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Final Fantasy XVI Review

The Legend of Cid

This is my first review of a major mainline Final Fantasy release. I see this as a rite of passage, having considered myself a fan since adolescence. With this in mind, I found reviewing Final Fantasy XVI to be a humbling experience. It is an entry unlike anything I expected from this series, and certainly not a title that wholly met the loaded expectations I had going in. Yet it is a relatively successful experiment that I greatly respect and if you’re new to Final Fantasy and like a hearty dose of heart-pounding action with your fantasy, this will be a great entry point into the series and is sure to be a fast favourite.

Old mate Clive, surname Rosfield, is the firstborn son of a prominent Duke-ruled territory. He is looked over in terms of succession and is considered something of an outcast within his family, as the practice of incest within his family ancestry was meant to yield him great power, yet has not. Familial lovin’, that’s the Game of Thrones inspiration you’ve no doubt heard about. Alas, it’s his younger brother that ends up blessed with the mantle of ‘dominant.’ This is a power bestowed upon very few, allowing them to manifest the form and abilities of demigods known as Eikons. Ruling nations throughout the world of Valisthea are desperate to ensure they have their own dominant, a kind of nuclear power with which to ensure an international status quo. No one nation wants to aimlessly harness their dominant’s Eikon due to both the risk of mass destruction and provoking retaliation from a neighbouring territory’s dominant.

Get him with the spray bottle

If it seems like I’m discussing the story in broad, macro-political strokes, that’s because this game’s story deals with just that. It is a fairly standard medieval fantasy that wants to weave a tapestry of all the events occurring simultaneously in this world, including who its power players are and their contexts. Despite its breadth, it is carried by lightweight yet entertaining writing that casts the largest possible net for its mature audience, which I mostly admire here but all things told, it feels like it’s for the sake of newcomers.

There is a sprinkling of Final Fantasy-lite tropes throughout, such as a revenge quest for Clive, magic-granting crystals, an assortment of familiar monsters, and some other recognisable iconography and terminology. No previous experience is required or especially beneficial here. Otherwise, the flavour of this entry is very stone-faced and Westernised, complemented by the best English voice acting to ever grace the Japanese series – with Ralph Inneson’s Cid being a stand-out but there are no bad performances here.

Helping to keep players abreast of the many threads that occur over this lengthy saga is the Active Time Lore, which gives players a basic rundown of characters and locations contextual to wherever the player is, cutscene or otherwise. Think Amazon Prime Video’s X-Ray feature. This is easily my favourite series innovation, as text entries are only a few sentences and are always updated to address the latest twists and developments.

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The monster design is pretty neato

The broad yet surface-level storytelling is mirrored in the combat and mostly serves to enhance this title’s deliberately general appeal. Fights occur in real-time and are seamlessly transitioned into while navigating through this world. Fast-paced and modelled on spectacle fighters like Devil May Cry and even the contemporary God of War series, encounters play out with the appearance of a fast and frantic pace. Playing only as Clive with the exclusive use of his sword, this is already a significant departure in both the genre and scope of what combat normally encompasses in this series. Instead, players will be given a basic core range of combos and moves, as well as a very generous dodge that slows down time, to make for a fundamentally solid yet streamlined real-time action system. If you’ve never played a frantic action game, FFXVI will initiate you competently and gently while making you look like a combo-wielding badarse in the process.

Roughly every six hours, the player will gain the ability to channel what is called the ‘sub-prime’ powers of other Eikons in this world. I won’t discuss this at length because of spoilers, but Clive can channel up to two of an Eikon’s three or four powers into his retinue. These powers all deal damage, look fantastic and can make for some eye-watering fights while keeping Clive’s basic combat repertoire feeling fresh. My biggest criticism here is that the earlier hours of the game are a little slow in dishing out new powers, which may leave more experienced players feeling a bit restrained in the early hours.

Eikon clashes feature some of the most impressive fights in the franchise

If you’ve any experience with a character action game, you may often find yourself feeling like you’re going through the motions, punching in the same core strings of two-button combos endlessly for dozens of hours, with some flashy skill actions sprinkled in to stagger enemies and make the player look like they’re a well-honed master of the genre. However, there is almost no choice as to how players would like to expand the core combat system, with no variety of weapon types, unlockable basic attacks or extra characters. It is about perfecting those fundamentals while allowing the non-endemic player to pick up a controller and feel empowered doing so. The game delivers on this front.

Audiovisually, FFXVI is a triumph. During the more linear missions that make up approximately half of the game, the narrow pathways and walled-in roads that Clive and his computer-controlled tag-alongs traverse look amazing. The attention to detail and glorious art direction never ceased to amaze me, and the soundtrack is largely a winner, too. The best tunes are saved for the epic boss battles, leaving many of the tracks for quieter moments as a bit indistinct – the B-sides as it were. In context though, this is a minor criticism for an astonishingly well-presented Japanese action RPG.  

