Final Fantasy XIV is out on June 22, but you can play the opening prologue for free right now on PlayStation 5. You should. It’s incredible and the only thing I’ve wanted to play since I finished it last week.
I’m the worst type of Final Fantasy fan: tired of what it was and angry at everything new it tries. That’s the mindset under which I’ve digested over a year of drip-fed pre-release marketing hype for Final Fantasy XVI, from gigantic Eikon summon battles to its grim-dark presentation. The game is pitched as a return to the series’ more traditional medieval fantasy roots (yay!) but with a lone protagonist and real-time action combat (boo!).
As the game’s release date approached, I dreaded once again feeling let down by what’s been my favorite franchise dating back to the first time I laid eyes on Terra, Biggs, and Wedge atop that snow-covered cliff in Narshe. Then, I played the PS5 demo and, man, I was not prepared for just how excited and terrified it would make for what Final Fantasy XVI might actually be.
[Spoiler warning: It’s only the opening of the game. But things go sideways pretty quickly, and I’m about to get into it.]
The prologue opens with Phoenix and Ifrit fighting each other as they fall through a pit into a massive underground cavern. It’s quite forgettable, which is something the game is banking on. From there, we meet our hero, Clive Rosfield, working with a band of mercenaries to assassinate a Dominant (read: a person who transforms into a summon) in the middle of a sprawling battle between two warring nations.
Eventually, a time jump brings us back to Clive’s late childhood where he, first-born but Eikon-less, acts as a sworn protector of his brother, Joshua, holder of the power of the Phoenix and thus heir to the Rosarian throne. There’s brooding throne room discussions about the threat of impending war and refugee crises, emotional dumping about fear, duty, and sibling rivalries, and a quick foray into a swamp so Clive can fight some goblins and kill a Malboro. There are potions to collect, a few abilities to upgrade, and some fun combat timings to master. It’s goofy as hell at parts but also strangely endearing.
Once the game properly lulled me into a familiar rhythm, it then proceeded to utterly demolish the small world it had just built up. Feasting ahead of a pre-war religious ceremony, assassins from the empire sneak in and take the Rosarians by surprise, leaving Clive, Joshua, and their father to try and flee. In classic Game of Thrones fashion, the worst things that could happen then keep on happening (in addition to lots of cursing and general horniness).
Their father is gutted like a fish. Joshua manifests the Phoenix but can’t control it and starts raining fire down on everyone. And Clive manifests his own Eikon: Ifrit. The uncle-like general that trained him gets burnt to a crisp, and Clive gets locked in a fight with his brother, the very same one that bored me from the game’s opening. The end is gruesome. Stomach turning in fact. “Thank you for playing,” reads the final message from Square Enix.
It actually made me not want to play Final Fantasy XVI anymore. Until the next day came and all I wanted to do was keep playing Final Fantasy XVI. Good job demo. Mission accomplished. It reminded me of the Brave Fencer Musashi demo disc for Final Fantasy VIII I played over and over back in the summer of 1999. The demo alone is probably my favorite PS5 exclusive of the year so far. Maybe Devil May Cry combat in a Final Fantasy Tactics-style world isn’t such a bad idea after all.
I have no clue whether the entire game will be like that. I probably couldn’t handle it if it was. But Final Fantasy XIV excluded, it’s the most invested I’ve been in a new mainline game in over a decade. I hope it stays that way for the rest of my eventual playthrough.