Final Fantasy XVI Review: Awesome Action-packed Adventure

Written by Chad

August 15, 2023

Final Fantasy is a franchise that will always be known for epic stories, memorable characters, fantastic soundtrack and engaging gameplay. The franchise always aims to provide a different and refreshing experience for each new game Square Enix would release, though from the past few years, the recent Final Fantasy main game releases were met by poor receptions from the fans, it’s either the game becoming much linear, having a disappointing story or releasing an incomplete game. When Final Fantasy XVI was revealed in 2020 and was reported to be an action-oriented RPG, many people threw a lot of flak with their claim that the game is not the traditional turn-based RPG, or some stated that it is not a Final Fantasy game.

Final Fantasy XVI was put in the hands of Creative Business Unit 3, the same team that handled the reboot of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn after Version 1.0 launch became a disaster, and it became the most popular and critically acclaimed MMORPG that continues to run for 10 years with a new expansion expected to release next year. Creative Business Unit 3 is pushing to provide great storytelling and intense action gameplay to the latest Final Fantasy game, but did they hit a home run, or was it another epic failure for the legendary franchise?

The game is set in the world of Valisthea, a realm of six nations that are locked in a power struggle for the possession of the Mothercrystals as the world continues to be consumed by the Blight. Players are put in the shoes of Clive Rosfield and the story will carry the players on a rollercoaster ride of tragedy, revenge and survival. After finishing the game and completing the side quests in under 70 hours, here is our review.

 

Production (5 / 5)

Looking first at the visuals, FFXVI is not shy about creating an incredible high fantasy medieval world. From castles to ancient ruins to settlements, each nation has its own rich history and lore that makes them unique from each other. Everything is well-detailed even with the characters, but not something that’s pushing the boundary where they are very realistic, such examples are Dragoons. It’s the thing that I like especially with the main cast where they don’t need to have a design that is colorful just to make them stand out as the important characters, but with subtlety that makes them believable and still have a distinct personality. The game can be played in either Quality or Performance mode with Quality pushing the visuals to upscale up to 4k UHD with a reduced framerate to 30 fps and Performance making it run smoothly with a higher framerate of up to 60 fps but at a lower resolution that could go lower to 720p HD, framerate can drop lower in certain cases but not to a point where it makes the game sluggish that could ruin your experience.

Voice acting in the game stands out the most thanks to the incredible performance of the actors. The emotions in certain scenes just magnified the tension in the story that eventually become memorable to those who played Final Fantasy XVI. All cutscenes in the main story are voiced, even the sidequest cutscenes that feature minor characters, and the dialogues were well-written that it makes you think that it’s a high-budget fantasy show. What lack in the voiced dialogues were the banters when on the field or fighting, similar to how it was handled in Final Fantasy XV. There were fewer interactions between Clive and his companions when they defeat monsters or roam around towns which could have highlighted the characters’ personalities and how they look at Clive, there were few instances of character dialogues in some sidequests, but these were also very few. Maybe a patch update to add more dialogues during battle and exploring could make it a lot better.

The story had a lot of inspiration from other Western fantasy works such as Game of Thrones and provided a ton of references from previous Final Fantasy games. The plot gets intense at the start of the game with no intention of slowing down, it really kept you hooked in knowing what can happen with Clive and his companions, though at the later half of the game, it tends to slow down which some may not like the pacing, but it can help out ease the tension from the story and lets you focus on the side content of FFXVI.

When it comes to the soundtrack, composer Masayoshi Soken never ceases to surprise players with his magical composition. Known for his works in Final Fantasy XIV, Soken still delivered an incredible soundtrack for FFXVI that helps set the mood for cutscenes and made the boss battles epic. Despite being a medieval fantasy game, the tracks featured a mix of orchestral with rock and synth music that definitely hit the right tone, I’m pretty sure everyone has their own top picks of the best track in the game. Each dungeon or level from a main quest progression has its own mellowed version and whenever you encounter an enemy, the music would shift to an intense tone with a smooth transition and then it shifts back when the battle is over. Each Eikon that you will encounter has its own boss theme and it really resonates with the tone and personality of each Eikon as each boss phase gets a jacked-up version of their music, which will definitely make you hum to their tune.

