Final Fantasy XVI Review | Soaring on Phoenix Wings

The bonds that forged us.

It’s been nearly seven years since the last mainline Final Fantasy game. While projects like FFVII Remake and the critically acclaimed MMORPG FFXIV bridge the gap in the interim, it feels good to have the next numbered entry in the franchise.

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Final Fantasy XVI brings the long-running franchise in a bold new direction with an action combat system designed by Ryota Suzuki, yes, the Devil May Cry dude. In tandem with Creative Business Unit 3, Final Fantasy XVI stands along the series’ greats, but not without its stumbles.

Produced by Naoki Yoshida, most well known for his work as Director of Final Fantasy XIV, the team at Creative Business Unit 3 has come together to create their very first mainline Final Fantasy game from the ground up.

Final Fantasy XVI Review | Soaring on Phoenix Wings

Much like any good RPG, Final Fantasy XVI is full of proper nouns you’ll need to get accustomed to pretty quickly. Dominants are people able to summon powerful Eikons, such as Shiva, Garuda, Phoenix, etc. Some of these people are in high places of political power based on the region they hail from, while others are treated as abominations.

The Dominants all have their own motivations, struggles, and reasons to bear arms, providing different challenges for Clive and his companions throughout their journey. The raging fist of Hugo Kupka is held sternly while the dark blade of Barnabas is fast and loose. You’ll learn more and more about them as the story progresses and what hides beneath the surface.

Every time Dominants summon their Eikon, it takes a tremendous toll on their bodies – so much so, many of them have taken up smoking because, what? Is it gonna kill them?

These Eikons are like weapons of mass destruction, with the ability to leave entire regions decimated and left with nothing. It’s a heavy toll to pay, but all of them seemingly do it with little regard for the rubble in their wake.

Each region of Valisthea is built around a Mothercrystal of which all magic comes from in this realm. They are the primary source of strife amongst warring regions. Crystals are splintered off or mined, and given to villages to use for things like bringing water from a well, lighting a smoke, and everything in between.

However, a big part of this game revolves around people who can wield magic in this world. Bearers are cursed with the ability to wield magic without the use of crystals, and because of this, they are subjected to being enslaved by various regions. Each bearer discovered is immediately branded with a mark on their face. People of Valisthea despise branded and, because of that, they are subjected to slavery.

On top of this, you’ll learn of the true Bearer’s curse, which leads them to turn to stone once the magic has used every fiber of their being. Humans used and discarded as tools for a means to an end.

FFXVI’s central plotline revolves around our main protagonist, Clive Rosfield, and his pal Cidolfus trying to create a world where all can be equal.

A large portion of the story is dedicated to taking back people’s freedom against the power of tyrants. Cid’s dream of collective action and having citizens rise up against the current regime is a core part of his character and what makes him a standout in FFXVI.

Ramuh’s Electrifying Personality

Cid is a big personality and one that swallows up everything else in the room. It’s a captivating performance and a sure highlight of my time with Final Fantasy XVI. Cid is also responsible for bringing our protagonist Clive out of his shell more and more.

Clive starts on a quest for revenge for the death of his brother Joshua, the Dominant of Phoenix, but becomes embroiled in so much more.

As a character, Clive is multifaceted in a lot of interesting ways. He starts off brooding, angry, and honestly pretty grating. As he sheds more of that and learns about who he is and the ideals that drive him, he really comes into his own. My thoughts on Clive at the end of the journey are far more positive than at the beginning.

This is largely due to the writing of the supporting cast, and the bonds Clive forges throughout the journey.

What’s a main character with their party and supporting cast, though? Clive is joined at his side by his trusty dog Torgal, who can be used in combat as well as provides a much-needed good boy on this adventure. Torgal is as loyal as they come.

Clive is also joined by other characters like Jill, the Dominant of Shiva, the trusty scout Gav, and other friends of Cid’s band of merry outlaws. Party members come and go as the story dictates, so you won’t be able to adjust their loadouts, jobs, or anything like more traditional Final Fantasy games.

Shiva’s Ice Cold Touch

Jill is a character I wish we got more of. While she’s in large swathes of the game, it often feels she is sidelined to make room for Clive. There are battles where Jill is present in cutscenes, but feels underutilized. She has her own history and dark past to deal with and, when the game lets her take center stage, is a standout. My only complaint about Jill is I just wish we had more of her front and center.

The same goes for other characters like Benedikta, who I felt was done dirty by the writing. We won’t spoil any plot beats or moments, but I felt that these characters were tremendously underutilized in the grand scheme of things.

As the game progresses, you meet more people all suffering similar fates and, on your quest to take back power, you’ll meet characters from the far reaches of Valisthea looking for someone to rally behind. As you expand your crew of outlaws, your opportunities will expand as well.

More side quests will become available in areas as your push forward in the main quest. Often these side quests reward the small stories it tells of the people involved. The tangible rewards aren’t anything to write home about. However, FFXVI’s side quests shine in the moments when no one is looking.

Telling the stories of Branded who are mistreated, why people continue fighting in the face of adversity, and oftentimes, eating the rich.”

