Final Fantasy is one of the most storied video game franchises of all time. Since its inception, its loveable characters, unforgettable stories, and lore-rich worlds have defined the RPG scene. Over 16 mainline entries and 35 years later, one thing has remained constant for the franchise – change. The series is well-known for not being afraid to completely flip itself on its head with each entry, bending the perception of what precisely a Final Fantasy game is.
Enter Final Fantasy XVI. The first mainline entry is almost seven years, the longest gap between mainline releases ever. Like its predecessors, XVI brings about change in a wildly different package than Final Fantasy XV. The game returns to a setting of fantasy that has not been seen within the series for decades. Specifically, XVI serves as the series’ first entry into the dark fantasy side of things, being the first mainline title to be rated M. Additionally, the title has embraced full-on action combat, with combos and mechanics akin to Devil May Cry. With all these new ideas, does Final Fantasy XVI live up to its predecessors and, subsequently, the Final Fantasy name?
XVI stars Clive Rosfield, the firstborn son of Rosaria’s Archduke. You experience his story through three key time periods: his teens, twenties, and thirties. Clive’s younger brother, Joshua, is a Dominant – a person born with the ability to host an Eikon. Dominants and their Eikons are the most significant focus of Final Fantasy XVI. The beginning of the game sees Clive and Joshua head off to prepare for a battle against a rival kingdom for the control of Drake’s Breath, one of Valisthea’s Mothercrystals. Tragedy befalls the brothers with an unexpected invasion of Sonbreque soldiers, and the story of Final Fantasy XVI is set into motion.
Rich with Lore and a Beautiful World to Explore
Final Fantasy XVI takes place in Valisthea, a land occupied by multiple nations enthralled with endless conflict. The land mass is comprised of two continents: the West continent of Storm and the Eastern mainland of Ash. Six different nations reside within these two continents: The Grand Duchy of Rosaria, The Holy Empire of Sanbreque, The Kingdom of Waloed, The Dhalmekian Republic, The Iron Kingdom, and The Crystalline Dominion. Alongside these kingdoms are five mountainous Mothercrystals, giant structures filled to the brim with aether. This aether is used to conjure magic, which is used everywhere within Valisthea. These crystals are not infinite, however. They each have a finite amount of aether, which creates conflicts between nations. The game utilizes this to bring in themes of environmentalism, which is especially apparent when it comes to the blight.
The blight is rapidly spreading throughout the world of Valisthea. Once gorgeous lands and homes are now depleted of both magic and any life at all. You’ll encounter a good bit of these areas throughout the game, dubbed the Deadlands. As nations rally to fight for the remaining drops of aether, the blight creeps in, painting more and more of the land black. There is a much larger emphasis on this issue throughout the opening hours of XVI, but it naturally leads to more issues that give rise to the main objective.
Above all else, Valisthea is one of the prettiest game worlds available on the market. It’s mystical and breathtaking, with magnificent sights at every turning corner. The graphical department here is out of this world, and the art direction is beyond captivating. Each of the different kingdoms has a different architectural style with its buildings, and it is exciting to see these massive monuments as your progress through the game. I was continuously blown away by each new area, which all felt hand-crafted thanks to the wild amount of detail.
The team did an incredible job at capturing the world of Valisthea and allowing players to see changes in that world as the game progresses. This is partially thanks to the narrative’s structure of taking place in different time periods, but it’s also due to the linearity of the game overall. You feel the age and weight of your actions on the different kingdoms as the story pushes forward.
Valisthea ended up being much more linear than I ever expected it to be. That’s a good thing. Too many games nowadays struggle with an overly ambitious open world, but XVI doesn’t suffer from that issue. It’s a streamlined experience with just the right amount of explorable world without feeling overwhelming. There are the “open zones” that Yoshi-P and the development team referred to throughout marketing; however, there are not too many. Arguably, you’ll come across three or four in your journey throughout Valisthea, depending on who you ask. While there’s not too much to do in these areas, they serve as a visual spectacle and a nice breather between areas.
