Final Fantasy XVI Battle System Analysis: Combat Mechanics revealed in the latest gameplay trailer

Two trailers deep and with a bunch of screenshots to hand, we’re now beginning to get a real, substantial look at what sort of game Final Fantasy XVI is – including some of the earliest glimpses of the game’s combat mechanics, which have been a topic of hot debate since even before the game was first announced.

The jumping off point for the great FF16 combat debate was arguably in 2019, when Capcom veteran Ryota Suzuki joined Square Enix to work as one of the key development staff on an as-then unannounced game within the business group led by FF14’s Naoki Yoshida. Suzuki’s involvement in the project that ultimately was revealed as FF16 certainly got fans talking – as he’s an action game veteran, with credits on Devil May Cry titles and Capcon’s beloved cult RPG Dragon’s Dogma. Suzuki’s hiring seemed to closely point to what kind of combat system FF16 might employ.

Taking the footage shown across the first two trailers into account, it is certainly beginning to look like Suzuki’s hiring was an accurate hint. Final Fantasy has traditionally been known for turn-based RPG mechanics, or a blend of real-time action and ATB, but Final Fantasy XVI appears to forego all that and deliver us a third-person character action romp.

If you were a little lost looking at the game’s ‘Dominance’ trailer, it’s quite a bit easier to digest than you might think. We’ve been closely freeze-framing the trailer to see what we can learn – and we think more is revealed than you’d imagine. So, here’s how we reckon combat works in FF16, based on the evidence in the trailers…

The Basics of Combat in FF16

The third-person action of Final Fantasy XVI is real-time and reactive to your input, most similar to Devil May Cry. This is telegraphed in the trailer by the use of Clive’s numerous different attacks while only having a singular attack button. These attacks could change based on your directional input, as well as whether you are on the ground, aerial, tapping the button or holding it. 

Enemies and bosses alike also have an additional staggered state that you can build up with attacks. After you stagger them, enemies can go into a crumpled state where you can exploit them into a highly-damaging combo.  

It’s worth noting that we never see the player directly controlling any character that isn’t protagonist Clive or one of the summons. While we’ve already met a number of members of the cast of FF16 characters, it appears all but certain now that this game is a single-character affair where you only play as Clive with no ‘party’ system, breaking with FF tradition.

That doesn’t mean Clive will be entirely alone in battle, however. There’s a meter underneath your health bar, which is used for Eikons. Eikons are this title’s interpretation of FF’s classic summons – known across the series as Espers, GFs, and eidolons. Understanding the use of Eikons is core, which is crucial to understanding how combat will work.  

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Eikonic Battles

Eikons appear to give Clive their powers, changing his move set significantly.

Eikons can be likened to a skill loadout that you will be able to actively switch between mid-combat. If you possess more than one Eikon, you can switch them with L2. Eikons give you a different set of four skills that you can use that possess some kind of elemental potency. Having Phoenix equipped gives you access to a default elemental cast, such as Fire, in addition to having two unique moves. 

These are specific moves that can be used when using a modifier button such as R2, then pressing triangle or square. These moves can be used on a cooldown, as we see them grey out after usage. The way these controls are mapped makes this quite similar to how Dragon’s Dogma is controlled – and these games of course share a lead combat designer. 

Eikon Skills and their elemental casts could be used to enhance damage on certain enemy types, and could also affect their stagger gauge. This is marked on the HUD with a color of damage in addition to a multiplier that appears after your attack. 

Finally, each Eikon will also give you access to a unique skill that can be used with the circle button. This is likely to spend a portion of the yellow meter that you see underneath your health bar and can be built up by attacking enemies. Garuda’s Deadly Embrace will pull the enemy toward you, or could even trigger a toppled state, as we saw when Clive used it to topple a Coeurl, which allowed him to chain into a flurry of additional attacks on the helpless enemy.

Equippable Eikons in Final Fantasy XVI

Shiva, one of the iconic summons appearing as an Eikon in FF16.

As explained above, there’s a range of ‘equippable’ Eikons in FF16, and each appears to unlock various abilities that Clive can then use in combat. Switching between Eikons will then open up different combat styles and move sets.