Loading time is very fast, like lightning fast. It can boot up the game where you last saved right from the PS5 dashboard in mere seconds and moving to different areas feels like a seamless transition where there are instances that you barely notice there was any loading time at all.

 

Mechanics (5/5)

Final Fantasy XVI went all out with the combat system as it focused on more action and style. You have your standard attack and a ranged attack where you can hold down the button to execute a charge attack (as long as you unlock that feat in your skill tree) and a dodge action that when timed just as the enemy strikes at you, can land a perfect dodge strike, you can also parry incoming attacks by timing your attack just before the enemy can strike you. Overall, the basic combat is very responsive and also satisfying to play, as it drew a lot of inspiration from Devil May Cry since Ryota Suzuki was in charge of the combat system for FFXVI. The recent Final Fantasy games have ditched the random battle encounters in favor of having enemies roam the area, you can engage with any visible enemies or just ignore them though there are weird occasions when enemies return to their original spot when you fight them further away from where you found them in which it completely replenishes their health, forcing you to restart the entire battle, it can be annoying but it happens rarely.

Clive can manifest the powers of the Eikons to aid him in battle along with other skills associated with the Eikons. At the start of the game, Clive will only have access to one Eikon, where the experience can feel repetitive and just straightforward, but as you progress further and unlock more Eikons, the game will open more possibilities on how you can experiment with your playing style as each Eikon has its own style of attacks that can work well with other specific Eikons. One equipped Eikon can have two skills and an Eikonic ability and Clive can have up to three Eikons equipped, mastering a skill by spending upgrade points will allow you to map that skill to any Eikon. This is the fun part in the combat mechanics of FFXVI, as it allows you to experiment on what kind of play style you would have, you can focus on just using ranged magic attacks when you can summon an orb that provides additional firepower, or you can focus on special counterattacks whenever you successfully block an attack or maybe you fancy doing air combos and pull your enemies up to continue your combo streak. The drawback when setting up your Eikons is that there is no loadout function that lets you save a preset of your favorite build, but on the good side, you can refund all the skill points that you spend without any cost if you want to redistribute them to different skills to experiment with a different build.

You still level up by earning enough Experience points, and you can equip gear to further improve your stats. Weapons and armor can be acquired from chests, shops, or from forging as well as accessories that give out either stat bonuses or enhancements for your skills and abilities or even simplified functions to make the combat casual-friendly. You can upgrade your gear through the blacksmith as long as you have the essential materials and it only provides some stat boosts and can only be upgraded to a certain level. There are no status effects or any elemental affinities featured in FFXVI, and depending on how you see this, it could be a negative as it removes the strategic element when dealing foes or a positive as it removes some complexity in battles and just let you focus more on skills. Though I don’t think it removes the fun factor in combat since it still has that level of challenge on how enemies attack and still encourages you to learn its patterns and how to time your dodge and attacks to avoid getting hit.

Gone was the party-based system and replacing it was a one-man party, though you still have some key characters join you in your journey, albeit without any complete control over their actions. Your NPC party members can dish out powerful attacks and take out some enemies with ease, but there are instances where they are just stationary or it takes them longer to perform another action. Your trusty companion (and the goodest of all good bois) Torgal can aid you in battle as he can fight on his own or issue him commands for specific attacks or heal you for a small amount, Torgal can be helpful when you issue him commands that you can time with your attacks such as launching enemies to the air or have him focus target on a different enemy, oh let’s not forget that you can pet Torgal to show him that he is such a good boy. Sadly you can’t get to choose which NPCs should join you that could add more fun to your sidequest clearing spree.

