It’s been a long road to Final Fantasy XVI. It began development in 2015, a year before Final Fantasy XV dropped. Finally announced in 2020, the game took eight years to develop, with work on the MMO Final Fantasy XIV happening simultaneously. Following the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the team was strapped to finish development in its final years.
Now, we finally have the game in our hands. The game has been out for a few weeks now, and the reaction has been interesting, to say the least. Many have lauded it as a fantastic action game, while just as many have bemoaned how far the Final Fantasy series has come since its origins. Needless to say, whether the long wait was worth it is contentious.
But it’s been a long road in another way as well. I spent 35 hours trekking through the land of Valisthea, burrowing through the main story of Final Fantasy XVI as quickly as possible. Now that the journey is over, I can call it a satisfying if not entirely engaging ride.
He who fights monsters
Let’s talk about the gameplay first. From the initial reveal trailer, it was clear that Final Fantasy XVI would lean heavily into action as opposed to traditional JRPG action. If Final Fantasy XV was the first glimpse towards the series’ action-RPG future, the 16th entry cements that direction.
Just on the combat front, the game feels pretty nice. Clive has a variety of combo moves and abilities at his disposal, with dodging and parrying becoming invaluable tools for getting the jump on enemies. The combat isn’t incredibly fast, but you’ll often have lots of enemies to deal with at once — so keeping an eye on the entire battlefield is imperative. Weaker foes go down no problem, but for tougher combatants, piling on the moves to bring down their Stagger meter lets you stun them for an epic attack.
Despite its focus on action, Final Fantasy XVI is one of the easiest games in the entire series. Strategy is somewhat of a factor, but it’s mostly a matter of learning the timing and switching to the right moves when needed. And should you die, you’ll automatically refill your potions. This essentially means getting through each boss is just a matter of persistence.
By the power of the Phoenix
Undoubtedly, the highlight of the combat is the various Eikons that Clive acquires on his journey. These Eikons, adapted from the familiar series Summons, grant you magical abilities and special powers. With the earth-shattering force of Titan and the windy gusts of Garuda on your side, among others, you can turn the tide of battle quite effectively.
Square Enix is known for spectacle, and the Eikon battles check that off in spade. These large set pieces are a nice break from the traditional combat, with Clive transforming into Ifrit and unleashing his inner demon.
These battles are a sight to behold. Despite a bit of clunky movement, they’re also a real treat to play. They serve as a nice capstone to the boss battles, which are the trickiest fights in the game to be sure. Although the gameplay isn’t so deep that it’s consistently engaging at the 30-hour mark, it’s tight enough to at least keep your attention the whole way through.
The world of Final Fantasy XVI
The many worlds of Final Fantasy take various shapes and forms. They feature several art styles and architectures, from pure medieval fantasy to steampunk and sci-fi. One of the 16th game’s most noteworthy traits is its pure fantasy setting, taking inspiration from old English settings in particular.
That dark fantasy style is evident right from the start, and it’s refreshing to say the least. It also makes the heavily segmented world more enjoyable to explore. Valisthea is broken into linear levels that don’t feature many branching pathways. It suits the game’s action-based focus well. But if you’re a classic Final Fantasy fan, it may not appeal to you.
If nothing else, Final Fantasy XVI looks absolutely stunning. That’s not a surprise, given that Square Enix is often on the cutting edge of graphics and sound. But the environments and camerawork are truly something to behold. This might be the first game I’ve played that really demonstrates the next-gen power of the PlayStation 5.
You have my sword
So let’s finally talk about the story. In Final Fantasy XVI, you play as Clive Rosfield, the firstborn son of the Duchy of Rosaria and the Shield to the heir, his younger brother Joshua. When his family is betrayed and murdered, Clive sets off on a quest for revenge. On his search for vengeance, he inherits the power of the Eikon Ifrit, which grants him incredible power — and rage.
His revenge is sidetracked, however, when Clive enters the service of Cid. He’s a rebellious outlaw seeking to destroy the Crystals that corrupt the land of Valisthea. On the run from various factions across the continent, Clive and Cid’s band of misfits travel the world to take down the Crystals and free the world from an everlasting threat.
I want to avoid spoilers here, but Final Fantasy XVI has a solid but not always enjoyable storyline. It’s essentially split into two halves, and its first half is infinitely better than its second. While the initial revenge plotline is awesome, it fizzles out midway through the story. The quest to destroy the Crystals, while decent, feels very repetitive and too neatly structured. It’s a good narrative overall, but not one that lives up to its full potential.
A song of ice and fire
The story of Final Fantasy XVI is rich and complex. There’s several factions and parties to consider and plenty of intertwining threads to unravel. It is also dark, bloody, mature, and occasionally very emotional. Kinda like Game of Thrones, but with significantly fewer boobs and butts. (But make no mistake, there are certainly boobs and butts.)
At its core, it’s a story of an older brother protecting his family and friends. As the older of two brothers myself, it was naturally going to appeal to me. The emotional storytelling worked incredibly well, thanks mainly to the quality acting and writing. Ralph Ineson’s dulcet tones elevate any work he’s part of, and that’s true of his work as Cid here. Special shoutout to Clive’s voice actor Ben Starr. He hits a ton of harsh and somber emotional notes during the story and does it all spectacularly.
Yet for all the narrative intricacies, it is also surprisingly approachable. The dialogue is crafted well enough so that you typically understand what’s going on in the moment. You can interpret a lot of motivations and desires on your own. And if you ever need a hand, the new Active Time Lore feature can remind you of important characters and locations. I didn’t use this feature that often, but it’s a great resource for remembering specific details.
Final Fantasy XVI mostly lives up to its ambitions
In the end, Final Fantasy XVI is a great game that could have been an outstanding one. It gets lost along the way, straying too far from its intriguing setup by the end. But its ever-solid gameplay, expertly mature storytelling, and graphical finesse make up for its shortcomings. Old-school Final Fantasy fans may not care for its removal of classic elements, but for the rest, it’s a fun and engaging experience.
Final Fantasy XVI is developed by Square Enix Creative Business Unit III and published by Square Enix. It is available now as a timed exclusive for the PlayStation 5. Other console versions and a PC release are planned, but no release date is known yet.
What are your thoughts on Final Fantasy XVI? Have you been enjoying the game? Let us know!