Skip to main content

Final Fantasy 16 preview: a modern JRPG with a classic story

Final Fantasy 16 is full of careful character building and explosive action scenes to leave you in awe

Disclaimer: This is a special version made for the media to experience, and contents may differ from the final version.

Final Fantasy XVI is all about spectacle. Regardless of what’s going on or why it’s happening, it needs to look cool before anything else. Whether it’s a duel between two humans, a war with massive armies, or a battle between god-like creatures, the animation and general flow of action makes you feel like you’re playing a cutscene – and not because of a lack of interactivity. It’s a spectacle.

Of course, this is a Final Fantasy game so the first two hours of the game are very heavy on actual cutscenes, too, but they’re well-paced and the character writing makes scenes quite gripping. While there isn’t loads of gameplay in this opening section, it’s expertly placed to grab you just as you feel your patience for the cutscenes starting to wane. It might be off-putting to those who are new to JRPGs, but I’ve loved games with far slower starts than this (I see you, Persona 5. We all see you – and we’re judging you).

Final Fantasy 16 slash

It’s a world worth taking the time to build though, as these opening hours set up a lot of Game of Thrones-style political intrigue. Through one or two simple scenes we see glimpses of each of the six nations that exist in this world, the major players of each, and what their angle is. It’s set up very carefully, making sure you get a sense of the differences between each faction, hinting that they have secrets and hidden motives without letting you in on what they are.

Clive is immediately a more interesting protagonist than Noctis could ever hope to be, too. I can’t get into specifics, but while his core motivation of vengeance is a bit basic, the story of where he comes from and the internal struggle he must overcome is juicy indeed. It’s something I’m chomping at the bit to see play out in the full game.

Once that’s all set up and the action properly ramps up, Final Fantasy XVI is worth the wait. One moment you’ll be fighting goblins in an abandoned village and before you know it the god-like Eikons are baring down on you in a cinematic clash.


Strangely, the Eikon fights are actually far more thrilling in cutscenes than gameplay. In the last Final Fantasy 16 preview I found the Eikon vs Eikon fight to be lacking the feeling of unstoppable power that these creatures should have. I played a different Eikon vs Eikon fight in this preview and my opinion hasn’t changed – they’re boring.

Despite looking cool, your attacks feel slow and weak, sucking all the fun out of the largely scripted fights. Compare this to the cutscenes, where Eikons unleash awesome attacks and clash with incredible force, and I can’t help but wonder why more of that wasn’t included in the gameplay – especially when the ordinary fights are so flashy and fluid.

Most of the time you’ll be playing as Clive, who’s handy with a sword and slowly gains the power of various elements, unlocking magic abilities and highly powerful attacks.

The simple sword strike is the bread and butter of the combat system, with Clive striking quickly and able to dodge attacks at the last second – action is always fast-paced. You can also use bursts of magic, which can start combos if you time your attacks correctly. Then you’ve got the powerful Eikon attacks, which take time to charge, but can usually wipe out a basic enemy in no time, or deal big damage to a big bad.

Final Fantasy 16 boss

It’s a fun combat system and improves greatly on the action RPG stylings of 15. The combos look cool and the visual effects are beautiful. Pulling off even the most basic of moves looks brilliant with the vibrant colors of the elements accentuating the fluid movements.

However, on tougher enemies, battles can get samey. Aside from their health bar, enemies also have a stun bar which slowly depletes with every attack. Get it halfway and the enemy will stagger. Deplete it entirely and you’ll have a small opening to do massively boosted damage. This means that, for bosses especially, once you’ve worked out their attack patterns, you fall into a predictable routine for the entire fight.

There are some mechanics that attempt to negate it, though. During most fights, there will come a point where it gets all cinematic on you, playing out some great-looking sequences where the only input from you is a button press, or maybe a little bit of mashing (which can be disabled if you prefer). These help break up that monotonous flow somewhat, and they can be used to emphasize crucial or emotional moments in a battle. It almost reminds me of a pro-wrestling match in a way, where story beats are told entirely through physicality.

Final Fantasy 16 Clive ability.

On top of that, the linear level design allows the pacing of encounters to be heavily controlled, and there’s a great variety of enemies. It stops you from settling too deep into your comfort zone. You’re only truly let loose in the “open field areas”, which are mid-sized free-roam areas where you can find useful items, fight tough enemies, and pick up a side quest or two.

While I never tired of the combat in this four-hour preview session, I can’t say how it will fare over the full length of the game. Hopefully, the regular addition of new elements and abilities will stop it from becoming too repetitive, but that remains to be seen.

I’m left feeling very optimistic about Final Fantasy XVI. There are some yellow flags to be wary of for the full game, especially when it comes to Eikon gameplay, but there’s plenty to look forward to. The narrative gets off to a very strong start with compelling characters on all sides and a feeling of maintaining momentum from scene to scene. It’s set to be the great action RPG that puts the Final Fantasy series back on top of the genre.

FINAL FANTASY XVI © 2023 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved.