Final Fantasy XVI’s Action Combat Forges A New Path Forward | Preview

There's a lot to talk about.

The Final Fantasy series has never been afraid to change up its combat between entries, from the classic turn-based adventures to the Action Time Battle systems of later installments. With Final Fantasy XV and VII Remake, the franchise was wading into the waters of Action RPG combat. Final Fantasy XVI dives head first into this genre and isn’t afraid to say it with its whole chest. 

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During a presentation before the demo, the team explained some of the world-building of Final Fantasy XVI. The World of Valisthea gains its energy from the Mothercrystals, which the team likened to real-world “Oil Fields.” They draw ether from the world and are the basis of the multiple nations. There are a few Mothercrystals that are not occupied by one of the regions and a truce in place that no one can own them – they belong to the world. 

As the power of some of these crystals wane, it becomes a mad dash to secure any that can keep the people alive. While this is the geo-political struggle of the world, Final Fantasy XVI focuses on our hero, Clive Rosfield, who is on a quest for revenge against the powers that killed his younger brother Josh. 

Clive’s quest for revenge will take him all over Valisthea, interacting with the other lords, nobles, and everyday folks of the land.

After a little backstory, we were given access to the playable build.  

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

Before getting into a deep dive on the combat, the preview build I played ran at 30 FPS with the motion blur cranked all the way up. However, in a presentation, before the demo began, the team stated that they are optimistic about having a performance mode toggle to run that game at a higher framerate at launch. 

Final Fantasy XVI’s Action Combat Forges A New Path Forward | Preview

After roughly two hours with the game, I walked away unsurprised by how much combat director Ryota Suzuki’s DNA is in this game. Previous projects of his, like Devil May Cry V are the easiest comparison. 

The opening moments of the demo see Clive and Cid exploring a castle in search of Benedikta. Each room had Clive ripping through enemies in high-octane combat. 

You have your standard sword swing attack that can be combo’d together with your abilities to create strings, air juggles, and everything you would expect from a hard-action game. 

Your abilities are given to you by the different Eikons of the game. So for the demo, I was able to draw from Garuda, Titan, and Phoenix. Mixing and matching the different skills to create a flow that feels flashy and harnesses the power of these famous Eikons. 

Related: Final Fantasy XVI Devs Talk about Building the Bridge Between Old and New Fans

You can swap between the different Eikon abilities with a simple button press, which allows you to chain them together. Its clear FFXVI is designed to be a game with a low barrier to entry, but an extremely high skill ceiling for players looking to sink the time into. 

As I carved my way through this castle, I started to really get a feel for the combat. It takes a bit of getting used to, but hitting an enemy with Phoenix’s wing and then ripping into them with Garuda’s claws feel visceral and has immediate feedback. 

Each Eikon also offers a utility ability that adds another layer of decisions to make on a second-to-second basis. Phoenix gives players a phase dash similar to Noctis’ blink ability, Garuda gives you a hook to pull enemies to you, and Titan gives you a block that negates a ton of incoming damage. 

I learned early on that Titan’s block can be used to parry, and hitting a frame-perfect parry against a boss lets you rip into them and deal massive damage.

FFXVI also has a stagger system similar to previous Final Fantasy entries. Beating on an enemy enough will cause them to stagger. A Staggered enemy will take 150% bonus damage, and this is where you want to burst them as much as possible. Getting enemies to a staggered state will take a lot, but reaping the reward of it is worth it. 

Of course, that’s not all the combat offers players. You also have your trusty companion Torgal, your dog that can attack enemies and help you out in combat. Torgal can be controlled with simple commands on the d-pad, like telling Torgal to attack the enemy, you’re targeting. While you don’t have a full suite of moves for Torgal, it’s a nice compromise and allows you to give quick actions for Torgal to do in battle. 

There’s is lot going on in any moment with FFXVI’s combat, and it’s clear the team wanted to give players a ton of options for moment-to-moment gameplay. You can still cast famous Final Fantasy spells like Firaga, Aero, Stone, and more. Your equipped Eikons also dictate these. So casting spells doesn’t use meter or MP; it’s a simple hit of the triangle button. You can hold down the button to charge up the spell to a higher level. This gives you a constant ranged ability at all times if you need to do chip damage. Another work of Suzuki’s past on MvC 2. 

We haven’t even talked about one of the most iconic parts of the Final Fantasy series, Limit Breaks. Clive can Limit Break after filling up the meter, and the one we had access to in the preview operated not too dissimilar from Krato’s Spartan Rage – letting you whale on foes with increased damage and the ability to restore some of your health back. It’s great to use on staggered enemies or even if you’re out of healing potions and need more recovery options. 

Throughout all of this, Final Fantasy XVI has not forgotten it’s an RPG. You will still be obtaining new pieces of gear, accessories, and filling out a skill tree. 

The skill tree in Final Fantasy XVI still focuses on each of the Eikons you’ve unlocked, but it offers new ways to interact with them, from new abilities that can be slotted into your loadout to buffs for spells, damage output, and more. 

While we didn’t get to see more of the RPG elements in the demo, the team assures us they are still very present. In our interview with Producer Naoki Yoshida, he mentioned, “We have a lot of RPG elements as well side stories, things to learn about the world, places to explore, things to do. It’s all there.”

While still forging forward into the hard action space, it’s clear the developers are not abandoning what makes Final Fantasy iconic to so many fans old and new. 

