There are two types of people that read that headline: the sickos that see it and go ‘yes, ha ha, yes!’ and the weary, jaded folk that go ‘oh, please, no’. But I’m here to tell you that, actually, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Final Fantasy 16 has made a real effort to make sure its narrative is tight, exciting, and interesting – even if you’ll sometimes be sat there with your hands off the pad for minutes and minutes and minutes at a time.
Producer Naoki Yoshida (who you may recognise as the face and creative force behind Final Fantasy 14) seems to know that people were left unsatisfied and a little put out by the way that Final Fantasy 15 released; parts of it felt incomplete, and the story was only really rounded out and told properly via DLC episodes that released in the years following the main game’s launch. Final Fantasy 16 is almost a direct reply to that; an apology, a way of Square Enix to show it knows how to release a proper, fully-fledged game.
“One thing that was important was to tell a story that was complete from beginning to end,” Yoshida says in an interview (via interpreter). “And in that we think we have succeeded. To facilitate this, there are over 11 hours of cinematic cutscenes alone, all seamlessly interwoven into the game, playing in-engine in real time.”
Elsewhere in the interview, I’d mentioned that the ‘sword and sorcery’ combat at the heart of Final Fantasy 16 had put me in mind of a cutscene from Final Fantasy 8 where Squall and his team invaded Galbadia Garden, and you saw a SeeD in the background cast a Fire spell, then move forward and attack with a gunblade – in my head, in battle, Final Fantasy 16 feels like that; this heady mix of magic and melee that lives up to the Final Fantasy promise.
“You mentioned that you can see, in this FF8 cutscene, this person doing these actions, but then you can’t actually do it. One of the things that we kind of focused on during development of Final Fantasy 16 is that we didn’t want to have cutscenes where Clive was doing something that you couldn’t do in game. You have always had these cutscenes where the characters are doing all of these excellent things, and you’re like ‘wow!’, and then you get into the game and you can’t do any of that… we hate that.”
These cutscenes look good. I can’t tell you how impressed I was seeing protagonist Clive and companion, Cid, storm through a castle to confront Cid’s old ally – and the owner of the Eikon (read: summon), Garuda. The trio has an intense face-off with lots of spoilerific world-building I won’t go into here. But, when talking about Cid turning on his own, Garuda’s face sneers – the creases in her nose deepening and expanding to her brow. It’s astonishing levels of facial mocap, only compounded by the chipped tooth enamel you can see when she raises her lips in a snarl. Honestly, I would expect worse graphics in a prestige Hollywood animation. I’m floored that this is what we’re getting in games, now.
Supported by an astonishing voice cast (shoutout to the broad Yorkshire voice of Cid as he yells ‘bollocks!’ when he’s ambushed by two flying enemies) and cinematic, prestige TV-like direction, and you’ve got cutscenes that are actually compelling and interesting – not just some phatic guff that has to happen to glue gameplay sections together.
“Each character is unique in their backgrounds and motivations, and each has their own unique arcs that play out through the story,” Yoshida says when talking us through some of the supporting cast. “And while the main focus of this story is on Clive Rosfield, as he seeks vengeance for the loss of his family and nation, through his journey players will witness the fates of many other players or any other many other characters as well.” That certainly sounds like a Final Fantasy story, then.
In every way that matters, Final Fantasy 16 is an improvement on the storytelling of Final Fantasy 15 – and a reminder that, when it wants to, this series can deliver best-in-class narrative that gels with gameplay in the most cinematic and appropriate way. Final Fantasy 16 is a return to form, and I cannot wait to get my hands on the finished product.
Final Fantasy 16 will release on June 22, 2023 for PlayStation 5.