Even though there have been 20 mainline entries in the Final Fantasy series (including X-2, 13-2, Lightning Returns, and Final Fantasy 7 Remake), Final Fantasy 16 is still the only Final Fantasy game that can truly be compared to the original. The most recent installment in this illustrious series is less of a return to the RPG roots of the brand and more of a step forward in the development of the character action subgenre. It combines quick-twitch reflexes with character-building RPG features, but the emphasis is placed on the former in a much greater degree than in any previous installment. Even though it’s not a perfect combination, Final Fantasy 16’s epic plot makes up for any flaws in the gameplay and story elements. The game’s combat is fantastic for an action RPG, but it is admittedly a bit weak when compared directly to the greats of the character action genre. However, even an imperfect combination is potent enough to make the experience worthwhile. It is jam-packed with characters who will stick in your head for a long time, has an exceptional worldbuilding, a wonderful soundtrack, and moments of sheer spectacle that will blow your socks off, the likes of which are rarely seen in any video game.
Final Fantasy 16 continues to drive the series back down the path of high fantasy, taking more than a little inspiration from Game of Thrones along the way. Final Fantasy 16 picks up the ball that FF14 got rolling and continues to bring the series back down the path. It takes place in the realm of Valisthea, which is a land teeming with both beauty and death as an approaching blight pushes neighbouring kingdoms to struggle over pristine resources. These resources include five giant Mother Crystals, which are the primary source of the realm’s magic. The story spans decades worth of history in the realm of Valisthea.
Your character, Clive Rosfield, plays a pivotal role in this story. He is the eldest prince of the kingdom of Rosaria and the defender of his brother Joshua, who is the Dominant of Phoenix (but let’s not get bogged down in jargon just now; we’ll talk about Dominants a little bit later). Ben Starr did a tremendous job bringing the character Clive to life as an actor, and he is a fantastic, well-rounded protagonist. He goes through a lot of development and change over the course of the decades-long plot, yet he never stops being an extremely likeable, relatable character who can also be an utter badass when the situation calls for it, which it does a lot of the time.
Clive is a wonderful example of a multidimensional main character.
The remaining members of the cast are also quite good. Jill is Clive’s childhood friend and functions as a fantastic companion who understands and empathises with Clive on a deep and emotional level. The poignant sequences between them are always a highlight as their relationship develops. Susannah Fielding does an excellent job portraying Jill. I would have to say that Cid is now my favourite Final Fantasy character of all time. Despite the fact that Ralph Ineson has done an excellent job voicing him (he’s having quite a 2023 in the world of video games, having also starred in Diablo IV), he gives off an air that’s nearly reminiscent of a younger version of Liam Neeson. Ralph Ineson. Without going into detail, his cause is one that was very simple to rally behind, and it made me enthusiastic to follow him and his band of outlaws. Cid is a born leader, full of charisma and charm, and without going into depth, his cause is one that was very easy to rally behind.
A Narrative That Resonates
However, the greatest triumph of Final Fantasy 16’s story is how it never allows you to become overwhelmed by its extensive backstory. This is a massive world with five kingdoms, each of which has its own form of government, rulers, religions, and ideals; a whole encyclopedia’s worth of realm-specific terms, such as bearers, Eikons, and Dominants; and a grand history of the world that you are expected to keep up with in order to get the most out of the significant story moments. Without the brilliant quality-of-life addition known as Active Time Lore, which I sincerely hope will one day be included in all narrative-driven video games, the whole thing would feel a little bit overwhelming.
You can bring up a series of contextual compendium entries that are pertinent to what’s going on in any discussion or cutscene by holding down the DualSense touchpad at any point during that scene. These entries will change depending on what’s happening in the scenario. Therefore, if a character addressed a term, character, or area that I either didn’t know or needed a reminder about, I was able to pull up the Active Time Lore, and a brief entry would be right there to bring me up to speed on the topic. These entries are updated as new information regarding the status of the world and Clive’s understanding of it comes to light throughout the course of the narrative, thus they, too, change as the story progresses.
It was a blessing from above to have access to a feature of this nature. Later on, important missions are also preceded by chic history classes delivered by your crew’s scholar. These lessons provide you with the information you need to know about the region you are about to visit, including who the rulers are, their aspirations, their allies, and their foes, among other relevant details. I am aware that this may sound like something you would do in school, but in reality, it did a pretty good job of immersing me into the domain of Valisthea and keeping me immersed in it.
The existence of Eikons and Dominants is one of the story’s most intriguing aspects, and it also winds up being an amazing complement to the already very fantastic fighting. Both of these aspects contribute to the overall quality of the game. Dominants are extraordinary humans who are able to tap into the strength of Eikons, even to the point of totally transforming into them. Eikons are extremely strong entities that fans of prior Final Fantasy games will recognise as the standard summons used in those games. According to the legend, Dominants are treated nearly exactly like nuclear deterrents; they are only brought into play as a very last resort because to the possibility that their battles may result in mutually assured annihilation.
