When Clive Rosfield hits the battlefield in the latest Final Fantasy 16 Dominance trailer (opens in new tab), a barrage of attacks explode onto the screen. It's a spectacle, with the protagonist propelling up into the air with an enemy and swiftly inflicting damage thanks to the wind elemental powers of Geruda. Shortly before, another array of attacks casts fire-infused blows at foes by channelling the powers of the Phoenix summon. Final Fantasy 16's combat looks fast, frenetic, and undoubtedly action-packed, with Clive responding in real-time to the player's inputs – making use of a host of different swappable Eikon abilities. Our first proper look at the combat in Final Fantasy 16 highlighted a marked deviation from the classic turn-based and command-based combat of older games in the series.
Developer Square Enix knows this shift will split opinion but, as producer Naoki Yoshida tells me, appealing to every fan that the Final Fantasy series has picked over the last 35 years is effectively impossible. "Everyone has a different opinion, and that means that everyone has an idea of what they think is best for the series," says Yoshida-san. "And because we have so many ideas of what Final Fantasy should be, and what the fans want a Final Fantasy to be, if you try to put all those together, I mean… some of them are extreme opposites! And so it's impossible to put together what every single fan wants into a single Final Fantasy game."
Final Fantasy 16 is set to transport us to Valisthea in 2023. It's a world teetering on the precipice of war, as six factions begin to wrestle for control over Mothercrystals and the divine power that they provide the realms. From what we've seen of Valisthea so far, it looks like classic Final Fantasy – sprawling environments, gorgeous architecture, and beautiful skyboxes. This familiar-feeling world stands in contrast to what we've seen of the combat, with Clive Rosfield wielding a combination of melee-based sword attacks and magical abilities in real-time with relative ease.
This merging between old and new is at the heart of Final Fantasy 16. As Yoshida-san acknowledges, everyone will have their favorite game in the series, and feel differently about the various battle systems as a result, but he's also keen to point that there are plenty of younger players out there who may "have the idea that it's just one of those older series" that may not appeal to them.
That, Yoshida-san explains, is why developer Creative Business Unit 3 has tried to "go back to the series' roots" in terms of Final Fantasy 16's world building and tone – a more "classic fantasy feel" – while trying to drive modern sensibilities through the action. He adds that his team is "focusing on creating a setting reminiscent of the original Final Fantasy games, but then adding to this that real-time action that's more reminiscent of modern games."
Bringing in a new generation of players is important to Square Enix, but Yoshida-san says that his team is acutely aware of the challenges that a more action-focused real-time combat system can bring. Yoshida-san offers us reassurance that combat in Final Fantasy 16 will be approachable for those who may not have played, or necessarily excel at, these types of fast-paced, timing-based action games in the past.
"Of course, we know that there are a lot of players out there who may not excel at action games – that action games might not be their forte," Yoshida-san adds. "But those fans do not need to worry, because we have been developing systems and developing in-game features that will lend a helping hand to those players. You know, and we have a lot of confidence in these systems. And we want to get those into the hands of players. And we're actually kind of excited to have players that maybe don't consider themselves action game players to actually get in and try these new systems."
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In order to bring a real-time action battle system to life in Final Fantasy 16, BU3 brought in Ryota Suzuki to serve as battle director – Suzuki spent over 20 years at Capcom, working on games like Devil May Cry 5, Dragon's Dogma, and Marvel Vs. Capcom. There have already been parallels drawn between the combat style of Devil May Cry 5 and Final Fantasy 16 – a star rating feature, for example, shows up to seemingly rank the delivery of your attacks, which is similar to the style rank system found in the latest installment of Capcom's long-running action series. For the team at BU3, who had little experience in action games, the contributions from Suzuki-san helped turn the new system into a reality.
"Our development team had very little experience creating action games, and in those first few days of development we really struggled. That's why bringing in Suzuki-san really really helped us out," says Yoshida-san. "And by bringing in this super-talented veteran in Ryota Suzuki, he was able to bring everything together that we had, and then build upon that using his plethora of experience on past titles. Whether it be for the overall battle system, or the animation trees – Clive has so many different abilities, and being able to string all of those abilities together seamlessly without any stress, and have it look really, really natural, he helped us do that. His contribution has been great, and without him we wouldn't have been able to do this."