I found myself doing side quests to learn more about what the day-to-day looks like in Valisthea. When you’re always looking at the bigger picture, like FFXVI’s main story asks you to, you miss out on everything in-between. The sharing of a smile, the pain of a tear, the tiny dots on an endless timeline.

However, side quests that are marked with a green plus sign are undoubtedly worth seeking out for the rewards. These are quests dedicated to unlocking new items for you. Whether that be your Chocobo, new weapons to craft, or increasing your potion limit, they were always worth completing.

Titan’s Rocking Fist

Let’s talk combat because FFXVI sure does have a lot of it. The action combat in FFXVI feels incredible and has near-limitless potential in the right hands. As you continue the main story, you’ll unlock the powers of the different Eikons. Each Eikon brings something unique to the table and expands your ever-growing roster of abilities to dish out in battle. Phoenix provides a dash to mix into your combos, while Titan provides you with a powerful block that can be used to parry enemy attacks.

You’ll be able to equip three Eikons at any time, and the abilities you slot into them are up to you to decide. The circle button will always be tied to that Eikon’s feat, but the other two buttons can be swapped out in between fights.

Whether you’re choosing a more counter-focused build or one that is constantly on the attack, FFXVI’s combat provides a path forward to you.

All of the abilities can be upgraded for more damage and power until eventually mastered to allow them to be used in pairing with any Eikon.

This means you can keep Phoenix’s dash ability but slot in two Ramuh abilities if you so wish. This provides all players a path forward on how they want to engage with the combat system.

Final Fantasy XVI rewards experimentation and figuring out the best build for any situation. It also provides a training area where you can test out your abilities and combos against any enemy you have previously fought. It’s most akin to a fighting game’s training mode, where you can get all sorts of data and feedback to see where you can improve.

Combining abilities like your Lunge into Magic Burst can feel powerful, and as you begin to string other moves together, it feels like magic.

Of course, if you’re an old-school Final Fantasy player and you’re not sure if the action combat pacing is for you, there are ways around it. The Timely Accessories allow you to add modifiers to your game to help with certain aspects of the combat. You can add one that will always dodge for you, another that will string together auto attacks if you just want to hit the square button, and plenty of others.

This will allow you to still enjoy the game and not have to worry about the combat keeping you back. Final Fantasy XVI also offers a New Game Plus mode with more challenges and harder enemies, as well as an Arcade Mode that lets you go for a high score and compete on global leaderboards. It even has a letter grade system like the Devil May Cry Series. It’s a fun mode to mess around with, but I didn’t spend the bulk of my time doing it. I felt after a few times, I had seen what it offered and didn’t feel obliged to dive back in.

Ifrit’s Bombastic Fire

The Eikon battles, which feature over-the-top bombastic action sequences, are a highlight of Final Fantasy XVI. While many of them are flashy cinematics that require little input, they steal the show with their flourish and incredible action.

There are still plenty of Eikon battles that really put your skills to the test, and they are often the most insane moment of the game. I often found myself looking at my television and muttering the words, “This game is expensive.”

Of course, this is accompanied by an incredible score from Masayoshi Soken. The tracks in this game range from wide-sweeping orchestral like something out of FFXIV Heavensward to dubstep bangers I would hear at the club.”

Soken did not pull any punches with the soundtrack; it shines in loud and quiet moments. Walking into a new area and hearing a faint melody play for the first time was always exciting and made each new area feel distinct.

The wide-open areas of FFXVI are fine; oftentimes, you’ll need to complete a series of main quests in the area for any side activities to open up, but a lot of the space doesn’t feel exciting to explore on its own. Tucked away corners and other spots are held for side quests of Hunts, which are where you’ll fight some of the tougher enemies in the game.

If you haven’t unlocked the side quest or Hunts for that spot, you’ll find nothing but a few mobs. It certainly made me miss the more connected open world of FFXV.

A lot of the areas in Final Fantasy XVI feel like levels and less like parts of a bigger world. That’s my biggest gripe with FFXVI’s world. You’ll see other areas off in the distance, but it’s difficult to feel like all of these places are connected and not just isolated areas next to each other. It wasn’t until the game’s end that I felt I had a better idea of how each place related to the neighboring ones.

Final Fantasy XVI’s grander narrative takes wild turns, evokes plenty of heartfelt emotions, and has given me a new cast of characters to fall in love with all over again. It’s a bold direction that Creative Business Unit 3 has taken the franchise, but one well worth the journey.

There’s still so much to discuss with Final Fantasy XVI, but it’s worth experiencing. The narrative takes some sharp turns, and no matter what Clive faces, he faces it together with his friends, and I just think that’s neat.

FINAL FANTASY XVI

PROS:
● Cast Performances
● Near limitless combat possibilities
● A heartfelt emotional story

CONS:
● Jill and other female characters needed more time in center stage
● Open zones feel a bit bland
● lack of exploration incentives


A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on PlayStation 5.


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Author
Jesse Vitelli
Jesse loves most games, but he really loves games that he can play together with friends and family. This usually means late nights in Destiny 2 or FFXIV. You can also find him thinking about his ever-expanding backlog of games he won't play and being constantly dehydrated. Do not contact him.