When was the last time that Square Enix released a mainline Final Fantasy installment that actually stuck to its development timeline? True, Final Fantasy 16 was delayed, but it was understandable. The game entered development, presumably just as the PlayStation 5 was getting ready to be launched, hitting its stride in the middle of a global pandemic. You can't blame Square Enix for wanting to take longer as the rest of the world pressed pause. Besides, when Square Enix finally released the game, everybody understood why it had to be pushed back.
- Final Fantasy 16 is praised as the best game in the series in a long time.
- The game sold 3 million units in six days, generating Game of the Year talk.
- Unlike previous entries, Final Fantasy 16 did not go through public development hell.
- The game deviates from traditional Final Fantasy themes and mechanics.
- The success of Final Fantasy 16 allows Square Enix to quickly move on to new projects.
Final Fantasy 16 is one of the fastest-selling Final Fantasy entries in its storied history, selling 3 million units in six days for Sony's latest flagship console. More importantly, it's generating GOTY talk - surprisingly a rarity for a franchise as well-known as Final Fantasy.
True, FF16's launch hasn't been perfect. It was recently review-bombed for not being a Final Fantasy game - a sentiment that's hard to agree with but understandable, especially for long-time series fans.
The thing with FF16 is that its biggest strength lies in what it is at launch and not at what it could be.
It doesn't take hours of research to know how the last three entries in the Final Fantasy franchise went. Final Fantasy XV was an incomplete game that spent a little over a decade in development, going originally from a spin-off to Final Fantasy XIII before becoming its own ambitious thing complete with a CGI movie prequel, an anime that really didn't amount to much, and so much more. Although it came out in 2016, it wasn't until after the Royal Edition was released two years later in 2018 that the game's entire story made sense. Even then, FF15 is a game best defined by its potential to be great rather than actually being good despite what the sales might tell you.
Its predecessor, Final Fantasy XIV, didn't fare any better in its initial launch and it took a massive undertaking, as well as the genius of Naoki Yoshida, affectionately referred to by fans as Yoshi-P, to salvage it and turn it into one of the most popular MMOs today.
As for Final Fantasy XIII, it was a product of its time. The trilogy that looks like it isn't can basically be summed up as Square Enix trying to save itself from going bankrupt. And, while FF13 sold relatively well, arguably the only entry that most if not all can remember from it is the last one, Lightning Returns, and it's only because it actually tried to become its own game instead of catering to what was popular with audiences at the time.
One thing that both Final Fantasy XV and XIII have in common is that both featured half-baked combat systems that the game purposely tries to explain so little of in the guise of making it look more complicated than it is.
Final Fantasy used to have deep and intricate combat systems, especially Final Fantasy IV through IX - please, please bring back the Active Time Battle system, Square Enix - and they never really spoonfed you with how to make the most out of them. But, the older games at least incentivize you to try out new stuff, or else you can't progress simply because you're not good enough at the game. In both Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XV, you could literally coast by and finish the games not knowing how to play them (unless you played Episode Gladiolus in Final Fantasy XV because that will really teach you how the game's combat system works).
This isn't to say that the combat system of Final Fantasy 16 is "git gud" kind of level because it's not. The criticisms about it being a Devil May Cry game branded as Final Fantasy are legit.
Final Fantasy used to stand for taking methodical risks and rewards, careful planning, and choosing the right party member or upgrading the right status for a specific build. FF16 takes away that from you, but what it does give is something different and, in some ways, a better gameplay experience.
What makes FF16 the best Final Fantasy game in a long time is that it's different - it's radical and it's new. FF16 is the most that a Final Fantasy game has ever deviated, mainline or not, both in terms of its theme, maturity, look, and everything else that most has come to expect from a Final Fantasy game. But, as they say, different is good, and while it's not traditional, by any means, it's what the franchise needs going forward.
The glitter and shine of Final Fantasy has long since faded and the numbers reflect that. The most recent entries might have sold well at launch, but it's only because of its established audience - it doesn't attract newer ones anymore. This is what FF16 can change. By going all in on what makes it NOT the same as every entry before it, FF16 opens itself up to a different market and one that could potentially help drive the franchise going forward. This isn't to say that Final Fantasy 17 could be a full-on action game, and we're definitely hoping that Square Enix doesn't go full Ubisoft, but, at the very least, those who aren't usually fans of the franchise might be more willing to give it a look now that it's more "accessible".
In a way, this is reminiscent of how Elden Ring was criticized for "dumbing down" FromSoftware's combat system when, as a matter of fact, it only lowered the barrier of entry, and the results more than speak for themselves.
If you don't like FF16, that's okay. Maybe, the new entry wasn't meant for you. After all, it's not like Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth isn't coming out early next year, which should be more in line with what traditional Final Fantasy fans want.
At the end of the day, Final Fantasy 16 is exactly what the series needed. It's a new entry that didn't spend more time than it needed during development, costing Square Enix fewer resources and selling as well as it hoped. Admittedly, it's basic but it's beautiful. If it doesn't get a DLC post-launch, that shouldn't be a big problem because the story, as barebones as it already is, was never really its strong suit.
If nothing else, FF16 lets Square Enix move on quickly to a new project, which, according to the reports, includes a bunch of remakes and remasters of Final Fantasy 9, Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy Tactics, and perhaps even Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VI.