Geek Interview: Final Fantasy XVI Hiroshi Takai

Geek Interview: Director Hiroshi Takai On Adding 3D Shooting In ‘Final Fantasy XVI’, And Honouring Past Entries

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Final Fantasy XVI has a lot going for it. As the next entry in the beloved, long-running role playing game franchise, the pressure is on Square Enix to deliver, and the industry giant seeks to do so by carving out a distinct identity rooted in the action genre (think Devil May Cry). The signature landmarks of turn-based battles and a four-member party system are being left in the dust, replaced by frenetic, fluid combo chaining, QTE-like elements (quick time events), Eikons, and more. 

Geek Interview: Final Fantasy XVI Hiroshi Takai
FINAL FANTASY XVI © 2023 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved.

Ei-what now? In Final Fantasy XVI, you don’t call upon Summons – mythical beings that are traditionally, well, summoned in a fight to deal massive damage to foes, or grant special buffs for players. Instead, you’ll become them here, with the full list comprising Ifrit, Garuda, Odin, Phoenix, Titan, Shiva, Ramuh, and Bahamut. The protagonist, Clive Rosfield, is the host of Ifrit, making him a Dominant, who are select individuals born with an Eikon inside of them, and as such, can tap onto their powers and turn into them. 

He’s also a bit of a special case, able to partially wield Phoenix’s powers despite not being its host; that honour (or curse, as players will find out very early into the game) goes to his younger brother, Joshua. The concept of transforming into hulking, god-like entities paved the way for the team to explore plenty of creative ideas and different styles, including a 3D shooter. 

Yes, you read that right. Without spoiling too much, a huge part of the combat in Final Fantasy XVI involves magnificent, large-scale Eikon-versus-Eikon showdowns, and one of the beasts that players get to control is Phoenix. 

“We understood right off the bat that, okay, we’re going to have the player controlling Phoenix, and if we’re going to have the player control Phoenix, how are we going to do this? Phoenix flies, [so] let’s have it be a shooting game, and we had that core idea, which was something that came up very early in development,” shared game director Hiroshi Takai in an interview that Geek Culture attended. 

Geek Interview: Final Fantasy XVI Hiroshi Takai (2)

It’s part of the team’s commitment to freshen up gameplay as individuals cycle between the various Eikon forms, and the effort shone brightly through a preview session held earlier this year. During the event, attendees were given a taste of Ifrit’s skill kit and movement – lumbering, heavy, and hard-hitting, which marks a stark contrast to the game’s breakneck, razor-sharp combat, and of course, Phoenix’s fleet-footed nature. 

The big secret is to be different, Takai said. “The one rule that we made is that we wanted to make sure that each [Eikon] battle was going to be different from the one that came before it, and we worked very, very hard to make sure you had that sense of uniqueness compared to the one that came before.” 

The pursuit of novelty doesn’t necessarily mean that the past has to be abandoned, however. With Final Fantasy XVI, most new features and elements still bear nostalgic traces of the past, serving as reinvented callbacks to the classic formula. Summons-to-Eikons reinvention aside, the game’s battle system and Clive’s customisation abilities are largely inspired by Final Fantasy V, with the latter’s job system becoming the core of what would be the Eikon ability system.

The influence of the very first Final Fantasy title, meanwhile, can be found in delayed title reveal – Square Enix’s latest starts in media res, opening with a high-octane, breathtaking cinematic sequence, where the title screen only sets in around two hours in. According to the director, the execution was “lifted directly” from the 1987 classic, as the team were “inspired by that kind of cinematic experience where you play the game, rather than start with the title.” 

There are also other sources of inspiration from past entries which can be “very hard to pin down [exactly]”. “Because we grew up playing those earlier games from Final Fantasy I to Final Fantasy VI, a lot of you will find that a lot of naming, a lot of monsters, and maybe characters that have appeared in those classic versions, will be appearing in Final Fantasy XVI,” Takai elaborated. “I mean, not as the character is here, but you’ll see that inspiration from a lot of different games there as well.”

Geek Interview: Final Fantasy XVI Hiroshi Takai (3)
FINAL FANTASY XVI © 2023 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved.

More prominently, this blend of familiarity and freshness carries over to gameplay, too. Even as the upcoming heavyweight represents a departure from the Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) formula, longtime fans and genre enthusiasts will still seek comfort in various traditional elements. For one, side quests won’t affect the main story, sticking to conventional linear storytelling, while world exploration and equipment crafting/upgrading/collection lend a well-acquainted touch to the experience. In a similar vein, much of the Final Fantasy XVI experience, from story beats to the setting, will evoke some form of deja vu (Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings vibes, anyone?).

The Active Time Lore feature is perhaps the only exception to the rule. While the concept isn’t entirely new per se, it does set the game apart from its predecessors with a comprehensive overview of the world, Valisthea, at large. It’s also particularly relevant to Final Fantasy XVI, because there’s just so much going on that keeping up with anything else can be difficult. Case in point – there are nation names like Waloed, Sanbreque, and Dhalmekia, and then there’s the political intrigue and motive unfolding behind the scenes.

“It’s about the story, and we have a very deep, engaging, [and] rich story with lots of different nations and characters, [so] we didn’t want players to be lost,” explained the director. “By having the Active Time Lore there, it gives them quick access to the story… so it keeps everyone engaged. I think that overall, we have more than 2,000 different entries that pertain to where you are in the story,” he added (and yes, you read that right). 

FINAL FANTASY XVI © 2023 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved.

Here’s how the Active Time Lore works its magic. At any point in time, players can pause the game – even during cutscenes – to pull up a screen that gives detailed information about the current point in the story, including character biographies, notes on a location, the factions involved, any jargon, and the like. Don’t forget to have some fun as you get caught up in the narrative, because Takai promises a blast of a time with the customisation system, which has been specially tailored and balanced for both RPG and action fans alike. 

“The one thing that we do want, though, and for these players, is to really get in and try customising your characters and abilities, because I think that’s where a lot of the fun with the game comes from,” shared the Square Enix veteran. “It’s about finding the perfect build that’s going to fit your skill level, finding the combination that’s going to give you the most enjoyment out of the action.”

FINAL FANTASY XVI © 2023 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved.

Between the accessibility features, fluid, fast-paced combat, and breathtaking cinematic cutscenes, the rich world of Valisthea is all ready to tell an ambitious, gritty, and gripping tale, wrapped in a blanket of familiar, reinvented elements. 

Final Fantasy XVI is coming exclusively to the PlayStation 5 on 22 June 2023.