The far majority of the regions are strictly linear, in the sense that you move from point A to B, sometimes even in a straight pathway, throughout the level. I loved this for moments such as running through a forest or sneaking through a crystal mine, where it would have been easy to get lost otherwise. This brings about some issues, however, particularly with the sense of freedom and exploration with Valisthea.
One of my biggest disappointments with the title was I never felt incentivized to explore Valisthea. This is partially due to the game’s linearity, but upon reflection, I think it is a design flaw within the game’s layout. Between the linear segments and the open zones, there isn’t much going on besides where the main story quest takes you. This is somewhat corrected with some of the side quests, but it doesn’t help that you have no incentive to loot or upgrade Clive since the mechanics are so shallow. While I was invested in this world with the lore and narrative, I was not invested enough to explore with the available gameplay elements. It never felt rewarding to see what was around the corner since it was probably five more of the material I already had 800 of.
Seen above is Twinside, one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen in a game. It’s showcased in cutscenes as the Mothercrystal behind it illuminates the city skyline. You can’t explore it at all – the area is completely inaccessible. Oriflamme, the Holy Capital with the giant castle used in plenty of the key art and pre-release content, is also the same. It’s understandable why the team didn’t model out each of these areas to be explorable from scale alone, but it’s disappointing that there’s not at least one large city explorable in XVI. I love getting lost in game worlds and exploring for dozens of hours, but besides the available quests, I just never felt the need or incentive to. The world is laid out in Obelisks, devices you use to fast travel. Before each main story quest, you hit one of these Obelisks to travel to, basically acting as a level selection screen. While it’s not a bad thing in itself, it sometimes makes the world pretty disconnected.
Final Fantasy XVI has a hub you’ll spend plenty of time at, dubbed the Hideaway. You’re able to upgrade weapons, purchase potions, interact with characters, and more here. I loved this area and felt it held plenty to offer Clive throughout his journey. It’s a great place to dive into more Valisthea lore, especially. Prior to leaving for big missions, you tend to get a rundown from an NPC named Vivian Ninetails. Each time, she paints an entire picture of what’s going on in the realm using a map, which I thought was a great way to delve into the state of the world regardless of how blatant it is. Additionally, the Hideaway is home to Harpocrates, a scholar who holds a compendium of Valisthea knowledge called The Thousand Tomes. You can access these at any point, and they are filled to the brim with pages of Valisthea’s history, characters, enemies, and more. Throughout your journey, you’ll also receive letters from the various NPCs you’ve met informing you of the happenings in Valisthea. It’s clear that lore and its availability was a priority from the development team, and I’m grateful for that as it truly allowed me to immerse myself in this world.
Speaking of lore, the most innovative feature CBUIII instilled in XVI is easily Active Time Lore. This feature allows you to hold down the touchpad at any point during the game to get an almost wiki-style page describing current events, objects, and people. You can even use ATL during any cutscene, and it will pause whatever is happening for you to get an in-depth look at what’s happening. It’s perfectly fine-tuned and only displays lore for things relevant to that specific cutscene. It’s wild to think that a feature like this wasn’t thought of before, but wow, is it a game changer. I’m only echoing this further, but I’d love to see this implemented in all major RPGs similar in length going forward. It quickly explains anything you might be wondering about without the need to search or look up anything.
A Solemn Tale
XVI’s narrative is arguably the game’s strongest point besides the combat. As outlined above, this is Clive Rosfield’s story. After the tragic fate of his younger brother Joshua, Clive sets out for revenge to avenge his brother. This takes him all across Valisthea and eventually leads him to Cidolfus Telamon and childhood friend Jill Warrick, who unite to work towards a common goal – freedom. You’re quickly wrapped up in a battle for fate as an outlaw looking to create a world with the ability to choose how you live or die.
It’s a story of war, revenge, loss, and redemption. More than anything, though, the story of Final Fantasy XVI is human. I was astounded by how mature the game handled its core themes while still having the charm of any other Final Fantasy title. It explores what exactly it means to be human and the choices that come with it, whether good or bad. During your journey, you’ll view hundreds of grim sights and hordes of people barely hanging on. Valisthea is cruel; it doesn’t try to hide it. Some quests are just absolutely brutal and had my mind racing with emotion. The beauty of XVI is the intertwining of these themes into one narrative. While plenty of these themes have surfaced before in the series’ 36-year history, XVI utilizes its mature and darker tone, world, and characters to create something exhilarating, fresh, and suspenseful.
