During the course of a single afternoon earlier this month, Square-Enix invited Wccftech and a select number of media journalists and influencers to their offices in Irvine, CA to go hands-on with Final Fantasy XVI in what would be the last hands-on sessions before the final launch. During our four hours of gameplay, we were allowed to explore the first few hours of gameplay, starting with the early years of Clive Rosfiled up through his first encounters with CId and other key Resistance members.
Before I was given the choice to begin my Final Fantasy XVI session in Story Focused vs Action Focused (the difference primarily being whether or not you’re equipped with the various rings of timely assistance from the get-go or if they’re merely in your inventory), I had the choice of a wide range of language options. Final Fantasy XVI’s first and primary dub is that of English (as confirmed by a discussion with Michael Christopher Koji-Fox off-camera during the previous preview event) but players will also have a Japanese dub in addition to the full suite of EFIGS: French, Italian, German and Spanish. The subtitle/text options are more robust with the standard English and Japanese being accompanied by: French, German, Espanol Espana, Espanol Latinoamerica, Italiano, Arabic, Polski, Portuguese, and Russian.
Our preview session opened with what may be considered a red herring, or at least misdirection to keep the player guessing how the story will go. The very first moments of gameplay are an on-rails shooting segment with players controlling Phoenix and trying to shoot down a rampaging Ifrit. Little is explained why players aren’t controlling Ifrit, but that’s only a part of the misdirection setting in. The core of Final Fantasy XVI’s narrative focuses on the great and powerful Eikon, summoned beasts and mythological figures that harbor the summons that Final Fantasy is traditionally known for, and the Dominants, who can channel and utilize their powers. During the war room campaign at Zirnitra Stronghold, the roles of Dominants and the Eikon they possess are swapped around before the player should have any idea of the significance. Clive himself appears to be the Dominant of Phoenix, while Benedikta wields the Dominant of Ice, Shiva (who can somehow light a pipe with that same power). The battles of Nysa Defile claim to wish to seek out Shiva’s Dominant as the primary target, but who could that be if Benedikta is not the chosen Dominant? These moments also highlight some of the mature themes that Square-Enix is going for in Final Fantasy XVI to bring the storied entry in line with popular dark fantasy such as HBO’s Game of Thrones series, complete with two partial sex scenes before the first hour of the game is complete.
Following other important story moments, Final Fantasy XVi rewinds time back to the year 860, when Clive Rosfield is thirteen years younger and undergoing his basic combat training. As is typical for your basic character action game, Clive is taught the ropes by Lord Commander Murdoch and shown the basics of combat, between attacking, casting magic, dodging, staggering the opponent, and the Phoenix Shift, a magical sidestep unique to those wielding the power of that Dominant and a great tool for closing the distance or continuing a combo against a chosen enemy. After learning the ropes, the player is introduced to the other key members of the Rosfield family including his younger brother Joshua, his mother Duchess Anabella, his father Archduke Elwin, and others that keep the Rosarian forces intact.
It isn’t long before The Night of Flames consumes the Principality of Rosaria and sees many of its key figures either killed or enslaved. For Joshua, after a brief playable stint where stealth gameplay is quickly overtaken by the ability to effortlessly spam Firaga and Curaga spells (despite himself being sickly in nature), he is presumed to be dead and is the driving force of Clive’s revenge, while he himself is enslaved by the invading Imperial forces and branded as a Bearer. These Bearers are among the lowest of the caste, as the narrative is not so subtly showing to the player on more than one occasion. For the playable moments as Joshua, he wields The Burning Thorn, a slender blade whose in-game description indicates it’s the smallest of a set of seven swords forged in Mt. Drustanus, perhaps hinting at what endgame loot awaits players by journeys end in Final Fantasy XVI.
Following that bloody raid and subsequent enslavement, the game picks up thirteen years later with Clive branded as a Bearer with the mark across this cheek and part of a fighting troupe known as the Bastards with each member holding the callsign of a dragon, with Clive being known as Wyvern and the leader as Tiamat. In this instance, their mission is to take the head of the Iron Kingdom’s Dominant, the Warden of Ice, and vessel for the Eikon Shiva. As things are wont to do in fantasy, plans quickly go sideways, and through both good and bad fortune, is once again reunited with his childhood friend/ward Jill and the wolf he last saw as a pup, Torgal. Typical for most any game these days following the success of the Twitter meme account, not only can players pet Torgal on a whim while outside of combat but there’s also a trophy for doing so five times. After this trophy popped on the PlayStation 5 console, I saw popups that also hinted at other challenges to unlock: besting a boss without taking any damage (I did not attempt an encounter with the auto-dodge ring to see what happens) and visiting all 68 world and local maps (in my four hours, I might have only seen six or seven at most).
I’ve neglected to discuss the combat in this particular preview because the prior hands-on preview had more abilities to work with (for much of the session, I only had access to Ifrit’s moves although a separate save a few chapters later also had Garuda unlocked for use, but no Titan and punch rushes that I loved to weave into combos last time). Instead, I spent time on more of the optional matters that help fill out Final Fantasy XVI as a complete AAA experience. In some instances, the PS5’s adaptive triggers are used to enhance a gameplay action or story sequence, such as engaging when Clive has to open a heavy gate. Photo Mode was also enabled in the build and should be available on day one as well, with the usual assortment of features for virtual bokeh and focal distance, field of view, toggling character models off, and more. At any point of the game, both gameplay and even story cutscenes, players can press the Touchpad button and be introduced to the Active Time Lore, an in-game compendium of hundreds of lore entries and a visual guide to the links between various characters and factions.
The hub town that Clive is brought to shortly after his initial introductions to Cid (Cidolfus, the Dominant of Ramuh) offers the first initial glimpses of the side quests and non-combat sequences players will experience in breaks from the action. Final Fantasy XIV-style sidequests show three at a time in an on-screen activity log, the first of which was to make deliveries to three NPCs throughout the town. Weapon crafting was also shown off, with Clive taking advantage of the various materials he’s picked up from both main and side story missions to upgrade the attack power of his weapons. There’s even an Orchestrion ripped directly out of FFXIV where players can listen to music tracks they’ve unlocked.
Being able to finally see the townscapes and dabble around in side quests, as mundane as delivery fetch quests can be before an introduction, does give me some hope for Final Fantasy XVI being able to bring the RPG part of the equation to the forefront without making sacrifices to accommodate for the action gameplay. Only one month remains before the public can finally pick up the First Shield of Rosaria and experience Clive Rosfield’s tragic story for themselves. Final Fantasy XVI will be released on June 22nd, 2023, as a PlayStation 5 exclusive.