Final Fantasy XVI review
Image via Square Enix

Review: Final Fantasy XVI Is a Great Action Game Focused on Clive’s Story

Final Fantasy XVI is without question a great game, but after about 45 hours with it, I can’t help but think it often isn’t great at being a Final Fantasy game. There are interesting concepts here, especially with how it approaches some familiar elements from the series. I love some of the characters. However it can feel more like a spin-off or original IP borrowing elements, to the point where I’d almost say Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origins feels more like a mainline installment than it does. It’s absolutely technically impressive and I have no doubt many will consider it their game of the year as 2023 draws to a close. However in terms of Final Fantasy as a whole, I suspect it will be a more divisive entry like Final Fantasy XIII or XV

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For all of its political intrigue, Final Fantasy XVI is first and foremost the story of Clive Rosfield. It begins with him as a teenager, training to become First Shield of Rosaria and protect his little brother and Rosaria’s next-in-line to rule Joshua. However, life doesn’t always go as we expect. As such, we follow him during important moments in his life, which also happen to be ones that help shape the course of Valisthea’s history.

The early life of Clive begins like Jon Snow’s with the Stark’s family at Winterfell. He’s training, just as the Stark children did. They’re all together. Even his pet Torgal is essentially filling the role of a Direwolf. Like Jon Snow, Clive’s mother favors another child over him. Joshua isn’t well, much like Bran ends up as the injured underdog. Clive is destined for a life of duty as a Shield, which feels like a similar path of service like the Night’s Watch. Goetz feels like a Hodor character, right down to carrying someone on his back immediately after appearing. Shades of Cersei Lannister appear in Benedikta and Clive’s mother Anabella. There are other similarities, to be sure, though those fall into the realm of spoilers.

Final Fantasy XVI review

Image via Square Enix

This means that while earlier installments like FFIV, FFVI, FFIX, and FFXV felt like they offered wholly unique stories, Final Fantasy XVI seems like it sacrifices some of its originality to be more like Game of Thrones. Perhaps if someone doesn’t have an awareness of George R. R. Martin’s series, they’ll enjoy and appreciate some characters here more. But if you do have that knowledge, the similarities can sometimes be overwhelming and overshadow people’s finer points. This is especially true in its first half.

Also, I can’t help feeling that the team behind Final Fantasy XVI treats most women in its cast particularly poorly. Jill should feel stronger, given how prominently placed she is at Clive’s side as an ally… but instead she’s often just “there.” I felt like I knew another NPC who appeared in multiple cutscenes in the latter half of the game far better. With Benedikta, it feels like the team was so desperate to make her into a femme fatale that the characterization is quite off. It jumps from stereotype to stereotype with no time to settle down. (Perhaps having more women in the cast would have helped with that and prevented out-of-character moments?) The same goes for Anabella. But then, at least these three immediately are named cast members, unlike one recurring, seemingly-important woman who is only labeled as an “attendant” to another character for quite some time. The three women I felt I knew best were three of the supporting cast, with only one featuring strongly in the story. This entry makes me wonder if we’ll ever see a new mainline entry with strong female leads like Final Fantasy V, VI, or XIII again. 

I will say that once the team at Square Enix does get into original concepts, such as lore behind the Mothercrystals, Dominants, Eikons, Bearers, and Fallen, Final Fantasy XVI is fascinating. I was absolutely engrossed whenever I could explore a ruin, learn more about how crystals work here, and would get to see insight into various Dominant’s lifestyles. You can tell the team working on the game possesses some serious writing chops, and this is especially exemplified after you get to about the halfway point. It’s just a shame that couldn’t come through more in the earlier hours. Because when it starts getting good, it made me want to share what I’d learned with others and explore it more. I was genuinely excited about it and it didn’t feel like, “Well, I can tell which episode of Game of Thrones inspired this element.”

Image via Square Enix

FINAL FANTASY XVI © 2023 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved.

Keeping track of everything is also helped by being able to press the touchpad at any time to bring up a lore library. However, because the focus is so tightly on Clive, that means a lot of character details and important information does remain buried in those written entries. I appreciate it is there and valuable, but I also can’t help thinking the team at Square Enix isn’t doing a very good job of “showing,” if I have to go into those records to for the team to “tell” me more about people instead of seeing that come up during cutscenes, quests, and story segments. I wish I didn’t feel like I’d be missing out if I didn’t go looking for more information, breaking up a scene to do so.

While the story can bury some interesting points and force you to look for them, the battle system is always on display. Ahead of launch, Final Fantasy XVI‘s combat was compared to Devil May Cry, and it is incredibly apt. Pulling together combos via standard and magic attacks, as well as Eikonic abilities (with cooldowns) is critical. You want to juggle enemies with your hits, to launch them up in the air, perhaps keep them there with additional hits, then send them back to the ground. Not to mention now Clive’s Limit Break functions more like a Devil Trigger than a special attack. (It’s just missing a “Smokin’ Sexy Style” when you do “well.”) More formidable foes can be staggered, with you getting a little relief from their assault when you break their guard to the halfway point and a full reprieve when they are broken, stunned, and temporarily defenseless. Which is to say it in no way feels like an RPG or even action-RPG, if you were somehow still hoping for that. 

However, it is incredibly tight and well-built. Chaining together combinations is a joy, and it’s even more fun once you have at least three Eikons so you can really experiment. I do wish that would happen sooner, because it feels like it can take a while to really dole out those extra abilities. This means you don’t get to really customize Clive’s moveset until you’ve invested a substantial amount of time into the game. The Eikons are incredibly cool and useful in most fights, and I was delighted when I could take advantage of those abilities. There are so many combinations you can eventually work with, and the ones you equip let you create a Clive who could focus on ranged attacks or be more in the enemy’s face. Also, since you can reset skills immediately, you’re never penalized for experimenting. The “Timely” accessories for beginners also work quite well, and I could see them making the combat system far more accessible for people who aren’t as familiar with the genre.

