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Can Final Fantasy XVI Return the Series to its Sakaguchi Glory Days?

Everyone who regularly reads the site can attest to the fact that I am not a big fan of the Final Fantasy series post the departure of its creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. I am not alone in that line of thinking either.

In fact, apart from Final Fantasy XII ( the game absolutely felt nothing like ‘Final Fantasy’) which scored a 92 Metacritic rating, no other Final Fantasy since, has broken the 90s Metacritic threshold. FFXII remains the only non Hironobu Sakaguchi Final Fantasy to break the 90s threshold in scoring.

To put this into perspective, every Final Fantasy entry from FFVI to FFX (that’s five entries in 7 years) scored 90, or above in said metacritical ratings. Yes, as weird at it seems these days, Final Fantasy during the 90’s was just as, or nearly as respected as the Legend of Zelda series.

Since FFXII the series has been stuck in the 80’s range (including the recent FFVII Remake), and it hasn’t been able to really lift itself from being just ‘good’, as opposed to being great again.

In the series’ most recent entry (FFXV), Hajime Tabata inherited a mess from Tetsuya Nomura, and in my opinion did save it from certain doom. While Metacritic saw it as an 81 game, I gave it a 90, and that my friends is the highest rating that I have given a Final Fantasy game over the last 14 years.

Final Fantasy XV bros
Final Fantasy XV, was better than FFXIII, but that’s not saying much.

Tabata did some good things. First, he respected the series’ essence by having a few chats with Hironobu Sakaguchi about what made ‘Final Fantasy’, well, Final Fantasy! He even included every former FF soundtrack in the game.  Second, he ditched Final Fantasy XIII’s absolute linearity along with the nonsensical plotline that plagued that entry (and its sequels).

Finally, he got rid of the turn based system ( which I admit was a controversial move) in favor of a faster action based system. Going the action route in my opinion was a necessary change, as it made the “Hunt” focused gameplay much more accessible and fun than it would have been otherwise with a turn-based system.

Whatever weaknesses FFXV had, and there were many, including the lack of Lunafreya’s character development, the game’s ‘all bro’ cast and the heartbreaking ending to the journey actually struck my heart strings in ways that no FF game has since Final Fantasy X.

Tabata did well in my book, especially because he inherited most of FFXV’s concept work from Nomura’s FF Versus XIII project. Still, FFXV while much better than FFXIII, didn’t really made anyone forget the golden era of the series.

Final Fantasy VIIR is a decent RPG, with spectacular visuals, but great part of its appeal is a by product of 1997’s FFVII nostalgia. There is nothing original about that product, as it is based on a 23 year old universe.

So, that leads us to the announced PlayStation 5 exclusive, Final Fantasy XVI. The real next ‘main’ entry in the series.

The reigns (Direction) of the franchise were handed to Hiroshi Takai, which is an interesting choice. The man is known for the Saga series (he was an artist on PS1’s Saga Frontier 2), the direction of the Last Remnant (Metacritic 66, ouch!) and for Final Fantasy XIV (mainly for saving it).

His resume isn’t impressive, but perhaps turning around the fortunes of FFXIV earned him Square/Enix’s trust, and now he gets his chance to shine. Since Sakaguchi left the reigns of the series’ production, no one has really set the bar high, so Takai’s task isn’t insurmountable.

Judging by the trailer, there are certain things that Takai has gotten right. The return to a medieval fantasy world is a welcomed change. Final Fantasy XV was too modernistic, in fact, at times to the point of being ridiculously so (Coleman equipment anyone?).

The use of what seems to be a fast action based system is also a win in my book. We got to remember, this is no longer the era of the traditional J-RPG; it is the era of the Witchers, the Horizon Zero Dawns, the Breath of the Wilds, and the Skyrims. Square knows this as well, sales are a truth telling machine after all.

final fantasy protagonist battles
The trailer shows a fast paced action combat system. It is not clear however, if eventually a party of comrades will aid in the quest.

But perhaps, most important of all, is the focus on a ‘Game of Thrones like’ story, and as a consequence, its violence. The trailer showcased large scale battles, and political turmoil. It also presented us with a few bloody deaths. It is a good sign that the series is opening its arms to change, and perhaps some one as daring as Takai was needed to pull this change off.

shiva summon ice
Summons/Esper/Guardians make an important impression in FFXVI’s trailer.

There is a certain flair of western influence in this new entry that just gives the proceedings an epic feel. The game doesn’t lose sight of its roots either, as Summons make a stellar return with what seem be influential roles in terms of the development of the story, as does the “Legacy of the Crystals”.

Creature and Enemy design (and the characters’ hairdos)  remain distinctly Japanese. So, purists shouldn’t be alarmed. If like me, they survived two decades of ( post Sakaguchi ) Final Fantasy – not being – Final Fantasy, then nothing that FFXVI brings to the table should offend them. This is the most exciting that Final Fantasy has been in nearly 2 decades.

While the game doesn’t look “Next Gen” graphically, the team hasn’t had much time to polish up the visuals. I will assume that it will look much better by the time that it is out in late 2021, or perhaps early 2022 (no date has been announced, but the trailer showed a lot of gameplay takes, which means that the game is not that far away from a release).

In the meantime, if you have yet to watch it, the trailer is embedded below.  For the first time in a long time, Final Fantasy fans should get their excitement flowing. This one could be the one that finally takes the series back to that select pedestal where very few titles like The Witcher 3 walk. Final Fantasy XVI has the ingredients to reach the Metacritic 90s club, a club that the series hasn’t been a member of in nearly a decade and a half.

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By Samuel Rivera

Avid Video Game player, and Book Reader. Samuel has been playing video games for the last 31 years. He has played nearly every PS1 JRPG known to man, and loves Ocarina of Time more than any other game.

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