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The Final Fantasy 16 demo and Square Enix’s new era

Having witnessed the trailers and glimpsed some early gameplay for the highly anticipated game Final Fantasy XVI, I held high expectations knowing that the esteemed Yoshida supervised the project and of its evolution into a mature-rated game. Yet, nothing could have readied me for the astounding experience the demo delivered. It exceeded not only my own expectations but raised the bar higher in story building than what most complete games could hope to reach, all in a mere two-hour demo.

But first, a little of where I’m coming from with this.

Bland story telling in today’s games

It’s seemingly common now for modern games, like Tears of the Kingdom and Diablo 4, to hurriedly push characters onto the player, expecting a near immediate emotional investment. However, these hasty introductions often lead to lackluster emotional moments that cause more eye-rolls than emotional resonance. Despite the narrative flaws, I convince myself that the overall story structure is good, serving as a conduit to the game’s mechanics. Diablo 4, for instance, had a captivating climax in Act V, although it would’ve been preferable to have this intensity evenly distributed throughout the game with better side character development.

With Square Enix, I’ve grown accustomed to their formulaic approach – an enticing blend of over-the-top anime-style battles, protagonists grappling with self-esteem issues, and fanciful narratives that are enjoyable for their artistic merits rather than a rationalized plot. Final Fantasy XV largely adhered to this formula, introducing some mature themes but remaining faithful to the classic recipe. Naturally, I wondered how the upcoming flagship title, Final Fantasy XVI, could possibly stray from this established norm? I mean, side games are one thing but the next Roman numeral entry had to keep it, right?

A formula shift!?

My preconceived notions about Square’s formula were challenged after completing Final Fantasy VII: Remake. It breathed life into even the minor characters, fleshing them out with rich personalities and backstories, and presented this familiar but new narrative with an improved flow and cinematic expertise. This reinvigorated approach intrigued me, making me eager to see what Square Enix would create next (like the sequel, Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth)!

Venturing into Final Fantasy XIV (14) in 2021, I was initially met with the familiar storytelling formula that seemed somewhat uninspiring. Big bad empire taking over and you’re the chosen hero to save everyone, with characters that were best friends at handshake. Despite some highlights (Heavensward, I’m looking at you), the plot followed a similar path to my earlier criticisms and I couldn’t care less about most characters.

But the expansions Shadowbringers and Endwalker provided a transformative narrative experience. They transformed the characters from forgettable personalities into individuals I considered as part of my in-game family. With clever recontextualization of the established lore and superior character development, these expansions offered some of the best story arcs in the Final Fantasy series.

Square’s new era demo’d

Entering the realm of Final Fantasy XVI is akin to stepping into a grand fantasy drama, not unlike Game of Thrones. The mature rating isn’t merely a formality; the game genuinely embraces mature themes, featuring bloodshed, demise, and heartrending sacrifices from endearing characters. Although the demo does introduce battle mechanics, its primary goal is to set the narrative tone, tantalizingly hinting at the full game’s potential.

I walked into the demo expecting a relatively satisfactory narrative but left craving more from this ground-breaking title set to release in just two days. If you haven’t done so yet, try out the demo on your Playstation 5 or check up a YouTube video if you must. This game will be VERY interesting.