However, they are going to fight, and every time they do, it will be an epic battle that will live in infamy due to its colossal proportions. It would break my heart to give anything away about these encounters if I said too much about them, but I will say that they are incredible shows. Some of them take the action in a whole other way and play out like a Panzer Dragoon level, while others are like enormous kaiju bouts combined with Dragon Ball Z. However, nearly all of them brought back memories of playing God of War 3 or Asura’s Wrath, and the sensation of being totally awestruck by the astounding sense of size and overwhelming power in those games.
Final Fantasy has been moving further and further away from its roots as a turn-based role-playing game for quite some time now, and with the release of Final Fantasy 16, it feels like a transformation that has been in the works for years is finally complete. The battle system in Final Fantasy 16 is an action game through and through. Period. It is fast, flexible, and incredibly reflex-driven, and it is full of opportunities for you to absolutely style on your adversaries with air combos, leap cancels, and a big arsenal of extremely strong spells and abilities.
There are some concessions that need to be made in order to facilitate this transformation, such as the fact that you can only ever control one character, the levels are much more linear than they have been in the past – though about as linear as they were in Final Fantasy 13 before that game opened up – and a significant number of the actual role-playing game elements have been relegated to a supporting role in a variety of ways that I’ll go over shortly. This method is much more pleasant to me than Final Fantasy XV‘s more hybridised approach to battle, and it’s on par with how much fun I had with Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s one-of-a-kind method. Purists might not like the significant adjustments that have been made.
When broken down, the activity could look like it’s in complete disarray, but it’s actually quite ingeniously straightforward.
Once you break the action down into its constituent parts, you’ll see that despite how chaotic it may appear at first glance, it’s actually quite elegant and straightforward. By pressing Square repeatedly, Clive is able to perform a four-hit combo with his melee attacks, he can use Triangle to shoot magic at foes from a distance, he may utilise an ability that is specific to the Eikon power he is presently equipped with, and he also has access to up to three additional powers that are associated with that Eikon.
In a manner similar to that of Final Fantasy, larger foes and bosses have a stagger metre that can be filled by landing attacks. Once it is full, they will be put in a staggered state, which gives you the opportunity to build up a multiplier and lay down huge amounts of damage for a limited amount of time. However, this state only lasts for a certain amount of time. A significant portion of the fighting expertise required comes from your capacity to immediately stun opponents, and then to maximise the amount of damage you are able to inflict on them while they are stunned by making the most of your abilities and rapidly switching between your Eikons.
To achieve this goal, there are a lot of clever elements that are built into the game that reward skillful play. You won’t build up stagger very rapidly if you just keep mashing the attack button, but if you utilise precisely timed magic attacks in between your melee assaults, you’ll perform magic bursts, which do more damage and produce more stagger. On top of that, properly timed evasions create possibilities for counter assaults that cause significant damage to the target while they are stunned. Alternatively, if you are feeling particularly fancy, you could try to time an attack to collide with theirs to trigger a parry, which slows down time and allows for even more punishment.
It is a great combat system that kept my brain firing at a rapid pace as I tried to balance timing my magic bursts with managing my skill cooldowns and keeping an eye out for enemy tells to be ready to dodge – in addition to just trying to look cool for the sake of looking cool, which is always an important element in my book for any action game to have. One of the features that I enjoy the most is the ability to give commands to your hound, Torgal. One of these commands launches weaker adversaries, which enables me to zip right up to them while they are in the air, juggle them with some rapid aerial blows, and then send them crashing down with an explosive attack similar to a helm splitter.
Despite all of this, the game is quite lengthy, and while you do gain new Eikons and skills on a fairly regular basis, these new additions do not alter the combat in a way that makes the fundamental battles much different or more compelling. As a result, the battles do ultimately lose some of their appeal. The fact that you roam open areas and linear dungeons, both of which include a large number of recurring opponent types, doesn’t help matters either.
At least the bosses were always new and exciting, with many of them playing with some fun Final Fantasy tropes such as having the names of their big attacks show up on the screen. Additionally, some particularly dangerous techniques even had a countdown that ended with an extremely powerful blow if you were unable to do enough damage to stop them from getting it off. Many of the most challenging boss fights feature Quick Time Events (QTEs), which do an excellent job of providing additional cinematic flair and punctuate the various phases of a fight with some truly amazing moments.
