June 2023 was the month Final Fantasy XVI finally released. As a longtime Final Fantasy fan, my expectations were high. The pre-release footage looked great and after Final Fantasy XV’s disappointment (in my opinion), Square Enix had something to make up for. Read on for our Final Fantasy XVI review to see if this one does hit the mark.
A long standing series
The Final Fantasy series is one that’s been in gamers’ hearts for a long time. The series has been around for about 35 years. When thinking of what makes a great Final Fantasy game, one of the things everyone surely agrees on is epic storytelling. With critically acclaimed classics like Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X as series’ high points. I can assure you, Final Fantasy XVI is very much a contender for one of the most epic stories in any Final Fantasy game.
The story can best be described as Final Fantasy meets Game of Thrones. It’s filled with politics, a world with various nations at war, magic, treachery and love. Throughout the story, you’re constantly faced with scenes intended for a mature audience. Much like Game of Thrones, everytime you think things settle down for a while, another plot twist comes around. Sometimes even leading to character deaths including major cast members. Without spoiling anything else, I never found the story predictable, which kept me on my toes. This is peak storytelling to me. The opening scene even reminded me of a specific scene from The Lord Of The Rings in terms of epicness.
Like watching a movie
Most of the story in Final Fantasy XVI is told through cutscenes. They are absolutely gorgeous and well animated, with some peak acting from some of the actors. The character called Cid is delivered expertly. It should be noted that Final Fantasy XVI is very cutscene and story heavy. Sometimes you can go 15 to 30 minutes with just dialogue and cutscenes before you get to the action. It fits the game perfectly and doesn’t become boring at all, in my opinion. But it’s something to take note of.
I found the prologue of the game to be one of the strongest prologues I’ve ever played in a video game. You play as Clive and start out as a younger version of himself. Before you know it, events unfold that take the story for a rollercoaster ride and immediately set up an interesting premise for the game. Fast forward many years later and Clive is a soldier in the Imperial Army of Sanbreque. They are in the midst of a war with Clive on a special mission to retrieve an enemy Eikon. Before long he meets some new companions and is set on a quest to rid the world of tyranny.
Eikon’s are this game’s Guardian Force’s or summons as we know them. For example Ifrit, Shiva and so on. Names familiar to fans of the franchise. They are tied to Dominants. Dominants are individuals who can summon an Eikon’s power at will. With 8 of them alive at any time, having one as part of your army can turn the tide of war. Before long, you’ll encounter one yourself. During the course of the game, you’ll find yourself in loads of interesting Eikon fights. Specialized boss fights where you control one and fight as these giant creatures. The end result is epic boss fights filled with gorgeous cutscenes.
Final Fantasy XVI’s story is one where the topic of slavery is explored thoroughly. A controversial subject even today, the writers have done a great job at making it accessible without making it offensive. Additionally, another important theme is coming to terms with your actions’ consequences. Both very mature themes which strengthen the story even more.
Pivot to Action RPG’s
But there’s more to this game than the story. An important part of the Final Fantasy games is also its gameplay. Traditionally, it offered turn-based RPG combat. But as of Final Fantasy XV, the series seems to have taken a pivot to Action RPG combat. I found Final Fantasy XV terribly boring in terms of combat and was hoping this game would improve on it. While it has improved, it’s still not quite there yet.
As with most Action RPGs, you get access to various attacks, special abilities and a dodge. If timed perfectly, the dodge allows you a window of opportunity to strike. At the start of the game, combat is very limited and simple. All you have is the ability to strike with your sword. After a short while, you’ll get access to Eikon’s and their abilities. This opens up combat a lot, granting you various options to dispatch your enemies. Eventually you can assign three different Eikons’ abilities to Clive to expand your options.
When you get access to two or more, combat starts to become very easy. It’s just a matter of rotating your abilities to quickly dispatch your enemies. While Action RPGs don’t have to have soulslike combat in terms of difficulty, this felt a little too easy. The combat is really fun though, especially when you can chain various abilities together. However, if you’re looking for challenging combat, you won’t find it here. There is a Final Fantasy mode difficulty, offering New Game+ and a higher difficulty. But it requires you to complete the game first.
One of the changes that fits the Action RPG gameplay really well, is a limited inventory. In previous Final Fantasy games, you had the ability to stack loads of items in your inventory. This meant that in endgame content you could grind for and take 999 Mega Potions into combat to make boss fights easier. In this game, you’re limited to a handful of each item. When you reach the maximum numbers, for example 6 potions, picking up another means it’s automatically consumed. This prevents you from cheesing through encounters. If the combat was more challenging, this would be a great change.
Where’s the party at?
