Final Fantasy XVI received its release date in its new trailer presented at The Game Awards - June 22, 2023 - and in addition to finally knowing when the new title will be available on shelves, the trailer named "Revenge" brought several new details of its plot and gameplay, including presenting the combat dynamics with characters that will join Clive Rosfield on his journey.
In today's article, we're going to elaborate on what we know about Final Fantasy XVI so far, in addition to pointing out some theories and speculations the trailers and interviews about the game bring. But if you haven't watched it yet, check out the newest preview of the game, Revenge, below.
Final Fantasy XVI - What we know so far
The Final Fantasy XVI development team boasts a strong cast, including Naoki Yoshida (Final Fantasy XIV) as producer and Hiroshi Takai (The Last Remnant) and Kazutoyo Maehiro (Final Fantasy XII) in charge of direction.
In its team, several names that participate in the production of Final Fantasy XIV are included, such as Michael Christopher and Koji Fox, in addition to other names that have worked on other important titles in the franchise, such as Hiroshi Minagawa (Final Fantasy Tactics) as artistic director and Kazuya Takahashi (Final Fantasy X) in charge of character designs.
But among so many important names for the franchise, the highlight is Ryota Suzuki, responsible for combat direction. Suzuki has never worked on a Square Enix title before and his career is pretty much defined by CAPCOM games like Devil May Cry 5, Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams and Dragon's Dogma.
Having someone so focused on fast-paced combat games and hack'n'slash in the development of Final Fantasy XVI wasn't well received by a more nostalgic portion of fans, but it does breathe new life into the RPG elements with real-time combat that Square Enix has pursued on the franchise since Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, released for the PlayStation Portable in 2008.
Eikons and Dominants
Known as Summons, Eidolons, Aeons, Guardian Forces, Primals or Astrals, the great spirits that can be summoned during combat have always been important to the lore or mechanics of the Final Fantasy franchise. But in FFXVI, they take center stage in the story in the form of Eikons and Dominants.
Eikons are the most powerful creatures in the world of Final Fantasy XVI, and although we still don't know what they are or what their origins are, Naoki Yoshida commented in an interview with Famitsu that their destructive potential is an allusion to nuclear power.
It is also unknown how many of them exist in Valisthea, or how many were awakened in a Dominant, people born as hosts of the Eikons and capable to manifest their powers in the material world. We have, for example, Leviathan on the Eikons mural, but neither it nor its Dominant has appeared in promotional materials yet. Today, we know the following Dominants and their respective Eikons:
⦁ Joshua Rosfield, a gentle young man of Rosaria's nobility, is the Dominant of the Eikon of Fire, Phoenix.
⦁ Clive Rosfield, the game's main character and Joshua's older brother is the Dominant of Ifrit, the mysterious second Eikon of Fire.
⦁ Jill Warrick, childhood friend of Clive and Joshua and born in the northern lands is the Dominant of the Eikon of Ice, Shiva.
Cidolfus Telamon, better known as Cid, is a scientist, researcher and the Dominant of the Eikon of Lightning, Ramuh.
⦁ Benedikta Harman, a cold-blooded woman specializing in espionage and subtefurge, is the Dominant of the Eikon of Wind, Garuda.
⦁ Hugo Kupka, a well-known diplomat of the Dhalmekian Republic, is the Dominant of the Eikon of Earth, Titan.
⦁ Dion Lesage, prince of the Sanbreque empire and leader of the Dragoons is the Dominant of the Eikon of Light, Bahamut.
⦁ Barnabas Tharmh, a conqueror and king of Waloed is the Dominant of the Eikon of Darkness, Odin.
It's known from other trailers that there's a price to pay for using an Eikon's powers, apparently in the form of gradual petrification.
In addition, each nation sees and treats the Dominants in different ways: while some give them space in the nobility and political decisions of their region, others treat them only as war machines, in addition to nations like the Iron Kingdom, which see them as abominations and execute any Dominant born on their islands.
Valisthea, the Land of Mothercrystals
The plot of Final Fantasy XVI is set in Valisthea, a region inspired by Medieval Europe and blessed by the Mothercystals, large crystal mountains abundant in aether, which the inhabitants who settled near them weave to cast spells for a comfortable life in bountiful lands. But now, Valisthea suffers from the threat of the Blight, a mysterious plague that corrupts the land and makes it devoid of life or nature.
