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What to expect from 'Final Fantasy 16'

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Final Fantasy has been one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved gaming franchises since it was first released back in 1987. And since then, there have been all types of different sequels, spinoffs, even movies and books. The key to its longevity is a huge amount of reinvention and innovation.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

STEVE BURTON: (As Cloud) Sephiroth. What do you want?

GEORGE NEWBORN: (As Sephiroth) The last thoughts of Geostigma's death...

NOLAN NORTH: (As Vossler) Save the discussion for later. We must reach the king before they act.

JOHN DIMAGGIO: (As Wakka) Your first real battle. Let's see some style.

PAULA TISO: (As Lulu) Show us what your training has taught you, Yuna.

HEDY BURRESS: (As Yuna) OK.

SUMMERS: Each iteration of Final Fantasy has given its fans a different kind of world, and the latest in the series promises to continue in that tradition. Final Fantasy XVI is out today on PlayStation 5, and NPR's James Mastromarino joins us now. Hey there.

JAMES MASTROMARINO, BYLINE: Hi, Juana.

SUMMERS: I mean, James, this franchise is decades old, and there are so many different games and storylines. But tell us. What do you think are the signature elements of a Final Fantasy game?

MASTROMARINO: Well, it started with turn-based combat, and now they've become increasingly action-focused. But the main thing you're getting are these epic stories with relatable characters. There's usually a clear good and evil. There's often an environmental message in there, airships, swords and giant birds called chocobos that people ride like horses.

SUMMERS: All right. I mean, you've already gotten to play some of Final Fantasy XVI. So tell us. Does it deliver? Does it bring us all those elements?

MASTROMARINO: Well, yes, and a heaping portion of "Game Of Thrones," actually.

SUMMERS: OK.

MASTROMARINO: The series producer forced the core development team to watch the show. So it's a curious marriage. It largely works, and occasionally it's kind of awkward.

SUMMERS: OK. We were talking earlier about the fact that one of the things that Final Fantasy as a franchise is known for as the spirit of innovation. What's innovative about this installment?

MASTROMARINO: Well, they've completely abandoned the turn-based combat that was their mainstay. This time, it's like a Devil May Cry sort of game. It's a high-speed, high-octane action game. And during especially climactic moments, you transform into a giant fire demon and fight things that are impossibly huge - like, the size of whole cities. So it's got some of the most amazing action set pieces I've ever seen. But for longtime series fans, it's quite a departure.

SUMMERS: OK, James, I say this in a very endearing way, but you and I are kind of gaming nerds. We love this stuff. But for a person who maybe has never played a Final Fantasy game before, isn't familiar with this world, what's the biggest reason in your mind that they should try out this title?

MASTROMARINO: Well, I think the combat is spectacular. It's glorious to watch. It's extremely fun to play. It's streamlined, fluid and actually very accessible. And it actually is very well-acted. The cast that they got for this is extraordinary. It's often extremely well-animated. And even if you're not sold on every element in the story, it is undeniably entertaining.

SUMMERS: And, I mean, as we've been talking about, this is a franchise that has been around for decades, since the late 1980s. So I'm wondering if you can tell us a little bit about the impact that Final Fantasy has had on the industry at large.

MASTROMARINO: Even back then, in the '80s and early '90s when it was just pixels, they conveyed enormous character development and these complicated, really wrenching and emotional stories to an adoring fan base. And then that got amplified in 1997's Final Fantasy VII, which was a huge breakout hit for the publisher and, again, set the path for modern gaming, for how characters can even look and move in a 3D space. So fast-forward all the way to now. Its absence has really been felt 'cause we haven't had a mainline game in the series since 2016. And even though it's a very different Final Fantasy, it's still setting a standard with its polish and its execution.

SUMMERS: NPR's James Mastromarino. Hey, thanks.

MASTROMARINO: Thanks, Juana.

SUMMERS: And for more, check out Andy Bickerton's review of Final Fantasy XVI on npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

James Perkins Mastromarino
James Perkins Mastromarino is Here & Now's Washington, D.C.-based producer. He works with NPR's newsroom on a daily whirlwind of topics that range from Congress to TV dramas to outer space. Mastromarino also edits NPR's Join the Game and reports on gaming for daily shows like All Things Considered and Morning Edition.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.