By examining the trailer closely and carefully frame-by-frame analysing the user interface, we can transcribe move names and pull out the move sets of several of these beasts, seeing how they augment Clive’s fighting style.

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Phoenix

Some of the moves seen when Phoenix is equipped in FF16.
  • Elemental Cast: Fire
  • Eikon Ability: Phoenix Shift
  • Eikon Skill: Scarlet Cyclone
  • Eikon Skill: Rising Flames

Phoenix appears to be the default Eikon that you’ll kick off with in Final Fantasy XVI, as we see Clive accessing Phoenix’s skills without the multi-Eikon symbol in the top-left corner of the screen. This gives him access to Rising Flames, a launcher attack that uppercuts your enemies into the air. This can be followed up with Scarlet Cyclone, an aerial barrage of attacks. We have not yet seen exactly what Phoenix Shift does, but judging by the name, it could be some form of dodge or parry. 

Garuda

Moves available when the player has Garuda as their active Eikon in FF16.
  • Elemental Cast: Aero
  • Eikon Ability: Deadly Embrace
  • Eikon Skill: Wicked Wheel
  • Eikon Skill: Gouge

We see Garuda in the trailer, and she has a particularly unique ability, Deadly Embrace. This pulls an enemy either towards you or into a vulnerable state. It could potentially behave in a similar way to Devil May Cry V’s Wire Snatch. Wicked Wheel is a barrage of Garuda’s talons in a circular saw-like motion as we saw in the latest trailer, while Gouge may be a high-damage single-target attack. 

Shiva

Abilities available to the player when Shiva is equipped in Final Fantasy XVI.

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  • Elemental Cast: Blizzard
  • Eikon Ability: Cold Snap
  • Eikon Skill: Thunderstorm
  • Eikon Skill: Pile Drive

Shiva is a unique case, as she has Cold Snap, which appears to freeze enemies in place. However, her skills are thunder-based. This could be related to lore, or might simply be a mistake. It could also be that there’s some sort of mechanic that allows you to mix and match Eikon skills somehow, as Thunderstorm is of course a more natural fit for Ramuh. We see it in use when Shiva is equipped in the Dominance trailer, however. Thunderstorm is likely to be an area-of-effect attack, with Pile Drive being an ability that you use in the air to bring them straight back down to earth after an aerial combo.

Titan

Part of Titan's move list from FF16.
  • Elemental Cast: Unknown – but Stone or Quake would make the most sense.
  • Eikon Ability: Titanic Block
  • Eikon Skill: Upheaval
  • Eikon Skill: Windup

We see Titan’s Upheaval skill used in the latest trailer, which is a ground-pound area-of-effect attack, with Windup presumably being a ground-based attack that could have some form of hyper-armor. Titanic Block may also be an additional resistance against heavily damaging attacks, either mitigating them or ignoring them entirely. My hope for this skill is that it behaves in a similar way to Devil May Cry V’s Perfect Guard, which is essentially a parry if you time the skill correctly. 

Odin 

Odin's attacks and abilities in Final Fantasy XVI.
  • Elemental Cast: Dark
  • Eikon Ability: Arm of Darkness
  • Eikon Skill: Heaven’s Cloud
  • Eikon Skill: Gungnir

We see Clive use Gungnir in the latest trailer, which is a ground-based flurry of attacks. Heaven’s Cloud could also potentially be an aerial area-of-effect attack or launcher based on the icon, but we’ve yet to see it in action. This is the same for Arm of Darkness, which could potentially be a form of command grab or high-stagger skill. 

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More Eikons could be playable – here are some potentials

We've seen Bahamut, but have had no hint of that summon in combat.

We’ve yet to see Eikons such as Bahamut or Ifrit playable in-game, and there are potentially more of them that we have yet to see, further widening the numerous skills and playstyles that you will be able to utilise. If we’re following the traditionally present elements in Final Fantasy, notably missing are the Water and Holy-type Eikons.

Leviathan seems like the obvious, slightly boring choice for a Water element Eikon, but we could also see Bismark or Famfrit make a return if they really want to get into the weeds with it. The Holy or Light-based Eikon could also potentially be Ultima, Alexander, or Madeen. The Ivalice summons like Famfrit or Madeen could be an incredibly unique appearance from Summons that we have never seen in a mainline Final Fantasy title. 