The region was divided into two continents: Ash in the east and Storm in the west, and six great nations were built around the Mothercrystals:
The Grand Duchy of Rosaria - Home to protagonist Clive Rosfield and his brother and Dominant of the Eikon of Fire, Joshua Rosfield, this kingdom was built when small provinces of Valishtea united to form the duchy. The nation resorts to the crystal known as Drake's Breath, situated on a volcanic island off the coast of the mainland.
The Holy Empire of Sanbreque - With its capital city built around Drake's Head, Sanbreque is the greatest theocratic institution in Valisthea and is also home to Dion Lesage, Dominant of the Eikon of Light. Its people live a comfortable and healthy life as they worship the Holy Emperor, whom they regard as the incarnation of the one true deity.
The Kingdom of Waloed - Having conquered the entire continent of Ash and survived the orc rebellion, Waloed is a kingdom situated around Drake's Spine and ruled by Barnabas Tharmh, Dominant of Odin, who has built a mighty army capable of expanding the kingdom's domain beyond the east.
The Dhalmekian Republic - Composed of five states and under a parliamentary government, the Dhalmekian Republic is located in the southern region of Valisthea, where they use the crystal hidden in the center of the mountains known as Drake's Fang* to maintain peace in the region. Hugo Kupka, Dominant of Titan, is a special advisor to parliament and has great influence on the Republic's decisions.
The Iron Kingdom - The Iron Kingdom is the conglomeration of islands located in the western region of Valisthea and dominated by the Crystalline Orthodox, a religious institution that considers the order of crystals to be supreme, and that Dominants are sacrilege and must be executed. Its people, the Irondblood, are largely isolated from the rest of the world and communicate in a language of their own. Like Rosaria, The Iron Kingdom also resorts to the crystal located in Drake's Breath.
The Crystalline Dominion - Located in the center of Valisthea and built around the largest crystal in Drake's Tail, the Crystalline Dominion was the scene of numerous conflicts over control of its lands due to its strategic position, until the kingdoms at war reached an armistice. As part of the peace treaty, the islands around the region became an autonomous domain led by a council with representatives from other nations.
We can deduce that Valisthea is not what we can call a prosperous or peaceful land: we know from the first official announcement of Final Fantasy XVI that Rosaria is attacked by the Dragoons of Sanbreque when Clive is still a teenager, and there are also several conflicts between Eikons in the trailers, as in the most recent one where we see a battle between Odin and Bahamut.
Final Fantasy XVI has Clive and his quest for revenge as the main plot point and this is reflected in the gameplay, where the player's focus is integral on the character, who manages to combine — by still unknown means — the power of Ifrit and other Eikons to perform various attacks and spells in fast-paced real-time action combat.
The protagonist is also accompanied by his loyal wolf/dog, Torgal, an ally controlled by the AI, but from which the player can issue commands through the controller's direction buttons.
This mechanic has already appeared in other famous games of the modern generation, especially in God of War and God of War: Ragnarok, where the player can order Atreus to perform some command such as shooting magic arrows while not having to worry about controlling the character directly or heal him.
The new trailer also showed that other key figures will be joining Clive on his journey, such as Jill Warrick and Cidolfus Telamon — a huge nod to the franchise's legacy, as those characters and Clive are respectively Shiva, Ramuh and Ifrit, normally the first three Summons the player obtains in most titles in the series. Clive will be able to combine his attacks with those of other characters, but how this mechanic will work is yet to be explained.
Valisthea won't be an open world region in the traditional sense as in Final Fantasy XV or in titles that became very famous for the size of their world, such as The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim.
Instead, FFXVI will focus on separate regions to give the player a sense of the "global scale" of the continent the story is set on. This world approach is closer to other great modern RPG titles and some older ones, such as Pokémon Legends: Arceus, Monster Hunter, God of War: Ragnarok and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
Despite the game's main story following a linear structure, it has been confirmed that FFXVI will have a considerable amount of sidequests, hunts and environments to explore.
