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Final Fantasy 16 Preview: The Exhilarating New Chapter In An Undying Storyverse

Final Fantasy 16 will be available exclusively on the PlayStation 5 on June 22, 2023. A demo is available now from the PlayStation store.

Do you want to play a game that will transport you through time, teach you unspeakable loss, and whisk you through unimaginable adventures? The lasting legacy of the "Final Fantasy" franchise continues to send ripples throughout the gaming realm, leaving permanent impacts on the foundational standards of JRPGs. In its three-and-a-half decades of existence, this Japanese franchise has been thoroughly invested in its own personal development; we've seen loads of strategical improvements, tons of spin-offs and prequels to add layer upon layer of complexity to the FF universe, and endless new worlds to explore as we've followed the series from the NES to PlayStation and beyond.

The latest in the never-ending "Final Fantasy" story is "Final Fantasy 16," a new mainline installment set to release on June 22, 2023, exclusively on the PlayStation 5 with releases for other consoles planned for later in the year. A demo version of the game was recently made available, which invited players into the first few chapters — roughly the first hour to two hours of gameplay — in this modern version of a classic title.

A cinematic experience

Part of what makes the "FF16" demo so enjoyable is the frequent cinematic interventions, where the intensely dramatic storyline unfolds. In fact, active involvement of the player isn't needed much at all in the first entire 20 minutes or so, as the game opens on a very "Game of Thrones"-like stage where family members stab one another in the back and the differences between allies and foes are blurred.

This title's timeline takes place within the fictional "Final Fantasy" universe of Valisthea, where massive titans with elemental powers, called Eikons, are stewarded by select humans, called Dominants. The game unfolds with main character Clive Rosfield struggling to stay alive in a war-ravaged world. Clive's family is affiliated with the Phoenix Eikon titan, of which his younger brother Joshua is the Dominant. Clive's duty, as the eldest son who was not blessed by the Phoenix to be its Dominant, is to protect Joshua — but an unexpected conflict that leaves horrifying death and destruction in its wake, and Clive's journey is quickly revealed to be one of revenge. The dark themes, and one death that was particularly hard to watch, depicts a new approach for "Final Fantasy," but the attitude shift works well.

The mechanics are clean and easy to master

Even within the narrow window that the demo gives into "FF16," it is apparent that, as the "Final Fantasy" series has matured, so has its understanding of the formula for a game perfectly balanced between multi-hit combos and good old button-mashing fury. Playing the game in the story-focused mode, you'll find the combat included in the demo to be incredibly manageable. Most players will probably fare well in the action-focused mode that balances storytelling and conflict. There are visual queues — such as when to dodge — that can be toggled on or off to cater to varying levels of skill and difficulty.

You'll encounter a couple of small boss-level battles, where you can put the fluidity of the protagonist's magical and tactile fighting abilities to the test. Fights are occasionally intervened by "cinematic" actions, whether they be cinematic attacks or dodges, which gives the fight a nice dramatic flair. Square Enix takes the combat sample a step further in the demo by temporarily allowing you to fight from the vantage point of younger brother Joshua and the Phoenix he controls — a sample just tantalizing enough to leave you wondering how more of this omnipresent perspective will be expanded upon in the full game.

With that said, there are a few issues with stuttery/chunky NPC movements, especially when they emerge out of the peripheral to run in front of the main protagonist that you control. And in a few instances, the graphics are slow to render when running from one place to the next. Hopefully, these are easily patchable issues.

A narrative that will wrench at your heartstrings

If you like the brooding melodrama of traditional fantasy- and medieval-style storylines, you'll delight in "FF16." Overall, "Final Fantasy" fans are bound to be impressed with the 16th installment in the franchise. There is an original, sweeping new landscape to explore, fresh characters to meet, and an absolutely breathtaking, painstaking carefulness taken in the costume design of even NPCs that you will be forced to notice. The demo's campaign, even after only roughly an hour and a half of gameplay, is magnetic, thoughtfully lacking the sort of you-had-to-be-there exclusivity that you might expect from a game series with a staggering 15 preceding titles. For that reason, "Final Fantasy 16" might be as good of a game to finally get into the franchise as any — it already appears to welcome new "Final Fantasy" fans as much as it does longtime loyals.

The early story takes on a darker, more mature tone than players familiar with older "FF" games may be used to experiencing — and even in this demo, you see heart-wrenching loss, brutal murder, and devastating betrayal. Hopefully, those pesky demo bugs are smoothed out by the time the full release arrives. Even so, the slow rendering and blocky NPC movement definitely annoys more than it hinders, and "Final Fantasy 16" is on its way to becoming living proof that practice certainly does, eventually, make perfect.