Incomplete Melting Pot
The strange paradox of Final Fantasy 16 is that, despite the fact that all of the action components are of the highest calibre, the RPG parts get the impression of being rather lacking in depth. To put it simply, there are no status ailments, there is no genuine system of elemental strengths or weaknesses, there is very little in the field of buffs and debuffs, and most importantly, loot appears to be an afterthought. I never once felt motivated to investigate either the corners of the linear main levels or the more wide fields of the connecting overworlds; and in general, there really aren’t a tonne of character building choices that you can make to customise Clive in any kind of distinctive way. I never once felt inspired to explore either the corners of the linear main levels or the more open fields of the interconnected overworlds.
The peculiar quirk of Final Fantasy 16 is that the RPG aspects have the impression of being quite underdeveloped.
The most in-depth it gets is that you can outfit Clive with up to three accessories, each of which can have a variety of useful effects. Typically, these accessories can power up specific special skills, increase your combo damage, or increase the amount of healing that can be done. In addition, you start the game with a total of five unique rings that can help smooth out some of the rougher edges of battle rather than switching to easier difficulty settings. The first one allows you to basically just hold down the Square button and let the artificial intelligence handle things for you by automatically casting spells, switching Eikons, and using basic attacks, while the second one will automatically dodge an attack as long as it can be evaded. The fact that these rings are there as a fully optional means to change the difficulty in very specific ways is something I really enjoy, even though I didn’t feel the need to utilise them myself. You won’t have room for any other stat-altering accessories if you do equip them, which means that one aspect of RPG-like customisation is eliminated entirely. This, of course, is one of the drawbacks of using them.
But the aspect of Final Fantasy 16 that most pleased me was the quality of the sidequests I was able to complete over time. They actually begin as quite generic and menial tasks, such as finding a certain number of Y objects in the field or bringing three hot cups of soup to people in the hideout. However, in the second part of the story, these optional tasks have an important purpose: they are the best method to tie up all of the loose ends that aren’t related to the main campaign. Characters that you wouldn’t really expect to have extremely deep backstories open up to you in ways that are frequently very affecting. Side characters are given suitable send-offs; pieces that were knocked over in the major tale are satisfyingly built back up; and people who you wouldn’t really expect to have very deep backstories open up to you. Even while it takes a little bit of time to get there, it is just the kind of optional material that I desire in a large role-playing game.
And the sound track, by the mercy of Bahamut, the sound track!
In addition to the sidequests, there is also a bounty board that you may utilise to track down particularly difficult monsters in exchange for more valuable rewards. The majority of them are simply more powerful versions of foes that you have already faced, but some of them are boss encounters in their own right and are responsible for some of the most challenging fights that are accessible. When everything is said and done, there is a decent lot of supplemental material provided for you to keep you occupied, and you’ll want to complete as much of it as you can in order to be prepared for New Game+, which considerably raises both the level cap and the difficulty of the game, as well as adds new gear upgrades. Even more than that, there is also something called an arcade mode that you can use to go through the game’s earlier levels in order to try to achieve high scores that you can then publish to an online leaderboard. It goes without saying that there is a significant amount of content available even after the credits have rolled.
And the sound track, by the mercy of Bahamut, the sound track! It is able to accompany each significant event in such a way as to make it even more moving, whether it is the poignant moments shared by Clive and Jill, the peaceful relief found within the hideaway, or the incredibly epic conflicts fought amongst Eikons. Although I’m not sure if I’m ready to say that it’s among the best Final Fantasy soundtracks of all time just yet, I can say with absolute certainty that it’s among the best soundtracks that 2023 has to offer so far. Final Fantasy 16 looks great, too. Even with the graphics setting set to prioritise frame rate, the performance may not maintain a steady sixty frames per second all the time; yet, despite these insignificant flaws, the game is still one of the most visually stunning titles I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing.
It is highly likely that Final Fantasy 16 will be regarded in retrospect as a watershed moment for the mainline Final Fantasy games, as it moved the series’ battle system in its entirety in the direction of an action game. However, I sincerely hope that this conversation will not overshadow Final Fantasy 16’s dark and captivating story, its memorable characters, and the innovative ways in which it helps you keep track of it all. Even while the fighting may not meet up to the sky high standards of some of the best games in the character action genre and other action RPGs, it’s still towards the top of the pile. The Active Time Lore feature is incredible, and it should be standard for all story-driven games going ahead. When you combine all of that with one of the best soundtracks of the year, incredible performances from top to bottom, and visuals that are drop dead stunning, you get a game that is deserving of an orchestral Final Fantasy victory fanfare.
With our comprehensive guide, you now possess the knowledge and strategies to embark on a remarkable journey through the captivating world of Final Fantasy 16. From understanding the game’s immersive lore to mastering its dynamic combat system, we have equipped you with the tools necessary to rise above the competition. Unleash the power within and become the true master of Final Fantasy 16!
Remember, in the world of Final Fantasy 16, true mastery awaits those who are willing to embrace the challenges, delve into the lore, and harness the potential of their characters. So, grab your controller, prepare for adventure, and let your journey begin!