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Final Fantasy 16 has a novel approach to the age-old ‘accessibility versus difficulty’ conundrum

If you think that action-RPG games like Devil May Cry and Elden Ring are too hard, Final Fantasy 16’s fascinating setup may intrigue you.

Alongside review scores, whether Game Pass is good or bad for the industry, and the ethics of crunch (it’s bad), difficulty options are one part of the games discourse that just won’t go away. It’s a cycle; on the launch of a game like Elden Ring, or Demon’s Souls, or Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty – look forward to that later this week – the inevitable back-and-forth about games difficulty will arise. Some people think that games like Elden Ring are pure examples of difficulty in games; that there should be no easy mode, that it would eat away at the integrity of the experience and somehow ‘ruin it for everyone else’.

Others maintain that every game should have a suite of difficulty options, should let you waltz through the experience on ‘story mode’ if you want to – ignoring the meat of the gameplay in order to better soak up the overall experience. Usually at the cost of the developer’s intention with the game at large. For Final Fantasy 16, the developers have, hopefully, come up with a solution that placates both camps – that lets players experience the game as intended, whilst providing support for some players that may need it.

From a single spark, will the land ignite. A new shadow rises to fall upon the Dominants, painting their destinies black as night.

Final Fantasy 16 deviates from the series’ history a little when it comes to combat. FF16 eschews the turn-based setup you’d get in classic titles – and, a little bit, in Final Fantasy 7 Remake – in favour of a completely action-based affair. Think more in terms of Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, and you’ll have the right idea. Combat is fast, it relies on you swapping between movesets on the fly, and you need to weave in dodges and parries with rhythmic timing in order to win even the most bog-standard encounters. It’s not something that everyone is going to be comfortable with, off the bat.

“We understand that this switch to real-time action from a command-based game can be extremely overwhelming and intimidating for players who are not used to real-time action games, or those players who simply want to focus more on the story rather than the action,” explains producer Naoki Yoshida to VG247 (via interpreter). “For players who are ready for action, we have our action-focused mode. And for those who wish to focus on the story, we recommend our story focused mode.”

You will occaisionally be joined by other characters on your quest for revenge.

But what's the difference? Are these difficulty settings, or actual modes? No, not quite. The answer, instead, lies in a set of accessories that the development teams call “Timely Accessories”. These accessories (of which up to two can be equipped at a time) make certain aspects of the games easier, or more accessible. Clicking 'Story Mode' (in the demo, at least) auto-applied two of these items to make the experience easier. It seems that, in the full game, you will always have the option to equip these items or not, on a whim, with the accesory slot being taken up by one of these items if you choose to make things easier for yourself.

Whether you want to eliminate thinking about dodging incoming attacks, or automate or simplify complex combos, the dev team has you covered.

There are five timely accessories:

  • Ring of Timely Focus: Temporarily slows time before an incoming attack, allowing you more time to react
  • Ring of Timely Assistance: Removes the need for you to give Torgal battle commands manually
  • Ring of Timely Strikes: Execute deadly combos by pressing X.
  • Ring of Timely Evasion: Automatically dodge most incoming attacks.
  • Ring of Timely Healing: Automatically use potions when HP drops below a certain threshold.

In action, these Timely Rings are very useful; they can identify and single out one area of the game and make it easier to manage, if you’re having trouble there. I am quite used to playing these sorts of games – I grew up on Devil May Cry, for example – so I didn't struggle too much in the demo. However, getting to grips with the combat system and focusing on getting the parry times right meant that I often let my loyal mutt, Torgal, just stand there and not get involved. So equipping the Ring related to him meant that he would help keep my combos going – and occasionally heal me – without the need for me to flick through the in-battle side menu and order him to do so.

Will you need to use Timely Rings to take down the likes of Titan? Well, it's nice to have the option.

Other players I observed had the Timely Strikes ring equipped, which operated a little like ‘easy mode’ in a fighting game: mash X, watch Clive do some advanced combos without the need for player-side timing or positioning. Timely Focus might be the most intrusive; slowing the game down and waiting for a player prompt ruins the momentum and impact of the fights more than the Ring that simply lets you dodge most incoming attacks, but some players may prefer having the chance to parry more moves, rather than simply avoid them.

These Rings are a great way of allowing players to customise the hardcore action experience around them, rather than simply diluting it down to make it a lesser experience than the full-fat version of the game. By identifying aspects of the game that may pose challenges and allowing players to toggle them on a mechanic-by-mechanic basis, rather than just dumbing the whole thing down, Square Enix may have hit upon a realistic solution to a problem that’s been hounding gamers for generations.

But that doesn’t mean we won’t have to put up with the discourse around it, again.

Final Fantasy 16 will release on June 22, 2023 for PlayStation 5.

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