On the PlayStation 5 performance side, it is worth noting that there is an ideal way to experience this game. The 60-frame performance mode has a real tenuous relationship with its frame cap, meaning there is a persistent slight stutter whenever the player is moving around in-game. For the first time in my critiquing career, I must recommend sticking with the 30-frame graphics mode. This is where the optimising love has been shown, with this graphics mode barely hitching outside of transitioning from a cutscene to gameplay. It just runs and looks better, making the performance mode a concession for purists that stutters just a little more than I would like. The 30-frame graphics mode is far and away the best way to play.

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No shortage of stunning skyboxes

Occasional frame hitches aside, it’s rare to play games that feel this substantially polished. No spelling errors, not even a janky ragdoll. More impressive is the fact that you will rarely even encounter clipping, such as weapons disappearing through clothes or objects. The game is about as close to a perfect vision as the team could have wanted, with the merit of the production value on screen looking unreal. 

Despite much of this review praising the scale, there is a core contradiction in the game’s scope which is emblematic of its safe and linear gameplay loop. Narrow focus is baked into this game’s DNA. During the first third of the game, locations are chained together on a map as stages, similar to…I dunno…Super Mario World. This is likely not a controversial sentiment, as levels can then be repeated for scored leaderboards and travelling this world is done so in pretty corridors with Clive doing his best Kratos as he shimmies over and under hidden load screens. The linear sections do let up in the second half of the game, which introduces almost enough variety to give those players who are getting bored a second wind. The world opens up in a manner I would compare to the award-winning MMO Final Fantasy XIV. Players have about four open-zone areas that diverge into smaller, arterial paths that will play host to side quest destinations and deliciously challenging mini-bosses called hunts. These zones continue to look stunning, with Clive able to roam about on the back of a chicken-horse and gleefully zoom past packs of enemies. 

Choke-me-bro

While these open areas feel like the players have had their shackles removed, much of my roughly 25 hours in these areas just felt too much like the aforementioned MMO. The similarities are uncanny, with the map, fast travel, and exploration feeling much the same as that game. The problem is, the MMO that this game evokes benefits from other players enlivening the experience. Instead, my final hours with the game were filled with endless menial fetch quests (both for side and primary quests) in expanses of a world filled with only hostile life and next to no rewards for exploration. I ended up desiring the more tailored and defined linear areas of the earlier game, as none of that felt like filler. The second half of the game feels like too many people were involved, designing all manner of quests that detract from Clive’s forward-moving journey – most of which leave little impression. The majority of these quests offer no useful reward either, as there is little to no character progression in FFXVI. 

One major point before I forget. The Eikon clashes. I cannot talk much about them here as they’re almost all encroaching on spoiler territory. If you’ve ever seen a kaiju epic, whether it’s Godzilla, Evangelion, Pacific Rim, or Attack on Titan, you will be impressed. Clive transforms into a demigod to face off against the primed Eikon of another nation’s dominant, resulting in grand-scale brawls that took me back to scaling colossal gods during God of War 3. This team has nailed what makes an epic fight between titans thrilling, while also addressing the collateral and plot ramifications of how these encounters leave a mark on the world. There are only a little over a half-dozen of these showdowns to occur throughout the game, and while they remain mechanically simple like the rest of the game, they are a genuine thrill of gargantuan proportions.

Expect to storm plenty of fortresses

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Final Thoughts

Final Fantasy XVI is a largely impressive fantasy epic that succeeds in creating a mainline, mass-appeal entry into the (checks notes) spectacle fighter genre. This game didn’t make me want to explore the wider Final Fantasy series aside from giving XIII’s linear hallways another chance. It did, however, make me feel equipped to better engage with Bayonetta or DMC. Heck, if you’ve ever been interested in the grandeur or chaos associated with these titles, onboarding with Clive is the way to go. If you’ve always wanted to see what Final Fantasy is all about but found the anime influences grating or the turn-based combat too slow, this is the entry made for you. However, whether this mass appeal will appease rusted-on FF fans remains to be seen, and all things considered, it’s likely this game was perhaps not made to contend with their established favourites.

Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher

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Final Fantasy XVI Review
Attack On Eikon
While Final Fantasy XVI didn’t meet this fan’s expectations for a new series entry, newcomers to epic fantasy and action games will be swept away by the eye-melting combat and enormous-yet-approachable scale.
The Good
Audiovisual delight
Series-best voice acting
Approachable for Final Fantasy and action game newbies
Eikon battles, obviously
Extraordinary scale
The Bad
Narrow scope
Lack of meaningful player choice or progression
Back half is filled with generally unrewarding fetch quests
7
Solid
  • Creative Business Unit III
  • Square Enix
  • PS5
  • June 22, 2023

Final Fantasy XVI Review
Attack On Eikon
While Final Fantasy XVI didn’t meet this fan’s expectations for a new series entry, newcomers to epic fantasy and action games will be swept away by the eye-melting combat and enormous-yet-approachable scale.
The Good
Audiovisual delight
Series-best voice acting
Approachable for Final Fantasy and action game newbies
Eikon battles, obviously
Extraordinary scale
The Bad
Narrow scope
Lack of meaningful player choice or progression
Back half is filled with generally unrewarding fetch quests
7
Solid
Written By Nathan Hennessy

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