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‘Final Fantasy XVI’ review: A breathtaking reinvention of Final Fantasy

Kyle Chua

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‘Final Fantasy XVI’ review: A breathtaking reinvention of Final Fantasy

FFXVI looks dazzling but it leans on the simplistic side as well

Photos from Square Eniz

'FFXVI' upholds the Final Fantasy tradition of visual spectacle, but it's also one that’s not afraid to run with bold ideas, and a heavy tonal shift in its depiction of violence

(Disclosure: A PlayStation 5 review code was provided by the publisher)

Final Fantasy XVI had a lot of expectations to live up to, carrying more than 35 years of legacy on its back. The good news is that it delivers big time, daring to be vastly different from all the mainline installments that came before it. That’s perhaps what I love so much about it – its willingness to take risks and reinvent what the franchise is all about, as I previously discussed in my first impressions article

After playing the early hours of the game, I said that the “new direction” is what I enjoyed the most. Now, after beating it, much of that still rings true, with the more grounded story and the action-focused combat standing out as the strongest parts. Both are not only masterfully crafted but also give the game a unique identity that distinguishes it from its predecessors. 

Valisthea awaits 

Let’s set up the story for those who haven’t yet played.

When it comes to the story, FFXVI tells a fairly compelling epic set in a high-fantasy realm where six nations are fighting over primordial crystals of power. The events are told from the perspective of the character you play as, Clive Rosfield, the eldest prince of one of those warring nations.

He’s sworn to protect his younger brother Joshua, an individual born with the power to wield an Eikon (pronounced as “icon”) – the most powerful and deadly creatures of the land. Their nation is betrayed, and Joshua is killed in the ensuing chaos, thrusting Clive in a perilous quest for vengeance. 

While the sweeping nation-versus-nation battles – some of which even feature the towering Eikons – make for great set piece moments, it’s the more intimate and dialogue-heavy moments that, I think, are more interesting. These moments shape a lot of the characters and their relationships with each other as well as showcase the strong voice performances and facial animations. Scenes that show Clive’s friendship with his canine companion Torgal, for instance, are always very endearing and stand out as among my favorites from the story.

Clive himself is not a cookie cutter Final Fantasy protagonist, which helps ground him as a believable character in the world he inhabits. He’s gruff on the outside but good-natured on the inside, making him easy to like and root for. Seeing him grow from a duty-bound royal knight to a vengeful mercenary is also a delight, with the story spanning different decades in his life. 

The land of Valisthea is also very different from all the other Final Fantasy settings in the past. It’s a Game of Thrones-esque realm marred by political plotting, wars, and a world-ending threat, and these conflicts are punctuated by the more mature approach to violence and gore – bloodshed aplenty. The story rarely pulls back from these dark and sometimes disturbing visuals, but they are at least handled in good taste and serve the story one way or another. 

The screenshots don’t do it justice, but FFXVI is certainly a graphical showcase

There’s a lot of lore to dig through here, and thankfully, the Active Time Lore feature allows you to pull up and read codex entries relevant to what’s happening at any point in the game, including cutscenes. That way, you’ll always have access to the information you need to immerse yourself in the story and the world of Valisthea. I saw myself using the feature a lot here, and now wish other lore-heavy RPGs in the future can implement a similar feature. 

Eikonic combat

The combat of FFXVI also bucks franchise tradition, dropping the more strategic, turn-based system for action that happens in real-time. The new system is more fast-paced and relies on you stringing Clive’s different attacks together to stagger your enemies and deal as much as damage as possible within that brief period when they’re completely defenseless. 

Upon first impression, I said It’s immensely satisfying to pull off combos and watch the damage numbers flash on-screen. However, I did also say that the combat lacks depth since I was able to get through a lot of sections relying on the same few moves every time.

Now that I’ve beaten the game, my opinion of the combat has slightly changed. Although I do still think it could be better, acquiring more abilities for Clive opens up more combo opportunities and new ways for you to tackle different combat scenarios. Then again, since party members aren’t controllable, my gameplan in every combat encounter boiled down to: attack, dodge, stagger, punish. 

What’s a modern RPG without a furry friend we can pet?

I would have wanted to be able to fill other active roles in the party, such as one of a support that buffs or heals the damage-dealer. But I also kind of see how having other party members be playable might detract from the overall gameplay, which attempts to emulate similar games in the action genre with a more narrow focus on the main protagonist.

The Eikon battles, meanwhile, are truly epic in scale but rather simplistic in gameplay. They all wonderfully demonstrate the graphical capabilities of the PS5, with the tremendous amount of light and particle effects that can occupy the screen at any one time. But some encounters do come across as glorified cutscenes, only requiring you to mash a few buttons and complete quick time events. Still, they’re a joy to experience, if not only to dazzle you with bombastic visuals. FFXVI indulges you in spectacle.

The exploration in FFXVI, though not as rewarding as I want it to be, is also very enjoyable. That’s in large part due to how breathtaking the varied environments look, from the more densely populated village markets to the more open grass meadows. There’s always a lot to take in and see, which I very much appreciate in a game with such high production value. 

However, apart from the sights and some optional bosses, there’s not much incentive for you to scour every nook and cranny of the different semi-open-worlds.

There are treasure chests and secrets for you to find, but they only ever reward you with crafting resources and currency, which all enemies drop anyway. On those occasions I did find gear, their stats weren’t as good as the ones I already had equipped, so they didn’t have much use to me. 

The main purpose of having explorable spaces here, at least from how I see it, is to give you more chances to bond with your companions and develop those relationships further outside of the linear story sections.

FFXVI lives up to its Mature rating. It’s a big tonal shift likely inspired by shows like Game of Thrones, as far as its depiction of violence and sex goes.

You do that by engaging in optional activities like side quests. A number of these side quests not only feature interesting stories but also reward useful gear and upgrades for Clive. Not all side quests are designed the same though, with the more mundane tasks feeling like they’re there to pad the game’s length. 

Overall, FFXVI is a breathtaking reinvention of Final Fantasy, one that’s not afraid to run with bold and ambitious ideas. The story manages to have heart and emotion, while having a good deal of dazzling action set pieces. The combat is engaging, while maintaining a level of accessibility that can also attract casual players and newcomers to the franchise.

While it still has a lot of the usual Final Fantasy trappings at its core, the new ideas – the darker tone, the gritty world, and the action-driven combat – are what’ll ultimately define any conversation about the game now and in the future. 

Final Fantasy XVI is out now exclusively on PS5, with a PC launch coming in the future. –

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