It's fitting that Phoenix features so prominently in the Final Fantasy 16 gameplay, revealed as a surprise timed-exclusive for PS5. As a recurring summon, Phoenix rarely receives the same love and attention that is traditionally afforded to the likes of Bahamut, Shiva, Titan, and, of course, Ifrit. But here it is, locking horns with the famed fire-elemental above a sleepy medieval city – a conflict so formative to the twin realms, in which this game is sure to cross, that it finds itself burned into the shimmering logo itself.
Where Naoki Yoshida and Hiroshi Takai were once tasked with casting Flames of Rebirth on a fledgling Final Fantasy 14 – a realm literally reborn from the ashes of a failed launch – the producer and director are now tasked with engineering an even trickier transformation: bringing Final Fantasy into the next generation. Phoenix isn't merely a dominant Eikon to the warring factions that make up the world of Final Fantasy 16, it is also recognition of the enduring success of Final Fantasy 14 and a reflection of its impact behind the scenes at Square Enix.
A Realm Reborn
And so Creative Business Unit III steps up to deliver its first single-player, mainline entry to the Final Fantasy series. Development is led by The Last Remnant director Hiroshi Takai, with Naoki Yoshida onboard as producer while he continues overseeing the steady evolution of Eorzea. New creative teams have a tendency to bring new perspectives with them, and so perhaps that's why this game looks world's apart from the most recent mainline Final Fantasy games.
2016's Final Fantasy 15, along with Final Fantasy 13 and its sequels, were steeped in science-fiction, taking place across grand futurist settings infused with fantasy elements. Final Fantasy 16, on the other hand, gets back to the roots of the long-running series, setting camp in the crossroads between magic and medieval. Our first look at Final Fantasy 16 looks a little muted compared to its most immediate predecessors as a result. The colour palette is earthier, the weaponry made of waning steel, and the drama grounded in the political machinations of warring realms and shattering family lineages.
This is, of course, a Final Fantasy game, so all of that drama comes wrapped around talk of crystals and crusaders. There's references to a large battle between the Twin Realms, a powerful force in the Dhalmeks, knights riding Chocobos equipped for war, and towering Dragoons wielding elemental magics in combat. Ever present is the mention of the Mothercrystal – one of which appears to belong to each nation – and how its blessing is required to defend the realm against the spread of the Blight, an evil that will no doubt threaten to consume the land, less blood is spilled and EXP earned.
Final Fantasy 14 players will certainly be familiar with the phrasing here, with The Mothercrystal (or Hydaelyn) appearing as a central character throughout the timeline of the MMO. Of course, crystals have always played a prominent role in Final Fantasy games, so it's no surprise to see them positioned so in Final Fantasy 16, but it's interesting to think how Takai and Yoshida might carry those themes across to this new action-RPG.
There's also frequent mention of 'Eikon' in the FF16 trailer, another term that would crop up in Final Fantasy 14 to describe the Primals – or 'summons', as we traditionally know them. What we are still trying to figure out is just how integral the Mothercrystal is to the way magic and summons are presented in the game. From what we're able to divine, certain people in the realm are designated as 'Dominants' of certain 'Eikon', which is to say, Summoners with the power to unleash a specific elemental Primal as designated by the Mothercrystal.
Final Fantasy 16 gameplay breakdown
The gameplay reveal spends a lot of its time focused on a young boy of royal heritage named Joshua, the dominant of Phoenix, who has the power to Heal and is even able to manifest his Eikon while under duress. We can surmise that each Dominant is only supposed to have one assigned summon, aligned to the element of a nation's Mothercrystal, by the exclamation of shock from characters when Ifrit (who bares a striking resemblance to his form in FF14) enters the fray, with one soldier screaming, "A second Eikon of fire… but that's impossible!"
The emergence of additional Eikons will no doubt be a central theme in Final Fantasy 16, as will the dismantling of the 'Legacy of Crystals' by the unnamed hero players will be in control of – referred to only as 'Joshua's Shield', much like Gladio was positioned as Noctis's Shield in Final Fantasy 15. It would also appear that Final Fantasy 16 spans a large length of time – we see our protagonist as both a young knight and as a grizzled crusader, a branding scarred on his cheek – so expect a couple of big events tied to time skips.
We've only seen but a glimpse of him in action, with the gameplay reveal confirming that the real-time combat of Final Fantasy 15 and Final Fantasy 7 Remake will be making a return, albeit focused on one starring character rather than a group. It's difficult to discern all that much from our brief look at combat, but it would appear to be faster and a little more fluid version of the action seen in FF15. It's also interesting to see Eikon-based elemental attacks weaved into physical combat too, with combos clearly bearing the hallmarks and visual signifiers of Phoenix, Titan, and Garuda summons.
There's still plenty for Square Enix to reveal, of course, but new information is likely to be some ways off. Yoshida has confirmed that the next big reveal is scheduled for 2021, so we'll be playing in the realms of speculation for the foreseeable future. Still, the Final Fantasy 16 reveal was a confident showing, and a real treat for those who have longed for a return to the grittier, medieval inspired adventures that helped define much of the franchise's earliest years.
Final Fantasy 16 is coming to PS5, although it doesn't yet have a release date. If you're trying to get your hands on a console, we have all of the PS5 pre-order (opens in new tab) information right here.