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Final Fantasy 16 Review

Final Fantasy 16 brings a new approach to the traditional Final Fantasy formula and is better for it. Despite some small issues with some boring side missions and an odd world design, Final Fantasy XVI is the best the series has been in a long while. With a compelling personal story, unparalleled flashiness and action-focused combat, Final Fantasy XVI is one of the best games to experience on the PlayStation 5.

Valisthea’s Discomfort

An aspect in which Final Fantasy XVI excels is in its world. Valisthea is filled with stunning vistas, lush green valleys, and endless golden deserts making for a beautiful and immersive world. Each Kingdom in Valisthea stands out as an individual country — no two places look the same. There are different monsters in each area, along with different biomes, accents, and diversity, helping this to feel like a globe-trotting adventure. These kingdoms also take clear inspiration from the real world. Rosaria and Sanbreque are similar to medieval Europe and the Iron Kingdom and the Dhalmakian Republic reference Western Asia. 

The world is used as a counterpart to complement the story instead of the story and the world being two separate entities. Throughout the world, the struggle of bearers is portrayed perfectly, with many side missions focused on the struggle and misfortune placed upon those bearing powers, helping to create a dark and punishing world. This is an essential theme of the main story built upon by the world.  At certain points in it, the bodies of bearers are littered across the ground. The consequences of trying to survive in a world like Valisthea are constantly shown to you through the world and this was extremely well done.

A standout moment for me was a side mission very early on in the game called “Moving Heaven and Earth.” This mission begins as a basic fetch quest in which you look for suitable soil to grow fruit in the deadlands, an area in which plants do not grow. Clive gives this soil to Martha in an attempt to grow apples for people at the hideaway. Martha promises Clive he would be able to try her apples once they are done. As the story progresses, Martha eventually passes away. This leads to a new quest called the ‘Fruits of Her Labors.” Martha’s apples were finished by another member of the hideaway after she died. Clive has the job of handing these apples out to people at the hideaway, and everyone reminisces about the late Martha and tries her apples — it is beautifully told.

Clive gets to keep an apple to remember her as well. It is even better as this is an optional mission that helps with world-building. The second mission is still available if you miss the first, but the personal impact of it goes missing. This highlights the importance of relationships in this game as well as its misfortune, creating memorable moments like this. This mission is the perfect encapsulation of the strong world and character-building that takes place in Final Fantasy XVI.

Despite the dangerously beautiful world and its world-building, Valisthea is not perfect. The world feels very formulaic at times. Side missions are usually fetch quests and a lot of the time these missions are nowhere near as memorable as ‘Fruits of Her Labor.” These quests often end up feeling rather monotonous and quite frankly, dull. It’s a shame that some of the better quests are paired with the boring gameplay of fetching items or fighting a couple of mobs.

Mobs Your Uncle

Speaking of mobs, mobs in the open world did not get the same attention to detail as the human stories that occur. Despite a good variation of mobs, they did not feel real. The monsters just sit there waiting for you to come over and fight them. Unlike innovative games like Monster Hunter World, I never once saw fights between mobs themselves or mobs moving or migrating. This would’ve helped create a real ecosystem and a world full of animals and monsters that seemed realistic — something that this game was focused on going for.

Valisthea is also extremely linear, despite its many large expansive areas. There are many invisible walls and borders, and each area is built toward leading you down a certain path. This wouldn’t be an issue if it wanted to be linear. However, elements such as the Hunt Board and Chronolith Trials, which are great, reward your exploration and so, it is hard to understand what Final Fantasy wants to be. Never in a game have such expansive areas felt so confusingly small, with their limiting barriers and their static, sporadically placed mobs. 

There are essentially no random events making the world rather predictable. Still to this day, games haven’t learnt from the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2, which reward the player’s exploration with events that aren’t traditionally labeled. Valisthea in turn feels robotic. Side missions are labeled with a bright green exclamation mark and a little jingle plays whenever you accept a quest  — main or side — taking you out of the immersion. Although a small feature, it is constant and it is unfortunate as this is a game that wants to be taken seriously and this happens regardless of whether the subject matter of the mission is serious or not. For a game that wants to be serious and mature, aspects like these seem much more reminiscent of the more lighthearted previous entries.

Games such as Yakuza: Like a Dragon work well with this dissonance between story, gameplay, and side missions as it is aiming to be dissonant. However, in the case of Final Fantasy XVI, it shows a lack of understanding of the tone it is trying to present. This is a general complaint of the world of Valisthea. Valisthea doesn’t know whether it wants to be linear or open-world. Nor does it know whether it wants to be taken seriously or not. Valisthea is undoubtedly beautiful, but it is dampened as it doesn’t fully commit to a certain tone or consistency.


