Have you been sleeping under a crystal? Square Enix’s latest JRPG epic is finally here in our Final Fantasy XVI review!
Ladies and gentlemen, Chocobo enthusiasts and Moogle lovers – the time has finally come. We return to the world of gravity-defying hairstyles, oversized swords, and villains with schemes more questionable than their dress sense. The latest instalment of the Final Fantasy series is here.
Clive, the hero, is ready for a brand new medieval adventure
This is an adventure that, for better or for worse, turns the clock back to the ‘Fantasy’ days of this revered series (in my mind, BETTER). There is no steampunk theme or futuristic spacecraft to be found here. Nary a computer or even a train to be found! The sixteenth Final Fantasy title returns to the roots of the series not seen in a single player game since Final Fantasy XII (released in 2006).
A classic fantasy game with a medieval war setting…just as Hironobu Sakaguchi intended.
I specify ‘single-player game’ here because the brass at Square Enix smartly handed the keys of this project to its ‘Creative Business Unit III‘ – the team in charge of the massively popular MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV. That game has smashed records in the MMORPG landscape with its strong classic fantasy setting.
So, can the CBU3 team led by the visionary Naoki Yoshida recreate that magic for a solo journey? Or after the disaster of FFXIII on PS3 and the lukewarm reception to FFXV on PS4, could this be the final nail in the coffin for what once was the best franchise in RPGs if not all of videogames?
Will this game be the death of the Final Fantasy series as we know it?
Final Fantasy XVI Review – Story
WARNING: some minor plot spoilers.
The story of Final Fantasy XVI is a luminous tapestry, weaving together a saga of warring kingdoms and enigmatic entities wielding untold power. We follow the fate of Clive Rosfield, a fledgling knight of the Grand Duchy of Rosaria, and his younger brother, the magically gifted but sickly Joshua. Clive’s standing in his noble family as the eldest son is fractured as Joshua becomes a vessel for the cataclysmic might of a Dominant – a master of the power of an Eikon.
The power of an Eikon – a blessing AND a curse.
Clive’s trajectory converges with a typical Final Fantasy cast of diverse personalities, including the exuberantly reckless Cid and the elegant enigma of Jill Warrick. The game is split into three distinct parts each representing a period of Clive’s life.
Exuberant might be an understatement.
Early parts of the game are spent with Clive as a teenager in the kingdom of Sanbreque. This portion of the game acts like the bulk of the ‘tutorial’ but the themes here are by no means ‘light’ by any stretch. Tragedy strikes, and soon enough we join Clive in his young adult life as he embarks on a treacherous odyssey of revenge driven by a thirst for fiery retribution.
Deliver your fiery retribution with an Eikon Punch!
About half-way through the game’s run time, Clive’s life is devastated for a second time. An unseen period of 5 years passes before we rejoin Clive on his mission to save the world. A mysterious Blight has appeared that is destroying the landscapes of Valisthea, rendering harvest fields inert and unable to produce food to feed the masses.
As a result of dwindling food supplies and warring Kings, the realm plunges into a maelstrom of political stratagems, power dynamics, and age-old prognostications. It is a story interwoven with complex relationships, devious secrets and cataclysmic betrayals.
All of these characters would be difficult to keep track of, if not for this helpful Cast screen
Opposing forces have equally strong motivations to reach their goals, though they may not always be obvious to Clive. The cast of antagonists in Final Fantasy XVI is honestly one of the best since the Super Nintendo era. The Dominant of Garuda, Benedikta, hides frightening powers behind her piercing gaze. On the other hand, Hugo, the Dominant of Titan, shares that Eikon’s indomitable will and fury.
You don’t want to mess with THAT guy when he’s angry.
Set amidst a kaleidoscope of fantastical domains and Machiavellian schemes, Final Fantasy XVI spins a tale of personal metamorphosis, selflessness, and the unbreakable bonds of kinship. Clive’s expedition is a voyage of supreme importance as he combats not only the opposition amassed before him, but the mysterious abyss that hungers to engulf his essence.