The narrative is thrilling and tells a complete story end-to-end over the course of just over 40 hours, in my experience. While I wouldn’t say there are ‘mind-blowing’ twists, plenty of surprises and turns are in store as you traverse through the main story. I felt delighted with the package we got, as it delivered on its themes and mostly closed each character’s arc.
While the overall narrative of XVI is terrific, some low points have to be addressed. Pacing is an issue throughout the game. Quest structure at specific points makes you run around completing errands in-between completing main story missions. This feels inherently like an MMO, which isn’t surprising considering the developer. A great example is receiving a string of tasks where you need to collect different items. There are three different quests you have to complete in order to progress the story – this happens multiple times throughout the game and detracts from the immersion. While I won’t outright call the quests themselves bad, they hurt the game’s pacing by drastically and abruptly slowing it down.
Thanks to the mature rating, I fell in love with the narrative’s ability to balance each theme it desired. We’ve never quite had a Final Fantasy title like this; something that was able to explore such deep and somber themes. That isn’t to say there isn’t light within the game though, as the themes mentioned above of redemption and acceptance shine bright. It’s beautiful to see characters accept reality and come together to do something bigger than themselves. Sure, it might have been done before, but XVI is captivating with its narrative choices to create those themes. The game has so much heart, and it’s clear how much passion was poured into the story by CBUIII.
A game is nothing without its characters, though, and that’s no different in Final Fantasy XVI. Let me be upfront: I loved the main cast of characters. There is so much to love here between the character growth, voice actors, and abundance of interesting obstacles and challenges each has to face. Above all, Clive is the best character in this title. Considering this is his story, I’d have hoped that’d be the case.
Clive is a phenomenal protagonist that stands with some of the greatest the series has yet to offer. He is a character who struggles ever to put himself before others and perfectly meshes seriousness, grief, and humanity in his journey. He’s a character that I think many who play XVI will get easily attached to and fond of, as he embraces everything it means to be ‘human’. The star of the show here is Ben Starr, Clive’s voice actor — his gritty and gut-wrenching performance as Clive offers a wide dynamic range with so much passion. Clive would not be the character he is without Starr’s performance of a lifetime. He deserves to win Best Performance ten times over; his Clive is just that good. I was continuously blown away scene after scene by the apparent amount of passion each one of Clive’s voice lines had. It didn’t feel like a game at some points – it felt real.
Another character I loved was Cidolfus Telamon, who plays a significant role in the game. He’s a Valisthea legend full of charm, charisma, and humor. His dynamic with Clive is a joy to watch unfold, fueled by a bright personality in the grim world that is Valisthea. Like Clive, Cid is everything he is because of his voice actor, Ralph Ineson, who captured incredible charm and stole every scene he was in. Cid is a treat to watch each time he appears on screen, and the writing for his character is exceptional. As for where he ranks among the all-time Cid list, he’s right up there with Cid Highwind, who we’ll be seeing in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth this Winter.
With the screen time she got, I loved Jill. She embraces her struggles and fights against them in an interesting and commendable way. Her most significant scenes remain some of my favorites throughout the entirety of Final Fantasy XVI, with moving delivery and great emotion from Susannah Fielding. I thought Jill was a fantastic heroine, but she was criminally underutilized and sidelined for most of the game. What’s there is so good, yet there’s just too little.
Jill doesn’t do much in the main story besides a few particular (and incredible) story segments. She’s mute as she travels with you across Valisthea and doesn’t even say much during cutscenes. She has a great character arc that is somewhat realized, but her lack of interaction and screentime leaves me wanting more. It feels like a missed opportunity to connect with her as a character and leave a lasting impression. Some might point to her personality as the reason, as she is more reserved with her thoughts than any other character in the game. However, we’ve seen plenty of times where shy or closed-off characters have lots of interactions and give you the ability to connect with the character. If you want to learn more about her, you have to resort to the lore resources available in the game, which shouldn’t be the case with the main heroine. This, overall, connects to one of XVI’s struggles – its party.
