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Final Fantasy XVI

Final Fantasy XVI: Hands-on with Square Enix's anticipated JRPG

We've had a chance to play the next instalment in the beloved and iconic franchise, and we're very excited about what we saw.

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What a ride the Final Fantasy-series has had over the last 36 years. As with many big franchises it has not always been sweet sailing for the Japanese giant. With what has now been crowned a "golden" age by fans, Final Fantasy dominated the video game landscape in the 90s with cult classics like Final Fantasy VI & VIII to the beloved ninth entry and the titanic VII. Yes, Final Fantasy was without a doubt, a force to be reckoned with. But as with Icarus' attempt at reaching the sun only to subsequently fall down, as did the series. The XIII-trilogy was met with disappointment from fans and Final Fantasy XIV bombed due to a catastrophic bugfest-state upon arrival - and let's not even get started on Square's All the Bravest disaster.

But then something happened. Like Gandalf the White coming to the rescue at the end of Two Towers, titles such as Final Fantasy XV, FFVII Remake & the much appraised XIV-revival, with its subsequent expansions, reinvigorated the franchise. But why is this history important in regards to the 16th numbered entry? Well, a key player in this franchise renaissance was Naoki Yoshida, the same man now standing at the helm of Final Fantasy XVI alongside The Last Remnant director Hiroki Takai.

Accordingly, a sense of excitement filled the room as we arrived in London to finally get hands-on with the highly anticipated new title in the storied franchise. Without further ado, let's dive in.

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In Yoshida-san's own words, Final Fantasy XVI is a story of politics and war set in the high fantasy fictional world of Valis'thea. The plot revolves around five nations on the brink of war across the twin continents of Ashe & Storm. All nations rely on a resource known as the mothercrystals, which are detrimental to their wealth, power and survival. The power of the crystals has begun to diminish, spurring the flames of war. Each nation possesses powerful, magical beings known as Eikons, which reside in a given few individuals and are akin to that of nuclear weapons, causing a Cold War-stalemate across the globe. Amidst the stirring conflict we follow Clive Rosfield of the Grand Duchy of Rosaria. Clive is the sworn protector of his brother Joshua, the Eikon Phoenix of Rosaria. After a tragedy early on in the game, the player controls Clive through his late teenage years into his thirties on a decade spanning journey for revenge.

With the world of Valis'thea, Yoshida & Takai break away from the science-fiction fantasies, which had come to define the series over the last 20 years. Instead, the setting of geopolitical conflict and war makes XVI reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics, The Last Remnant and XII - even featuring key staff from said titles as well. Consequently, Valis'thea has similarities with the world of Ivalice and the war of lions from Tactics as well as the Kingdom of Dalmasca fighting the Arcadian Empire in XII.

Being led, developed and directed by an experienced Final Fantasy-team other than the trio of Yoshinori Kitase, Tetsuya Nomura and Motomu Toriyama, XVI feels like a nice change for the mainline single-player series that long had been rooted in their vision for Final Fantasy.
As such, the setting of XVI feels both refreshing as well as a continuation of what came before.

Final Fantasy XVI
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What has changed completely from previous numbered entries however, is the combat. Led by Capcom veteran Ryota Suzuki (Dragon's Dogma, Devil May Cry V), XVI ditches turn-based combat for intense action-sequences. The result is an astonishingly tight system fusing Final Fantasy-elements with the best of Devil May Cry. We had the possibility to control Clive during his thirties with a vast arsenal of abilities unlocked already. Each ability was tied to the magical Eikons Phoenix, Garuda and Titan, which in turn was associated with a certain magical element. The Titan-abilities were strongly charged attacks whereas Phoenix had Clive teleport across the field using fire. Garuda unlocked quick strikes in succession and used a grappling hook to pull in enemies.

In order to be successful in the heat of combat, the player has to press L2 to change seamlessly between Eikons, while using standard sword attacks, to chain powerful combos. By pressing Triangle Clive can spam magic endlessly without MP as well as charge it for maximum effect. Dodging is likewise pivotal for success. By timing R1 at the right moment, time will quickly slow down and allow for a powerful counterattack. As with NieR: Automata, dodging is forgiving and not difficult to execute whilst simultaneously juggling between the various Eikons. Moreover, the staggering gauge from FFVII Remake returns. After a chain of successful attacks, Clive will accordingly break the defence of his opponent, causing each attack to accumulate significantly more damage.

Albeit challenging at first, when the combat finally clicks, experimenting with abilities enables the player to approach each encounter differently - and we had an absolute blast dominating our opponents on the battlefield.

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To really test our newfound abilities, the demo featured a number of challenging boss fights versus the Eikon Garuda. Our first encounter was against her human form at the top of a castle tower overlooking a beautiful backdrop of a magical crystal mountain in the distance. The fight had several phases, gradually making the fight significantly more difficult. Each phase is marked by a short quick-time event, upping the dramatic momentum of the encounter. During this fight, XVI makes the player utilise all abilities at their arsenal to achieve victory, really pushing the depth of the combat system. Finally achieving victory is satisfying, despite some corny F-bombs being thrown around unnecessarily during the fight.

Our second fight with Garuda was more massive in scale. This time Clive had to take on a several stories tall giant at the top of a mountain - not too far away from the fights found in Shadow of the Colossus. To beat the opponent, during the first phase we had to rely on the Phoenix Eikon abilities, since it gives Clive the ability to warp strike a distance to reach pivotal weak points. The second phase however, had us summoning the Eikon Ifrit, consequently turning it into a King Kong vs. Godzilla-esque wrestling match, destroying large portions of the countryside. While epic in scale and impressive to behold, a lot of this fight was simply QTEs. A shame, since the act of just controlling a gargantuan Ifrit was pretty thrilling all on its own.

When the dust settled, a vast portion of the landmass had been completely eradicated, showcasing the potential deadly impact of Eikons on the world. When talking about the large scale summon battles, Yoshida added how no confrontation is the same. One might turn the game into a third-person shooter, yet we also saw extra footage of what looks like an endless runner and many more. To that we can only say, we are curious to see more of these huge battles!


Yet, when on the subject of showcasing, XVI is an incredibly beautiful video game. The early trailers we saw when it was announced, do not do the game any justice. We got to see three distinct areas of Valis'Thea. The first was a courtyard in Clive's homeland, serving as the tutorial. Second was a castle on the outskirts of the Imperial Capital and third was a rainy forest. The first and third were favourites, showcasing two distinct lustrous environments brimming with life. From the shining sun to how the leaves moved in the wind, the attention to making it a living and breathing world, is truly felt. As such, it was a shame the level we got to play the most was inside a castle, where everything was basically different shades of grey. Besides a beautiful chapel, with heavy christian references, the castle was mostly pretty dull to explore. Fortunately, during a deep dive with Naoki Yoshida prior to the hands-on, we got to see many other interesting areas and cities we would get to explore. We just wish we had got to see more of it.

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After having tried the game for ourselves, we thought of a quote by Final Fantasy-founder, Hironobu Sakaguchi. He once said that a Final Fantasy game has "everything in it". When asked to describe exactly what this meant, he said it was difficult to explain but at some point he could tell "now this game has everything". Having played a small portion of XVI, we do not know whether Sakaguchi would say it has everything. What we can say with certainty however, is Final Fantasy XVI pushes the franchise in an interesting albeit still familiar direction that keeps on innovating and pushing the formula just like the golden age of the 90s managed to do. And for that alone, it is shaping to be one heck of an experience.

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