That dude sounds evil… but he’s not wrong.
Whilst the story starts as a tightly told Game of Thrones-esque tale of an escalating clash between warring countries and traitorous betrayal. About halfway through the game makes a hard switch into a more typical ‘weird’ Final Fantasy magical mystery centred around Crystals and powers threatening to destroy the entire planet.
That looks like it is going to hurt!
These two disparate halves of story might cause some players who strongly enjoy the first half of the narrative to feel alienated when the game takes a hard 180-degree U-turn into the more fantastical elements of the story. However, unlike the previous few single-player Final Fantasy titles, Valisthea consistently feels like a world that is truly alive and full of characters with their own motivations. The game feels much more complete than any recent entry in the series and that is definitely a good thing.
You’ll feel the same way about halfway through the game.
Make no mistake – this is a dark and mature story not for the faint-hearted. The climactic finale and bittersweet ending are definitely worth experiencing as the characters bid farewell to a world forever changed. But characters and story can only get you so far. Does the rest of the game live up to the lofty heights of the legacy of the name ‘Final Fantasy’?
Final Fantasy XVI Review – Gameplay
Long known as one of the best ‘turn-based’ RPG series, more recent entries have started to stray away from this. The previous entry in the series Final Fantasy XV used a semi-turn-based style focusing on real-time attacks, dodges and parries with a ‘wait mode’ that allowed players to strategise and target enemy weaknesses. Disappointingly, there was almost no ‘magic’ to be seen in that game despite this being an important feature of the entire series up to that point.
Final Fantasy XVI passes the test – it must be a real Final Fantasy game because there is a Moogle
Final Fantasy VII Remake continued to focus on the action element of battle with a hybrid system with on this with a much more robust action system with significant slow-down engaged when firing off a much wider array of magic and other abilities. Final Fantasy XVI continues to double down on the action focused combat.
There are no ATB bars to be found here and no wonder with the hugely talented Ryota Suzuki (of Devil May Cry 5 and Monster Hunter: World fame) at the helm. This is a fast-paced Action-RPG game with an emphasis on timing, dodges and special attacks with cooldown timers.
We are eased into the various battle systems and techniques through the ‘young Clive’ section of the story line. There is a dedicated button for attacks, and another for a simple magic bolt that can be chained together for various combos (square and triangle respectively). Eikons each come with their own special ability that can be triggered with the circle button, whilst jumping is always available to reach higher ground and/or flying enemies with the cross button.
As ability points are earned through battles and quest completion, a bevy of skills can be unlocked and upgraded – from charged attacks and magic to evasive maneuvers and distance-closing rush attacks.
A number of different Eikons are unlocked through progression of the story including series stalwarts Ifrit, Shiva and Bahamut. At various important story moments, Clive expands his Eikon repertoire, and their respective skills can be learned and equipped by Clive as he etches the indelible marks of the other Dominants on his destiny. Only three different Eikons can be harnessed at the same time, but the highest level of upgrades allows Clive to mix-and-match skills of other Eikons when he would otherwise be unable to link these skills together.
Bahamut’s Gigaflare equipped to Odin? Sounds like a powerful combination – and it is!
Personally, I found the standard combat to be fast and enjoyable. Skills have two main attributes of attack power and ‘stagger’. Every enemy, including the powerful bosses in the game, have a stagger bar that will decrease with every strike – when this fully reduces they will be immobilized for a short period of time – allowing Clive to really lay down the pain with his strongest skills. It is, however, a somewhat limited system and certainly lacks a feeling of depth typically present in the RPG genre.
I found myself defaulting to a particular set of Eikons, skills and even combination patterns that seemed consistently the best at reducing Stagger to zero, getting off a barrage of attacks, and then having the stagger bar down low once again before the enemy even had a chance to recover.
Equpment is similarly uncomplicated. There are a total of 6 gear slots available: Sword, belt, bracer and three relics. Not much to say here other than to point out there are Relics provided to you at the start of the game that REALLY simplify the combat system. I didn’t feel the need to utilise these myself and had no significant struggles in any battle (including side-content), but for players with accessibility issues, or for those wanting to focus on the story more than the combat – these are a great help indeed!