Eikon summons could have three forms

Clive battles Hugo, who is in a semi-Titan form - suggesting you'll be able to embody summons more directly, at least temporarily.

As we see Clive use Odin’s skills, we see a gauge build up to the left of the screen. It is possible that when the gauge fills, you are able to summon the Eikon who will do an attack for a healthy dose of extra damage. The team could be developing the system and gauge in a similar way to the way that ranks are built up in Devil May Cry V. 

Since there are so many similarities to Devil May Cry, it could also be a form-change, where Clive could partially transform into that Eikon in a similar way to how the Devil Trigger works. We actually see this in the trailer as Hugo Kopka faces off against Clive in a partially Titan-like form.

On this topic, also look to the key artwork of Clive – where he has one arm partially ablaze and covered in spiky appendages. Could this be a hint of the power of Ifrit within him, something the Dominance trailer’s stinger also appears to wink towards?

Lastly, we have the Eikon-on-Eikon action, which are the flashy scenes that we have seen in the latest trailer. It’s most likely that these moments will be tied to story-based progression, so there might not be too much excitement with regards to how those are going to work. This action seems highly scripted and cinematic in the glimpses seen in trailers so far, and it’s not clear how these battles play out. Some fans are already suggesting these might be cinematic turn-based battles, as a nod to FF titles past – but there’s really not enough to go on yet.

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It’s all about SSStyle

In FF16, you'll get star ratings for battling in a stylish manner.

As you attack, pop-up dialogues appear on the right-hand side of the screen and are each awarded a color and a star rating. These break down exactly what you might be doing in a single combo, and in the trailer, we see them say things like TakedownPrecision Dodge, Precision CounterEikonic PunishmentAbility ChainBurst ShotCollateral Damage, and many more.

Of these, each unique attack is awarded a star rating. In the footage we see Clive rack up single-star ratings regularly, but only get two or even three-star rankings for significant combos. Switching between several Eikon abilities and being creative with your combos could build up extremely high star ratings. The actual meaning behind the stars is yet to be determined, but they could be related to how much EXP you will have earned during that particular encounter. 

There is additional color denotation between the element that you are using in a certain attack, but there’s very little other than that to glean information from. 

Items & Passive Perks

Items are bound to the D-Pad, with three available as you play from the gameplay that we’ve seen so far. You can use tonics to strengthen your attacks, or potions to recover your health. Expect to find all of your Final Fantasy staples like Elixirs or even potentially Phoenix Downs here. 

What’s more interesting is a small group of icons atop your health bar, which could point towards passive perks that Clive is currently using. We only see one current load-out throughout the gameplay trailer, but it could be related to attack damage, speed, cooldown speeds, item potency, and a paw, which could be related to Eikon skills or that cute puppy we briefly saw as a companion of Clive and his buddies in the first trailer.

It’s particularly worth noting that this perk load-out is strikingly similar to how these factors are displayed in Final Fantasy XIV, which would make sense, considering the pedigree of a lot of the team working on Final Fantasy XVI.

The combat looks to be just as in-depth as Devil May Cry

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A battle in FF16's real-time combat system.

With all of these factors in mind, Final Fantasy XVI will hardly resemble any other mainline Final Fantasy game that came before it. Even Final Fantasy VII Remake’s combat system keeps it quite light by comparison. This brings up questions about how difficult the game will be. It’s likely to have numerous difficulty options, to begin with, so we don’t think that players hyperventilating at the proposition of having to remember complicated inputs or combos will have much to worry about. However, this also means that the skill ceiling will be enormously high, with the most skilled players able to chain together Eikon skills, combos, and more to great efficacy. 

While it all looks very daunting, especially with the messiness of the UI in general, you might not have anything to worry about if you’ve never played a third-person character action game before. What we’re waiting and wondering about are the additional Eikons, potential form changes, and just how tight it will ultimately end up feeling.

Final Fantasy XVI is set to release sometime in Summer 2023. We’ll revisit our analysis as we learn more about the battle system, of course. What do you think of the battle mechanics so far? Have you spotted something we’ve missed? Let us know below…

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