You’d be forgiven for looking at a game called “Final Fantasy XVI” and thinking some prior knowledge was required. After all, such a title suggests there are as many as fifteen other entries in the series that you’ve missed.
But part of the beauty of Final Fantasy has always been its anthological nature. Besides the rare numbered sequel, like X-2 or XIII-2, every mainline numbered entry is completely standalone. Some elements carry over between games, like the yellow Chocobo birds, one character named Cid and a plot centred around magical crystals, but otherwise, you can jump into nearly any title completely fresh.
With Final Fantasy XVI, developer/publisher Square Enix has leaned into this even more, creating a PS5 game that is easily the most approachable the series has ever been. (Oh, and it’s also absolutely stellar, based on my 25 hours with it so far — a full review to come soon.) Whether you’re someone who’s followed the series for years like me, are jumping in after hearing about its more action-heavy focus, or just want to enjoy a high-quality story, FFXVI will have something for pretty much everyone.
What is Final Fantasy XVI?
For the uninitiated, Final Fantasy XVI is an action-RPG about a young man named Clive who witnesses the destruction of his kingdom at the hands of a creature called Ifrit, setting him on a deadly quest for revenge. Along the way, he gets roped into a larger conflict between warring conflicts and starts to question everything he believes in. Square Enix has made no secret of XVI‘s Game of Thrones inspirations, from its darker tone, strong violence and language and political intrigue, and, as a result, the game has netted an ‘M for Mature’ rating, a first for a mainline Final Fantasy.
That said, the more adult-oriented subject matter is ostensibly the only way XVI is technically less welcoming than its predecessors, so read on for how the game is otherwise perfect for fans and newcomers alike.
How it compares to other FF games
As mentioned, FF as a whole is one of the easier gaming series to jump into, but that doesn’t mean that applies to every one of its entries, especially in recent years. For example, 2010’s Final Fantasy XIII, on top of not being available on most modern consoles, has an extremely linear structure that only opens up after 30 hours, which has become something of a meme. The ongoing Final Fantasy XIV, while incredible, is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) with a sprawling story spanning hundreds of hours, making it difficult to recommend to those without immense levels of free time and persistence. 2016’s Final Fantasy XV is an ambitious but deeply flawed game that required an entire re-release to address many of its shortcomings, but still feels undercooked in some ways, particularly with its shallow ‘hold circle to attack’ combat. 2020’s Final Fantasy VII Remake is excellent, but is the first part of a trilogy that also, somewhat misleadingly, does require some prior knowledge of the original for full comprehension.
In other words, recent FF games, while largely quality experiences, also all have their own caveats when it comes to approachability. Final Fantasy XVI, however, deftly sidesteps these issues to deliver an experience that is thoroughly amazing and welcoming out of the box. It’s a completely standalone story, it’s manageably sized (think around 35 hours to complete, plus dozens more for optional content), it’s got an easy-to-pick-up combat system that’s equal parts flashy and engrossing for those who dig into it, and it’s got XIV-quality storytelling in a far more concise and inviting package.
But if that’s not enough to win you over, here are some specific examples:
Devil May Cry (For Something Simpler)
Upon starting XVI, you’re immediately asked whether you want an experience that’s ‘Story Focused’ or ‘Action Focused.’ The former provides several accessories that simplify gameplay, such as the Ring of Timely Evasion (Clive automatically dodges attacks) and Ring of Timely Strikes (simply tap Square to have Clive execute complex combos). You can also switch between these two gameplay types at any time throughout the game. Commendably, these options are intended to make the action game structure more palatable for people who are less experienced with the genre, including, crucially, veteran FF fans who might gravitate towards the series’ traditional turn-based combat. (At the same time, those who want to forgo the accessories will find a fast-paced, exciting and layered battle system, thanks in no small part to lead combat designer Ryota Suzuki of Devil May Cry fame.)
It should be noted, though, that you can only equip three accessories at a time, which is one reason why this setup has been criticized for being too limiting for disabled players. Therefore, XVI still has some shortcomings from an accessibility standpoint, like many other games, but the accessories at least are an improvement over previous FFs while also being useful for non-disabled players. Further, these features just let you not have to worry about combat as much if you just want to experience the story, which is outstanding. That’s a particular highlight here since it hails from some members of the acclaimed team behind Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward, Kazutoyo Maehiro and Michael-Christopher Koji Fox.
A more inviting world
While XVI owes much to Game of Thrones, it’s made a few smart moves to make its lore feel just a bit more manageable than that of the dense HBO series. At any point during a cutscene, you can hold the DualSense touchpad to bring up ‘Active Time Lore,’ a collection of ever-updating in-game glossaries related to each character and faction that are represented on-screen either physically or through dialogue. It’s an absolutely brilliant feature that elevates the already high moment-to-moment enjoyment of the story, since you don’t have to worry about being left behind. If, for whatever reason, you take a break from the game, this is also a smart way to remind yourself of what’s happened.
I was recently playing through FFXIV‘s third expansion, the sublime Shadowbringers, and was greeted towards the end by several NPCs with whom I was already acquainted, but had completely forgotten because it had been hundreds of hours of playtime since I last saw them. In a sense, it felt like the game had an implicit expectation that I should just remember these people. And even outside of games, let’s go back to Game of Thrones. I know of several people, myself included, who were sometimes a bit lost with all of the different houses and their inhabitants, given that series’ gigantic cast. Therefore, it really can’t be understated how wonderful it is to be able to quickly refamiliarize yourself with who’s who from within FFXVI at the touch of a button.
And on the subject of the game’s world, XVI also clearly marks with a ‘plus’ sign which sidequests unlock useful new perks or features, like Chocobo riding, which further streamlines everything. Often, you’d have to take to the internet to find out which sidequests unlock what, but as with Active Time Lore, XVI gives you this information in-game. Taking this one step further, there’s an NPC named Harpocrates in the main hub area (your “Hideaway”) who doubles as a robust compendium à la Mass Effect‘s Codex. There’s even a little progression metre to incentivize talking to him throughout the story, which “levels up” his knowledge and, rather lovingly, plays the classic FF victory fanfare and accompanying dancing sprites each time. Later in the story, another NPC will even display a family-tree-esque chart to show you how each character is related to one another. Best of all, none of this waters down the actually sophisticated and thematically-rich storyline; if anything, it just greater highlights all of its little nuances.
Still not sold?
You don't need to play the first fifteen.
— FINAL FANTASY XVI (@finalfantasyxvi) June 16, 2023
The best thing about XVI‘s pre-release marketing — and the reason you’ve likely heard a lot more about it this month — is that Square Enix has created a meaty free demo of the game. With it, you can experience XVI‘s gripping two-ish hour prologue, as well as a special section from later in the story that offers a taste of Clive’s expanded combat arsenal. It’s a fantastic one-two punch that showcases XVI‘s phenomenal narrative and gameplay, and it’s had a clear impact in getting many more people hyped about it. Progress even carries over to the final game!
You can download the demo for yourself from the PlayStation Network. Final Fantasy XVI launches exclusively on PS5 on June 22nd. We’ll also have more on XVI in the coming days.
For more on FFXVI, check out our interview with some of the game’s stars: Nina Yndis (Benedikta), Ralph Ineson (Cid) and David Menkin (Barnabas).
Image credit: Square Enix