Final Fantasy XVI, the preview: the return of a timeless saga
Wanting to describe Final Fantasy XVI in a nutshell, to someone who is minimally accustomed to the many forms of pop culture, it could be framed as a sort of cross between the atmospheres of game of Thrones and those of Evangelion. Great political dramas, palace intrigues, successions and dynasties that mix with deep personal dramas, traumas and the ability to field enormous creatures who give each other a lot of beatings, in the best tradition of super robot films, kaiju and gods tokusatsu a la Ultraman.
All based no longer on turn-based combat, as in the past, but pushing further towards a pure action title, continuing in the wake of what has already been done with the remake of Final Fantasy XIII and with the fifteenth, discussed, chapter.
Small note for those approaching the saga now: it is absolutely not important to know all the previous chapters, each title makes its own story and at most old fans can know references and easter eggs that are carried forward year after year.
Another important thing: the game is fully dubbed and translated into Italian, which is no small feat considering the hours of footage and the thousands of lines of dialogue.
“One of the first things I did as soon as production started was put the team in front of the box set of game of Thrones to make everyone understand the general atmosphere we should have gone towards,” explains Naoki Yoshida, who heads the development team. Yoshida is the producer of the game and has years of experience with both Dragon Quest that with Final Fantasyto him the arduous task of bringing the game back to its former glory after a previous chapter that did not shine due to many technical problems and late content.
“Final Fantasy it has always been a game full of bright and colorful atmospheres, but this time we decided that we needed a little darkness, just to make the light stand out more – continues Yoshida – we also wanted to give the protagonists a twist. They always say that jrpg (Japanese role-playing games) are full of children who want to save the world, so we thought that for once we could choose a more adult cast”.
The game is set in Valisthea, a kingdom divided between several houses in continuous struggle for control of the territory that come from years of bloody wars. The protagonist of this story is Clive Rosefield, the eldest son of the Archduke of Rosaria with some powers related to fire and bodyguard of his younger brother, Joshua, who is the designated heir to the throne. Joshua is a "Dominant", that is, an individual with the ability to summon very powerful creatures. Once an adult, he will be able to exploit the power of the phoenix. And when we say “exploit” we mean becoming a gigantic phoenix capable of setting fire to everything around it.
Obviously many other characters revolve around them and there will be twists of all kinds, flashbacks, epic moments, betrayals, battles and obviously epic clashes between the various dominants and their creatures. All set in a world that definitely looks like the European Middle Ages seen through the eyes of a Japanese, or with an extremely curious approach to the subject but also eager to modify it according to one's taste, using it as a system to tell something else. Which is what Hideaki Anno did with the Bible, the Kabbalah and a psychoanalysis manual in creating Evangelion.
“But beyond the radical changes in atmosphere and gameplay Final Fantasy XVI maintains all the elements of the saga - explains Yoshida - they often ask me what are the elements that make such a Final Fantasy, since each game is different from the others. It's important to me that each of them has a great story, an interesting combat system, a lot of missions, environments, characters, in short, a lot of content, graphics, high-quality soundtrack and dialogue and, of course, the Chocobos!”
We got to try the prologue of the game and a more advanced section of combat between two summons and the first thing to say is that Final Fantasy XVI fully respects a great Jrpg archetype: before entering the heart of the action, a lot of dialogues, interludes and situations await you in which you will find yourself "in media res" that can stun you.
Basically the first hour of the game goes away in a series of cutscenes and minimal interaction sections where we listen to the characters, their stories, what is happening in that moment in Valisthea, a long flashback that better explains the situation we are in . Here and there some fighting, but little stuff. A strong visual debt to the Lord of the Rings film saga also seems clear. We don't want to say that the beginning obviously takes up some moments frame by frame, but almost.
For those who know the genre and appreciate Final Fantasy this is normal, it's almost part of the game, but for those who may be new to these worlds it can be a somewhat steep start, very narrative and not very playful. Luckily, pressing the pause button brings up a handy guide explaining who's talking, where we are and at what time.
After this long moment, we were able to try a visually opulent, grandiose game full of spectacular views and scenes of gargantuan imaginative power which, perhaps due to the fact that we are talking about the initial stages, from a playful point of view allows you to move in fairly confined spaces in which, finally, to fight.
There has been a lot of talk about the definitive action turn of Final Fantasy among enthusiasts and in many cases, beyond the displeasure of abandoning already known mechanics, there was also the fear of not being up to the pace imposed by a genre that makes reflexes and coordination its main characteristics. What we can tell you is that you can choose two difficulty levels, one designed for those who want to enjoy the story and one for those looking for a tougher challenge.
For the moment it is difficult to go too far because we do not know how the game will behave when, and if, we will be able to use more characters, what is certain is that for the moment the classic magic system has been totally dismantled and we will be able to use, in addition to the classic attacks, two skills that we will be able to choose from a range of proposals and which will be linked to the various gigantic summons of the game and the elements that command them. So earth spells will trigger earthquakes, fire spells will obviously allow us to juggle flaming slashes and so on. Throughout the test there hasn't been an enemy that hasn't been properly sliced, just be a little careful and also trust in the computer-controlled companions, when available.
Also, in some moments we will command the gigantic monsters that you may have seen in the images and trailers. These are sections that will probably serve to break the rhythm of the game a little and fill our eyes with absurd creatures who beat each other, because even the tamarraggine wants its part. From a purely playful point of view, these are obviously not frenetic moments like the fights in the game, on the contrary, everything is very slow and mammoth, with just a few moments in which to dodge or aim, but if we were to tell you that it didn't exalt us to punch a sort of harpy lightning thrower using a fire-breathing demon we would be lying.
There is still so much to discover and know about Final Fantasy XVI because what emerges from this preview is that we have just scratched the surface of an adventure full of characters, twists and settings. An adventure that probably won't be for everyone, not for those who wanted a more conservative approach, but which, in Yoshida's intentions, aims to ferry the saga towards the future, towards a new and broad audience, who grew up with different games. In short, an evolution of the species, which does not mean being better, simply more suitable.
See you again on May 22, when we can finally return to Valisthea.