“Help Me, Clive”

The characters and their relationships are one of the aspects of this game that shines. Clive, on the surface, is a two-dimensional sangfroid tough guy. The protagonist is overly stoic, but it is in his moments of weakness where this traditional archetype is subverted. Ben Starr’s ability to show so much emotion in those sad and contemplative scenes elevates Clive’s character tenfold. Starr’s screams and cries as Clive clings to a dying loved one are haunting. In those moments, Clive stands out and is some of the best voice acting I have heard in a long while.

Through the story and character motivations, this still feels like a very party-focused game, albeit in a different way. Ralph Ineson’s Cid is a standout character with magnetic energy whenever he is present. He is as cool as Clive, with that same tough guy archetype, but is not reliant on others or individual scenes to give him more personality. Cid is a well-fleshed-out character with great motivations and an on-screen presence unlike anyone else in the game. 

The rest of the cast is very compelling as well. Dion’s story arc could be a game in itself. It is incredibly well written and, at its core, continues that theme of love and relationships that underscores the whole game. This is the case for many of the antagonists as well. They all have varying levels of fleshed-out backstories and motivations and, therefore, make for compelling characters. Less prominent characters such as Gav and Uncle Byron have an infectious energy that contrasts well with Clive’s stoicism. 

A character that should’ve been more compelling, however, is Jill. This is Clive’s love interest and there is just not much to her, other than her being the love interest. She has a brief story arc with the Iron Kingdom, which was interesting but the details are scurried over and forgotten about very quickly. She doesn’t speak much throughout the game, and I found myself forgetting she was around for a lot of it. It was a shame because her character had a lot of potential as she was Shiva’s Dominant and a victim of the Iron Kingdom’s abuse. However, all the cast are great to fight with or against, and the amazing combat makes that experience even more fun.

Clive May Cry

The combat is incredible. The combat is this perfect balance between accessible button mashing and high-skill ceiling action combat. Helmed by the Devil May Cry combat director Ryota Suzuki, the influence of Devil May Cry is evident. It is focused on combos as well as the flashiness that makes games like Final Fantasy or Devil May Cry so compelling. Ryota Suzuki even described the combat in this game as his “personal masterpiece,” and he has every right to say that. 

On the surface, it is a very simple combat system with a magic button, a basic attack button, and special abilities. However, pressing buttons in tandem and different combinations create a high-skill ceiling with the ability to do combos while keeping it accessible for those who want to fight more simply. This is all backed up by some of the most beautiful animated attacks and special moves in the industry, making even the most boring attacks compelling. Clive’s need for others is perpetuated through the gameplay and combat. Many of the abilities that he eventually obtains are through the literal powers of people he meets on his journey. This makes the combat even better as it complements the themes of the story.

The introduction of timely accessories is amazing. This brings accessibility options into the actual game instead of it being an alienating feature that people have to scroll through the options list for. These attachments allow you to make fighting easier. These accessories enable attacks or healing to be automated, for example. This is perfect for those who struggle with action games or those with disabilities. It is a welcome feature which is complemented by the Story-Focused game mode, which also makes fighting simpler. This is an excellent step towards making gaming more accessible.

Whether you play with intense combos or simple button mashing, the flashiness of moves and the constant, layered influx of abilities of different elements keeps fighting fresh until the very end with a strong story supporting it. 

The Power Of Friendship

Without delving into spoilers, Final Fantasy 16 tells a beautiful story of hardship and relationships. The backdrop of hectic Eikon boss fights and flashiness is used to elevate a beautiful story about the power of bonds and the emotions that come with being human. Through this, the game leans into an important aspect of all the Final Fantasy games — the bonds between the protagonist and his party members.

Even though Final Fantasy 16 is a more mature game than previous entries, the heart of what makes Final Fantasy is still very much there. The story is worth experiencing despite the smaller side plots that can interrupt the main story beats. There is a free demo out on PS5 where you can experience the Prologue. These opening hours do well to set up the game and are a great microcosm of the larger experience. It is most definitely worth playing before deciding if you want to buy the game.

The stunningly animated cutscenes capture the minute detail of gut-wrenching emotion and the explosive battles between two impenetrable Dominants. Without a doubt, these cutscenes are some of the best in the industry and make the game a joy to both play and watch. These cutscenes and Eikon battles are some of the best gameplay and cinematic segments I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing, and I will never forget some of those moments.

Final Fantasy 16

“Come To Me, Ifrit”

Final Fantasy 16 combines the flashiness of games like Devil May Cry 5 with a compelling story about family, hardship and eudaimonia. It is not without flaws, with its formulaic side missions, pacing issues, and inconsistent open-world design. However, Final Fantasy XVI is still one of the best games in the Final Fantasy series. With some of the best cutscenes and animation in the industry, along with compelling characters and mesmerizing moments, Final Fantasy 16 is undoubtedly one of the best games to play on the PlayStation 5.

Square Enix
Square Enix
Release Date:
June 22, 2023
Final Rating:

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