Throughout the game Clive is constantly accompanied by other characters. Cid and Jill are the two characters most commonly seen travelling with Clive, though there are plenty of other characters that will accompany Clive for short periods as well. It would be remiss of me to not call out the new best doggo in all of video games – Clive’s ever faithful hound Torgal.
Let’s take the doggo out for a picnic (he doesn’t seem interested in the view)
The only problem here, particularly for longtime fans of the series, is that you cannot control any of these other characters, ever. Other than some (very) basic commands that can be given to Torgal, the characters appearing in battle will be completely controlled by AI. Positively though, they cannot die, and they are never completely useless. However, after the awesome system that was available in the FF7 Remake, I was surprised to see the complete lack of control offered to players here.
Other systems within the game work as one might expect. There is an overall world map that is beautifully presented; however this is only traversed by selecting waypoint markers. Fast travel is thankfully a super fast process using the power of the PS5’s SSD.
Want to go somewhere other than the Hideout in the centre of the map? Too bad, that is the only option right now.
The majority of traversal is completed within the various areas of Valisthea from a 3rd person perspective. Any combat is entered into automatically with no screen transitions – though for some of the scripted fights there will be a short in-engine cutscene before the battle commences. For some reason the developers decided to include a number of ‘shimmy’ spaces.
I don’t understand why this is still a thing in the PS5/SSD generation as it certainly isn’t for ‘loading time’. Fortunately, these are relatively few and far between, though they definitely stood out to me as an annoyance.
Shimmy spaces make Clive ANGRY.
Side-quests in this game definitely have an ‘MMORPG’ feel to them. There are a lot of simple ‘fetch’ quests here, along with a decent number of ‘Hunts’ that provide the more challenging combat encounters in the game outside of the final boss battles. It is important to state that whilst the rewards are generally uninspired here is a huge amount of story exposition that can be unlocked through completing quests. I strongly recommend going through these as the character interactions and story are worth the time investment.
The S-rank Hunts provide combat challenges that are no joke!
All in all, the gameplay in Final Fantasy XVI receives a medium sized tick from me. Combat is good fun, if not a bit repetitive after a while and the side quests whilst not massively engaging from a gameplay aspect do significantly flesh out the world of Valisthea and show the deepness of Clive’s relationships with his companions.
Final Fantasy XVI Review – Visuals
Final Fantasy as a series has long been known for really pushing the envelope in what is possible for video game presentation. The previous mainline entry in the series, Final Fantasy XV, was definitely one of the best-looking games on the PS4, following in the footsteps of FFVI (SNES), FFIX (PS1) and FFXII (PS2) which were all in the top tier of games released on their consoles for visual fidelity. Personally, I don’t believe that the same thing can be said for Final Fantasy XVI on PS5.
Landscapes in Valisthea are stunning.
Don’t get me wrong, this game still looks great. Some of the landscapes in this game are mind-blowingly beautiful. From dense forests to mysterious crystal dungeons to desolate wastelands – each area has its own unique feel and personality – this world truly feels alive.
Elsewhere, flashy combat sequences and the epic scale Eikon battles that occur throughout the adventure contain particle effects are absolutely insane. There are heaps of ‘wow’ moments that must be seen to be believed.
I needed to take the elevator down a few floors to pick up my jaw after this sequence.
However, outside of the beauty of landscapes and ‘flashy’ battle sequences the up-close and personal interactions between characters had too much of an ‘uncanny valley’ feel for me. Other studios such as Naughty Dog and Guerilla Games have managed to catch up and surpass the Square Enix development teams when it comes to character models and facial animations.
Once again, I’m certainly not saying that these are ‘bad’ by any stretch. Horizon Forbidden West has set a new benchmark for what can be done in a videogame and Final Fantasy XVI cannot match it.
