The general attitude towards quick-time events (QTEs) is that they are superfluous and immersion breaking. While plenty of games have utilized the QTE in the past two decades or so of gaming, I find that most games use them to their detriment rather than benefit. Due to their prevalence in many different genres, it's not too surprising, then, that Square Enix utilizes such a mechanic in their latest title in the groundbreaking Final Fantasy series.
The action-heavy, Devil May Cry-inspired combat found within Final Fantasy XVI is a departure from most mainline entries in the longtime series. Final Fantasy XVI doesn't hold back from offering players, as TechRaptor Senior Content Manager Andrew Stretch puts in his review, "fun and flashy combat." While I gained immense satisfaction from pulling off sick combos and learning the ins and outs of the game's combat system, I never felt as much hype as when I was prompted to do a QTE during a dramatic, high-stakes battle with a powerful foe.
What are Some Examples of Bad QTEs?
Before diving into what makes Final Fantasy XVI's QTEs so good, we should look at examples of how not to implement this mechanic in your game. QTEs have the potential to add a whole new element to a game by emphasizing key moments in a battle. Using it at the right moment is key. Halo 4 does not follow this advice and, instead of giving players the reins or option to fail a QTE, it forces players to end the entire game with a few measly button presses.
If implemented correctly, a boss fight ending with a QTE isn't a bad thing. But Halo, a series known for its rock-solid gunplay, deprives players the satisfaction of defeating the big bad with your skills; instead, you crawl over to your opponent and press the left trigger. That's it. This became a notorious fight among Halo fans and served as a weak farewell to a hyped-up villain.
But let's not forget another one of gaming's most notorious QTEs, this one from 2007's Spider-Man 3. You might already know the event I'm talking about, as it's been cemented in meme history for the hilariously tragic result of failing a button prompt. Slinging through a burning building to save a bound woman, Spider-Man makes one last attempt to save her from the fire. Failing a quick button press results in Spider-Man falling face first into fire and the woman resigning herself to her fate. It's awkward, anti-climactic, and gives players no leeway. You'll find that, whether it's from Halo 4, Spider-Man 3, or many other games with QTEs, Final Fantasy XVI learns from others' mistakes.
How Final Fantasy XVI Perfected the Quick-Time Event: Cinematic Techniques
In-game, Final Fantasy XVI's QTEs are called cinematic techniques. Cinematic techniques can be split into three areas: cinematic strikes, cinematic dodges, and cinematic clashes. The first brilliant move on the part of Square Enix is that cinematic techniques are used sparingly -- only during the midst of a heated battle with a strong foe. These are reserved for only mini-boss and boss battles, so fighting against regular foes like your average goblin won't result in a QTE triggering. This lets players fully embrace uninterrupted combat for the vast majority of the game.
It is because cinematic techniques are used so sparingly that they are so well-done in Final Fantasy XVI. Only during pivotal moments are players prompted to strike, dodge, or clash with their foe. Not every boss battle will feature a QTE either. Cinematic techniques might become tiresome if they were used in every battle, but because Square Enix places them only where it fits thematically or when tension is needed, they don't overstay their welcome.
A masterstroke on Square Enix's part is that QTEs do not dictate the flow of combat. You're going to have to put your work in if you want to defeat the boss, but cinematic techniques are like a cherry on top. Mechanically, many cinematic techniques work as a way to transition from one phase of combat to the next, so your performance during these QTEs does not necessarily guarantee your win or loss. In fact, this was by design: in an interview with GamesRadar, Final Fantasy XVI's director, Hiroshi Takai, made it clear that failing or succeeding in a QTE is not the end all, be all. He goes on to say that failure during a cinematic flash still results in something cool.
QTEs might not be the most accessible mechanic for players, especially for those who don't have the buttons of a controller memorized. While pressing "X" when the prompt comes up for most games is second nature for many gamers, we have to realize there are myriad skill levels out there (after all, Final Fantasy XVI features a story-focused mode and items to make combat much more forgiving). Final Fantasy XVI doesn't require players to press a series of buttons. All cinematic techniques rely on one button press or mashing a single button. The window to enact these prompts are forgiving, so players don't have to stress about failure.
I can't think of a better example of where all of Square Enix's efforts to improve the QTE come into fruition than during an early-game fight with the Midnight Raven. Just a few hours into Final Fantasy XVI's campaign, players will come across this armor-clad foe. During the fight, you're prompted to enact a cinematic clash several times throughout. Your foe is armed with a sword and so are you, so it only makes sense that two swords would "clash" together in a brutal struggle. And though the fight ends with a series of clashes, the bulk of the battle requires Clive to use his regular skills to defeat his foe. It doesn't use cinematic dodges or strikes either, because not every fight needs to utilize every QTE. Restraint is key, and Square Enix knows this.
Those against QTEs, and Final Fantasy XVI's cinematic techniques in particular, might argue against their implementation. Why are they necessary at all? Besides the range of gameplay benefits I discussed, it's hard to deny these exciting moments of combat combined with the breathtaking visuals and jaw-dropping soundtrack aren't something short of epic. I have no love for this gameplay mechanic, so it's surprising for me to say this: I look forward to every QTE in Final Fantasy XVI.
Do you enjoy Final Fantasy XVI's implementation of QTEs? Do you hate them? Let us know in the comments below!