I bloody adore Final Fantasy, but I'll be the first to admit that I haven't loved the series' modern direction. I'm a diehard turn-based gal through and through, and I've struggled to adapt to the action combat of more recent entries like Final Fantasy 15 and Final Fantasy 7 Remake. I was worried my relationship with the games had run its course, but I've held out hope for Final Fantasy 16. Thank god I did, because I'm convinced it'll be one of the best RPGs we've seen in the last 10 years, and I'm pissed that we have to wait for a PC release.
Playing the demo on PlayStation 5 made me realise how long it's been since I felt so invested in a Final Fantasy game, outside of the critically-acclaimed MMORPG variety. It sounds daft, but I was worried it wouldn't feel like a Final Fantasy game. But it does. It really, really does. While the demo is only a snippet of the first two hours of the game, it's Square Enix's best attempt yet at blending traditional series staples with modern gameplay to reel in a new audience.
Throwing it back to a medieval setting is, funnily enough, surprisingly refreshing considering we haven't seen an old-school vibe in the singleplayer mainline games since Final Fantasy 12. It's nice to get away from all the futuristic stuff for a change—give me castle walls and claymores over fantasy Cadillacs and fluorescent lighting. It's the perfect backdrop for the knights and royalty of Valisthea, and a small (admittedly sluggish) segment with adult Clive before we're tossed back in time to his 15-year-old self for the prologue.
Roaming around the kingdom of Rosaria and speaking to its cast of characters gave me a surprising amount of attachment (or disdain) towards them right off the bat. Clive's mother is a proper dick, while his Archduke father takes a far more kind and caring approach. I was surprised at how much I came to like his younger brother Joshua too, the chosen host of the fiery summon Phoenix and someone who annoyed me a fair bit in the trailers. He's actually a right sweetheart, and it took less than an hour before I was feeling protective of him. There's also the most adorable pupper in the form of Torgal, a dog I would readily sacrifice my entire life for.
Even the side characters, like knights Tyler and Wade or Clive's mentor Murdoch, manage to cement themselves as memorable folks for their short screen time. I'm not usually a fan of a throwback-style prologue, but it's gone a long way to do some great worldbuilding for what we can come to expect in Final Fantasy 16.
I'm still not 100% sold on the combat, but it's definitely my favourite iteration of the modern system to date. Being able to gap close straight into a melee or ranged attack feels badass, and making use of Clive's limited Phoenix powers to unleash a fiery strike dealt some satisfyingly big damage. The demo even gives you an extra mode that offers an even better idea of what combat will look like later in the game, a huge bonus to dive into once the chunk of story is completed.
The one part I had been excited about was the narrative—I go absolutely feral for Final Fantasy summons, so to have a game so heavily centred around them has been a big selling point for me. My expectations were high and the prologue still managed to completely blow me away. No spoilers of course, but I spent the final half-hour of the demo with my mouth wide open in a mixture of disbelief and sheer excitement at what I was witnessing. Final Fantasy 16 wastes almost no time getting straight into the drama, taking me on a rollercoaster of emotions I haven't felt since the opening hours of Nier: Automata.
I was apprehensive, but the demo has completely sold me that this game has the capacity to be one of the greats. If the rest of Final Fantasy 16 can uphold the standard of the first two hours, I firmly believe it'll be a game we'll talk about for years to come. Even the demo's small snippet felt like a return to form for Square Enix, and made me feel that same excitement I felt playing the series as a kid.
Naoki Yoshida has done a fantastic job of bringing the series back to life, which should come as no surprise for how well Final Fantasy 14 has thrived under his leadership. I'm personally quite glad he brought FF14 composer Masayoshi Soken along for the ride too, bringing classic Final Fantasy motifs like the gorgeous prelude with his grand orchestral tracks that have made his work on the MMO so compelling.
I'm lucky enough to have a PlayStation 5 to jump into the action on June 22, but it's frustrating that we're locked away from so many amazing releases for months or years on end. We had to wait over two years for Final Fantasy 7 Remake, which I'm not sure I could hold out for with this game. It was about the same for equally excellent longtime console exclusive Miles Morales too, and we had to wait four years for 2018's Spider-Man to swing onto PC. With Yoshida making it clear we definitely won't be getting a PC version too soon after Final Fantasy 16's six-month PS5 exclusivity is up, it's genuinely devastating that it'll be so long before we get to experience what may be one of the best RPGs in the last decade. Please, Square Enix, start working on that port ASAP.