With Final Fantasy 16, the PS5 generation finally truly begins
It’s been a lethargic start to the generation. Years into the lifespan of both the Xbox Series X/S and the PS5, it feels like there hasn’t really been any one game that’s juiced the hardware for all it’s worth – that’s really put the pedal to the metal and gotten drunk on the power of all the SSDs and GPUs crammed into these waiting machines. Demon’s Souls, Horizon Forbidden West, Forza Horizon 5, Halo: Infinite, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart… they’re all good, decent games in their own right, but none really feel like the proper watershed moment for new-gen gaming.
Final Fantasy 16 does. Whether it’s in the combat or the sublime graphics, Square Enix’s latest game feels like the new generation that we were promised a lifetime ago, back before the days of Covid, when we were all poring over spec sheets and leaked concepts of the new consoles, wondering what the hell Sony and Microsoft were thinking as they assembled these unsightly monoliths.
In some of the most impressive facial mocap I’ve seen in a game, in battles that somehow thread the line between Hollywood-level action setpiece and Devil May Cry boss fight, in environmental rendering that makes even Elden Ring look old hat, Final Fantasy 16 is truly one of the most promising games out there at the moment – the sort of game that makes me actually thankful I got a PS5 from a scalper on eBay back at launch (look, I had a job to do, OK?)
The demo I got to play at a behind-closed-doors event a few weeks ago has lived rent free in my head ever since. The action began in the claustrophobic corridors of a Middle Ages-style castle, all flagstones and cobbles, as we cut through garrison after garrison of soldiers in pursuit of a rival nation state’s leader – who just so happened to embody the power of the Eikon, Garuda. Dim torchlight glinted off swords, eldritch green magic reflected off breastplates as wind magic sliced through enemy formations, heavy wood smashed and disintegrated against walls in the melee.
The oppressive stone walkways and ramparts gave way to an opening on top of a tower, where we’d pushed Garuda into a corner. Or so we thought. In a dramatic, anime-level cutscene, our quarry wretched and writhed and sprouted wings and talons and fangs. And a very sadistic smirk. Here, the console really kicked into top gear: Garuda darted around the tower, honing in on us in sharp dives and long sweeps – all the while, squalls of green magic whipped up around her. The screen was busy, hectic, adrenaline-inducing, but all the while it was crisp and clear and easy to understand what, exactly, was going on.
Ordering protagonist, Clive, to fight back with all his worth, the battle raged on. Fanning the right trigger cycled through a series of imbued Eikons – Ifrit, Garuda, and Titan – and allowed different God-like abilities as you channeled each divine beast. Some moves felt like Dante’s ‘Stinger’ from Devil May Cry – rushing in and closing distance with a powerful slam. Another grabbed and dragged (like Nero’s Devil Arm), bringing the action to you and resetting the momentum in your faovur. As you wait for your godly abilities to cool down, you’ll need to time time combos – sword-sword-magic-sword, or magic-sword-sword-magic, and so on. Each chain, replete with unique animations, hitboxes, and hurtboxes, connects and explodes with the PS5’s 3D audio somehow communicating exactly where the blows are landing. You can hear Garuda woosh past your left ear before manically cackling in your right as you eat a face full of rending talon.
In your hand, the DualSense conveys that swords and sorcery gripped in Clive’s fist – specific haptic feedback per spell, and a satisfying and immediately recognisable rumble whenever you parry Garuda’s assault and respond in kind. The framerate doesn’t dip as her wind magic cuts the sky open and rain starts pelting the battlefield. Thunder, and lightning, and flashes of the action between dodges and flips and parries. It’s more like the action from Advent Children than it is from any other Final Fantasy game; cinematic, rapterous, unbelievable.
In an interview with the developers, producer Naoki Yoshida told me that “[the team] wants this game to feel like a rollercoaster.” There was even a slide of a rollercoaster on a presentation, to really drive this home. I wrote this off as PR talk, a canny line laid down by the marketing masterminds at Square Enix to flavour the coverage they’d get out of this activation. But I was wrong; in the hour-plus Final Fantasy experience I got to play, ‘rollercoaster’ is exactly right. Because, after this fight – and seemingly clipping Garuda’s wings – things got even more wild. This was the fake-out, the slow bit of track before you’re unceremoniously dumped, screaming, into the climax of the ride.
Garuda wasn’t dead. Just pissed off. I won’t spoil the story here, but one thing lead to another and suddenly you’re fist-to-fist with a demi-God as you Hulk out into an Eikon yourself, a kaiju fight on the top of a mountain that’s being torn apart by a maelstrom. Yoshida described this fight like “a powered-up pro wrestling match” and he’s right – seeing Garuda wrap her wings around your hips and bend over to slam you into a mountain is a delight. Huge slabs of rock, lashings of scree, thousands of tiny pebbles all come loose. Flames lick around your mouth as your haggard breathing intensifies, Garuda smirks and comes at you again, but you block it with a massive clawed fist and push her back before launching into one of the most brutal onslaughts I’ve seen in a Final Fantasy game. Pounding her face in, ripping her arms off, holding her face in the dirt with your flaming fists as the heat eats away at her skin… and you can see it all, rendered in crisp 4K HDR. It’s obscene, it’s hypnotic.
The fight ends, with even more ludicrous, over-the-top action that I won’t spoil here. Clive lies exhausted and spent in a crater of his own making. Garuda – back in her human form, bloodied and still – lies off to the side. The screen fades out. I shoot a look to the person playing to my right, who was watching my screen: all wide eyes and mouths agape. My FitBit asks me if I’m working out.
Final Fantasy 16 needs to be seen to be believed. It’s the PlayStation 5 game I have been waiting on for the past few years, and then some. The trailers and screenshots and videos don’t do it justice – you need it in your hands to feel it, to understand the promises of Square Enix, at least from what I’ve seen so far, are all being delivered on. Final Fantasy is back, and it might be better than ever.
Final Fantasy 16 will release on June 22, 2023 for PlayStation 5.