Boss battles, especially the Eikon battles are the best so far that I’ve experienced in a Final Fantasy game, maybe perhaps even with some Action RPGs. Each Eikon battles provide different kind of mechanics that can revolve from a rail-shooter to a one-on-one brawler and some key moments feature quick-time action button prompts, some battles progress through different phases that introduce different mechanics and makes the battles more epic that will keep you hooked on your seats. There weren’t any dull moments when fighting these massive Eikons where you would love to replay each of these fights again and again. Battle mechanics vary to certain bosses whether it’s an Eikon or a mini-boss, it’s either their attacks are telegraphed or have visual and audio queues that make you identify their attack patterns. The boss battles are definitely a joy to experience and satisfying to finish thanks to the presentation and soundtrack that added more to its wow factor, and depending on how prepared you are in action RPGs, boss battles can either be a walk in the park or have some level of challenge.

 

Content (4/5)

It was already mentioned that Final Fantasy XVI will not feature an open world to explore, but instead, each region will feature large zones that you can explore and will open new areas as you progress further in the game. Each region represents a kingdom of Valisthea where some are located in a desert, grasslands, and more. There are towns and settlements that you will discover in every region where you can receive new quests or replenish your supplies. There are Obelisks scattered around the world that act as your fast travel points, but if you feel adventurous, you can traverse by just walking or Chocobo riding in different areas in a region. There are levels that are only accessible to key main story quests, the level design is more compressed with narrow pathways leading to larger areas that have enemies or a boss waiting for you and some branching paths that usually lead to treasure chests or dead ends, but nothing that would get you lost when progressing. The weird omission here is the mini-map that could be useful in checking any missed areas that could yield any useful items but you’ll grow out of it as you can also return to these levels as a replay to pick up any unclaimed items.

The game has almost a hundred sidequests that you can complete in one playthrough, though completely optional, some of them provide additional lore and interesting storylines that flesh out the world of Valisthea and great rewards from Experience points, Gil and other useful gear upgrades. The structure of the sidequests will have a mixed reception depending on how you tolerate these kinds of quest objectives, Majority of the sidequests and even in some main story quests will have you talk to specific NPCs and go around areas to kill specific enemies or gather a certain amount of items. It can feel repetitive or uninspiring if you are not into MMO-like quest structures, as the majority of the designs drew heavily from Final Fantasy XIV (which the same dev team also handled) good thing the story and lore for most of the sidequests were well-written that you can ignore the simplicity of the objectives, though it wouldn’t hurt if there were more complex objectives that could introduce some sort of minigame or branching points depending on which side you picked in a quest that would make it more engaging. As you venture further into the story, you will encounter some key points where you will receive story-related badges that allow you to progress on your quest, in your playthrough you will be receiving almost a dozen of these badges and it would be nice if they allow you to view these badges as a sign of progression, similar on how you can display your Trainer badges in Pokemon games.

Another kind of sidequest that you can take on is the Hunts. Originally from Final Fantasy XII, Hunts lets you find special enemies scattered around the world. You can check the Hunt Board for new hunts when you progress further in the story, the Hunt Board will only provide you a clue on its location and you still have to find them on your own. The monsters can be enhanced versions of other enemies that you encounter or sometimes minibosses with new skill sets, they can be tougher when not prepared but vanquishing these foes will nab you with tons of Exp, skill points and crafting materials to forge stronger weapons. It’s a nice addition that provides some challenge where you can just look for hunts in every area though it could be nice to have more variety or unlock more when you continue postgame or New Game+.

Throughout the game, you will encounter some monoliths called Chronolith Trials that will become accessible later in the game. They are some sort of skill trials that can teach you the basics of each Eikon that you unlocked and puts you to a test in a timed challenge. Aside from the Chronolith, you will be able to access the Arete Stone early in the game where it has a Training mode for you to practice against an AI, the stage replay where you can return to any completed levels from the main story, and the Arcade mode where you replay stages with a scoreboard that you can compete with other players through a leaderboard. These are optional but it’s a nice addition for you to challenge yourself or go back to certain levels that you enjoy or pick up any items that you might have missed in your first playthrough.

The Hideaway is the base of operations for Clive and his companions, here most of the main story quests will start. Players will be able to do other tasks like purchasing consumables, crafting, taking sidequests and hunt marks, or even talking to NPCs that have new dialogue as you progress in the story. You can earn rewards by earning Renown points which is like a reputation system that you can earn by completing sidequests and hunts. The thing I wish they could have included is upgrading the Hideaway to unlock new functions or customizing the appearance of the hub to reflect on the story or even some sort of base management where you can send out troops to quests for materials and Gil, maybe similar to the Mother Base from Metal Gear Solid V but in a simplified form.