Another fundamental change from the series’ core is the handling of party members. Traditionally, every Final Fantasy game had you form a party of characters. They traveled with you throughout the game, becoming an integral part to your success. In Final Fantasy XVI it’s just Clive. At times, some members of the cast will join you as party members but this plays out similar to action adventure games as God of War. They are nothing more than a sidekick with limited impact in combat. There’s also your dog Torgal, who is always a part of your party and can be commanded. You can have him attack or heal you. But that’s about it.
While this is a major fundamental change, it doesn’t feel weird at all. Party members are still an integral part of the story. And without the limitation that they always have to be around story wise, the writers can take some more creative freedom. It’s really a story about Clive.
Disappointing side content
One of the most important gameplay elements in Final Fantasy, for me, is the side content. While Final Fantasy games have almost always been linear, near the end there’s tons of side content. This is where Final Fantasy XVI somewhat disappoints. The game is very linear with a few side quests and hunts becoming available between chapters. The side quests are simple and uninspired, mostly offering fetch quests or kill quests. They would be more in place in its MMORPG counterpart. Sometimes side quests offer new gameplay mechanics, but most of the time the rewards are simple crafting mats of which you get a ton already.
Because yes, the game also offers crafting. However, don’t get your hopes up. As with other systems the crafting system is very straightforward and linear. Obviously, it doesn’t need to have anything overly complex but it should feel rewarding. When you spend your time actually crafting the best gear available at the moment, you’ll soon find you can instantly make a more powerful weapon automatically through story rewards. At some point, I even stopped doing the side quests and went straight for the main story content. It made little difference in terms of character progression.
The customization is simplified as well. Character building and min-maxing was another core element of the Final Fantasy franchise. For a big portion of fans, grinding to get the most powerful character was part of the game. In Final Fantasy XVI, there’s not much to grind for. Every special ability can be further upgraded with ability points, but you’ll easily get access to all of their basic forms. Additionally, stats mostly increase by leveling up. It’s a fixed increase, there’s no customization here. A far cry from what we’re used to from Final Fantasy games.
One of the strongest parts of Final Fantasy XVI is its world, Valisthea. A lot of effort has gone into world building, both from a narrative perspective as from a visual perspective. There’s so much going on, as you would expect from a world of warring nations. Fortunately, in order to keep track there’s a character who records all the lore which you can visit to read up about the state of the world. There’s a lot of different environments, each more stunning than the last.
No need for exploration
Unfortunately, this beautiful world doesn’t invite exploration. The game offers some semi-open environments where you can sidetrack from time to time. However, there’s little incentive to do so. Items you can pick up are mostly gil and crafting materials you can find in abundance anyway. You’ll very rarely find gear to use or other useful items. Additionally, because of the lack of interesting side quests, there’s no point in side tracking at all. This is a true shame as the world is so extremely beautiful and it feels like a waste.
During your travels through the game, you’ll explore dense forests, outstretched deserts and various cities. And the latter actually do feel like proper cities. I think Final Fantasy XVI is literally the most beautiful game I’ve played so far. It helps immerse you in the story, especially with the stellar animations and (voice) acting. Traveling through the various environments felt like an activity itself, with stunning vista’s around every corner.
Of course, the game is also full of sound tracks that really make you feel like you’re playing Final Fantasy. There’s both familiar tracks and new tracks which are inspired by classics. Epic orchestra’s to enhance dramatic cutscenes, bombastic instruments during battles. Everything feels right. And when exploring in between main missions, a relaxing soundtrack makes you feel right at home.
Now for the conclusion, which will be a bit longer than usual. I may seem a bit negative about the game in the paragraphs above, but Final Fantasy XVI is an amazing game and contender for game of the year. As a long time Final Fantasy fan, it is just not what I expected. There’s no incentive to really explore, side content is trivial and RPG mechanics are bare bones. But the story is amazing and the game is a rollercoaster ride from start to finish. I expected an Action RPG, but what we really got was an Action Adventure. And that is what they intended to make.
Objectively speaking, judging this as an action adventure, it’s an amazing game in which I enjoyed every second of my 40 hour playthrough. With a stellar story, outstanding visuals and interesting characters I can very much recommend this Game of Thrones inspired Final Fantasy. At the core, Final Fantasy is about epic storytelling and they have succeeded. It may not have been what I expected, but if you keep an open mind you’ll find one of the greatest games of this year.
- Incredible and epic story
- Extremely good visuals
- Great acting and character animation
- So many plot twists
- Disappointing side content
- No incentive to explore
- Bare bones RPG mechanics
That was it for our Final Fantasy XVI review. Final Fantasy XVI is currently unavailable through cloud gaming. But it will surely follow the other Final Fantasy games on PlayStation Plus Premium soon. Be sure to follow us on Twitter right here.