In fact, since a lot of Final Fantasy fans don’t come from Action RPG backgrounds, the team has devised a series of accessories for players to help accommodate their skill set. “Timely Accessories” offer changes to the game’s systems to ease some of the burdens of managing everything.

For instance, one accessory will automatically dodge incoming attacks for you, or another will use healing items when your health hits a certain threshold. These are designed to alleviate the stress of players not acclimated to the genre. It’s an interesting way to tackle difficulty options in the game, since there isn’t your traditional easy, medium, and hard options. 

The biggest Timely Accessory we saw, was the one that allows you to pull off amazing combos with just the use of the square button. This auto-combo system is similar to Dragonball FighterZ or other fighting game easy combo systems. It allows the player to do flashy and unique moves while not needing to absolutely master every system in the game.

I messed around with a lot of these in my preview, and while they aren’t my cup of tea, it’s incredibly exciting to see the team come up with a solution for bringing along older series fans for the ride. 

As I continued working my way through the dungeon, I faced a showdown between two minibosses. These winged creatures swirled around me, dive-bombing and hitting me from every direction. 

I then noticed the ground lighting up with telegraphed markers of where their next hit would strike. This is a theme that will continue on in every boss fight. Pulling from Final Fantasy XIV, telegraphed AOE markers are common to state to the player that they need to not be standing there, and I wasn’t surprised to see that mechanic work its way into XVI.

After defeating these minibosses though a frenetic fast, paced clash of claws, the dungeon continued.

The dungeon itself was pretty straightforward. A war-torn castle with multiple routes to the top. Rooms of enemies waiting for a fight, and Torgal and I looking for treasure in every nook and cranny. The dilapidated walls of the castle told a story of conflict, but the mission was to get to the top and find Benedikta. 

I found a few treasure chests along the way with healing items and some accessories that boosted specific attacks, like Phoenix’s Heatwave ability, which slice through the air with fire waves. 

I make it to the top of the castle, and a boss fight against Benedikta. The fight’s music is a clear as day Masayoshi Soken certified banger. The orchestral swells and the Gregorian chants make it feel like something out of Final Fantasy XIV’s first expansion Heavensward.

Benedikta is fast, brutal, and the fight blends cinematic quick time events with a hardcore action fight. The telegraphed AOE markers make their return and are an excellent way to make the fight incredibly legible for players of all skill level. 

That fight put all of skills I spent the dungeon honing to the test. Learning the right times to use my magic for ranged damage, learning to parry Benedikta flying at me at 100 miles per hour, and knowing when to go all in on my attacks. 

Between the music, the vista and skybox seen at the top of the castle, and the animations of Benedikta, this was easily the highlight of the demo.

The fight continues to escalate with Benedikta using new and more powerful moves. From spawning tornadoes to grabbing you with her talons and ripping you to shreds. After finishing the fight, Clive absorbs some of Benedikta’s Eikon essence, and then falls to the ground writhing in pain. Time stops, and a an unknown voice says “there you are.” 

This is where the first section of the demo ends, and the next playable part was made available. In this section, I got to fight Garuda in her true form as Clive. It’s the large summon boss battle you’re familiar with in a Final Fantasy game. 

Before getting to the actual fight, you control Clive as he makes his way through the gusting and swirling winds of a broken and destroyed land. Chasing a man in a red hooded cloak searching for answers. You chase him to the top of a windy peak, and before you can get any answers, Garuda swoops in, knocks you into the air, and a cinematic fight scene begins. Using some quick time events, you battle Garuda hurling through the darkened skies before landing on a platform for the real fight to begin.

On a small floating island, Garuda took up most of the level, and it was all about dodging her sweeping attacks and trying to do as much damage to her head as possible. A unique mechanic was introduced here, allowing me to use Garuda’s Eikon utility to stagger her when her meter was halfway. It was a little tricky to try and pull off, but when I did, it opened her up to a ton of damage. 

The fight blends expensive cinematics with real-time combat and provides a unique set piece that was worth the price of admission. 

The final section of the demo featured the Eikon vs Eikon battle. Clive transforms into Ifrit and decides to take Garuda head-on. 

This climactic fight has players trying to close the distance on Garuda as she zones you out with Aero blasts. It was akin to a fighting game where one player is trying to close the distance to hit a Shoryuken on a ranged character. 

Ifrit controls like a truck and its hits a real slugfest when these two hulking beasts trade blows. It felt solid to grab Garuda by the head and slam her into the ground. 

The best way to describe the fight was visceral. Garuda clawed out parts of Ifrit’s stomach, ripped limbs off, and every hit felt harder than the last. 

While the fight was more cinematic than anything else, the developers explained that this is the first of many Eikon vs. Eikon battles. Each one is more complex than the last, and they take on all different genres and styles. 

We saw glimpses in a presentation that showed a Panzer Dragoon-style fight with Phoenix, but we did not get to play that one. 

The demo wraps up after the fight, and that’s all of the Final Fantasy XVI I saw. It’s a lot to chew on, and fans have a lot to look forward to when Final Fantasy XVI launches on PlayStation 5 on June 22, 2023.   

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Jesse Vitelli
Jesse loves most games, but he really loves games that he can play together with friends and family. This usually means late nights in Destiny 2 or FFXIV. You can also find him thinking about his ever-expanding backlog of games he won't play and being constantly dehydrated. Do not contact him.