 

Features (4.5/5)

The best feature found in Final Fantasy XVI is the Active Time Lore, which displays important topics and points of interest on the current story quest you are currently tackling and they will be updated as you progress, you can bring up the Active Time Lore at any time, including cutscenes which is very handy whenever you need to remember certain plots or characters. You can check more detailed information by talking to Harpocrates at the Hideaway to review all of the topics that you unlock as a game codex. Vivian Ninetails in the Hideway will give you an overview of the current situation of the realm as well as show the relationship chart of all the important characters that you encounter, imagine participating in some war room planning where you can see how some of the kingdoms position their armies for invasion and other strategic placements, these are nifty features for a story-focused game that lets you learn more about certain characters along with their motives and backgrounds. I think these features should be essential moving forward for future Final Fantasy games that can help flesh out the characters as well as give the players an accessible codex for them to learn more about the lore of the game.

Final Fantasy XVI offers two game options when you start the game, Story mode will automatically equip you with Timely accessories that provide assistance to players who are not into Action RPGs, and Action mode lets you start the game by not equipping the accessories, however, you can still choose which accessory to use at any time. The decision of making them equipable accessories rather than a feature option allows players to choose between challenging themselves by just equipping stat-enhancing accessories or using the Timely accessories that provide them an easier experience with auto evasion, simplified combos, auto command for Torgal or slow motion dodging, think of it as a different approach of customizing the game difficulty. The game has a photo mode that you can access by accessing the main menu, it may have some limited controls from the depth of field and adjusting the camera angle and view, but switching back and forth from photo mode is fast that you can pause at any time even during combat just to get that best frame that you’ll want to post on social media.

Finishing the game will unlock New Game + and a new difficulty called Final Fantasy mode which makes the enemies tougher. All of your Eikons, character level and gear will carry over as you restart the main story from the beginning and there are some new items that you can craft, such as the Ultima Weapon and your level cap increases. Ultimaniac mode will also be available in the Arcade mode which intensifies the difficulty with limited healing items, much more aggressive enemies and your damage aren’t that stronger. These are the standard postgame content that doesn’t require you to finish them unless you are after the achievements or just to challenge yourself, but nothing that adds completely new story content.

 

Conclusion

Final Fantasy is more about presenting a great experience through gameplay, story and presentation as each new iteration tries to test itself in evolving these aspects, and Final Fantasy XVI landed it well. It provided polished action-focused gameplay with an incredible story that any long-time Final Fantasy fan will definitely enjoy, and can be a good introduction to newcomers who are itching to dive into the fabled franchise. Final Fantasy is not about “This is what Final Fantasy should be”, but rather “Final Fantasy is about giving us an epic adventure”.

It tried to simplify or removed some features that are commonly found in JRPGs to streamline the experience that may be a turn-off for some RPG purists, but those who loved action RPGs are in for a treat thanks to how the gameplay focused more on skills and provides some layer of strategy through different Eikon builds. Voice acting was one of the best so far in the franchise thanks to the dedicated actors and writers that help project the emotions of the characters, and let us not forget the amazing soundtrack that is both memorable and enchanting that you want to listen to it on your music player when you are not playing.

It may have some flaws in terms of depth in the content where it lacks any deeper combat mechanics like elemental affinities or status effects, or the mixed reception on how the quests work in terms of objective and design that feels very much from an MMORPG. But the flaws are more forgiving when you look at how it focuses on creating a convincing world rich in lore with interesting characters that you will love and how its combat system complements the presentation with the best boss battles so far in a Final Fantasy game. Definitely worth your time to finish the game with over 60 hours of game time and sometime you may want to play again multiple times just to experience the epic battles over and over. It’s definitely a Final Fantasy game where it gives players a grand adventure for them to enjoy.

 

Final Fantasy XVI gets a score of 4.5 out of 5. The game is available on the PlayStation 5.

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