Final Fantasy XVI is a return to form in some ways, bringing the setting back to a high-fantasy world of sword and sorcery, while also bringing something totally new to the franchise in the form of fast-paced RPG action. Square Enix has pooled resources from each of their largest development teams to develop this game. This could be the best Final Fantasy ever.
Final Fantasy XVI is the tale of Clive Roswell, the first son of the Duke of Rosaria in a world plagued by strife. Through an explosive first act, the players are launched into emotional turmoil witnessing the death of Clive's father and the betrayal of his mother. Worst of all we see the powerful and previously unknown Eikon of Fire take over Clive, leading not only to the destruction of the Phoenix Gate, an important location to the people of Rosaria, but also the death of Clive's younger brother, the Dominant of the Eikon Phoenix, Joshua.
In just two hours the game has set up the lovely life that Clive has, and while he's not in line for the Duchy, he has surrounded himself with a 'mostly' loving family and a vocation that will take him far in life. This glimpse of a good life hurt even more after being thrust 15 years into the future where Clive has been living his days as a branded Bearer, a human with the ability to perform magic, for the Empire sent on a mission to execute Shiva's Dominant.
In the opening hours of the game, there's a lot of jargon that is thrown your way. It was definitely overbearing trying to differentiate between the Republic and the Empire as their names were thrown around or understand how a Dominant is someone who can prime an Eikon. In contrast, a Bearer is just someone with innate magical powers. There's a helpful glossary that you can pull up during conversations that will introduce you to a more bite-sized definition of each to ensure you don't get lost.
In those 15 years, Clive saw the many injustices of the Empire firsthand. Perceived as a Bearer he was the lowest of the low, carrying out his duties with no desire to fight against such oppressive forces. Rescuing Jill, his childhood friend, and being offered a more worthwhile life path from Cid, he graduated from Empire Assassin to an Outlaw.
As you spend time traveling with Cid you're introduced to the beautiful lands and people of Valisthea. Along your journeys, characters like Gav, the scout for the outlaws, and Martha, a fellow protector of Bearers, get fully fleshed out. Each with their own history and reason to work towards the goal that Cid has put ahead of them. Characters that would have merely been relegated to side characters or one-off locations are given the appropriate care and attention throughout the whole story watching them grow just as much as Clive does.
Even in sidequests assigned by random NPCs on the street, the writers have used these events as a chance to further your understanding of the state of the world. A sidequest that immediately stands out is one of a family roleplaying a wolf attack where their Bearer is meant to die for their entertainment. The ones involving children with such a distorted view of the value of life still have me reeling hours later. It's great to see the level of development that the party gets, but it's in building up these larger relationships that makes Clive feel part of the world and the world feels more real to the player.
As the story of Final Fantasy XVI escalates in scale from the siege of Phoenix Gate and warring nations to the fate of the world and humanity the fully fleshed-out cast of characters and detailed world make the stakes feel grander than ever. Nearly every Final Fantasy title climaxes with a plan to save the world from impending destruction, but in no other Final Fantasy game do you have a chance to feel so connected to the world and its people, good or bad, that the gravitas of the situation is so readily present. Final Fantasy has created its Game of Thrones-level story of medieval fantasy.
The gameplay takes place primarily with Clive exploring The Hideaway or exploring open areas, one for each region of Valisthea. As you progress through the story, you'll also have action stages that will become available, each of these is far more linear and is usually the lead-up to a major story moment. By completing the main scenario your access within the explorable regions will grow until you reach one of these action stages, whether it be a forest of enemies to defeat or a castle to invade. While the two gameplay styles have slight variations in the way that one flows into another, and the presence of an action stage implies a major story moment, it feels very natural even though you access the stages via an overworld.
Each visit to the different regions of Valisthea also offers a chance for the world to change, places that you visited early might carry more difficult monsters or grant you access to new areas. As you complete not only the main scenario but side quests and hunts, you'll get a chance to explore every nook and cranny. When not out in the world you'll be able to visit The Hideaway. This is Cid's hidden base and the central hub for all of his operations. Here is where you can pick up additional supplies, and most importantly it's where you can craft and upgrade your weapons.
