Is FF16 Even A Final Fantasy Game?

Final Fantasy 16 is undeniably going to be an iconoclast within the series. It has set out to shake up player expectations from its very first announcement, when its tagline, “The legacy of the crystals have shaped our history for long enough,” was premiered. Crystals have been a part of the FF series since the very beginning. They’re usually portrayed as benevolent forces, sources of power, or, more practically, save points, but FF16 seeks to alter this legacy by propping them up as a negative influence, things to be scorned. To follow up on that inversion, when players launch FF16, the first thing they’re greeted with is the usual FF title theme, only this time, it’s played in a minor key.


FF16 setting itself apart from the rest of Final Fantasy can be seen as part of an internal torch passing, the series’ transition from its original creators to a new development team. FF16 is the first mainline single-player title in the series to be developed by Square Enix’s Creative Business Unit III, the team behind the highly successful MMO FFXIV. However, FF16 is decidedly different from even FFXIV, and that’s not just because it’s a single-player game. FF16 challenges players’ preconceived notions of what the series can be in a wide variety of ways, subverting expectations to create the most shocking, explosive FF yet – but it’s still classic Final Fantasy at its core.

Related: “These Guys Are F**king Crazy”: Final Fantasy 16’s Naoki Yoshida & Hiroshi Minagawa On Designing FFXVI

FF16 Takes Combat In A New Direction

Final Fantasy 16 Limit Break Animation After Activation

FF16 eschews the classic RPG staple of turn-based combat for a fast-paced, high-flying system of sword-slashing, spell-slinging onslaughts. It’s more akin to the battle system in a Devil May Cry game than classic FF. This is a whole new look for the Final Fantasy series, which has done real-time action combat before, but never quite like this. Most recently, FF7 Remake used a similar system of combos and powerful summons but still required players to open a menu in order to cast spells. While players can open the menu during battles in FF16, they don’t have to; all options, including spells and healing items, can be selected in-game with the touch of one or two buttons, preserving the pace of combat.

It’s a shockingly fresh battle system, but in fact, the FF series has been trying to shake off turn-based combat since long before Final Fantasy 16. This trend began with the release of FF4 for the SNES in 1991, which debuted a brand-new system of combat dubbed Active Time Battle (ATB). In ATB combat, instead of characters taking turns based on their speed stats or initiative rolls, each participant in a battle gets a timer constantly ticking down until their next action. While it’s arguably still turn-based, it undeniably takes place in real-time, and often plays out with more urgency.

FF15 also used real-time action combat, but it was far simpler than Final Fantasy 16‘s, with just one button each for attacks and evasions. It still required some menu navigation, but only for using items during battle. Where FF15‘s system prioritized positioning and special attacks by party members, FF16 is all about stringing together combos and executing parries or dodges with perfect timing. FF15‘s combat was perfectly fine, and its simplicity made it both highly accessible and highly divisive. The transition to a more straightforward, yet more challenging type of hack-and-slash action in FF16 is a monumental shakeup and a totally new direction for the series.

Final Fantasy 16’s Darker Tone Isn’t Totally New

A screenshot from Final Fantasy 16, showing a battle-scarred, distraught-looking Clive Rosfield walking away from a fire. The background is obscured by dark and smoke.

Much of the buzz around FF16 standing out among the Final Fantasy series comes from its ESRB rating of M for Mature in the US. In another series first, this is the only mainline FF title to earn such a rating; other games in the series usually land firmly in T for Teen territory. It goes a long way toward justifying that, drenching its early hours in the main characters’ blood and coloring them with creative curses. Its dark, mature story centers around Clive Rosfield, the son of a noble family, wracked with guilt over accidentally killing his brother who is forced to fight for his former enemies.

However, FF16 is far from the first Final Fantasy game to take on a more mature tone. FF6 takes place around an apocalyptic event that cleaves the world in half, orphans countless children, and briefly causes the main characters to lose all hope. Its protagonist Terra is forcibly conscripted into a war of senseless cruelty; the game opens with her razing a village of innocents. Like Clive, she grapples with her regrets and seeks redemption. FF7 contains one of the most heartbreaking character deaths in video game history. It also features a lot of strong language, although it’s censored in the original English translation. FF7 Remake, however, restores a lot of the original language in its voice acting to great effect.

Final Fantasy typically excels at a kind of operatic melodrama, laden with dramatic reveals and exaggerated characters. That has its own charm, but at times can make the series appear to take its more tragic moments less seriously. However, even the more lighthearted Final Fantasy games include some heavy story beats. FF16 may be the first M-rated Final Fantasy game, but it’s not the first to tell a mature story. Even with its darker tone, its story of a brutal war and a brother’s regret already meshes with the rest of the series.

FF16 Still Has All The Classic Final Fantasy Mascots

In Final Fantasy 16, Clive's chocobo Ambrosia stands against a sandy desert backdrop. Ambrosia has narrower eyes than a typical chocobo, giving her a stern look.

FF16‘s minor details include little nods and references to the rest of the series as well – it incorporates many of the series’ beloved mascots and familiar Final Fantasy elements. Primarily, FF16 brings back Eikons, powerful beings who can help turn the tide of battle in the player’s favor. These debuted in FF3; although they were called Summons at the time, all the familiar faces are in the mix, including Ifrit, Shiva, Bahamut, Titan, and Ramuh. As is tradition, FF16 gives its protagonist a chocobo, Ambrosia, early on but her narrow eyes and white coat give her a more solemn look than the cartoonish feathery friends of other FF games. Moogles will also feature in FF16; they’ll run the game’s Hunt Board.

FF16 Returns To A Medieval Fantasy Setting

Final Fantasy 16 Mothercrystal Sanctum

Final Fantasy is often associated with atypical fantasy settings. FF7 is probably the most notable example of this, with a strikingly modern, urban landscape that also happens to include dragons, aliens, and mystical orbs. But FF6 truly pioneered the series’ departure from the usual medieval setting, placing its story in a steampunk world of magic mechs and ghostly trains. This became a tradition for the series, which, with a few exceptions, continued to mix the archaic and the modern in its worldbuilding. FF16 disrupts that trend, returning to a classic dark fantasy setting that’s most akin to Game of Thrones.

Although FF16 conflicts with the series’ trajectory in recent years, it harkens back to Final Fantasy‘s roots. The first five games were set in typical medieval fantasy worlds, full of swords and sorcery. It was in those early years that the series developed its identity; modern settings are more of a recent addition. FF16 makes the bolder choice by returning to a medieval fantasy setting, further subverting player expectations for what a Final Fantasy game can be.

The Final Fantasy series has often aimed to reinvent itself. The original release of FF7, with its mind-blowing 3D graphics and refreshingly modern story, were as much of a shock to FF players then as Final Fantasy 16‘s combat and M rating are now. However, FF has maintained some core tenets throughout the years. Its new releases tend to challenge notions of what’s possible in a video game – graphically, musically, narratively, and experientially, Final Fantasy has always been an industry pioneer. With its gorgeous full HD visuals, alternately lush and bombastic score, dark and mature story, and fast-paced combat, Final Fantasy 16 fits right into that tradition.


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