However, while I do love how Final Fantasy XVI handles summons, I do wish their battles offered a bit more punch. The thing about the Eikon fights is that they seem designed to feel momentous, and they do! There are a few in the latter half that left me stunned. But some can be a little too scripted to offer any real gravitas. In a few, I felt it was more about the experience, rather than an actual challenge, with QTE segments carrying quite a bit of weight for advancing the battle and dealing damage. I get why they are there, and these encounters are important from a storytelling perspective. Just the fights themselves are more flashy than about additional displays of skill. It was weird to feel like, “Okay, I pressed this button for the QTE, now I can sit and watch for a minute or two.” In one match-up, I also had multiple moments where it seemed like I did all the damage I could possibly do, the health bar wasn’t decreasing any further, and I needed to wait for the next cutscene and QTE accompanying it before I could continue making real progress.

Final Fantasy XVI review

Image via Square Enix

I suppose this ties in to the game’s general progression as well. If Final Fantasy XVI reminded me of any installment, I’d say it is Final Fantasy XIII. While the stages and areas I’d explore were certainly more expressive than Cocoon and we do have a handful of area maps that are more open, many of them can feel straightforward and about getting from point A to point B. Run. Fight a battle that may or may not be optional. Run past glimmering items to get incredibly common drops like potions, sharp fangs, magicked ash, and maybe 2 gil. Hit a quest marker. Watch a scene. Run a bit. Fight. Repeat. In some spaces, I might happen upon a person with a sidequest, which could usually be accomplished by talking to certain folks or fighting specific enemies when I hit a spot down the road. If it was a really considerate sidequest, an additional person would be at the end so I wouldn’t have to backtrack to report the results while continuing the mainline mission.

Also, the lack of sidequests surprised me. To be clear, there are some present. They can really help flesh out the characters and the world. There were even times when I appreciated the bonuses they unlocked. But so many only gave me 20-30 more of a common item I’d already been inundated with after performing a fetch quest or running off to defeat some monster. I suppose I was hoping for more substance to them. Or to see more in the list when I’d visit the hideaway and check in at the hub to see if any more accumulated in different regions. But I felt like the bulk of them appeared after I was 75% through the game and I was ready to wrap things up.

Even so, I will say the general gameplay loop and performance never falters. I played Final Fantasy XVI with the focus on graphics. Loading times were nonexistent between areas. I didn’t encounter a single bug or error. The only time there was ever any pause is when I’d tab between the Journal and Map in the main menu. Everything feeds into itself quite well. While I may have wanted more from sidequests, I can’t deny it was satisfying to go through each story mission’s routine.

Image via Square Enix

Image via Square Enix

As someone who, well, plays games and writes about them for a living, I can’t help but be impressed by Final Fantasy XVI. It’s gorgeous, is a AAA title with no bugs that I noticed at launch, features a tight battle system that gets great once you have three Eikons, and does go some interesting places with its story when it isn’t borrowing ambiance or character attributes from Game of Thrones. Final Fantasy XVI offers a lot of things I could want from an action game. But as a Final Fantasy fan who’s been playing since the original NES installment, I can’t help but feel disappointed. It’s missing elements that I love about the series, both in terms of a completely unique story that focuses on a well-developed cast of heroes and certain sorts of gameplay, and it makes me fear that we’ll never see a new mainline entry like Final Fantasy VI or IX again. Still, Final Fantasy XVI is an enjoyable game, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. I wanted the best for characters like Clive, Jill, Cid, and Torgal. Plus when the team did get to focus on original lore and things tied to concepts like crystals and Eikons, it excelled.

Final Fantasy XVI will be available for the PlayStation 5 on June 22, 2023. There is a six-month exclusivity period.

8
Final Fantasy XVI

The sun is setting upon the land of Valisthea. For centuries, people have flocked to her Mothercrystals to partake of their blessing—the abundant aether that fuels the magicks they rely upon in their everyday lives. But as the aether begins to fade and the lifeless deadlands spread ever further, so too does the struggle over the final flickers of the Mothers' light grow ever more fierce. Bloody battle rages across the realm, rival nations sending their ultimate weapons against each other: the Dominants. Men and women within whom sleep the world-shattering power of an Eikon. There are few in Valisthea whose lives have not been touched by this war for the crystals' blessing, and Clive Rosfield, firstborn son of the Archduke of Rosaria, is no exception.

Final Fantasy XVI is technically impressive and an amazing action game, though the Game of Throne elements do hinder it a bit. However when the team does get to be original, the story can be absolutely engrossing.

Food for Thought
  • Treasure chests are often hard to see unless you’re close enough to see the indicator to open one. Also, odds are slim they have anything really worthwhile in them.
  • While there is crafting, you don’t have to really grind for materials. Unless it’s a special weapon with a drop from a boss, materials like Wyrrite, meteorites, sharp fangs, steel silk, and bloody hides are incredibly common. Also, after a while it feels like… there’s not much to craft.
  • The game is very good at humanizing minor NPCs and making you care about and feel for them.

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Author
Jenni Lada
Jenni is Editor-in-Chief at Siliconera and has been playing games since getting access to her parents' Intellivision as a toddler. She continues to play on every possible platform and loves all of the systems she owns. (These include a PS4, Switch, Xbox One, WonderSwan Color and even a Vectrex!) You may have also seen her work at GamerTell, Cheat Code Central, Michibiku and PlayStation LifeStyle.