Being the first mainline title without a traditional fully-playable party, XVI does stumble when it comes to creating a cohesive party overall. Sure, there are characters you travel with, but their stories are rarely explored in the main narrative since they’re not Clive. There are multiple instances in the game where you’ll hear a character say something along the lines of “__ and I have known each other since they did that” or “I still can’t believe what they did”. This almost felt insulting at points because I wanted to learn more about characters such as Cid and Jill. Thankfully, most of these questions were resolved in side quests, but that more so made me question why they weren’t a part of the main story with such crucial information for these characters.
On the other hand, one of the biggest strengths of Final Fantasy XVI is its side characters and Dominants — the characters you encounter across Valisthea regularly and the antagonists throughout the game are fabulously developed. Most prominent side characters have side quests that allow their stories to be told and fleshed out. It was excellent to see some of my companions in the hideaway or throughout Valisthea grow into people I cared about. Regardless of how much time you spend together, the game does a good job of making that character known and creating a connection.
Dominants are at the heart of Final Fantasy XVI for a reason, and each character receives a more than satisfying amount of character development. They’re integral to the story, but each of the Dominants has a unique personality that’s explored as you learn about them. These are some of my favorite characters by far; seeing each of their motives unravel was indeed a treat. With such interesting and devastating powers, the focus on the Dominants was necessary for XVI to properly convey its narrative. Each one had a different reason for ending up on the journey they found themselves on, but regardless of that, all Dominants had thorough screentime to let their voice actors and stories shine.
And lastly, to touch on voice acting – it is stupendous. I’ve already touched on Clive, Cid, and Jill, but every character in this game has passionate voice actors. It was genuinely a treat to experience this narrative with such an all-star cast of VAs. My favorite character not already listed was Barnabas, voiced by David Menkin. He’s got such a raspy and perfect voice for the character, which channels screams akin to his performance as Malos in Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Even the random NPCs you’ll find worldwide all have incredible voice work. The performances and their quality in Final Fantasy XVI are right there with the tremendous work of Final Fantasy VII Remake for me. Both have perfect castings for their characters and clearly have voice actors who put their everything into it.
An Eikonic Combat System
As you can imagine, XVI was not an easy game to build. The game began development in 2015 under Creative Business Unit III. This is the team responsible for the beloved Final Fantasy XIV online MMO, which is led by Naoki Yoshida, or Yoshi-P. He serves as the Producer for this title, with the main core staff having previously worked on Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy XII, and more notable titles. With the focus of an action game for XVI, CBUIII knew they needed expertise on the subject.
For this, the team brought Ryota Suzuki into the fray, well-known for his work on Dragon’s Dogma and Devil May Cry 5. Suzuki served as the game’s Combat Director, with Dissidia NT Director Takeo Kujiraoka serving as a Combat Designer. Together with the rest of the combat team, CBUIII created a vast and versatile combat system for Final Fantasy XVI. Suzuki mentioned on a pre-release stream that he believes XVI is his “personal masterpiece”. I’d happily agree.
The combat of Final Fantasy XVI is bloody brilliant. This is the game’s shining star, with some incredible spectacles that rival anything I’ve ever seen in a video game. XVI is a fully-fledged action game – combos, cancels, and air attacks in all. Taking inspiration from other popular action games like Devil May Cry 5, the game offers a large arsenal within your move set.
Hack-and-slash combat is your best friend as you slice through enemies in Valisthea. Clive has a sword and range-based magic attacks at his disposal, which you utilize together to create powerful combos. The real damage comes from Eikonic Abilities, where Clive can channel the powers of up to three Eikons at a time. Each Eikon has very different abilities that range in recharge time, damage, and range. This requires you to get highly strategic throughout combat, assessing each enemy to decide when to use each ability for the best impact. You’ll find yourself weaving together combos on a brim against even random monsters in the field.
