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Why is Final Fantasy 16 an action game? Its creators explain

Producer Naoki Yoshida talks about Final Fantasy preconceptions and hopes for a new audience

Clive Rosfield, standing in a castle hall, summons a phoenix in a screenshot from Final Fantasy 16 Image: Square Enix
Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Final Fantasy 16, the next entry in Square Enix’s 35-year-old role-playing game franchise, brings action-based gameplay to the forefront. The game’s real-time action will likely be, at best, an adjustment for some longtime Final Fantasy fans, even if the series has been progressing to this point over multiple mainline games.

But Final Fantasy 16 producer Naoki Yoshida has his reasons for going all-in on action, and bringing former Capcom designer Ryota Suzuki (Devil May Cry 5, Dragon’s Dogma) to Square Enix to realize the game’s vision. Clive Rosfield is essentially FF16’s Dante, armed with sword, spells, and the fantastical powers of classic Final Fantasy summons, called Eikons.

Speaking to Yoshida, Suzuki, and Final Fantasy 16 game director Hiroshi Takai at a Final Fantasy 16 preview in New York recently, I asked the game’s creators why they made the choice to embrace action.

“That was me, and I want to talk about why I made that decision,” Yoshida said through a translator. “In my years working on Final Fantasy 14, before I started working on Final Fantasy 16, I have had the opportunity to travel around the world and talk with fans, players, and media from all around the world and get their views on not just FF14, but Final Fantasy as a series. From the feedback I got, it was turning out that people’s opinion of Final Fantasy, as a series, had started to solidify.”

Yoshida said that solidified image was that “all Final Fantasies are going to be a JRPG, they’re going to have anime-type characters, it’s always going to be about teens saving the world, [and] it’s always going to be turn-based.”

“Not that these are bad things,” Yoshida continued. “We grew up with games like this. And we enjoy games like this. And we understand that there are a lot of players out there that enjoy games like this. But there are a lot of players out there that use those as reasons not to get into the series.”

Clive Rosfield slashes at an enemy in a screenshot from Final Fantasy 16 Image: Square Enix

Yoshida said that there’s a younger generation, raised on first-person shooter games and the Grand Theft Auto games, who enjoy the instant gratification of action games, and believe that a Final Fantasy game isn’t for them. That it’s “niche.”

“With Final Fantasy 16, we wanted to get as many players as we could,” Yoshida said. “We wanted to bring back not just the fans of the series, but also players that had drifted away from the series.[...] And the one thing that we thought would be a great way to get a lot of those gamers to come back was to go down the road of action.”

Yoshida and Takai said that they developed their early action-focused take on Final Fantasy over the course of two years, building a prototype where players would fight two boss-type characters. The prototype also included a spectacular early version of an Eikon clash — a showy, summon-versus-summon battle that looks like a 3D fighting game.

“We submitted that to the board of directors and they approved our project,” Takai said. “But then there was the problem: Now that we have this one, we have to create a bunch more of these Eikon-versus-Eikon battles, and also we have to create the Clive-versus-enemy battles. It can’t just be hard-coded, we need to have a system that’s going to work for all of the game.” Looking at the existing staff on hand at the time, Takai said, they realized they didn’t have anyone with great action-game expertise.

The Eikon Ifrit winds up to throw a fireball at a flying Garuda in an Eikon Clash battle from Final Fantasy 16 Image: Square Enix

Enter Ryota Suzuki, Final Fantasy 16 combat director.

“At this time, I’d just finished working on Devil May Cry 5,” Suzuki recalled. “I’d been at Capcom for almost 20 years at this point, so I started thinking about my career moving forward. For those 20 years, I’d only worked on action games [and] fighting games. My skill set was very, very limited. I started to think, Well, I have this skill set that I spent my whole life building up. Does anyone need it? Is this going to translate to another company? Do people need me?

Takai and Suzuki recall meeting through a mutual friend, and the latter asked if Square Enix was looking for someone with his particular talents. Takai was quietly thrilled about the opportunity, but couldn’t tell Suzuki at that meeting that they were planning on building an action-focused, Devil May Cry-infused version of Final Fantasy.

“We ended up hiring him,” Yoshida said. “It was just perfect timing in so many ways that it can be nothing other than fate that he came at the time he did, fate that he has this 20 years of experience, which is exactly what we needed. We can tell you right now that without his help on [Final Fantasy 16], had he not joined the project, we wouldn’t be in here talking because we’d still be developing at least two more years.”