Final Fantasy XVI Demo Impression

The few hours I spent with the demo’s story introduction and combat showcase were enthralling.

In anticipation of its release this week, Square Enix has provided a flashy demo version of Final Fantasy XVI, available now. The demo contains two sections, with the first providing access to the game’s dramatic prologue, which includes moments of protagonist Clive Rosfield’s teenage years. Afterwards, players can complete the Eikonic Challenge, which serves as an expanded preview of the combat system.

Final Fantasy XVI is set in the magical world of Valisthea, where a Blight threatens the Mothercrystals which serve as a source of power for the kingdoms. Players assume the role of Clive Rosfeld, a young warrior sworn to protect the nation’s Dominant, an individual capable of summoning and wielding a powerful Eikon. The Dominant for the nation of Rosaria is Clive’s younger brother, Joshua.

The game begins with a fiery opening scene.

Whether you are a fan or a first-timer, Final Fantasy XVI wants you to know it is not like any Final Fantasy game you’ve played before. While the series has long since deviated from the Active Turn Based battle system popularized in the 1990s, each toe-dip into action-oriented combat has been steeped in the tenets of those turn-based RPGs. The gambit system from Final Fantasy XII and paradigm system from Final Fantasy XIII represented the best of both worlds, presenting frenetic action combat that still required acumen and strategy in lieu of executing button combos. Final Fantasy XV leaned more towards action combat, seemingly at the expense of the strategy that previous titles offered.

With XVI, however, the series at first appears to abandon the role-playing elements in favor of action combat, guided by Ryota Suzuki who is regarded for his work on Devil May Cry 5. Yet as the mechanics of the battle system are revealed to the player, it’s unmistakable that Final Fantasy XVI is, in fact, an RPG. As might be expected from a prologue introduction, combat initially seems simplistic. Clive has a basic attack and magic spell, chaining combos with the goal of staggering an enemy. Once staggered, the enemy is vulnerable while Clive and company inflict as much damage as possible. Clive must be quick on his feet, dodging enemy attacks with the R1 button, as perfectly timed dodges yield a brief attack bonus, which is satisfying and effective.

Clive is frequently aided by allies and his faithful dog, Torgal.

However, once the transferable demo portion is completed, the guard rails are taken off for the Eikonic Challenge. Here, Clive is given the powers of three Eikons to harness during combat, switching between the three and their respective skillsets at the press of a button. Each Eikon has a number of special abilities that can deal damage or protect Clive, requiring a cooldown after use. In contrast to the prologue, the Eikonic Challenge’s unlocked combat can at first feel overwhelming, especially during encounters with numerous enemies. Yet mere minutes later, the cadence of battle becomes both stimulating and satisfying.

A number of accessories made available to Clive provide for customization of the game’s mechanics, allowing players to fine-tune just how action-oriented the combat (or at least button timing) needs to be. Encounters also feature other Final Fantasy staples, including a Limit Break for Clive and familiar ability names. There were also a handful of quick-time events during non-Eikon combat sequences. While some of the QTEs can interrupt the flow of battle, the context in which they are presented, coupled with the visual spectacle and impact during battle, make them much more effective than expected. It remains to be seen if the combat system can remain as engaging over the course of the entire game, but from the limited time in the demo, these hard-fought battles are exceptional.

Combat is dazzling and, at time, dizzying.

Outside of combat, the presentation in the demo is bombastic. The opening scenes are dynamic, starting with Clive as an adult before quickly flashing back to his time as a teenager with his brother. The dramatic tension in this opening rivals that of the bombing mission in Final Fantasy VII or the opening of Final Fantasy XIII. The brief introduction to some of the characters suggest a story of intrigue, betrayal, and enough violence to fully earn it’s Mature content rating. While some fans may be turned off by the frequency of throat-slitting, sexual content, and harsh language, it’s not out of place with the setting it establishes. While the series has demonstrated this level of violence and blood in the past with Final Fantasy Type-0, the realism and commitment to brutality is striking. The influence of Game of Thrones is readily apparent: one character in particular is briefly featured but is easily reminiscent of one of Thrones‘ worst mothers.

The musical score is at times heartfelt and rousing, courtesy of Final Fantasy XIV‘s standout composer Masayoshi Soken, with themes matching the dark setting and grim tale being told, while embellishing series leitmotifs with dramatic effect. The presentation is gorgeous, showcasing the power of the PlayStation 5. Character designs are lovely and well-animated. Thanks to the Active Lore System, the world building is enhanced by the ability to press a button and view quick primers on the people and places surrounding Clive, which give some extra backstory and context to those who want it as well as offering quick reminders of their role the story. The voice actors on display are committed to their performances, especially that by Ben Starr in the lead role of Clive. The game looks and sounds like a prestige drama with a blockbuster budget, and the execution is delightful.

Torgal’s bark is just as bad as his bite.

The game is certainly going to prove divisive and will provoke discussion. It was disappointing to see I was unable to modify equipment or issue commands to my ever-changing party members, but the flow of combat is simply delicious. Some of the storytelling choices felt needlessly brutal, permitting perhaps too much influence from the more problematic aspects of Game of Thrones. However, the brief portion of the story excerpted for the demo yanks the player by the collar and ends on a note that is sure to entice many gamers at the closing pre-order screen.

Ignoring any tiresome discourse regarding what a Final Fantasy game is, the few hours I spent with the demo’s story introduction and combat showcase were enthralling. The enemies, narrative, and presentation demand attention in a compelling way that I was happy to acquiesce to. While I admit to having concerns in the build up, playing Final Fantasy XVI‘s demo left me with a feeling of excitement and hope, one that the series has evoked many times before.


Paul Shkreli

Paul has been playing video games since his Nana bought him a Nintendo in 1991. He joined RPGamer in 2020.

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