Using this new battle system, Clive will be able to perform a variety of moves tied to the unique powers of Final Fantasy 16's Eikons – powerful creatures that can reside within certain individuals known as Dominants, who can call upon these summoned monsters and utilize their abilities. Summons have been a key part of the Final Fantasy franchise, and in 16 many fan favorites (such as Geruda, Odin, Phoenix, Shiva, Titan) can actually be equipped – imbuing Rosfield with new skills to wield in combat. In the Dominance trailer from Sony's Summer State of Play, you can see just a handful of these Eikon abilities in action – Garuda's 'Deadly Embrace' appears to pull enemies in towards you to help maintain a combo, or Phoenix's 'Rising Flames' which looks to launch foes into the air.
While we're yet to play Final Fantasy 16 for ourselves, Yoshida-san promises that these Eikon abilities and skills will bring some diversity to battles – allowing you to decide how you want to fight, and have some freedom in how you approach each instance of combat. "Using the varied abilities of the Eikons – swapping them and changing them, and deciding which way you want to take your character and how you want them to fight – is, I think, one of the most exciting features that we have in store. And by offering a lot of different options in this battle system allows you to really choose a style of playing that fits you the best."
Alongside offering players the freedom to try out different abilities and powers from their favorite summons in combat, the action-packed battle system also presented the team with the opportunity to create different types of encounters. If you pay close attention to the Dominance trailer, you may notice that Clive isn't present for some of the battles on-screen, and that's because there are what Yoshida-san describes as unique "one-off battles" while you can actually transform into an Eikon and battle it out against a Dominant who is doing the same.
"This battle system has allowed us to create a lot of very, very unique battles, and we have a variety of different types of battles," says Yoshida-san. "Whether it be Clive versus smaller enemies, Clive versus larger bosses, Clive versus Eikons, or even Clive becoming an Eikon and having these Eikon versus Eikon battles; these battles feel fresh and unique, and not repetitive. A lot of our Eikon versus Eikon battles were created to be one-off battles, where they were created specifically for that instance – and that system was not used anywhere else. And so you're going to have something that feels fresh and new each time you play."
With the battle system moving away from the command-based format we've come to know from past games, one aspect of the combat has really stood out – the fact that Clive appeared to be fighting alone. Historically, Final Fantasy games have featured a Party system – allowing us to take control of multiple characters in combat, and tweak their loadouts, items, and abilities in the menus. The Dominance trailer is heavily focused on Clive, so much so that we started to wonder whether Final Fantasy 16 would be a more solitary affair.
Yoshida-san tells us that, given the amount of information presented in the trailer, the team was keen to "focus a lot on Clive's battles, and on his role in the battle" to avoid any unnecessary confusion. However, Final Fantasy 16's producer tells us that Clive will not be alone in his journey. He may be the character that we principally control, but there will be AI-driven companions joining you on your adventure throughout Valisthea, and assisting you in combat encounters.
"Clive has a massive amount of unique abilities in his fully customizable arsenal. We wanted players to master these, and customize these to the point where they can use them fluidly and stylishly," Yoshida-san continues. "But by spreading out battle controls, out across multiple party members, it can end up hindering the action – or just making things more complicated. And that's why we decided we'd rather have players focus solely on just controlling Clive."
"And so in battle, you have these characters that will be fully AI-driven. But that doesn't mean that they will just be there in battle," Yoshida-san continues. "There will be party banter. They will be accompanying Clive along this journey. And you'll have party members enter the party and leave the party, and different people come in depending on where you are in the story. And these characters will play big roles in the story, and they will have their own arcs themselves. And so it's not just... basically having someone help you in battle, it's actually having party members that participate in Clive's journey."
There's understandably a great fondness for the turn-based systems of games past, but it's exciting to see Final Fantasy 16 try something different for the next installment slated to come to PS5 in Summer 2023. With Eikons imbuing Clive's arsenal of attacks to offer a variety of different moves on the battlefield, companions who will fight alongside us, and a new setting to visit that the team hopes will capture that classic fantasy feel, Final Fantasy 16 looks like it's shaping up to be a new entry that will offer something to existing fans and newcomers alike.