Final Fantasy XVI Review
Reborn from the Ashes
The long wait is finally over. Highly anticipated Final Fantasy XVI is available now for the PlayStation 5, with millions of fans able to witness a spellbinding clash of Eikons and explore the beautiful world of Valisthea. With previous mainline single-player entries Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XV failing to rise to the full level that fans had hoped for, Square Enix aimed to make XVI strong enough to form an attractive entry point for newcomers while retaining its longtime fans. The development team has managed to pull that off, and the result is a fantastic action RPG with a mature tone that sets itself apart from previous entries, focusing more on the action itself as well as character and world building while retaining various staples of the series.
Players take on the role of Clive Rosfield, son of the Grand Duke of Rosaria and brother of the Dominant of Eikon Phoenix. Eikons are imposing creatures with devastating powers, making Dominants important figures in society since they are the few who can turn the tables in war by summoning them. Humanity has become extremely dependent on the magic of the Mothercrystals, and while Dominants are highly respected, there are others with the ability to use magic called the Branded, yet they are seen as cursed and treated unfairly, providing an interesting contrast.
As a teenager in the game’s prologue, Clive finds himself involved in a tragic, treasonous plot against his family and hometown, providing him with a motive to seek revenge and redemption as an emotive story progresses. Initially driven solely by revenge, his goals evolve as he encounters certain characters and discovers more about the world, changing to trying to do something about the magic of the Mothercrystals and people’s lifestyles, making for a tale full of heartbreak and deadly plot twists. The story is gripping throughout the whole game, and it uses the series’ traditional themes surrounding magic crystals in a fascinating way, ultimately creating a somber take on humanity becoming dependent on a power it can’t control. Spreading the story and letting players control Clive as a teenager and again during two stages of his adulthood enables the adventure to genuinely feel like an epic tale that spans an entire lifetime. The mature tone with constant bloody scenes fits the tragic story neatly and sets Final Fantasy XVI apart from what has come before.
This spellbinding story features a cast full of lovely characters and powerful rivals who serve as great motivators. Cid, with his sarcastic remarks and charming personality, is certainly one of those who stand out by making the journey more joyful, and loyal hound Torgal is an adorable companion that never leaves Clive’s side and joins him even in the worst moments. Lifetime allies such as Jill make touching scenes even more impactful and develop along with Clive, who is a very likable protagonist and is easy to connect with. Foes such as the seductive Benedikta with her hidden intentions and Hugo with his unrivaled strength serve as grand opposing forces that stoke Clive’s rage even through his most desperate moments, with mythological and otherwordly foes and reveals adding a very welcome dose of intrigue to the plot that steadily reveals itself as the game goes on.
Exploring Valisthea is delightful, with players able to visit numerous villages and witness expressions of life such as seeing chocobos as both working animals and wildlife. Players can spend hours in each realm just exploring optional portions of the map or helping its citizens, with these numerous sidequests giving players plenty more to do than just completing the main story. Most of them are immersive interactions that nicely portray the kind of problems that the inhabitants of Valisthea face every day, and during some of these sidequests, players also witness touching moments where parts of Clive’s past are revealed. Some of the quests amount to fetching errands, yet completing them proves to be a good way to level up and acquire items that make the rest of the journey easier. Moving across the map is easy since Clive can use obelisks to instantly travel to previously visited locations. However, exploring vast areas can sometimes be a little confusing because there is no minimap to assist players.
Returning to the series are hunts, which involve seeking out a fair number of strong enemies that grant a considerable amount of experience and ability points, as well as unique rewards. Both hunts and sidequests grant renown points, and these points can be exchanged for rewards in the Hideaway, Clive’s main hub. Clive can also craft and upgrade gear, and the materials are usually dropped by the marked hunts or given as rewards for completing sidequests, which gives another reason to fulfill them. The game is largely focused on exploration and combat, eschewing some of the luxurious minigames such as fishing and cooking, which is in sync with the overall mood of the game. Instead, players can find activities related to combat such as an arcade mode where they can play certain passages of the game while trying to get high scores in exchange for rewards. There are also optional trials where Clive fights using only one Eikon against hordes of enemies within a time limit and a casual mode that enables players to simply relive certain passages using their current level and equipment while retaining the experience and items obtained in that run. All these activities are optional and ideal for those who want to put their skills to the test.
