Let’s be honest, the setup of Final Fantasy 15 hasn’t aged that well. The semi-open world setup of the game’s main area – Duscae – provided some cool opportunities for Noctis and his pals to fart around as the world literally fell apart around them, but the meat of the game existed solely within the middle America-inspired region, with only some very on-rails (literally) story beats following up the initial area.
It seems the developers of Final Fantasy 16 have learned from the missteps of the controversial precursor to this massive new RPG experiment, though. In a hands-on preview event with Square Enix and the developers behind Final Fantasy 16, the studio confirmed that Final Fantasy 16 would not be open world.
“In past interviews, I have mentioned that Final Fantasy 16 is not an open world game,” says producer Naoki Yoshida via interpreter. “But what exactly does that mean? Does it mean it's linear? Again, not exactly.
“To bring players a wide variety of environments, in the highest quality possible, and ultimately enhancing game experience, we selected several areas that we wanted to focus on – and created those in extreme detail.”
Yoshida notes that the world is still huge – but also very detailed. In a video (and later, in our own hands-on with the game) we got to see just what this means. There is a lot of graphical fidelity – I personally think the visuals and effects on show in this game denote the proper beginning of the new generation, it’s that impressive – and though we were only taken on a whistlestop tour of the game in a quick video, what I saw put me in mind of Final Fantasies of old.
There were huge, populous towns, imposing caves and dungeons, huge areas that we were promised we could explore once the game was properly in our hands. I am not expecting Elden Ring levels of freedom here, the game isn’t open world after all, but the detail and fidelity in what we’ve seen so far matches – and possibly even exceeds – what FromSoft did in its 2022 blockbuster hit.
“We wanted to take full advantage of the PlayStation 5's power to create a massively detailed world that was only possible in a video game,” continues Yoshida. He explains that the focus on visuals is one of four main pillars the team focused on – and kept coming back to – when developing this title. The others, by the way, are narrative, characters, and battle.
That ‘extreme detail’ note from Yoshida? It’s not just press talk. The demo I played took place in a Middle Ages-style castle; a proper European affair with massive flagstones, crenellations. curtain walls, arrowslits, portcullises, and all the rest. Cast a fire spell, and see the warm orange glow illuminate the cobbled floor. See how the red lighting works against the green of the moss growing out of a crack in the wall.
Head outside, and see how the rain pelts the cobblestones and makes them shiny and slick, as lighting cracks the sky and illuminates the tumbling rock from a fallen tower. Heavy iron doors with twisted and gnarled metal catch the light of an enemy’s torch, a mess hall has banners hung from the wall as heavy oak tables tumble out of your way in a fight. By making bits of this game linear, Square Enix almost taps into how well pre-rendered backgrounds work in the PS1-era FF games – the screen-to-screen stuff looks as amazing as the cutscenes (and that’s for the best given there are 11 hours of them).
It’d be easy to see what Yoshida says in that quote and roll your eyes and say ‘yeah, sure, we’ve heard that before’. But from the bits of the game I’ve seen and played so far, I really believe this feels like the Final Fantasy of yesteryear; a graphical and technological tour de force that has the potential to set the tone for the generation to come. I am excited about Final Fantasy 16, and I think you should be, too.
Final Fantasy 16 will release on June 22, 2023 for PlayStation 5.