The game has a meter for each enemy that serves as a stagger mechanic. This allows you to inflict the enemy with everything you’ve got while they’re wide open. Additionally, you can utilize the Parry and Precision Dodge mechanics to get in damage in tight openings. The animations for these two are particularly satisfying, as is the rest of the glorious combat animations. What the game doesn’t have are status ailments or elemental strengths/weaknesses. You’re not going to find any buffs or debuffs, really, either. This feels like an overlooked opportunity to make the game even more tactical and challenging, as you’d have to consider different strengths or weaknesses to deal with enemies properly.
Admittedly, the combat does start pretty basic. Throughout the first five to ten hours of the game, you’ll heavily rely on your few Eikonic Abilities and attacks like Magic Burst to deal damage. However, once you progress through the story a good bit, it starts to open up into something incredible. There’s such a wide range of abilities and mechanics available to Clive, which can make entire playthroughs of the game feel completely different depending on which you decide to use. This complexity plays into the decision of why Clive is the game’s only playable character, which has benefits and drawbacks.
On one side, this allows for a vast range of abilities and a perfected combat system with plenty of skills to unlock and utilize. You can put all your energy into learning each of Clive’s different attack methods, abilities, and combos. Multiple playable characters in action games can sometimes get tricky as you attempt to balance learning each of them fluently. Each enemy plays differently, so just focusing on Clive helps plot success in your battles.
The biggest downside with this is not being able to control your party, which has been a staple in FF since the beginning. It’s not a crime or anything of the sort at one look, especially since Clive has such a comprehensive and versatile move set. However, the party members feel absolutely useless. The AI is fine, but at some point, it made me question why my party members were even there sometimes.
I wish the game had party commands in the same sense that Torgal does, where you could activate specific attacks from your party members on command. It would at least make them feel more involved and probably alleviate the issues I outlined earlier with the party’s cohesiveness. Battle banter could have been added, which maybe could’ve solved this problem in one swoop. Utilizing the D-Pad for others’ attacks would have been a good compromise. You could even perhaps select which ability you want the ability to control while the character auto-attacks as the power recharges.
The boss design in XVI is staggering. Each of the mini-bosses and actual bosses has incredible design in both character and battle design. The game did feel a bit easy at times on my first playthrough, but this was quickly rectified in Final Fantasy mode, which turns up the difficulty. Every time I encountered a new boss, I tended to be mesmerized by their designs. The Iron Giant makes an appearance pretty early on with a neat design and a fun battle. Although some mini-bosses were naturally reused throughout the game, the bosses all keep things fresh til the very end.
Some of the bigger fights throughout the game are astounding, with an incredible amount of different moves. Each tends to have an attack rush followed by a recovery opening where you can deal damage. This allowed for each fight to feel more high-stakes than the last. No fight in the game comes close to the Eikon battles, however.
By far, the best feature of the entire game is Eikons – the heart and soul of FFXVI. They truly revolve around everything the narrative of XVI tells, as well as the combat. The intertwining relationship between Dominants and Eikons makes the characterization of each battle a breeze. Eikon fights are single-handedly some of the most fun I’ve had in a video game in over a decade. I was enthralled by the sheer ambition of the team in each fight, as the scale was just breathtaking and felt out of this world.
Every five or so hours, you get the chance to become an Eikon as Ifrit and battle it out against the world’s other Eikons. You become a being that’s probably over 100 feet tall, making everything around you seem tiny in comparison. These fights are all so different, but each one is cinematic and grander than anything you can probably imagine. It’s sometimes mind-boggling to comprehend what’s being played on your screen and how the PlayStation 5 is even running it. Mechanics from normal battles like a ranged attack, Eikonic Abilities, and Precision Dodge also carry over for Eikons, but obviously on a much larger scale. There is heavy use of QTEs in Eikon fights, dubbed Cinematic Actions, in XVI. The team perfectly incorporated this feature to make each fight as flashy and cinematic as possible. In-battle cutscenes are used in these moments, which I think is a great feature plenty of other games should take up.