The fast-paced action combat is a significant change, but it is incredibly fun, and keeps on getting better as more abilities become available. Players can only fully control Clive, choosing among magic attacks, melee strikes, charged attacks, jumping, evading, and creating combos by combining all these actions. They can also use a limited selection and number of items and unleash special abilities linked to each Eikon that need to cool down before they can be used again. While players can order canine companion Torgal to attack after a combo or heal Clive, any other party members fight on their own. If players feel overwhelmed with the many mechanics, they can equip accessories that allow for more time to evade, create combos automatically, or have Torgal fight on his own, with these slots otherwise used for accessories that can enhance special attacks or Clive’s stats.
Eventually, Clive is able to utilise the powers of three Eikons at any one time and is able to swap between them during combat, with each having its own set of skills and a unique ability during regular combat. For instance, the Phoenix allows Clive to quickly close the distance to a foe, while Garuda lets him drag an enemy to him. As a consequence, each time Clive acquires a new Eikon, battling feels refreshed. The variety of Eikons’ skills offers great versatility and propels players to choose the ones that match their fighting style or that are best against certain enemies. Clive unlocks new abilities and upgrades them by spending ability points, with a selection of upgrades for Clive and each of his Eikonic powers. The abilities are well-balanced and allow players to personalize Clive’s growth, without giving players too much to be overwhelmed by. Players can also readily switch between a story mode — with automatically equips the most powerful player-assisting accessories — and its regular mode, with the latter not being particularly punishing but still requiring players to pay close attention to enemies’ attacks and utilise the strengths of each Eikon.
However, the times that combat truly shines the brightest is during Eikon encounters. These battles are reserved for specific moments in the story and are indescribably exciting. Clive is able to summon Ifrit, whose movements are very similar to his own, and who learns new abilities by battling other Eikons as the story progresses. Cinematic actions are a distinctive touch in these battles and make them even more impactful, requiring players to press certain buttons to attack or dodge incoming strikes. These attacks are spectacular ways to deliver epic final blows to end combat. Bosses and strong enemies are also very fun to fight, having a stagger bar that players can deplete to bring them down and deal significantly more damage. These battles are much more strategic and force players to be aware of enemy attacks while wisely choosing their Eikons to have a combination that can prove deadly to foes.
The clash of Eikons and the world of Valisthea are a feast for the eyes. With enormous and imposing Eikons, the game never loses the attention of the player and is full of excitement. Final Fantasy XVI’s take on iconic attacks that have been present across the series have outstanding animations that make these abilities truly look like unstoppable forces. Clive and the other character models are wonderful, as well as all the detailed sights of Valisthea that are worth checking out, with varied landscapes and beautiful places to explore such as ancient ruins and dark castles. The gorgeous creatures that roam Valisthea are also as enchanting as the land they inhabit. The only visual aspect that could get on players’ nerves is that lip movements of some secondary characters do not appear to be properly synchronized with their voices.
However, the English voice acting is so good that this minor issue is easy to ignore. The superb performance of Ralph Ineson as Cid is memorable, while Susannah Fielding is excellent and appreciably expressive during important moments in the story as Jill. As protagonist Clive, Ben Starr is also fantastic both during cutscenes and combat, and all of the other important characters and antagonists are higly convincing. It is also worth noting that the game was localized to many languages, including its well done Latin American Spanish, helping make different communities feel included and connect more deeply with Clive’s tale. The score, led by Masayoshi Soken following his rise to prominence in Final Fantasy XIV, is superb and includes expressive piano melodies that reinforce sad events, symphonic music with epic choirs that make cutscenes and combat an immersive and spectacular experience, and more relaxed and enjoyable music that accompanies Clive while he explores. The rearranged versions of iconic melodies of the series are also spectacular, making older tunes from former Final Fantasy games fit neatly with this game while evoking nostalgia.
Final Fantasy XVI is the magnificent entry fans and newcomers needed. This somber take on the series’ traditional theme surrounding magic crystals an imposing Eikons readily evokes nostalgia on longtime fans and nicely introduces newcomers to the series. Its spellbinding story, emotive soundtrack, spectacular visuals, and fast-paced action combat make Final Fantasy XVI a must-play action RPG.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Gripping and emotive story
Eikon battles are outstanding
Beautiful world and imposing Eikons
Unsynchronized lip movement
Some sidequests feel like fetch errands