The Final Fantasy franchise has evolved since it first debuted in 1987. From its story, visuals, and gameplay, fans have seen the franchise continue to adapt and evolve. When Final Fantasy XV was released, fans saw a dramatic shift in gameplay that resulted in mixed reactions. With the much-awaited Final Fantasy XVI, fans can look forward to a more advanced battle system while keeping the engaging narrative fans and newcomers can enjoy.
Final Fantasy XVI is set in Valesthea, where six nations rely on the power of the mothercrystals to provide aether, the land’s life force and source of crystal-based magic. There is also a complicated political system, which consists of a Dominant human political leader and a host of powerful magical beasts known as Eikon. Each Eikon represents a different element of the six nations that make up Valesthea. However, there are two fire Eikons, an unusual occurrence as there is typically only one of each element.
The adventure begins with fifteen-year-old Clive Rosefield, the main protagonist, who happens to be the guardian to the dominant of fire in the Grand Dutchy that hosts Phoenix and his brother, Joshua. On one fateful night when Rosaria is attacked, the second Eikon of fire, Ifrit, appears, causing widespread devastation and eventually kills Joshua. This unfortunate tragedy puts Clive on the path to avenge his brother.
During Clive’s quest, he will uncover the inequalities that the Bearers, a group of people born into slavery that can use magic without a crystal, are experiencing.
As you might expect, Clive’s quest for vengeance is only the tip of the iceberg, as many things within the story are hard to digest and follow. Luckily, players can pause the game by pressing the touchpad that gives explanations of the terms and concepts used in Final Fantasy XVI. There is also an NPC that acts as a loremaster that players can visit to read more about the world and its inhabitants. Players can expect to be somewhat overwhelmed, but when you are familiarized with the plot, players are in for an epic story.
Combat in Final Fantasy XVI is rather interesting. Ditching the traditional turn-based battle system, Final Fantasy XVI features real-time action. There are no menus to navigate when battling enemies and no random encounters whatsoever. As players explore Valesthea, enemies can be engaged in combat instantly. Unlike Final Fantasy XV, which first introduced a hybrid real-time action battle system, Final Fantasy XVI‘s battle system is fast and can be compared to games like Dragon’s Dogma and Devil May Cry.
Turning to a real-time action combat system can be a real challenge for some, but the game has something for those who want to simplify combat without executing complicated combos. This is through an accessory that automatically dodges and executes combos, which does not depend on whether Story or Action mode was selected at the beginning. This is aimed at players who want to experience the narrative without too much trouble. However, players who want a challenge can opt out of using these accessories and play through the game like the aforementioned titles.
One of the incredible abilities that Clive can use abilities from Eikon he encountered. Each Eikon offers a unique ability that adds flair and variety to each encounter. Up to three Eikons can be equipped with their two unique skills. Eikons can be cycled through the shoulder buttons, and their specific abilities can be executed by holding the R2 button and pressing either the square or triangle. The learning curve for those who want to do them manually is moderate, but as soon as players can master them, it’s an easier way to deal substantial damage.
Another impressive feature introduced in Final Fantasy XVI is Eikon battles. Throughout the adventure, players will be able to use an Eikon to fight other Eikons like Titan and Garuda. These fights are massive, epic, and somewhat simple compared to regular combat. Each battle takes place in real-time, just with a limited number of abilities to use. Despite this, these fights are a spectacle that builds to some crazy quick-time events.
Players worried about difficulty during boss encounters will be delighted to know these encounters have some leeway. For example, dying to a boss with 25% or less HP can continue the fight with refilled potions. Depending on the boss, they will either remain at their current health or roughly 50 percent. However, be warned this can take away from the experience, and you might want to consider toughing it out for a more rewarding victory.
Another feature that may disappoint fans is Clive being the only character you can control. This is a massive departure from the typical party setup found in Final Fantasy titles. I found it okay as it gave me time to prepare for the subsequent encounter. As far as companions go, they come and go based on the story, but I don’t mind them as they act on their own and do very little in battle.
After completing Final Fantasy XVI, there is New Game+ with a new Final Fantasy Mode. This mode is intended as a more significant challenge, perfect for anyone who found action mode a bit lacking. This mode carries over abilities, equipment, and levels, with the ability to face more challenging enemies and obtain things like the ultimate weapon. For players wanting to experience this, I suggest playing through the game the easiest way possible to see the epic story end and then give the hardcore more a try.
As mentioned before, the world of Final Fantasy XVI is massive, and the average playthrough should be around 40 hours for just the story. This can increase based on how many optional things you do, as there is much more than just the narrative to complete.
Fans hoping for a non-linear experience will be disappointed. The game will send you from place to place, which works best for the narrative. While this may disappoint some fans, that doesn’t mean there are no sidequests to do. There are a lot of sidequests that get unlocked and a Hunt Board for players itching for a fight. Not to mention there is crafting that allows players to collect materials from various sources to improve their experience.
Unlike other RPGs where sidequests are filler, in Final Fantasy XVI, they are essential to enjoy the game entirely. While it’s impossible to tell the story that occurs in Valesthea by simply going through the narrative, doing sidequests will add lore, explore the character’s personal stories, and of course, unlock features that make combat even better. Sidequests are opened every time a significant event occurs and I highly suggest to them if you are deeply invested in the story.
Visually, Final Fantasy XVI looks exemplary. The environments and the dungeons that Clive will go through are well-designed and full of details ranging from lush forests to grim dungeons. This is especially true for combat, which is exceptionally flashy. Voice actors do an excellent job of invoking emotional responses from players. While playing through the game, I don’t remember seeing any glitches or texture pop-ins. As with all PS5 games, players can choose between higher resolution or a faster frame rate. We select frame rate, though anyone playing for the narrative might be better off selecting a resolution.
Final Fantasy XVI Review Verdict
Final Fantasy XVI: Final Fantasy XVI is a well-crafted experience and a strong Game of the Year contender. Not only does it have a gripping narrative that restored my faith in Square Enix's ability to tell a gripping story, but it also features several improvements that fans and newcomers alike will enjoy. This isn't just improved visuals that scream Final Fantasy and a combat system balanced with players of various skill levels in mind. Hardcore players have a robust system to explore that expands on higher difficulties, with less skilled individuals having various paths to experience all that Final Fantasy XVI has to offer. – Mark