“It feels like the sort of bold change FF has needed for a while,” - Final Fantasy XVI Preview in Discussion

We are now perilously close to a major moment in video games and RPGs - the release of a new main-line, numbered Final Fantasy game. This has as yet only happened fifteen times in thirty-six years - so it’s a moment. 

In recent weeks, Alex and James both had the opportunity to sit down and play a good six hours of Final Fantasy XVI. This near-final build was built specifically to give the media one last hands-on experience before launch - and so while you can read thoughts from James alone in his full FF16 preview and also hear Alex solo over on VG247, it only seemed right that the pair sit down to compare notes and briefly explore their feelings on the extensive hands-on.

Here’s some of the chat, which has been edited and condensed for clarity:

Alex: So, I know you also wrote the main preview, and I know I also played the game first, a couple of weeks before you - but I’m going to make you go first here, too. ‘Cos I can. So… what did you think?

James: If I’m being honest, I wasn’t quite sure what I expected from the game heading in, and even after having played a good portion of it I’m still not sure how traditional series fans will feel about it. Final Fantasy XVI is definitely an Action RPG; but any actual RPG elements feel almost like an afterthought.

Alex: But it’s pretty great, right? I think that’s what I primarily came away from it thinking - that this game is going to be pretty damn great, but also that on a professional level it’s going to be interesting to see if Square Enix can find its audience. I think they must know - inevitably - that a portion of the ‘standard’ FF audience won’t be into this game. Not all of them, but some. But they stand to gain a lot more, right? If they can find that new audience. 

It feels to me like the sort of bold change Final Fantasy has needed to make for a while. The question is if this is the specific format of change that’ll work with a wider market, and that’s harder to answer - especially with the way some fans act about it all.

At the same time, though, I get it. And I do agree. I think this was sold as the ‘RPG’ beat in the promotional cycle, the moment that would show off the game’s RPG credentials… but I don’t think we saw too much of it, ultimately. 

Like, yeah, there’s weapon upgrades, there’s a hub, there’s skills… but what’s interesting is that based on what was shown at this event, this is about as RPG as the modern God of War games - and those are the sorts of games where when we cover them, people yell on socials or in the comments that it isn’t an RPG and we shouldn’t cover ‘em. We ignore that - but it’s funny that because this is a Final Fantasy, people won’t question that as closely. I personally still think Yoshida is right and this totally is a full-on action RPG, the RPG chops are there… but also, understand that for better or worse this is obviously the least RPG that any main-line FF has ever been.

James: That’s definitely true, on both counts; the action combat is new to the series, yes, but in practice it feels great to use. You can absolutely feel the attention that was put into the game to ensure that it feels great to control Clive. Personally, I loved the combat - but I do want to see how it evolves later into the game.

It’s hard to get a read for anything else; while we did ostensibly get to play about 6 hours of the game, we weren’t exactly at free reign to explore the game’s side content, and to truly explore the game at our leisure. It’s hard not to get the feeling that was intentional - but it does make our jobs at least a little bit harder to try and get a feeling for the game’s RPG elements, I suppose. It’s hard to assuage those fears that series fans might have.

Alex: I think there was some here to ease some fears and stoke some hype, though. I mean, I want to start out with - I’m so impressed with the story delivery. It’s very different - they’ve clearly watched a lot of Game of Thrones in terms of its tone and timbre of its presentation - but the execution is so tight, so strong, that I think this has every chance to be the best-ever FF story, depending on where they go with it. The execution is certainly there.

And to come back to the point before - while they did show off a lot of RPG bits and pieces like weapon upgrades, the hub, side quests, and so on – when I asked [FF16 Producer Naoki] Yoshida about what he’d say to RPG fans, his answer actually really focused down on the story. He was talking about how there are expectations of a certain level and depth of storytelling in RPGs, and that FF16 delivers on that and some, which I took as the implication he feels that it will help to really set it aside from action games. As a note, he also seemed really excited for people to experience the story in particular; they’re clearly very proud of it.

James: Absolutely, and I can understand why. I wouldn’t say that the darker tone is absolutely new for the series - the opening moments remind me of Final Fantasy IV’s story. On a side note, I really appreciated the feature where you could pause any scene and get a list of topics to read about the characters within it, the countries they hail from, and the location that the scene itself is taking place in. It reminds me of that Amazon Prime Video “X-ray” feature and I felt it was a neat touch to offer some more information about the game’s world and its characters.

It's clear that a ton of love and attention to detail was placed with the game's characters and setting; so above all else, I can't wait to see what the game's side content can do to flesh everything out. I'm sure at the very least where it comes to the narrative is where RPG fans will have something to love about the game come launch. Part of me wishes we had just a bit more time to tackle some of that side content ourselves, but having such a long session for a preview is already abnormal as it is..

Alex: Yeah, that speaks to confidence, I think. It was a lengthy hands-on, though I wish the section from the later bit of the game, with a full group of adventurers (though only Clive is playable, remember) and a more open zone to prod around - I wish we’d had more time with that area. Though I got the impression if we’d prodded too much there we would’ve stumbled into spoilers, so perhaps for the best.

What was your actual gameplay highlight? Without getting into the spoilers of who it was against, I really liked the boss battle against the sort of super-powered character who is sort of ‘primed’ but not running at full power yet. That was tense, and more interesting to me than the fights against big, brawling creatures. Like a powerful, tense one-on-one which really rewarded good blocking and dodging skills. 

Again, though, the vibe here was definitely more Devil May Cry Dante vs Vergil or something like that. I used quite a few potions there - which, by the way, I was surprised to see potions capped at like five! That’s low; you won’t be able to brute force through encounters with healing, though it’s nice that it auto-uses excess potions when you pick them up while exploring when your health isn’t full.

James: That was probably my highlight as well - though the battle against a Dragoon Knight early on was also a strong contender. Really, the game felt it's best when you had those "Dante vs Vergil" style encounters, though fights such as the Morbol were fun too. I'm sure there will be many fights like those later on in the game, so I'm definitely excited to find them come launch.

Which means the preview did its job, of course; both of us are excited to see where the game goes from here, to be let off the leash and afforded the chance to explore what the world has to offer. The taste we got of XVI might have been a large one; but it's merely a "taste" nonetheless. We won't truly know how everything comes together until we get that chance to play everything put together in the end.

Alex: Yeah. It ultimately left me about the same level of excitement I was before, I think. It’s not a preview beat that particularly answered my questions, especially about the depth of those role-playing credentials - but it did utterly cement that I know this is going to be a really high quality, polished game - and something I can’t wait to play. I’m just left curious about exactly what sort of game it’ll really be in full. But I guess that won’t be a mystery for too much longer!