Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Early Game Review: 'Final Fantasy XVI'

"Final Fantasy" releases not only define each generation of gaming, they tend to set the standard of what's seen as possible for that generation's hardware, and point forward to what's lingering on the horizon in the fields of design and execution in the medium.

Each numbered entry -- save for the two insular MMOs -- in the franchise is a watershed event in the fabric of society. The dawn of "Final Fantasy XVI" is no different, and the ways it stretches and evolves say as much about the evolution of the JRPG as it does the franchise's tendency to invent, reinvent and recalibrate.

From the outset, a tremendous influence on action and realtime combat is apparent. The influences of the likes of "Devil May Cry" and "Resident Evil" have crept their way into the traditionally turn-based slugfests. Luckily for gamers who are more akin to the old way, there's a storytelling-focused mode you can opt for that won't task your dexterity and reflexes as much.

Heavily drawing on the literary tendencies of Frank Herbert and George R.R. Martin, the narrative is a sweeping tale of retribution, and sly political maneuvering amid a backdrop of simmering geopolitical strife.

The scope and majesty of the game is particularly impressive after last year's wobbly spinoff, "Stranger of Paradise"  and the upgraded PSP remake "Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion." The new game falls more in line thematically with the classics offered in the "Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster" collection earlier this year.

The first mainline "Final Fantasy" game with an M rating, the story is characterized by brutal violence as well as adult language and themes. The tone feels like an assured, confident acknowledgment that much of the player base has grown up with the franchise, and is ready for a darker flavor of fantasy rather than family-friendly flights of fancy. 

The PlayStation 5 exclusive, due out Thursday, will no doubt be the system’s killer app for any remaining series diehards who had been holding out, especially now that the system is finally widely available nearly three years after release .

Bolstered with a rich, deep tapestry of characters -- a continually updated pause menu glossary of connections, definitions and observations helps you keep track of the evolving slate of power players -- "Final Fantasy XVI" feels like the launch of a franchise as much as it does a single game. It may well take multiple playthroughs and endgame exploration to fully appreciate all the nooks and crannies of this vast, towering saga.

Knocking to your knees with thunderous conflicts, gorgeous cinematics and a stirring score, "Final Fantasy XVI" feels like a resounding triumph that sits alongside the series' most seminal entries. There is little doubt that it represents the future of the JRPG, and shines as a shimmering reminder that the present of the genre is a magnificent reflection of its past.

Publisher provided review code.

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