I think you’ve got something on your face there…
Final Fantasy XVI Review – Audio
Another strength of the Final Fantasy series is the audio presentation. This is one area where Final Fantasy XVI certainly does not disappoint. The dark and mature tone of the story is given its strong backbone through the amazing work of Masayoshi Soken. Over 200 different tracks appear in the game, with many of these ‘dark’ variations on typically happier themes.
There are a number of re-arranged Nobuo Uematsu classic tracks that long-time fans of the series will recognize. Even the classic Final Fantasy battle victory jingle has been transposed into a minor key to match the foreboding atmosphere encountered throughout the game.
The English language voice cast provide a blend of passion, depth, and skill to truly bring the world of Valisthea to life. Each actor breathes life into their characters, etching them into players’ hearts and minds. Xenoblade Chronicles and Final Fantasy XVI prove without a doubt that a (majority) British cast is definitely the way to go for a fantasy/RPG title.
Well, unlike some other RPG main characters, Clive can speak with an English accent
Performances of Ben Starr (Clive), Ralph Ineson (Cid) and Alex Lanipekun (Hugo) in particular are a symphony of emotions, ranging from soaring triumphs to heart-rending sorrows, conveying the intricate nuances of this expertly woven narrative. The cast’s ability to infuse every single line with authenticity and charisma transports players into the heart of Valisthea, making this a truly memorable adventure.
Final Fantasy XVI captivates with its visual tapestry, seamlessly melding intricate detailing with sweeping landscapes. The character designs return to a classic fantasy setting, albeit with that unmistakable Final Fantasy twist. Complementing the visuals is an enchanting soundtrack that gives the crushing sensation of the game’s dark and ominous atmosphere. The voice acting is a masterclass in emotive vibrancy, infusing the entire cast of characters with life. In unison, the visual and audio elements help to make this an unforgettable journey.
Moments like these, you won’t forget.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Final Fantasy XVI does what it needed to do – breathes new life into a series that had fallen from its once lofty position at the pinnacle of RPGs. The story returns Final Fantasy to its roots as a true medieval era inspired fantasy adventure with dark and mysterious undertones.
I do need to state that Final Fantasy XVI is not a perfect game. The presentation is still A-grade, but in some areas such as facial animation Square Enix is no longer at the head of the class. Musically there is very little that can match Final Fantasy (Xenoblade series aside), and the English voice cast deserves multiple awards for their efforts that elevate the experience by breathing life into this diverse and deep cast of interesting characters and a story full of emotional highs and devastating lows.
The combat system might be considered shallow by some – it falls a little short from what RPG aficionados might have expected. But in my view battles are a tight experience with great accessibility options available to allow all gamers to experience this epic adventure.
Square Enix certainly knows how to polish a game – I encountered no bugs, glitches, soft locks or crashes of any kind throughout my 60 hours – completing almost every single side quest available. There is a ‘New Game +’ option available as well, with a new option that really ramps up the challenge level of battles (if that is your thing).
While not flawless, Final Fantasy XVI’s strong points overshadow its minor shortcomings, solidifying its place as a must-play entry for both fans and newcomers alike.
So, why should you play Final Fantasy XVI?
- Fans of Game of Thrones and Attack on Titan will enjoy the mature and dark tone (as long as you don’t mind a few F-bombs)
- Stunning music and voice acting breathe life into the world of Valisthea providing a backdrop for some astounding set-pieces
But, why shouldn’t you play Final Fantasy XVI?
- You need an unnecessarily complex series of game mechanics and systems to engage you in an RPG experience
- This is definitely the most mature Final Fantasy title that has ever been released – and might not be ideal for those that are squeamish or despise strong language.
A review code on PlayStation 5 was kindly provided by Square Enix for the purpose of this review. Want to revisit some of the best Square Enix JRPGs ever made? Check out our reviews for Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster and Octopath Traveller II! Keep an eye out for some more Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster reviews coming out soon as well. Need to debrief after witnessing the closing moments of FFXVI? (I know I do!). Come and join the discussion on the Qualbert Discord Server.