During my hand-on session with Final Fantasy 16, I find myself in the heat of battle against the giant winged Eikon, Garuda. It's a spectacle, with the massive summon towering over me and all but eclipsing the stature of protagonist Clive Rosfield. Garuda's wind-infused powers create a vortex that pulls me in closer, and her large talons swipe at me in different directions. Thankfully, as Clive, I can directly channel Eikonic abilities of my own in combat. During the demo, I have access to three different Eikon skill sets I can switch between using the real-time action system, including the powers of Garuda - which turn out to be very useful when I'm actually fighting her. After dealing a certain amount of damage, I put the special Deadly Embrace move to use, which acts as a grappling hook that pulls the mighty Eikon onto her side; clearing the way for me to deliver a flurry of hits.
The impressive size of Garuda and the flow of action completely absorb my attention. But just when I think the battle is winding down, everything shifts in a big way. After trading enough blows, a scene plays out that sees Clive awaken as the fiery devil-horned Ifrit. Now I'm actually embodying an Eikon, and I immediately notice how different it is to control; the PS5 DualSense's haptic feedback allows me to feel the heavy weight of the colossal Eikon as I lunge forwards. It's like something out of Attack on Titan, with two huge foes hurling their elemental powers at one another.
The tail end of the battle between both Eikons plays out with a QTE sequence to see out the showdown, which also brings to mind the likes of God of War. It feels grand and cinematic, with an over-the-top showiness I love. This fight, and others I take on, perfectly illustrates the real-time action battle system of Final Fantasy 16, which succeeds at being both approachable and satisfying.
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Prior to my big battle with Garuda, my first taste of Final Fantasy 16's combat takes place in a garrison courtyard where the session begins. I use sword-based melee attacks at close range, and fire out bursts of magic at a distance as I dodge and dive away from enemy hits. The different Eikons at my disposal include the powers of Garuda, Titan, and Phoenix, with each one offering a range of different powers with cool-downs, as well as a special ability or blocking move. I spend a good chunk of time playing around with the abilities and various combos, switching up Eikons to take out a group of soldiers. I make my way to the top of a tower to find Benedikta, who's a Dominant – figures that can channel the power of an Eikon – alongside my trusty canine companion Torgal, and Cidolfus Telamon, a prominent character in the world of Valisthea who serves as an AI party member.
After taking down many soldiers in the vicinity, I come across some armored foes who have a 'Will' gauge. Knock this down, and foes become staggered, meaning you can deal lots of damage in that moment. The real-time action system in Final Fantasy 16 may not be following the traditional turn-based route of many games past, but thanks to its Eikonic abilities, magic, and sword-based melee attacks, it has that signature Final Fantasy feel. What I appreciate the most, though, is the team's efforts to make Clive's style of combat approachable. In order to cater to different players, rings known as 'Timely Accessories' can be interchanged to support combat in various ways.
So, if you're a player that forgets to heal in the midst of battle, there's a ring that will automatically use a potion when your HP falls below a certain level. Another will also automate the actions of very good dog companion Torgal in battle so you don't have to think about giving him commands. With various combos to use in combat, there's also a ring that allows you to use complex ability combinations by simply pressing the square button - which could be a great accessible option. My personal favorite is the 'Ring of Timely Focus', which slows down time before an evadable attack to give me a chance to dodge out of the way using R1.
I'll be the first to admit that while I do enjoy them, I'm not always the most confident when it comes to action-oriented games. There are no difficulty settings in the game as such, but there is a story focused mode that will equip different rings automatically for you from the get go. Certain accessories proved to be a very welcome and useful boon that helped me in areas where I needed it the most, and I walked away from the session feeling like I could really master the combat and feel good doing it.
Upping the scale
As a combat-focused demo session, I didn't get to see too much of the story, but it did give me the opportunity to experience how the battles play out within it. Cinematic cutscenes and fight sequences seamlessly move into the combat, with no loading times in between; a testament to the power of the PS5. The demo also allowed me to see, and more importantly, feel how each big battle is distinctly different. As Clive, I faced enemies both big and small, from the garrison soldiers on more equal footing, to two large scale blockbuster battles, and a mini boss fight.
All told, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the real-time action combat system in Final Fantasy 16. The influence of Ryota Suzuki - who previously worked on the likes of Devil May Cry 5 and Dragon's Dogma - and how he's helped to shape the feel and style of Clive's battle system is clear, as is how development for the PS5 has allowed for grand, cinematic battles designed to hook you in.
Throughout my time with Final Fantasy 16, though, what I appreciated the most was the effort that's gone in to make the action feel approachable and rewarding. In such a short space of time, I was able to feel like I'd really gotten to grips with the system, and the accessories gave me support where I needed it most. I can see this being one Final Fantasy game that players of all experience levels can jump into comfortably – and with its June 22 release date now in sight, we don't have much longer to wait to do just that.
Keep track of all of the biggest releases on the way with our roundup of upcoming PS5 games.