absolute treat, and getting to play the game in a more “normal” fashion this time around was even better. There was a lot I had to leave out of this preview so as not to spoil anyone, but what I left out is much better than what I left in. This experience convinced me further we should be super excited to play it in full come June 22nd. If you have been on the fence for whatever reason, I can safely say you should give Final Fantasy XVI a chance. It will change your mind in a heartbeat. Now the hard part begins: the month-long wait till I can pet and give treats to Torgal again!

Bonus Videos!

Remember, we’ll have some fun Final Fantasy XVI clips up from this preview over on our YouTube channel, so don’t miss them!

Scott Clay

Scott Clay

Scott streams games for our Twitch channel almost every night! He enjoys playing games on stupid hard difficulties, creating unnecessary challenges for games that don't need them, speedrunning and telling everyone why Lunar 2 is the best RPG ever made. You should stay awhile and listen!