The set pieces you find yourselves in during these Eikon fights are remarkable. You basically act as Godzilla wreaking havoc against another Godzilla-sized beast. Each time I thought a fight couldn’t be topped, I was proven wrong. I’m purposely leaving out details about any of the fights. If you’ve kept up with the game leading up to its release, chances are you’ve seen the snippets of fights showcased in trailers.
I can’t exactly pinpoint the last time I was jumping up and down, losing my mind at each boss fight. It’s stunning to think that not only does XVI manage to do this once, but it also manages to do this every single time. If there is one thing XVI will be remembered for, it’s Eikon fights.
RPG: To Be or Not to Be
Unfortunately, XVI’s biggest struggle is its ability to be an RPG; and that’s sad, considering the series it’s a part of. While playing like a full-blown action game, it is regarded as an action RPG, like its predecessor, FFXV. The issues lie in the incredibly shallow mechanics CBUIII has elected to place in the game, making most of it feel like an afterthought slapped on before launch.
We’ll start with crafting. As you end each battle, you’ll be rewarded with ‘Spoils’ that include different monster parts or items. Standard RPG stuff you’ve probably seen in every other game you’ve played. Where this gets frustrating is with the game’s poorly-made crafting system. Typically, as you progress through a game, you craft and upgrade different weapons, armor, accessories, and abilities, right? Wrong. XVI might have some of these elements, but the game could play the same without any of them. One of the places you can use your materials to craft resources is with Blackthrone, who serves as the game’s blacksmith. Upgrading weapons feels pointless, using a few common resources you’ve collected from battles. Changing from one sword to another, I never felt that Clive got “stronger” but that I just changed the sword’s appearance.
Chests are scattered throughout the world with little meaning, almost just there to give the player a rush of “exploration”. Clive tends to kick them open in hilarious fashion, but the rewards are usually mere monster parts and some gil to spare. There are a few chests that had valuable items in them, but these were only found in the main story dungeons of the game. This problem with loot goes hand in hand with my earlier point of delimited exploration, as why make the effort for pointless items?
Gear is another area that feels very minimal. Besides your weapon, you can change Clive’s Vambrace and Belt. You don’t have the ability to change Clive’s appearance or armor set, but I did not really care too much about that. I did, however, wish we had the ability to grant our party members different accessories and gear. You can only put things on Clive, which, again, makes the party system feel very bland. Allowing the player to use or purchase new gear for Jill or Cid would have been a great step in the right direction.
I want to reiterate: the game is great even without these elements. However, creating more prosperous systems would have resulted in more drive to take down as many monsters as possible and complete the slower side quests sooner. At some point, I started just battling monsters to hear more of Soken’s masterful soundtrack because that’s all that matters.
Beauty You Can Hear and See
One of the most remarkable pieces of all the moving parts in XVI is the soundtrack, led by Masayoshi Soken. It’s mystical and grand, perfectly putting the experience together. It’s incredible how well he was able to encapsulate this experience with the use of several motifs, a dark and deep all-male choir, and plenty of otherworldly melodies. Even the dullest and least important parts of Final Fantasy XVI have beautiful music playing throughout. This soundtrack has such a high level of raw emotion, making each fight memorable and engaging.
Take Eikon fights, for instance. Soken wrote what feels like a three-part symphony for a specific battle. This plays as you fight the opposing Eikon on the craziest set piece possible, creating an ever-so cinematic experience taking down a beast the size of 100 men. Another fight kicks off with music I never expected, sounding like something out of the ’90s or from Gurren Lagann. As you sprint across this massive setpiece, it fills the room with this unbelievable sound. Soken is incredibly innovative every chance he gets.
The moment I pre-ordered the Ultimate Edition of the soundtrack was when the brass kicked in as the Knight of the Blinding Dawn descended from his Final Fantasy IV pose. As someone who has not checked out Final Fantasy XIV extensively yet, it was a treat to finally experience a Soken soundtrack.
The ending theme, “Tsuki Wo Miteita – Moongazing” is bittersweet. It’s a great theme that perfectly puts the pin on both the story and soundtrack of Final Fantasy XVI. The team knew exactly what they were doing, incorporating this theme with the scenes they did, and it hit every emotion possible as I sat watching the credits roll.
