Final Fantasy XVI created 3 groundbreaking audio innovations

Final Fantasy XVI is a leap forward for the long-running RPG series in some very obvious ways, The most immediately apparent way it accomplishes that is through its fantastic real-time combat, which makes the adventure into Final Fantasy’s best pure action game to date. Then there are its cinematic Eikon fights, which offer spectacle on a level we’ve long dreamed of seeing in a video game. However, some of its most impressive innovations are ones you can’t actually see. Rather, you’ll need to listen closely.

Ahead of Final Fantasy XVI’s launch, I spoke to series composer Masayoshi Soken about his work on the project. While we talked a bit about his excellent score, Soken was most eager to share details on the new sound tech that was built for the action RPG. You may not notice it while playing, but Final Fantasy XVI raises the bar for video game audio in ways that might soon carry over into other Square Enix titles.

Audio innovation

In a music panel prior to Final Fantasy XVI’s release, Soken shared a bit about the new sound tech powering the game. The first major innovation he highlighted was the action RPG’s new approach to interactive music, a system meant to make the soundtrack more reactive and dynamic in battles. Rather than looping music during fights, Soken uses audio magic to seamlessly transition between different sections of the score no matter how long it takes a player to move through the fight. Everything down to Clive’s end pose will naturally sync up with the music in every fight.

“No matter what the player’s playstyle is — no matter if they’re very good at action games or if they’re not and it takes them longer to do certain kinds of battles — both of those players are going to get the same kind of sound and music experience,” Soken tells Digital Trends.

Ifrit fights Garuda in Final Fantasy XVI.
Square Enix

While that’s an accomplishment, some of the more subtle audio technology Soken and his team built are even more impressive. The first comes in the game’s approach to reverb. Rather than just creating sound effects and applying some reverb filters to them accordingly, the team actually built an underlying system that applies reverb to a sound in real time based on the environment players are in.

“In real time, we’ll have a sound bouncing off an object. It looks at the material of that object and the distance of that object,” Soken says. “All in real-time, it calculates the reverb and changes the reverb based on that distance and material.”

That isn’t the only automatic sound creation system present in Final Fantasy XVI. Soken would get even deeper into what’s happening under the hood when mentioning a new system where the game actually generates sound effects on the fly that are built around a character’s motion. Soken says that the system was a necessity due to how “realistic and exquisite” the game’s cinematics are. Doing manual audio creation for all those sequences would be “equivalent to producing the Foley sounds for dozens of movies all at once,” according to Soken

It automatically composes and creates the Foley sounds …

I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea when Soken first described it to me in person, but he gave me a far more detailed explanation in an email after our conversation.

“In order to avoid having to spend this tremendous amount of time in production, we have implemented a system where it monitors the characters’ motions (especially the bone/skeletal motions) in real time, and based on the motion analysis results, it automatically composes and creates the Foley sounds appropriate for the motion, as well as automatically outputs the sounds in real time,” Soken says. “This system isn’t applied to all Foley sounds, but other than the controllable character, it is also applied to NPCs and party members and even in battle actions, not just cutscenes, hugely contributing to cutting down the labor costs of the sound production.”

While all three of these systems were built for Final Fantasy XVI, Soken says the hope is that they’ll be implemented into Square Enix’s other games going forward. These are meant to be shared audio innovations that push the entire video game landscape forward, finding new ways to achieve greater realism and maintain immersion through audio. That may very well be Final Fantasy XVI’s true lasting legacy 10 years from now.

Final Fantasy XVI is out now on PS5.

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