Speculation mounts that PS5's Project Athia is secretly Final Fantasy XVI
It wouldn't be the first time Square Enix has done something like this.
Sony's PlayStation 5 reveal showcase in June unveiled the console's design and offered the first look at a number of next-gen games due out in the next year. One such project from Square Enix is the mysterious Project Athia, an action-adventure RPG we still don't know much about. Since the game's debut, fans have wondered if Project Athia and the rumored Final Fantasy XVI could be one and the same. It has all the usual trappings we've come to expect from a modern Final Fantasy, with its fusion of fantasy concepts and contemporary aesthetics and an emphasis on action gameplay rather than turn-based combat.
But could these games actually be one in the same?
The short answer here is that these two games are probably separate entities — or at least that was the original intention — but it's not totally outlandish to wonder if Sony and Square Enix may be pulling a fakeout here.
Project Athia is in development at Luminous Productions, which includes many members from the same team that created Final Fantasy XV. As far back as October 2017, however, the former studio head Hajime Tabata referred to Project Athia as a new IP:
"What I really wanted to do is use everything I learned from working on Final Fantasy and put it into something new," he told EuroGamer. "You don't get that many opportunities in the games industry to make something new when you want, so I really wanted to put everything into that."
However, Habata left Square Enix by November 2018 at a time when Square Enix also announced a change in strategy that Luminous would pivot towards "large-scale, high-quality AAA game titles, which best leverage [Luminous'] strengths." There's no telling what went on behind the scenes, but Square Enix did report a $33 million loss as the cause for this change in strategy. This could conceivably mean that the plan to create a risky new IP was shifted to focus on something more reliable ... like a next-gen Final Fantasy game.
Even much more recently, however, developers keep using terms like "new" and "fresh" to describe Project Athia. Lead Concept Artist Yuuki Matsuzawa referred to the game as "a brand new IP" in a December 2019 interview with Famitsu.
"Project Athia is the culmination of our philosophy here at Luminous Productions to create completely new and fresh gaming experiences that fuse together the latest technologies with art," new studio head Takeshi Aramaki wrote in a June 2020 PlayStation blog post. "With PS5, our vision truly comes to life, and with Project Athia players can look forward to being transported to a vast and detailed world filled with beauty and dismay."
Perhaps the most solid evidence these two titles are distinct comes from a ResetEra forums post from the VG247 features editor Alex Donaldson, published Sunday. To summarize: At the start of the year, the intention was for FF16 to debut during Sony's June showcase, but because traditional game promotion events like E3 were canceled, Sony preferred to showcase the next-gen graphical power of Project Athia. The FF16 reveal was then postponed.
"In that sense, Athia fit better," Donaldson wrote, "as Athia is [Square Enix]'s forward-looking, visually mindblowing project on new tech more-so than the next FF, which [as far as I know] will use a tried-and-true existing engine." The rumored FF16 may use an existing engine like Unreal Engine 4 whereas Project Athia is being made with Square Enix's custom Luminous Engine.
Most rumors assert that FF16 is being created in Square Enix's Creative Business Unit III by the same teams who work on Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn as led by Naoki Yoshida, aka Yoshi-P. These same rumors claim FF16 is being developed within Unreal Engine 4, which again counts as a "tried and true existing engine" that Square Enix has used for titles like Kingdom Hearts III and Final Fantasy VII Remake in the past. These rumors, of course, remain unconfirmed. But that could all change if Sony and Square Enix announce FF16 during the September 16 showcase.
So by all accounts, it does seem like Project Athia and Final Fantasy XVI are distinct games, but there's every reason to hope that we'll hear more about both of them very soon.
Project Athia is currently in development while FF16 remains unconfirmed.