In addition, the title will have the New Game + module, where you can restart the story with your skills and equipment after clearing the main story, and also the option to choose the game's difficulty level, guaranteeing new challenges.
In an interview with IGN, the game's development team denied that Final Fantasy XVI will be a story about war and political intrigue, despite these elements being present in its narrative. The plot is about Clive , his encounters, relationships and growth — about a man at the mercy of forces beyond his control, a prisoner of fate who has decided it's time to break free. However, like him, the other companions Clive meets also have their motivations and conflicts.
Hiroshi Takai mentioned in that same interview that, from the beginning, the development team did not want to tell a juvenile story and sought to portray events as realistically and naturally as possible in a world plagued by endless wars between nations.
As a result, Final Fantasy XVI will be the first mainline title in the franchise to be rated as Mature, rather than Teen. According to the website of the Brazilian ratings, the work was indicated for people over 16 years because it contains violence, death with weapons, blood, prostitution, drugs, hate crimes and exposed and/or mentioned sexual content.
Despite being the first main game in the series with this classification, Final Fantasy Type-0 had the same nomination and had scenes of explicit violence, blood and intentional death (in addition to the most depressing ending of the entire franchise), and Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origins also rated higher for the high dose of violence committed by Jack Garland under the player's control.
Theories and Possibilities
Now that we have compiled what we know about Final Fantasy XVI so far, we present five theories that have emerged based on the material presented and the interviews that we have accompanied so far.
A story with no heroes and villains, no good or evil
The Final Fantasy series has a long history of featuring "heroes" and "villains" even when its plot doesn't exactly cast them in the role of good or evil. There are several antagonists in the series that we can identify with or understand their motivations. An example of this is the amount of players who sympathized and considered Ardyn Izunia's grudge against the kingdom of Lucis in Final Fantasy XV to be justifiable. However, that didn't change that the plot's narrative ended up being about Noctis attempting to stop Ardyn from carrying out his plan.
The same can be said for the storytelling of almost all games in the main franchise: the player-controlled characters needed to stop the antagonist from committing an atrocity that, more often than not, would destroy the world. Final Fantasy XVI seems, so far, to escape this narrative structure.
As Koji Fox mentioned in the IGN interview, it's hard to save a world that doesn't need saving, and Valisthea feels like a place where wars and political strife are a systemic consequence rather than a moment in history that can be prevented by the actions of a small group. The interpretation and differences between "good" and "evil" or "good" and "bad" in a time of war is too thin, even when there are exceptions, as when we see Shiva's Dominant being taken by an army on subhuman conditions in one of the trailers, but the game still hasn't presented us with the cause of this "evil" that plagues the continent.
In the dynamic modern storytelling of games, the line between heroes and villains is getting harder to interpret. The player knows they're the hero because "this is the character I'm controlling", but that doesn't make those who oppose them or who don't share their perspective, the villains, and several titles — including some from Square Enix, such as NieR — has been moving away from a binary narrative in search of exploring the idea that what makes someone good or bad is the contextualized interpretation of their purposes and ideals.
Final Fantasy still hasn't had this structure among its main titles, and with the grayer tone of the relationships between the characters becoming more evident in the last trailers, I believe that the FFXVI story will abdicate heroes and villains in favor of playing with the player's interpretation about such abstract concepts. A plot where you won't be able to say with certainty that Clive is a hero.
Clive's quest is to destroy the Mothercrystals
Still based on the above theory, a strong speculation, often given as a certainty, is that Clive's journey has the objective of destroying the Mothercrystals. There are a variety of reasons to believe in this theory, including the tagline "The legacy of crystals have shaped our history for long enough" from the game's first official announcement, but we can dig a little deeper into the idea of "why would Clive destroy the Mothercrystals".
First, it seems that most of the conflicts that occur in Valisthea involve their very existence, especially after the continent began to be devastated by the Blight, which we still don't know when or how it started.
Also, there seems to be some correlation between the Mothercrystals and the Eikons, and if Clive's revenge is related to them, going to the crystals is an almost certain guarantee of getting into confrontations with the Dominants. Finally, in several moments of the trailers, we see some of the Mothercrystals in the background landscapes, even during battles, which could, in fact, mean that Clive is going to them for some reason.
