author: Sebastian Kasparek
Final Fantasy XVI Hands-on Preview - As Cinematic as God of War, as Powerful as Game of Thrones
I tried Final Fantasy XVI and I'm having a hard time getting over it. I desire such games in the industry and I believe that Square Enix will make a huge impact on the future of gaming, or at least I have a very strong hope it will be the case.
Let me begin with an important note that the snippet of the game I had the pleasure to experience was slightly different from the game that will eventually land on our disks. The Clive version that I played offered access to abilities that are acquired at later stages of the adventure, which makes sense because it simply allowed to delve deeper into the nuances of the combat system. And take my word for it – there's quite a bit of things to try, because Ryota Suzuki – one of the designers responsible for the combat in Devil May Cry 5 – was involved in the production, which is pretty obvious from the get-go.
Let's start from the beginning, with a disclaimer that I shall be rather modest in sharing the plot details. Firstly, I was asked to do so, and secondly, I believe that the story itself, and above all the way it is directed, is the best element of the game; best experienced on your own and without any spoilers.
Yes, I have already had the opportunity to spend a few hours with the sixteenth Final, getting to know the epic and extremely dramatic beginning of the history. I admit that I intentionally hadn't watched any game footage nor followed any news about it. I had watched the first trailer, of course, as it was the reveal of the upcoming next installment in the legendary series.
At the venue, it quickly became apparent that I had not been fully prepared for what I would see during the presentation, and in hindsight, as a long-time fan of the series, I probably wouldn't have been able to prepare for it anyway. The series with its new direction is simply offering scenes, moments and elements that I would never have expected to see in this series.
It's violent, explicit, and depressing – essential dark fantasy
Final Fantasy once again rewrites its definition and enters a framework completely different from its predecessors. This time, they're so radical in their decisions that on a few occassions, I experienced genuine shock and even discomfort (and, however strange it may sound, it is a huge compliment).
You may remember the conversations of the creators who reacted negatively to labeling their game as a jRPG – anyone who tries Final Fantasy XVI will quickly understand the true meaning of these sentiments. It's pure-bred action RPG, a totally mainstream game and a wildly lavish first-league blockbuster, aimed at the largest audience possible.
Don't panic though! Despite all this, it is a game that's both incredibly daring and quite risky in some respects. I believe that it's created around a clear-cut and consistently realized vision. If you had any prejudices after the predecessors or were weaving your own ideas about part sixteen, you don't have to worry anymore. Just don't try to label and classify this Final as a representative of a "niche," because in that case, the game is probably something entirely different than you expect.
The first shock comes when you look at the environment. Final Fantasy XVI deliberately delves into the atmosphere of dark fantasy and makes no concessions when it comes to showing how cruel and ruthless the world we are dealing with is. Characters die left and right; the game isn't afraid to show blood and scenes like throat-slitting are to be expected. It's an insanely brutal and explicit game. Violence resonates even more strongly because it's not stylized and for the most part (excluding crazy boss fights) it rather shuns exaggeration. I played for about 5 hours and during this time, I started feel hints of emotional fatigue resulting simply from watching the personal tragedies experienced by the characters of this extremely sad and depressing story.
There were moments when I simply felt bad – the last time I experienced something similar was during the most emotionally devastating parts of NieR or during the first Drakengard. Especially since one of the main tropes of the story is moral relativism. In terms of capturing the definition and essence of the dark fantasy setting, the creators have done a great and, above all, mature job. If you are familiar with the manga Berserk – I have often been reminded of Kentaro Miura's opus magnum. Even the main character Clive resembles Guts in some ways and is similarly marked by a strong trauma that gave meaning to his journey, motivated by the desire to achieve personal revenge. The game is generally full of extremely interesting characters and antagonists, and I can't wait to see what the further chapters will bring.
Game of Thrones of the Last Fantasy
As much as I want to avoid making comparisons, one more thing should just be mentioned, because I'm sure that many players will inadvertently associate part sixteen with... Game of Thrones. The story is full of political intrigues and betrayals. Above all, it’s about the direction, because Final Fantasy XVI really excels in this respect, and most of the cutscenes have the quality of the best TV series. Dialogs are excellent and masterfully performed, the animations of the characters, reacting naturally to what's currently going on are fantastic as well, with people moving dynamically around the locations. Forget about talking heads and mannequins delivering emotional lines.
