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How Final Fantasy 16 Sets Itself Apart From The Competition In 2023

A lot of big games have already come out in 2023, and there are a good deal more on the way, but few are more highly anticipated than the PlayStation 5 exclusive, "Final Fantasy 16." New entries in Square Enix's flagship franchise are always cause for excitement, but this one seems to be making even bigger waves than usual. Fans are beyond eager to delve into the world of Valisthea and start to uncover the mysteries of the Eikons and the Dominants. It's exciting enough that there's a new "Final Fantasy" game on its way, but it's even more exciting since this will be the first one in the series to be designed exclusively for the PS5.

A lot of fans' enthusiasm also probably has to do with the return of director Hiroshi Takai and legendary producer Naoki "Yoshi P" Yoshida, both of whom are often credited as developers who helped save "FF14" when it was struggling to maintain a playerbase. Some may also be interested in seeing the purported 'darker world' that early reactors to "FF16" have reported, but there are a few things that it does differently from other new games on the market that makes it stand out from the competition as well.

Medieval fantasy is less common among PS exclusives in 2023

There aren't a whole heck of a lot of games coming out exclusively for the PS5 this year that have a traditional medieval fantasy setting. The overwhelming majority of developers who are currently partnering with Sony seem to be focusing on more futuristic or contemporary content: Game's like "Horizon: Call of the Mountain," "Stellar Blade," and "Marvel's Spider-Man 2" for instance. Even Square Enix' other new entry in the franchise, "Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth," which is planned to come out sometime in winter, will likely invoke more steampunk vibes than traditional medieval fantasy.

That doesn't mean that "FF16" will be the only medieval fantasy game coming to the PS5. "Diablo 4," "Flintlock: The Siege of the Dawn" and "Baldur's Gate 3" are all set for a 2023 release and all feature similar aesthetics and playstyles. That said, exclusives have been one of the biggest reasons to choose a PS5 over Xbox for years now. It's likely beneficial for Sony to have at least one exclusive medieval tite in the pipeline that might influence fans of the genre who were previously on the fence about whether or not they wanted to buy one. Exclusives are also more likely to take advantage of some of the console's unique features, like the haptic feedback and adaptive triggers on the DualSense controller.

It won't have an open world

One of the things that sets "Final Fantasy 16" apart from most contemporary AAA RPGs is that it actually won't have an open world. It feels like open worlds have become the norm for big-budget RPGs ever since "Skyrim" enamored an entire generation of gamers back in 2012 with its icy northern kingdom. It's easy to see why, too. Having the ability to freely explore a magical world full of treasures to find, challenges to overcome, and enemies to defeat is an intoxicating experience — but it isn't the only way to design a game.

One of the benefits of games being a little more linear is that the events and challenges are more streamlined. Yoshida stated in an interview with IGN that the team "decided to avoid an open world design that limits us to a single open world space, and instead focus on an independent area-based game design that can give players a better feel of a truly 'global' scale." There are several benefits to this tactic. It keeps the action up and condenses the story while still allowing players the freedom to explore the designated areas, so they can retain that sense of discovery that they would in a more open world. It also grants developers the ability to put more of their time and focus into other aspects of the game, like combat.

Eikons will be a game changer

One of the major features that Square Enix has shared about "Final Fantasy 16" is the unique way that it's going to use its summon creatures. In the world of Valisthea, there are certain people called Dominants who are bound to creatures of god-like power known as Eikons. This relationship seems to be the central conceit that much of the story will be built around. The protagonist — Clive — and many of the playable party members that have been revealed so far are all Dominants. The Eikons aren't like summon creatures from previous entries in the series (although there will be some familiar faces like Ifrit and Sheva). Gameplay footage of "Final Fantasy 16" has shown that players will engage in massive, kaiju-like battles where they will have to face these Eikons and will sometimes even take control of the ones that their characters are bound to.

These kinds of massive cinematic battles are a hallmark of the "Final Fantasy" franchise, but the ones showcased for "FF16" seem to be particularly grand — even by Square Enix' standards. There are a handful of games on the PS5 (like Santa Monica Studios' "God of War Ragnarok") that can compete with that level of bombast, but it seems unlikely that any new ones will be able to match it this year.

Unique action battle mechanics

Another big thing Square Enix has been changing up is the way basic battle mechanics work. "Final Fantasy 15" and the "Final Fantasy 7 Remake" games both shifted from the franchise's more traditional turn-based battle mechanic into a more visually intense system that forces players to rapidly make decisions in real-time. This new system has received mixed feedback from longtime fans, but Yoshida stated in an interview with Famitsu (translation via VGC) that it has made the franchise more approachable to younger gamers.

Turn-based battle mechanics have grown less popular among AAA publishers in recent years, with retro-stylized games like "Octopath Traveler" and "Bravely Default" being more likely to feature them than high-budget, graphically intensive titles. That said, the developers at Square Enix have found ways of shifting to these more action-forward battle systems without sacrificing any of the franchise's complexity. This has only improved with each evolution and it's expected that "Final Fantasy 16" will take this new system even further.