Final Fantasy XVI Worries Me for One Reason
When imitation gets in the way of innovation.
Each building block of Final Fantasy XVI is poised to make it the blockbuster of the summer. The adrenaline-pumping combat, the mature story, and the dream team of developers all make for what should be a triumphant moment for the long-running series.
Yet after going hands-on with the game’s opening hours, something is missing from the formula. The product is polished to perfection, but I am still waiting to see how Final Fantasy XVI is uniquely itself.
Inverse played a special version made for media to experience, and contents may differ from the final version.
In the early hours of the story, the most interesting element are the Dominants — select humans who act as vessels for the godlike Eikons. Different political factions of Valisthea (FFXVI’s world) treat Dominants differently. Some are revered as royalty while others are seen as abominations who should be tortured for their power. In a world of political chess, these characters are the most powerful on the board but they are all pieces controlled by others.
It is a fascinating dynamic. Until I realized I had seen it before in Attack on Titan. Dominants are essentially Titan Holders, and the themes of power and imprisonment are one and the same.
One of the biggest struggles that Final Fantasy as a series has faced in the past decade is painting its popularity on a global scale. Talking to Inverse last summer, FFXVI’s producer Naoki Yoshida admitted that “the series is currently struggling.”
This influenced the direction of FFXVI. “When you’re thinking about the future of the Final Fantasy franchise, you have to aim at that generation of players that have never touched a Final Fantasy before,” Yoshida said in a June 2022 interview with The Washington Post. “Maybe they think the series is too old, too classic. [So you] create something that shows them that this could be an exciting game.”
Specifically, this led the development team to take inspiration from a plethora of media across mediums that have been widely popular in recent years. The mature tone of the story is inspired by from Game of Thrones, the real-time action combat is designed by Devil May Cry 5 veteran Ryota Suzuki, the lighter RPG elements and setpiece boss battles riff on God of Wär (2018) and Ragnarök. It also explains the Attack on Titan connection.
Going hands-on with FFXVI is undeniably impressive. The prologue alone is an anxiety-riddled couple of hours culminating in one of the most dazzling and violent scenes I have seen in any game, and it literally left me with my jaw dropped open in awe. Of course, the development team — which includes those who have worked on the likes of FFXIV, FFXII, and Devil May Cry 5 to name a few — can deliver such a feast for the eyes. It shouldn’t be surprising that the world is beautiful, the combat feels good, and the story is well-written. But it often feels like it’s trying to be something else.
Even the seemingly unique aspects of the setting are an almost too-similar homage to the Ivalice setting of Tactics and XII. (Both games were designed by FFXVI Art Director Hiroshi Minagawa and are known favorites of Yoshida.) Every individual piece of art that inspired a distinct part of FFXVI is critically and publicly acclaimed. Taking pieces of each and stitching them together makes FFXVI feel like Frankenstein’s monster designed to be massively appealing, which is clearly what Square Enix is aiming for here.
At the end of my preview, it clicked that what I had been waiting for was a part that makes me feel like “this is Final Fantasy.” Which, to be fair, is a hard thing to pin down. Beyond chocobos, summons, or moogles, Final Fantasy has always been about innovation. Even if certain new ideas or mechanics do not gain universal acclaim, they are ideas that cannot be found in any other game. I haven’t felt that yet with FFXVI, but I hope I will.
In its final form, Final Fantasy XVI’s main story will take roughly 35 hours minimum to complete according to director Hiroshi Takai. This means that I only experienced a fraction of what the game has to offer. When Final Fantasy XVI releases on June 22, the full game may reveal a deep narrative that stands above its influences. Fingers crossed.