This game is a brilliant tour de force with some excellent directing, though it's also obviously developed on a huge budget. I believe that in this respect, Square Enix has equaled the most cinematic games from Sony, matching the quality of cutscenes from Uncharted 4, The Last of Us, or the latest God of War: Ragnarok. I would even venture to say that in terms of pure screenwriting, Final Fantasy XVI is noticeably better and more interesting. This is a perfectly presented and well-written story that you want to follow from the very beginning – even if the initial events unfold in a fairly predictable way, the execution of individual threads makes it impossible to tear yourself away from the screen.
Final May Cry, or RPG takes a back seat
Alright, but I should also mention something about the gameplay. The boss fights with the Eikons were the most impressive thing I'd seen in a while. It was pure adrenaline and epicness turned up to 11. The intensity was so huge it made me hold my breath. In terms of special effects, the clashes of great beasts surpass the legendary achievements of Kratos from God of War 3, and additionally, they're pretty diverse in terms of gameplay. For example, one stage resembled a Panzer Dragoon-style rail shooter sequence. Two Eikons danced in the air in battle frenzy in the undergrounds, the dominant darkness only illuminated by fiery effects of destructive magic, and an epic track playing in the background. Rocks were shattered, and the enemy attacked from all sides, leaping out of the shadows, and I couldn't believe how good all that looked in motion.
The next fight was a brutal clash between Godzilla-size creatures, with every blow clearly telegraphing the immense power of the beasts. Ifrit fell into an uncontrollable fiery rage, destroying everything in its path. His flames scorched the earth and incinerated defenseless people. The beast leaped, emitted a wild roar, charged, and tore anyone who fell into its clutches to shreds. Everything happened at a dizzying speed and looked otherworldly – especially in terms of animation and particle effects. It was impossible for me to contain my childlike excitement at the sight subsequent events and new stages of the battles.
If, on the other hand, you were worried that Final Fantasy would lean too much towards action at the expense of RPG elements, then... you were probably right. A typical fight resembles the more accessible installment, Devil May Cry 5 – to such extent, in fact, that there are several skills with the same effect. This system has its own character and has been planned out a bit differently – emphasizes fancy combos less (although there are some of those as well), it clearly is simpler, and abilities play a large role (they have cooldowns).
We can also personalize the range of attacks slightly to suit our own style. There is also room for a reasonable amount of QTEs, brutal finishers, and perfect dodges that open perfect counterattack opportunities. The combat in Final Fantasy XVI rewards reflexes and dexterity, and I did not experience much of the distinctive RPG-ness in it. I like this direction and I think that Ryota Suzuki did an outstanding job here.
However, keep in mind that I have always preferred action games. Personally, I had a great time, but I completely understand people who would be disappointed. The fighting doesn't leave too much room for RPG elements, which get more presence in other aspects of gameplay.
I feel the fires of Ifrit burning my face.
So, are there any bad news? Well, I really haven't experienced anything that I could call a big drawback, although some concerns remain. I could complain about the first hours being overly linear, and in terms of structure resembled the infamous corridors from Final Fantasy XIII. Then, of course, the world opens up a bit, but again, the open hub I was exploring was rather empty and not very interesting. I had the most fun when the game turned into a movie and allowed me to fight, and there were also plenty of beautiful views to admire. Less important cutscenes are also clearly inferior to those driving the plot, but they're still better than most of the competition.
My over-optimism comes from the fact that the adventure seems to be a perfect match for my taste. It is depressive and deadly engaging during cutscenes, intense and showy during fights, and structurally rather linear and condensed. At the same time, the whole thing immediately aroused great curiosity and, in every aspect, it masterfully executed all its elements, with excellent details underlining a very high production value. Square Enix has provided a strong introduction to the story, interesting characters, and a combat system that intravenously pumps adrenaline.
The presentation alone was enough to drop my jaw a few times, leading me to the point where I won't be able to stop thinking about this game for weeks. Ironically, I haven't seen the best of this game yet – that comes after the premiere. Sometimes it's hard for me to believe, but after what I've experienced, Yoshida's team has my full trust. The last time I was excited about the main installment of Final Fantasy in a similar way was on the occasion of the old "nine," and it was still in the days of PS1. I'm already sure that it will be a brave, risky adventure, but also one that the industry will be discussing for years. Can't wait!
Sebastian Kasparek | Gamepressure.com