Ahead of its launch next week, Square Enix has released a demo for Final Fantasy XVI. At first glance, you would think this demo follows the same approach as Final Fantasy XV where the studio slapped together a handful of “first-taste” experiences which all turned out to be shallow tech demos. After sitting through the 2-hour session, I was surprised to see this was actually the complete opposite.
Square Enix is so confident in Final Fantasy XVI that the studio included the full first chapter of the game and it is a polished look which perfectly captures the darkness we can look forward to in the main game. Best of all, the progress you make in the Final Fantasy XVI demo carries over to the main game.
This was an important factor I considered when I sat down to play the demo. I knew that last night kicked off my adventure in Final Fantasy XVI and the gameplay I experienced, the items I collected and XP I earned were worthwhile. It wasn’t a waste of time and a “look how pretty this is” showcase.
Square Enix also intentionally planned this demo to introduce the darker story in the works. Final Fantasy XVI draws some clear inspiration from the likes of Game of Thrones. If anything, it is so ‘out there’ compared to the magic and rainbows in previous titles that it is almost unrecognizable.
There’s blood in my Final Fantasy… I never thought I would live to see this. The characters are also raunchy with near-sex scenes taking place within the first 5 minutes of the game. Not to mention the game doesn’t shy away from the foul language.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love all of this. Within the first two hours, I had the Red Wedding-like deaths. I just sat there with my mouth open in complete shock. This is Final Fantasy... Surely characters getting their throat slit in front of me is reserved for The Last of Us? It does feel a little off at first.
I have played Final Fantasy since I was a child. The most ‘adult’ the game ever got back in the day was likely the Don Corneo scene where the crime lord tried to get frisky with Cloud. Sure, there have been other moments in the series that pushed the envelope a little but nothing has come close to the themes in Final Fantasy XVI.
The series has been known for its magic and animated violence. People die and they disappear in a bunch of sparkles as their spirits float away into the abyss. In Final Fantasy XVI, I watched people being burnt alive and literally have their ashes blow away with the wind while they were at it.
All of these themes, of course, prove that Final Fantasy XVI has finally grown up and aged with its audience. The fans of the series are adults now, well into their 30s and 40s and a little bit of blood and gore won’t chase them away. I, for one, appreciate the darker tones at play here. If the first two hours of the game delivered this uncomfortable story and violence, I can’t wait to see where it goes from there.
But beyond the adult themes in Final Fantasy XVI, the game is also impressive from a technical point of view. If we look back at Final Fantasy XV, it was an ambitious title that favoured scale and technical features over everything else. As a result, Final Fantasy XV had major performance issues and even the visuals were a bit rough. The best version was the PC port which arrived substantially later than the console release.
Square Enix’s goal to scale back the world and focus on smaller hubs has definitely helped bring Final Fantasy XVI to life. There are no objects popping in at the distance, weird resolution issues in combat and rough-looking character models. This is the most polished Final Fantasy game we have had since XIII. I think it is safe to say that Square Enix learnt its lesson from XV.
I also noticed that Final Fantasy XVI has VRR support which helped iron out some of the frame rate issues I encountered when selecting the Performance Mode. I did opt to play in Graphics Mode during most of the demo because it runs very well and everything looks great.
I also need to mention how approachable Final Fantasy XVI is for newcomers. There’s a Story Mode at the start of the demo which automatically equips some easy mode items to Clive. These items enable a handful of combat features such as automatic combos and a dodge gauge.
Of course, if you’re not keen on this make sure you take them off. I decided to remove them as soon as I realized what they did. But it is nice to see options available for players who just want to enjoy the story and seamlessly fight through combat without worrying about combo timing and perfectly dodging attacks.
One thing that did irk me about the demo was the QT events in combat. I think we are past the age of quick-time events and having to press a button at the right time to dodge and pull off a move. For me, it kind of makes the combat feel a bit too scripted. Especially if the button press results in a large chunk of health being taken from Clive or the enemy. I would prefer to simply deal my own damage in combat and these cutscenes just play out as cool things to watch. But hey, just my own personal preference here.
So after two hours (I kinda played the first part again just to see the Shiva and Titan fight), I am on board for Final Fantasy XVI. I don’t know how long the game will last and how difficult things will get as it goes deeper. However, I saw blood, and intimacy and heard a number of F-bombs to respect where the game has gone. I can’t wait to see more.
Remember, you can test out the Final Fantasy XVI demo on PS5 now and keep all your progression when you get the game.