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Final Fantasy has gone full Game Of Thrones, and it's kind of great

The demo for Final Fantasy XVI is here, and it's shaping up to be a dark and bold spin on the long-running franchise

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Final Fantasy XVI
Final Fantasy XVI
Image: Square-Enix

Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?


They say fuck in Final Fantasy now!

And, look: We know that’s not supposed to be the main takeaway from the new demo for Final Fantasy XVI that Square-Enix released this week, a beefy chunk of the upcoming game—out June 22—designed to show off both its action-heavy combat system, and its far-more-grim-than-standard tone. But it’s also not not one of the things we’re meant to take from it, given how frequently main character Clive’s companions utter the word in the first few minutes of the game. Someone was very excited that they got to include f-bombs in their Final Fantasy game, and they’re clearly gleeful to show them off.

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From the moment it was first shown off, way back in 2020, it was clear that Final Fantasy was going for something a bit more coarse with its 16th (non-remake, side game, or remaster) installment. The parallels to HBO’s Game Of Thrones—political intriguing, foul-mouthed soldiers, obviously doomed-for-murder father figures, etc.—were immediately obvious, and pretty clearly intentional. You can go over the top with this sort of thing very quickly, but we’re happy to note that, after the multiple hours we’ve spent with the demo, Final Fantasy XVI mostly lands on the side of the blood-and-mud-soaked angels.

Final Fantasy XVI - Next Gen Immersion Trailer | PS5 Games

Of early notice is the way the game handles war, a recurring theme throughout the series that’s always been pretty abstracted at the hands of various technical issues. Running on the PlayStation 5, this is the first Final Fantasy with the chops to actually show battle—not the “stand there, pick a menu option, swing your sword” kind, but the genuinely bloody melee of armies clashing. And, like, Game Of Thrones, it even toys with a medieval spin on weapons of mass destruction—in this case, in the form of the series’ typical summons, transformed here into “Eikons,” which tower over battlefields, inflicting massive casualties on both their foes and their ostensible allies as they battle it out.

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Again, you can go too far with this kind of thing—taking silly elements like “This little girl can summon gods to beat up goblins!” from older games and treating them with too much seriousness. (Seeing Chocobos used as war mounts while soldiers load explosive magical crystals into catapults is a little silly, for sure.) But the glimpses we’ve gotten of Final Fantasy XVI demonstrate that the game is still just doing what the best installments of the series have always done: Looking at the ways that weapons and forces of terrible power reshape the world in their wake, and putting our heroes in their way. It doesn’t hurt that the game gives players a fascinatingly ground-level look at what war might look like in a world like this, with Clive and his companions starting the game on a covert mission to assassinate one of the “Dominants” who control these god-like powers, eliminating a key war asset.

The game’s other big departure is also, on closer examination, a clear evolution on where the franchise has been heading for years at this point: The movement into being a full-on action game that simply has RPG elements attached. Final Fantasy has been drifting this way for years—since at least Final Fantasy XII, the first main series game that let players move their characters in battles—and XVI’s combat feels like a natural outgrowth of what we’ve seen in XV and Final Fantasy VII Remake. It’s also just fun, without feeling mindless, as Clive dashes around the battlefield, dodging hits and unleashing combo attacks doled out by some of the series’ most iconic monsters. (Also, if you want something a bit more traditional, the game helpfully offers a set of optional accessories that allow you to turn off several of the more “action-y” components of its combat system, which is a welcome concession.)

The demo smartly includes a bonus challenge from later in the game, allowing players to see what playing with a more developed skillset feels like, and it’s an appealing blend of visceral thrills and thoughtful planning. (Most notably, in the ways you’re encouraged to cycle through the various elemental powers under Clive’s control, switching from slow, crushing hits and blocks to faster, staggering strikes as the situation dictates.)

If the idea of an action-based Final Fantasy simply doesn’t appeal to you, the demo won’t make you a convert. And there’s an open question of how well Final Fantasy XVI can handle some of its more mature themes, too—including slavery, which is presented as a ugly-but-necessary reality of the game’s war-torn world, as well as sex, which is a topic these games have never been comfortable talking about. But the hallmark of Final Fantasy has always been its unwillingness to rely on what’s come before, to rest on the laurels of the past. If nothing else, Final Fantasy XVI is looking very bold, and honestly, thank fuck for that.