We had the basic concept from the first Final Fantasy that "to save the world, we need to save the crystals" and this was repeated in several of the first games in the franchise and referenced in some of the more recent ones. However, we still haven't had a title where the solution to the current problem is found in the destruction of the crystals, which would bring a new perspective to their role in the series.
If we consider how the people of Valisthea are dependent on the Crystals to preserve their lands and ensure comfort in their lives, it would not be surprising if the protagonist was seen as a threat by the other kingdoms, both due to his desire to end the source that it maintains the region's social and political structure, as well as its perhaps unique ability to wield the power of multiple Eikons simultaneously.
The hooded man is part of Valisthea's ancestral history
A recurring element of the last two trailers was the mysterious-hooded man who apparently transforms into Ifrit and fights Phoenix at the start of the game. There are several theories about whom this character is, including that he is an "alternate version" of Clive. And the impression is given that the events of Final Fantasy XVI are driven by his presence in Rosaria.
In Revenge, Clive sees him again in a place that looks like ruins, with floating rocks in the background, possibly the place where the battle between him and Garuda takes place. And when he appears in Rosaria, it's unclear if anyone besides Joshua sees him.
The Cosmo Canyon Observatory Twitter page posted a few days ago the theory that the hooded man is Clive himself, or an "evil Clive" based on the similarity of their countenance. And the idea of the protagonist having a kind of alter-ego that manifests itself in moments of crisis is an unexplored element in the Final Fantasy universe and would bring with it an interesting plot twist about Clive having to face his own inner monsters.
However, my personal theory is that this entity is a manifestation of the crystals themselves and/or the force that governs a prophecy related to the Eikons and that seeks to make the gears turn so that everything turns out as foretold.
The meeting with Joshua and the fight of the two Ifrit is an illusion/dream
We know that Final Fantasy XVI has time skips and Clive will end the story around 30 years old. We also know that, at some point, the mark on the protagonist's face ceases to exist.
In the scene where we see Clive reunite with Joshua amidst the flames, he still has the mark on his face, which indicates that that moment takes place before an alleged second time skip or the event that leads him to remove it. And considering Joshua hasn't aged a bit in those years, the scene is likely a manifestation of Clive's consciousness at some point — whether through an illusion or a nightmare.
Furthermore, the scene of the conflict between the two Ifrits seems to take place in the same place: the ruins of Rosaria. Therefore, my theory is that that event occurs only in the protagonist's mind, possibly by the guilt and anger he carries over his brother's death.
If not, we can speculate that Joshua is immortal, as is the Eikon he is the Dominant of, Phoenix.
"Come to me, Ifrit!" is a scene from the game's last chapter
One of the last scenes in Revenge is Clive screaming "Come to me, Ifrit!" while being engulfed in flames and in it, he no longer has the tattoo on his face, plus an assortment of scars as well. This could indicate that Clive is calling on his Eikon to resolve his last conflict — one where he will either be at peace with himself, or where he will need a great sacrifice to join the Eikon who supposedly killed his brother.
Of course, this point is way too far into the speculation zone, but we know how Square Enix has questionable scenes in trailers that end up with endgame spoilers. Who doesn't remember the Final Fantasy XV trailer that started with Ardyn telling Noctis he won't kill him while he's absorbed into the Crystal? Or the one from Final Fantasy VII Remake that showed the party facing Destiny's Crossroads? Or the latest from Crisis Core: Reunion that literally shows a scene from the game's epilogue?
There is still a bit more than six months left for Final Fantasy XVI's release, but the world and setting of the game already make it one of the most awaited games of 2023, and intrigue even the most nostalgic fans about what awaits us in the future.
The work's development team is well known and acclaimed for its work on one of the greatest MMORPGs today, Final Fantasy XIV, which not only features gameplay capable of keeping players engaged for hours, but also has an exemplary story and narrative development, and the possibility of those same elements being somehow applied in the new title is something that every fan of the series has considered at some point.
Time will tell if Final Fantasy XVI will live up to expectations, but it's definitely one of the more promising games planned to come out next year!
Thanks for reading!