Final Fantasy XVI – Hope for the Mainline Franchise?

As part of Sony’s Playstation 5 release date reveal event this week, Square Enix took the wraps off of their first trailer for the next Final Fantasy game – XVI. Later details confirmed lots of interesting news – most appealing to me that it seems like the team behind it is being led by Naoki Yoshida, the very same YoshiP who turned FFXIV from a punchline into one of the world’s best online RPGs. In fact, the business unit responsible for FFXIV as a whole is also working on FFXVI. This news is good to me for several reasons!

Firstly, the XIV team has been able to do something I never really saw as possible until they did it – capture the spirit of a single-player epic narrative worthy of the title “Final Fantasy” within an MMO genre title. After a somewhat rocky start with A Realm Reborn, Heavensward, Stormblood, and especially Shadowbringers have captured so much of that FF spirit while being distinctly MMO titles.

Secondly, the teams that have worked on FF mainline franchise titles as of late have been sort of iffy. While I actually liked FF XIII and its first sequel (someday I’ll finish Lightning Returns, which I was so hyped for I almost bought a Japanese copy while in Tokyo prior to its stateside release, only to be super-disappointed by the gameplay), there’s little denying that modern mainline FF titles have been punchlines more often than they have been great games. FFXIII got a bad rap, so much so that at the midnight release event I went to for it, people in line were already blaming other factors for it (my favorite – porting it to Xbox 360 at launch made it worse, somehow), and FF XV was a catastrophe of design blunders that took what could have been a pretty fun game and made it a shallow but gorgeous-looking piece of software.

Thirdly, YoshiP has this desire to take FF back to its roots that he really believes in. In interviews, he talks about loving high-fantasy and wanting to take a step back from the technology and increasing injection of modernity into the franchise. While I personally like some of those elements, the mashup between them can feel awkward if not executed properly, and so I think focusing on a core competency is a great idea.

Lastly, the trailer speaks for itself. It has a certain sort of flavor and appeal to it that reads like high-fantasy Final Fantasy to me. There is an interesting cast of characters who have relationships with one another in various forms, there are summons, magic, fantastical armor and weapons, and the sense of a dire mission and need to save the world.

Of course, a single teaser trailer is not worth getting excited about, but at the same time, the context of that trailer and the team that made it tells me to be excited. To be frank, knowing that Tetsuya Nomura is going to be too busy with FF VII Remake Part 2 to defile this game is, in and of itself, worth celebrating. It certainly means there won’t be an overabundance of belts in the game, at least. YoshiP and the scenario writers on the FF XIV team have a strong eye for story continuity and planting seeds that pay off, and that is what I most want in a satisfying single-player story experience.

It should be said that much could still go wrong in some form. Square Enix made a lot of spinoff FFXV properties that sectioned off bits of the story into separate containers away from the game, which diluted the story and led to this feeling of rushed incompetence, which, when coupled with the fractured stop-start nature of the game’s development cycle and its transition from Final Fantasy Versus XIII to full on FFXV, made things far worse than they needed to be. SuperEyepatchWolf has an excellent video on the various flaws that plagued FFXV that explain much better than I can write, so I’ve included that here.

But for now, with only the most tantalizing bits of data available, I have to say this – I am excited to see what this team delivers. They have earned some faith from me with the outstanding job they did bringing FFXIV back from the brink, and if there is anyone I would trust to shepherd the next era of Final Fantasy, it would be Naoki Yoshida.

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