It’s pretty amazing that we’re now on the sixteenth mainline entry of the Final Fantasy series, plus countless spin-offs. Playing Final Fantasy XVI, it’s clear why the series has remained popular enough to warrant it, though. With each title not only having its own cast of characters, but also a new setting and mechanics, it keeps itself fresh.
Final Fantasy XVI is the biggest departure from what has come before in many ways. Its world feels familiar, having the same medieval vibes as some of the early Final Fantasy titles. There are other iconic elements, too, such as Chocobos being used as a method of travel, and some familiar musical themes. But in terms of story and gameplay, Final Fantasy XVI throws some major curveballs. Ultimately, despite being the most accessible Final Fantasy game yet in terms of mechanics, its narrative is much darker and laced with language that would make a sailor blush.
When developing the story for Final Fantasy XVI, it’s clear that Game of Thrones has been a major influence. This is a Final Fantasy game where characters display their lust and try to politically outmanoeuvre each other in the pursuit of power. It’s also a Final Fantasy game where characters have foul mouths, not afraid of dropping f-bombs and more. We had to laugh when an NPC, running away from a commotion up ahead, shouted “Bugger me sideways!” as we ran past them.
The biggest change in Final Fantasy XVI, though, is its move to true action RPG gameplay. A man called Clive lies at the centre of this epic adventure, who starts the story as just a young boy. You’ll be in direct control of him alone, and in combat his sword skills make this play more like a traditional character-driven action game. He doesn’t always fight alone, though. His faithful dog, Torgal, is often found by his side, and basic commands can be issued to him via the d-pad. Other characters sometimes accompany Clive, too, but they fight on their own terms.
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What makes the combat so engaging in Final Fantasy XVI is the range of abilities that Clive gains access to over time. In this world there are powerful beings known as Dominants, able to wield magical powers and transform into huge creatures called Eikons. There are also Bearers; folk born with strange markings on their faces which signify that they have magical abilities. Use of these magical abilities, however, comes at a toll for both Dominants and Bearers.
Born a Bearer, Clive begins the game with multiple fire-based special attacks at his disposal. Via a skill tree, these can be enhanced, and his basic repertoire can also be expanded. In no time at all, Clive’s moveset feels rewarding, with you able to dash at enemies with a thrusting attack and string multiple additional abilities together to form combos. Things only get better as you get further into the game.
Without spoiling the story, Clive eventually gains access to abilities utilising additional elements, and these can be swapped in and out on the fly. You might begin by charging at an enemy using a fiery burst, for example, before lifting enemies up into the air with a wind attack, bringing them back down to earth with a cleaving sword attack, and then following up with some bolts of lightning. You’re free to put together your own loadout of skills for each elements, and making effective use of them to decimate your enemies is very rewarding.
What’s really neat is that the combat of Final Fantasy XVI can be adjusted to match your skill level. Play on the Story Focused mode and battles will largely be a breeze, especially if you also make use of equippable accessories that help with aspects such as dodging enemy attacks and performing combos. Those seeking more of a challenge, on the other hand, can opt for Action Focused mode that ups the ante. Upon completing the game, New Game Plus allows players to make things even harder, too, with a new Final Fantasy mode. In this mode, you’ll even find that your enemies have had a shake-up.
As ever, simply playing through the story of Final Fantasy XVI is a lengthy affair, taking around 40 hours. Chances are it will take most players longer, with much of the game’s side-content also worth digging into. Completing some quests will open up new items to be purchased or crafted at vendors, for example, and hunting down and overcoming powerful enemies has a variety of rewards. There’s even a feature that allows you to replay sections of the game, either to have your performance graded, or to gain more experience and perhaps sweep up items that you missed the first time around.
No doubt the highlight of Final Fantasy XVI, though, is its phenomenal Eikon battles. The entirety of the game flexes the PS5’s muscles, with visuals that are truly gorgeous, but engaging in battle with what are essentially giant summons takes things to the next level. Sure, they’re scripted to some degree, but you feel like you have control for the most part, and pummelling enemies as Ifrit in dramatic fashion will have you on the edge of your seat. The thrill of these epic encounters alone was enough to keep us playing.
Final Fantasy XVI is a brave new direction for the long-running RPG series, and one that pays off. We haven’t been this engaged by a Final Fantasy title in quite some time, and we absolutely love the new action-focused combat system. Sometimes elements of the new and old Final Fantasy clash, and the story has some elements that left us scratching our heads, but overall this will be remembered as one of the greats. With stunning visuals, a rousing soundtrack, a fun combat system and an engaging politically-driven story, Final Fantasy XVI is quite simply a triumph.