Out in the field, you can approach any monster you see and take a swing at them. Final Fantasy XVI is a full action RPG, there's no loading between combat or random encounters. At the beginning of the game Clive has access to his sword, the ability to shoot a firebolt, two special attacks bestowed upon him by the Phoenix, and a Phoenix Dash. As you progress through the story more elements and Eikon's powers will be added to yours, each offering new special moves and abilities in combat. Garuda, once obtained, has a series of movies that are particularly useful for staggering enemies. You can equip three Eikon's gifts at a time and this is where the majority of customization in combat can be found.
Combat is fun and fast-paced with a heavy emphasis on learning how Clive moves and how you can chain together the different abilities you pick up along the way. Most of Clive's basic attacks you'll earn in the first 4-5 hours of the game, and everything past that is dependent on your Eikon. Well before I had reached the endgame, I had worked out combos that could work on practically any enemy to dash into them, throw them into the air, and juggle them between slashes and stomps, before slamming them back down into the ground. It's a satisfying combo to pull off both in how flashing it is and how damaging it is, but it does begin to get somewhat repetitious after 20 hours.
The Eikon battles, terrifying bouts between Clive transformed into the fearsome Ifrit and other Dominants representing Final Fantasy summons such as Garuda, Bahamut, or Odin, were absolute eye candy. While they did comprise slower combat when fighting normally the cinematic moments, where the Eikon would go head-to-head with simple QTEs for the player to perform were mind-blowing.
While there was never the sense of danger from the slowed-down pace of combat what these battles did show off was the scale and power of each Eikon. During calm conversations in council chambers the idea of Bahamut and Titan fighting would be shuddered at for the destruction that it could impose, but watching either of these Eikons flex their might helped understand the situation for a human watching on the sidelines.
The one aspect of Final Fantasy XVI that did disappoint me was in the lack of depth in the RPG aspects of the game. While each Eikon you obtain has an elemental affinity there isn't any elemental damage or resistances, there's no party health let alone party control (aside from three commands for Torgal), and each Sword, Belt, and Vambrance that you obtain only has one or two stats that increase as you progress through the story. Every sword only has Attack and Stagger stats, and aside from one sword, they're always the same value.
There's no thought that needs to go into a build, or whether you want to hit harder but slower or speedy strikes that will stagger quickly. It's the same sword swing from the prologue that it is when you're stopping a world-ending event. If the depth you are looking for in FFXVI is to make a Clive that fits your playstyle you're not going to find that here, it's all about the combos. Chances are at each key story moment the sword and other equipment that Clive is wearing in your game will be nearly identical to anyone else's game.
Accessories do add slight customization to Clive, three of which can be equipped at a time. Very few pieces will influence gameplay like the Berserker Ring, which boosts damage and attack speed after a perfect dodge, the rest, however, are all "X ability does Y% more damage" or "Z ability has a W reduction to cool down."
From the opening credits to the postgame, every aspect of Final Fantasy XVI looks gorgeous. Whether it's the stoic expression on Clive's face, Torgal's fluffy coat, or the heat and flame roiling off Ifrit's back there's always something to be in awe of. This is further shown off in some of the gorgeous ruin setpieces, Clive stepping out into giant chasms filled with aetheric lights twinkling in the dark.
Somewhat ironically there are times when the effects of different magics clashing over one another would be too much, it's impossible to dodge an attack while flames are wreathing your screen, your hand is on fire, and magical orbs trailing lines of energy are all concealing your enemy from sight.
Final Fantasy XVI | Final Thoughts
Final Fantasy XVI weaves together an incredible story with exhilarating and flashy combat. With a world rich in lore and characters that you'll have a chance to truly spend time with and invest in this is the most fleshed-out a Final Fantasy story has been. While I do still wish there was more customization to Clive and his equipment, the combat is fun, fast-paced, and a sight to behold. Even for fans who were wanting a return to turn-based Final Fantasy, it's worth playing Final Fantasy XVI for the incredible story.
Final Fantasy XVI was reviewed on PlayStation 5 with a copy provided by the developer over the course of 68 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of review.
- Incredible Story
- Perfect Worldbuilding
- Fun and flashy combat
- Shallow Customization