Final Fantasy XVI is the latest instalment in the long-running Final Fantasy series, developed by the team behind MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV. Over the years the series has transformed and strayed further away from its iconic turn-based combat, and XVI is no exception. This iteration brings the series back to a traditional fantasy story and has stripped back most RPG elements in favour of action-based combat. With a captivating narrative, a steep amount of cinematics, and fast-paced action cinematics, this is a safe entry point for gamers new to the series.
Summons have always been a vital part of the Final Fantasy franchise, in previous titles they would often turn the tide of a battle or be a formidable foe. FFXVI brings summons, now called Eikons, to the forefront of the narrative which particular individuals utilise called Dominants. These Dominants have the ability to harness the power of FF favourites like Shiva, Ifrit, Bahamut, Garuda, and more.
Clive Rosfield, the firstborn son of the Archduke of Rosaria, is our main protagonist in Final Fantasy XVI. Despite being firstborn, Clive did not inherit the power of the Phoenix, the Eikon of Fire. Instead, his younger brother Joshua inherited it, making him next in line for the family’s throne. One night the Rosfield’s castle is infiltrated by the Holy Empire of Sanbreque, which was ordered to kill everyone on sight. And of course, that did not end well for the Rosfields.
Thirteen years later, Clive has joined the Bastards, a Sanbrequios unit comprised of bearers, individuals capable of wielding and utilising magic without the need for crystals. His sole interest is to find the second Dominant of fire who killed his brother Joshua during the infiltration, and get revenge. I won’t get too much further into the plot, as there are many pivotal moments during the narrative that are best left unspoiled.
Final Fantasy XVI’s narrative draws the franchise much closer to the traditional fantasy genre. It features a more realistic and mature setting and a story that can be compared to Game of Thrones. While most Final Fantasy games are renowned for their outstanding stories, XVI might have one of the best narratives in the series. The long and frequent cutscenes are extremely cinematic and wonderfully directed, though if you are not a fan of putting your controller down frequently, this game may not be for you.
The journey takes place on Valisthea, the land of the Mothercrystals, which are huge crystalline mountains that fill the surrounding lands with aether. Blight is slowly overtaking the land and creating desolate uninhabitable areas around Valisthea. Despite Final Fantasy XVI’s map being larger than XV’s, it doesn’t feel it. And that’s not a bad thing. A lot of FFXV’s map was spread out and sometimes bare, but FFXVI areas look to be filled with purpose.
A noticeable absence from the game is a proper party system, a mechanic present in most Final Fantasy games. Instead, allies throughout the narrative will join you including Jill the Shiva Dominant, FF staple Cid, and your trusty canine, Torgal. These supporting characters are so beautifully written, that you can’t help but root for these characters during the story that unfolds.
The game moves boldly away from the RPG genre, becoming focused on action. You could compare the game to titles like Devil May Cry 5 and Tales of Arise. As a long-time Final Fantasy fan, I worried about having fewer RPG elements in the game. However, once I obtained more Eikons, those worries were squashed, and I truly grasped the flow of combat and embraced the change.
During combat you have access of up to three Eikons at one time, switchable at the tap of a button. Fighting has a large sense of fluidity, being able to change Eikons on the fly was a fantastic design choice. Each Eikon has two ability slots to use in combat. The abilities available range from quick dodge moves, to AOE attacks, and larger ‘ultimate’ abilities. Everyone will have a combination of abilities that they will enjoy, depending on your playstyle.
During my playthrough I gravitated towards Phoenix, Ramuh, and Shiva. These three had abilities that really packed a punch and offered a quick path to stagger the enemy. Staggering is your main chance to deal heavy damage to enemies during boss fights, and it’s so satisfying.
Eikonic battles are the creme de la creme of Final Fantasy XVI. They are visually stunning. The cinematics and overall art direction of each fight are a sight for sore eyes. Every fight is crafted in a deliberate way, offering a gripping and beautiful experience. The quick-time events were not as overbearing as I thought they would be, adding to the magnificence of the fight. Every time a fight was over, I was keen for the next one.
One of the sole criticisms I have with Final Fantasy XVI is the quest design. With a few exceptions, the side quests are dull and uninspired. Often you will be tasked to talk to someone and return to the quest giver. Other times will be simple fetch quests. It is very evident that the developers also developed Final Fantasy XIV, because the quests are ones you would find in an MMO rather than an action game.
Thankfully, the side quests aren’t the only consumable extra content available. Hunts are available during the game and unlock as you progress through the story. The enemies prompting these hunts serve as mini-bosses and can serve as a challenge if you aren’t prepared.
Final Fantasy XVI is full of Eikons, but a specific icon in Final Fantasy’s history is the music. The music throughout the game perfectly orchestrates epic moments in the narrative and really amplifies large-scale boss fights. During Eikon fights, the music starts with epic instrumentals and a powerful choir, only to have the music slow down in pace and have a tranquil feel to it before ramping back up again. It all works so well and gives the larger fights a heftier and relentless feel to them.
WARNING – video may contain spoilers:
The performances of the cast are the best I’ve seen in years. Ben Starr leads with his captivating performance of Clive Rosfield, with Ralph Ineson’s performance as Cidolfus Telamon also a breakout. Even the NPCs have exceptional delivery in their one or two lines. There has been a lot of love poured into the game by the voice actors and it shows.
If Square Enix wanted to create a new entry point into the series with Final Fantasy XVI, then they have succeeded. Removing staple traits of the series like the party system and other RPG elements could have been detrimental to the game. Thankfully they were able to create something fresh while still allowing the game to feel like a Final Fantasy game. I would like to see a tad more RPG ingrained back into the series in the next main instalment, but that just comes down to personal preference.
FINAL FANTASY XVI REVIEW
Final Fantasy XVI is an exceptional departure from Final Fantasy’s RPG roots, showing the series can excel in the Action genre. From a gripping story to the epic Eikonic battles, this entry into the mainline series is one of the better ones in recent years.
- One of the best looking games on the PS5
- Narrative surpasses that of most Final Fantasy games
- Epic Eikon boss battles which will take your breath away
- A great entry point for newcomers to the series
- An exceptional soundtrack
- Cutscenes can drag out occasionally
- Combat can feel repetitive before access to three Eikons
- At least half the side quests are uninspired and dull