Final Fantasy XVI Review
What makes a Final Fantasy game? Is it turn-based combat? Clearly not – Final Fantasy has not been fully turn-based since Active Time Battle was introduced in Final Fantasy IV (1991). Is it the large cast of playable characters with each having significant storylines? Debatable, as there had recently been very main-character-centric franchise entries like XV. Ultimately, we as the audience are left to decide what makes a Final Fantasy for ourselves. Personally, I’d like to pose my own take on what core concept I can distill it down to – change.
Final Fantasy XVI is the epitome of that change. Just as God of War 2018, Final Fantasy XVI introduces sweeping adjustments to the formula, and Final Fantasy as a franchise is centered upon adaptation, innovation, and change – ideas that the XVIth entry certainly does not skimp on. Change, even for a beloved 36-year-old videogame brand, is exactly what it needed in this year and age the same way that it was what Square needed to do back in the day.
Final Fantasy XVI is mostly the creative offspring of FFXIV’s famed Naoki Yoshida (affectionately nicknamed Yoshi-P) and Ivalice/Tactics artist Hiroshi Minagawa. The director is lesser known but quite underrated – Hiroshi Takai is a longtime veteran of the JRPG biz, having worked heavily on Romancing SaGa. Combined with the expertise of localization director Michael Christopher Koji Fox, Devil May Cry 5 design lead and now combat director Ryota Suzuki, and audio genius Masayoshi Soken, it’s hard not to feel optimistic about this latest installment because of its all-star cast.
With all the criticisms about pace, late content, and open-world fatigue on FFXV, the team had their work cut out for them, and it ironically fell upon an MMORPG producer to deliver an experience that is tight on narrative and eschews the formerly controversial move to design “open-world” games.
And deliver Yoshi-P’s team did. Final Fantasy XVI’s Valisthea is a titanic effort to build one of the most complex and deep settings in a Final Fantasy game. The team had gone on to say that they derived a lot of initial inspiration from the early seasons of Game of Thrones, and it feels enough of an homage that you can expect similar brutalities, betrayals, and even some action during the journey. I’m quite tempted to say that this is the “darkest” Final Fantasy story yet, but that often-bandied term, nowadays at least, is a disservice to what it offers. It has the impressive pedigree of previous series titles, and it takes all of that up a darker and more realistic notch.
Final Fantasy XVI is a mature, grown-up tale that does not oversell nor pull any punches in a medieval society filled with as much politics as sorcery. Quite a departure from the familiar “band of misfit heroes saves the world/time/universe” – I’m not even sure the game is centered around our playable protagonist Clive Rosfield. We play as him and we chase his goals and embody his motivations – but the world around us sure has a habit of moving on with or without Clive’s interactions. This self-awareness of a larger world is not lost on Clive and his cohorts, and it helps paint Final Fantasy from a new perspective. We are the protagonist, but not simply the hero anymore. We are central to the story but not at all times.
Familiar tropes remain, but true to change, the team has put its own twist on such constants. Chocobos still make an appearance but their theme has been toned down to reflect a more somber and short jingle, while the victory tune is now intensified with an impactful choral treatment. Summonable giant monsters, which in this game are called Eikons, are Eikonic (heh) central characters in the world that influence the lives of the people walking in it.
There is a distinct flavor to Final Fantasy XVI’s treatment of these familiar concepts such that they all seem to be less of just creatures or elements in a fairy tale, but rather feel like a part of a world that highlights the more brutal and merciless effects of upheaval, like in our own world’s medieval history fraught with violence and pain.
A Dying World That Feels So Alive
The Blight’s plague is creeping up on Valisthea and its story may be a punch in the gut, but nevertheless, the world is staggering and beautiful. The PS5 brings out the best it can to show Final Fantasy XVI in full display – there is no shortage of eye candy in the game’s explorable vistas or its kinetic combat. It’s hard to describe just how good the game looks, and Creative Business Unit III flexes its chops a bit too often in the game, showering players with extremely high levels of production value and polish that make it a sight to behold.
I hope your eyes are used to motion-blur though, which can be rather dizzying at points, but the developers have gone on to say on official channels that this will be quickly addressed by a patch soon after launch.