As I’ve stated prior, Valisthea is jaw-dropping and beautiful at every corner. CBUIII squeezed every bit of power they could out of PlayStation 5, which even caused some consoles to overheat. This is for good reason though, as XVI is now easily one of the best-looking titles on the market. It’s a visual feast for the eyes that I couldn’t get enough of, even after over 50 hours.
I was convinced dozens of scenes were pre-rendered CGI until Clive appeared on screen with the sword I had equipped. The game genuinely looks like a movie, with character models having a fascinating amount of detail. Texture work is excellent, with great draw distance to assist with the immersion. Even objects far away, like Oriflamme, look incredible from afar. The graphical bit I was most impressed by, however, was the lighting. One of the opening areas leads you through a forest overflowing with green foliage and tall trees. The light glimmers through in a way that’s just incredible, and it really does look like a picture someone might have taken.
It’s been stated by the development team that Final Fantasy XVI is running on its own custom engine, which I have been very impressed with. It’s exceptionally high quality and a huge upgrade from the Luminous Engine used for the last mainline title. I played my entire story playthrough in Graphics mode, as I wanted to prioritize stability. The game held up very well in both gameplay and combat, with a few minor hiccups here and there. Any performance dips I ran into were in the gameplay segment, not combat, so I was pleased with that.
The game also makes impressive use of its camera. There’s a large variety of really innovative and bold shots with the camera, utilizing angles you don’t traditionally see in a game like this. It’s artistic in a way, following Clive to showcase Valisthea the best it can. This is especially apparent in cutscenes with characters bonding, with the camera work showcasing the emotions being displayed by the characters. The camera does get a bit messy at times when running around due to motion blur, so I hope a setting for it is inbound sooner rather than later.
Even with its darker world, XVI makes impressive use of its colors. The game looks lovely in proper HDR, allowing things like the Mothercrystals to really pop each time they’re shown off. Drake’s Head, one of the crystals you will visit, illuminates the entire room in a blue hue. Seeing the light spread the way it did with the vibrant colors was a fantastic segway from the darker overworld.
Turning your in-game brightness up is essential if you’re not utilizing an HDR-enabled display. Running tests with both a 4K QLED HDR TV and a TV without HDR, it was clear that the game looks way too dark without the brightness increase. The section I tested this with was the mines, and it was tough to see where I was going.
Final Fantasy XVI offers an incredible presentation featuring top-of-line sights and soundtracks. Couple that with the unreal voice work, and this might be the highest-quality presentation of a Final Fantasy title ever produced.
Final Fantasy Through and Through
All in all, this is a Final Fantasy game, tried and true. It’s not going to appeal to everyone. Still, XVI is a fantastic experience that, alongside Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, has me more excited than ever about the future of the series. I have my fair share of complaints, but this is a Final Fantasy title from start to finish. Some of its moments, especially Eikon fights, are just oozing that classic FF style we haven’t seen in a long time.
Final Fantasy XVI is a Final Fantasy — a great one at that. The game is a stunning achievement with so much heart and soul; it’s genuinely awe-inspiring at times. The dazzling combat system is sure to keep any action fan entertained for dozens of hours. There are so many combinations of abilities to try, making the challenge of Final Fantasy Mode and Ultimaniac even harder.
XVI is a title deserving of any RPG fan’s time. I might have some things I felt the game could have done better, but the core experience here is incredible. I’ve purposefully left out as much as possible so you can experience the title for yourself blindly. There’s a narrative here that I think will stay with me for a long time, just like many of the other Final Fantasy titles.
While listening to ‘Moongazing’ on repeat, I’ve sat here days after rolling credits just thinking about that ending and this title overall. I loved my time with Clive in Valisthea and cannot recommend this game enough. While Final Fantasy XVI does have some minor shortcomings, I walked away with one of the best experiences I’ve had in games for the past few years. The highs of Final Fantasy XVI rival almost any game in the entire series. It’s worth playing just for that.
Disclaimer: Square Enix provided Final Weapon with a PlayStation 5 copy of Final Fantasy XVI for review purposes.