Final Fantasy XVI review

Final Fantasy XVI is the latest in the long-running series, although in a time when many single players games are veering into open-worlds, Final Fantasy XVI steps in the other direction, providing a linear story with the action combat of Devil May Cry and the blood, sex and politics of Game of Thrones. Final Fantasy XVI is known for doing something a little different for each entry, and 16 follows in that tradition.

Final Fantasy XVI is violent, more so than past entries. The whole tone of the game is darker than we’ve seen in the series for a long time; there are bloody battles, brooding characters and sensitive topics such as slavery. Politics is front a center in the game, which is where many of the Game of Thrones comparisons originate. The team behind the game clearly had a vision for what they wanted Final Fantasy XVI to be, and they doubled down on that theme, and that really shines through in the end product.

Final Fantasy has been good at reinventing itself over the years, and Final Fantasy XVI is no different. The changes are somewhat more dramatic this time around, especially when you focus on combat. We saw glimpses of this in Final Fantasy VII Remake, although Final Fantasy XVI is closer to Devil May Cry. The Eikon battles are huge set pieces and when blended with the narrative cutscenes you have a very impressive package. In between these big moments Final Fantasy XVI can drag a little, but overall the game has many memorable moments that cement 16 as one of the best in the series.

From a story point of view the game focuses on Clive, his personal growth and the growth of those around him. The early hours of FFXVI follow the events in Valisthea. This is a world with plenty of environmental issues and war, plagued by battles for resources. Crystals are sought after and anyone with the ability to use magic is taken into slavery and treated like a material possesion. The overriding narrative of the game therefore focus on revolution, the slaves overthrowing their masters and while this is a very sensitive subject, Square Enix manage to put it all together pretty well. While there are some very dark and disturbing moments in the story, they strengthen the character development and help us understand the world they live in.

Clive and Joshua are our main focal points; two brothers caught up in a warring royal family that inherits the power of Phoenix, a powerful Eikon. Tragedy hits their family early in the story and kicks off the main narrative, where we see how important Dominants (the people chosen to weild Eikons) and their use as weapons of mass destruction. This huge power comes with massive weight of responsibility, and all this is blended woth political drama and classic fantasy add up to an entertaining story that gets you hooked early on.

While we see demonstrations of power and destruction, Final Fantasy XVI is equally a story about revenge and redemption. The weight of sins past, and things they are not entirely responsible for weighs heavy on the main cast of characters. It’s also a story about love; between two brothers and the wider love experienced as a family. It’s also a story of friendships and bonds between other characters. Torgal is a highlight, the faithful hound who fights side by side with Clive throughout your adventures.

Final Fantasy XVI is a little different to other Final Fantasy games, in that you largely play the game solo as Clive. While he does has a roster of Eikons, normally you’ll be bringing together a ragtag bunch of characters. Here things are different, a little more focused, and it’s a change from the regular formula, but one that works well in the larger context of the game. It does retain certain elements of RPGs like levelling, skill trees, upgrades and progression. The combat system comes into play, which means your skill as a player, rather than the stats you take into the fight, are just as decisive. Clive can equip 3 Eikons and swap between them and having a good gameplay of Eikon attacks can be key to winning battles. This is something you’re going to figure out when playing the game, but it’s fun to create combos.

The boss battles really help the combat system to shine. Clive works on bringing down their stagger meter and then going for an all out attack, which has shades of Final Fantasy VII. Bosses can throw in wrenches by dodging, and reading your attacks, responding in-kind. You can see the influence from 14 and the MMO scene here, given the same director took the reigns for 16. Final Fantasy XVI isn’t a challenging game. Progressing through the game will naturally level you up as you go. For those that want the challenge there is New Game+ Ultimania, which does make things very interesting and challenging. The main compaign offers up the main beats of the story and then you have side quests too, unfortunately they aren’t the strongest part of the game. While you do get good context for the other people that live in the world, the sidequests feel more suited to an MMO rather than an action game like this.

Overall, this is a big entry for the Final Fantasy series. The Eikon vs Eikon battles are where the game shines, it commits to the vision of the game, and offers up a great story and delivers satisfying action. Whether this is your latest Final Fantasy or your first, I think you’ll have a great time.

Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 5
Release Date: 22nd June 2023