The UI is crisp, and while it can get frenetic at times such that it is possible to lose track of what is going on during battles, many of Final Fantasy XVI’s main elements are supremely enjoyable. Combat is one of the shining aspects of the game, and combat director Suzuki-san has done an exceptional job of catering to both casual and hardcore audiences with ease of entry but also with mastery of craft.
During the first few hours, there’s a real tendency that players can fall into the trap of repetitive combat, but it doesn’t take too long for it to open up. Once Clive gains control of more Eikons and unlocks new abilities, the sheer depth and precision of the combat system are uncovered, requiring players to switch between these skills to bring out Clive’s full potential.
Should players feel the need to distance themselves from the complicated nature of the combat system, Timely Accessories have been introduced, giving options on what aspect of the system (combos, parries, etc) can be “automated,” in a sense, for a more hassle-free experience. There’s a thoughtfulness to these additions, and the developers have even balanced it out by having it take one accessory slot to complicate the min-max process further in the game.
The Cinematic Clashes, Dodges, and Blows have made me like QTEs again, and that’s another welcome change – they do not feel repetitive at all when they are served to the player in a very opportune and rhythmic cadence. There’s a right mix of action but also blended with cinematic instances that make combat extremely intoxicating.
True to series history, Final Fantasy XVI has kept the tradition of introducing a masterful soundtrack courtesy of maestro Masayoshi Soken. The small tweaks made to classic themes bring a whole new dimension to them, and each track fits perfectly in the scenes they are put in, elevating the experience to heights that Final Fantasy XIV players know all too well. It is INCREDIBLE, and quite possibly the best thing about this game if I absolutely had to mention a single thing best about it.
It is evident from the beginning of the game that freedom of exploration does not curtail the narrative flow at all. It even starts in media res. The focus on what happens next is always there. I’d probably say that some side-questing feels weak or light. Still, nothing in Final Fantasy XVI feels like an afterthought, as bits of lore, history, and character development are dispensed by some activities not considered part of the main story.
The team has even introduced a fantastic new feature called the Active Time Lore, which gives players an instant resource that points out relevant personalities and events that aim to keep them constantly engaged in the narrative aspect of Final Fantasy XVI. For a game that roughly takes around 30-35 hours to complete, mileage may vary, the Active Time Lore helps keep players keep up with the happenings at all times.
Lastly, I’d like to call attention to the Final Fantasy XVI demo that was released ahead of the game. While totally unrelated to the review, this sizeable demo definitely shows the boldness of this team. If you gave it a spin, then I don’t think you would’ve read all the way up to this point- you already preordered the safest videogame preorder we have had in a while.
In a world where we have been constantly heartbroken with unfinished triple-A productions launching barebones and playing catch-up, Final Fantasy XVI is brazenly flexing the amount of polish and quality control put into the game. Sorry to other big studios; my expectation of pre-launch-date polish, and the final game as a result, just went way up.
What we liked:
- Massive world-building and storytelling improvements over previous Final Fantasy titles
- Breathtaking visuals and cutscenes
- Incredibly well-paced
- Stellar soundtrack
What we didn’t like:
- Some side-quests can feel tedious
- Motion blur can be off-putting for some players
- Takes a while for the world to open up
The combat isn’t turn-based, and you don’t control a huge party of characters… Yet, Final Fantasy XVI is still very much a Final Fantasy game through and through. Some fans, both long-time and more recent, will have a hard time accepting the fact, but there’s no denying the work that Yoshi-P and the team have done here. Final Fantasy XVI is a damn masterpiece of epic proportions.
This change in direction was just the exact thing that the game, and the series, needed. It is arguable that some elements are considered essential and are untouchable. I, however, disagree with the thinking that art has to stay the same to convey the same feelings it has before because art has always rolled around and moved on over time. This is the future of Final Fantasy’s artistry – an ever-changing canvas that can be what the team wants it to be and at least, for Final Fantasy XVI, this exercise has proved to be a triumph.
*Final Fantasy XVI was reviewed on a PS5 with a review code provided by the publisher.