Why did Final Fantasy move away from the turn-based battle system? It's a question that long-time fans of the series, which is set to celebrate its 35th anniversary in 2022, may be asking themselves when looking towards games like Final Fantasy 16 and Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. And now, we finally have an answer.
GamesRadar+ recently spoke with Final Fantasy 16 producer Naoki Yoshida, and he had a clear message for those of you longing for a return to command-based combat. "I understand that there are a lot of fans out there that do wish for a return to the turn-based battle system but – and it pains me to say this – I'm really sorry that we're not going to be doing that for this iteration of the series. As someone who was raised on turn-based, command-based role-playing games, I fully understand their appeal and understand what's great about them. But…"
There is, of course, a but.
As you may have heard, Final Fantasy 16 features an action battle system. On its surface, it has far more in common with Devil May Cry 5 than it does any of the mainline Final Fantasy games – with Clive Rosfield reacting in real-time to the inputs we mash into the controller. So, why the sudden shift? It actually has a lot to do with the strides Square Enix has made in visual fidelity.
"But," Yoshida-san continues, "one thing that we found recently is that as graphics get better and better, and as characters become more realistic and more photo-real, is that the combination of that realism with the very unreal sense of turn-based commands doesn't really fit together. You have this kind of strange gap that emerges."
This is an insight that may help to explain the direction Square Enix has gradually been taking Final Fantasy over the last decade. It's slowly been moving away from the turn-based systems of old in favor of faster, more reactive instances of combat as it builds larger, and more realistic game worlds. The modernization of Final Fantasy is, in part, designed to lure in a new generation of players, but there's this "gap" between presentation and gameplay that the publisher is trying to close too.
"Some people are fine with it. They're fine with having these realistic characters in this unreal type of system. But then on the other hand, there are people that just can't get over it. I mean, if you have a character holding a gun, why can't you just press the button to have the gunfire – why do you need a command in there? And so it becomes a question of not right or wrong, but it becomes a question of preferences for each different player."
Turn-based battles are a matter of preference then. Yoshida-san was keen to note in our conversation that it would be impossible for his team at Creative Business Unit 3 to appeal to 35 years worth of Final Fantasy fans – they all want something different. And so the only option is to press ahead. We see that reflected in the new Final Fantasy 16 trailer, titled Dominance. It's all fluid motions, stylish moves, and colorful powers that bring Final Fantasy's combat to life with flair.
And with Final Fantasy 16 being developed for PS5 – with the studio pushing for new levels of realism, fidelity, and detail to take advantage of the new-gen system – you can understand why the realistic graphics it can deliver partly influenced the decision to go in a more modern, action-focused direction. In fact, as Yoshida-san explains, when the team began developing Final Fantasy 16, maximizing the use of the technological advances of Sony's latest hardware was one of his team's directives.
Looking to the future
"When asked to create Final Fantasy 16 by the higher-ups in the company, one of their orders was to fully maximize the use of the technology," says Yoshida-san. "And so when making that decision, we thought that the direction of taking [FF16] in that full action [route] was the way to do that. And when deciding whether, 'okay, are we going to go turn-based or are going to go action?' I made the decision to go action."
Although the decision was made to go with an action system over a turn or command-based equivalent in Final Fantasy 16, Yoshida-san reiterates that he understands the appeal of these systems, and believes that they have a future – so long as they are presented in an appropriate way. "I personally would say that, if you're going to create something like that, maybe have the graphics fit that system better by maybe going towards a more pixel-graphic type of direction."
"But does that mean that Final Fantasy 17 pixel graphics is confirmed? I don't know about that," laughs Yoshida-san. "Because once you've taken the graphics this far with FF16, if you decided to go back to pixel graphics with that, then people are gonna be like, 'Hey, what are you doing here? Why are you going back to pixel graphics?"
The Final Fantasy series is home to a host of memorable adventures and among them, different battle systems. The team appears to be striving to deliver an approachable real-time combat system in Final Fantasy 16, one that is more in-line with modern action games. Does that mean Square Enix will keep turn-based battle systems locked to its pixel-art revival games like Octopath Traveler, Live A Live, or Triangle Strategy, rather than new installments of Final Fantasy? Maybe, but then Yoshida-san says we should never assume to know what the publisher will do next with the franchise.
"Like I said, this isn't about right or wrong, it comes down to preference. And then you know, we like to look at it as that's why each of the Final Fantasy games is something different. This time we're gonna go in this direction, but the next time you're gonna have a different team, you're going to have a different direction, you're gonna have a different world, and you're going to have a different battle system."
"And that, leaving that option open, so you're not getting the same thing every time – you're getting different things for a lot of different players. Because like I said before, there are a lot of different players, and not everybody agrees on what should be in a Final Fantasy. So you can't put everything together, you just have to keep creating different things until you cover everything."
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