One of the most anticipated games of the year is « Final Fantasy XVI, » which was released exclusively on PlayStation 5 on Thursday. It promises to be a stunning visual experience for fans of the series, but not only that, Square Enix has also considered new curious players who wish to explore the unique world of this genre-defining masterpiece. We had the opportunity to get our hands on the game, and here are our initial impressions.

Since 1987, the Final Fantasy series has captivated players around the world

With 173 million copies sold according to VGSales, it is one of the biggest video game franchises. Although each installment is different and can be played independently, there is a common recipe for success: young heroes fighting evil while forming relationships and developing their personalities. Final Fantasy XVI is no exception, as players will embody Clive Rosfield, a brooding guardian of the Archduchy of Rosalia, during three periods of his life: his adolescence, his twenties, and his thirties.

The magic of Valisthea takes us back to the medieval era in this latest Final Fantasy, where we explore the world of Valisthea. It is a collection of kingdoms, republics, and duchies whose existence is linked to magical crystals and maintain sometimes tense relationships. The six mother crystals allow those with the ability and within their influence to use sorcery. There are also emissaries: humans in whom a Primordial, a magical entity and source of particularly powerful powers, can incarnate.

One of the recurring qualities of the Final Fantasy series is the beauty of its graphics, and once again Square Enix has done a remarkable job. The world of Valisthea is stunning, both dark and inhabited by an authentic magic, with polished lighting effects that allow the PS5 to fully express its power.

The textures of the environments and clothing are incredibly detailed, enhanced by high definition. The battles are astonishing, both in terms of their dynamism and their grandiose choreographies. The characters are also very beautiful, sometimes even a bit too much.

The influence of manga with its always smooth faces gives the protagonists an eternal adolescent appearance that contrasts with the realistic aspect of the settings and the harshness of the environment.

If you enjoy Naughty Dog’s stories like Uncharted or The Last of Us, you may experience a violent culture shock

The humor is different, as is the storytelling. Here, the characters are sometimes extremely naive, sometimes withdrawn, but often tormented by their inner demons. Of course, the story has its surprises and twists, but they can be seen coming from afar, especially at the beginning.

A godsend for fans of the genre who will feel like they’re on familiar ground following Clive’s adventures. We won’t talk about the story to avoid spoilers, but know that in addition to the usual plots and betrayals, Final Fantasy veterans will find a Cid, the recurring name of a character who is always different in other episodes, as well as a Chocobo.

This strange winged mount, regularly present since the second installment, takes its name from a Japanese candy, Chocoball, which features a bird on the packaging. A kind of Proustian madeleine for the creators and fans.

The game can be watched like a movie or rather like a series, as the cutscenes are numerous. Square Enix mentions nearly eleven hours of animated sequences. These sequences have a very slow pace, sometimes contemplative, to calm the heart rate after frenetic combat scenes that reach new heights in terms of speed and violence.

Warm up your thumbs, Final Fantasy will make you work! The developers at Square Enix have definitely embraced the « action » direction taken in previous installments. The battles have become more dynamic, thanks in particular to the contribution of Ryota Suzuki.

This combat director worked on Devil May Cry 5, and it shows at the first sword strike. The melee fights are fast, wild, and interspersed with cinematic moments that make them grandiose, because in addition to the main hero, you can also embody the legendary creatures known as Primordials in breathtaking titanic battles.

Here, we find all the excessiveness typical of Japanese manga superheroes, with characters gaining power and developing cataclysmic abilities.

The basic moves are simple: one button to attack with the sword, another to launch a magic projectile, and a third to dodge

But soon, we obtain the assistance of magical entities that provide us with particularly effective and brutal special moves. While we quickly become all-powerful against ordinary enemies encountered here and there, it’s a whole different story when facing a boss. These bosses are cunning and vicious, with often difficult-to-dodge combos, and it’s not uncommon to feel completely overwhelmed in the middle of a battle.

But don’t worry, Square Enix has thought of everything, and if this onslaught of violence overwhelms you, you can rely on special equipment that will dodge for you or automatically perform your best moves by simply pressing the « square » button on your controller.

If you’re not a purist gamer who believes that a fight, even against a console, should be fair, you can enjoy the magnificent choreographies without overheating your brain and nerve endings.

It takes about a week of full-time work, approximately 35 hours, to complete the main story in a straight line, and nearly double that to complete all the side quests and activities. The first few hours are particularly long, with a lot of dialogue that may not be top-notch. But the story gains depth as Clive ages, so patience is required to get through these somewhat slow beginnings in order to fully enjoy this rather dense narrative.

Finally, the game’s environment is not an open world, and you can hardly explore. The main storyline is very linear, and it’s impossible to deviate from the predetermined paths.

A hidden hideout serves as a resting place between missions

There, you will find the usual equipment vendors and artisans needed to upgrade your gear. An excellence stone allows you, among other things, to train in a virtual arena, a necessary step if you want to master the many combinations of moves and become unbeatable against all the game’s opponents. Final Fantasy hasn’t forgotten its hardcore players, whose journey begins once the game is completed. You will have access to elite contracts that turn you into a bounty hunter traveling the world in search of particularly powerful targets to eliminate.

Various modes allow you to replay any completed level with additional difficulties, such as a time limit or more formidable opponents. No support equipment like automatic dodging is allowed, so you will have to rely solely on your dexterity to accomplish your feats, but they will be authentic and recorded in a global ranking.

There is something for everyone in this Final Fantasy, and both veterans and newcomers should find something to enjoy and appreciate the game’s undeniable graphical qualities. The battles are also a real highlight for those who enjoy a good challenge without necessarily being controller virtuosos.

However, if you are allergic to manga and tortured characters who endlessly ponder the same existential questions, you may quickly tire of a story that tends to drag on, especially at the beginning. For others, Clive Rosfield’s adventures should fulfill all their expectations.

Final Fantasy XVI, a temporary PlayStation 5 exclusive, was released on Thursday, June 22, 2023. The game is expected to be released on PC at an unknown date.