Final Fantasy XVI Review: Defying Fate

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| August 29, 2023

Review code provided by Square Enix

This review contains minimal spoilers for the first part of the game. No major plot details will be discussed.

It’s always an event when a new numbered Final Fantasy releases. The months leading up to the launch are filled with speculation, rumours, leaks, and the eventual trailers and media dump. It’s an exhilarating time, with some people being so excited, they can barely contain themselves (I’m people). But the long wait is finally over because we have Final Fantasy XVI in our hands (or hard drives if you bought it digitally).

This isn’t just any new Final Fantasy, though; it has got the dream team behind it. Not only was it produced by the highly talented Naoki Yoshida of Final Fantasy XIV fame, but other talented people, such as Ryota Suzuki, who worked on Devil May Cry, brought their expertise to the game and made it extraordinary. This team has crafted a deep and engaging story with likeable characters, exquisite combat, and drop-dead gorgeous presentation. There’s nothing quite like it.

A Story of Crystals and Gods

5’11 vs 6 foot. (Square Enix)

Final Fantasy XVI takes place in Valisthea, a land of magic, crystals, and gods. People use special crystals to use magic, with the larger Mothercrystals providing energy for the whole world. Certain people can use magic without a crystal but are treated as slaves by the rest of the world due to their usefulness. There are also dominants, people selected by the gods (summons from previous Final Fantasy games), and can wield their power for themselves. This is where our main character, Clive Rosfield, comes in. Clive is the protector of his younger brother Joshua, who is the dominant of the Phoenix Eikon. After a series of events, Clive loses his brother and his home. Now, Clive is on a quest for revenge, all while seeking answers about what happened in his past and the secrets of the crystals.

I enjoyed the story of Final Fantasy XVI. I won’t spoil any major plot points here because I think this story is best experienced as blind as possible. I will say that this story is one of the best I’ve experienced this year in any media. The way the story progresses is incredible, with a slow burn that slowly sucks you in. Clive’s quest for revenge initially seems cookie-cutter, but it evolves into a more noble cause. The world-building is also top-notch with all your interactions with the NPCs, the environment, and the gameplay. Everything helps to flesh out the world and story, providing an emotional and satisfying experience. The characters only help to further engage you in this beautiful story and world.

Everyone Needs Friends

Just kiss already. (Square Enix)

Like every Final Fantasy game, the colourful cast of characters are a standout. Clive has become one of my favourite Final Fantasy protagonists, just behind Cloud Strife. We get to watch him grow, not only physically but emotionally. His growth throughout the game is one of my favourite aspects of the story. It’s not just Clive that’s great; the other main characters are also unforgettable. Jill Warrick is Clive’s childhood friend/romantic interest, but she’s more than just a love interest. How she struggles with what she was forced to do as the dominant of Shiva has massive parallels with Clive’s story, and it might be even more depressing. Then there’s Cidolfus Telamon, the dominant of Ramuh. He’s a swashbuckling freedom fighter who is always a joy to be around; I only wish he was in more of the game. I couldn’t forget to mention the goodest of boys, Torgal. This loyal canine companion is a constant throughout the game, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. And yes, you can pet the dog.

The side characters are also all interesting and engaging as well. There’s the expert tracker, Gav, who is always fun when he shows up, and the helpful but snarky Tarja, who I wish got more screen time. The villains aren’t to be forgotten as well because their stories are just as strong as the heroes. A stand-out to me was the first main villain you encounter, Benedikta, the dominant of Garuda. She initially comes off as the typical manipulative, evil person, but once she is thrown into the spotlight, she becomes a hell of a lot more sympathetic. Her past with Cidolfus nearly brought me to tears, and I was holding out hope that they’d get a somewhat happy ending. While the characters were undoubtedly excellent, the gameplay was just as engaging.

Eikon May Cry

Ooohhh, pretty. (Square Enix)

The gameplay was something I was very keen on trying in Final Fantasy XVI. As a fan of action games and Final Fantasy VII Remake, I was excited to see what Square Enix could come up with. I’m happy to report that it’s just as fun and rewarding as I hoped. In combat, you only control Clive and his multitude of elemental powers. You can switch between powers with the press of a button, leading to some crazy combos. You can knock an enemy into the sky with the power of the Phoenix, only to rip them right back into the ground with Garuda. The possibilities are endless, and you can quickly lose hours fine-tuning your combo skills. The rest of your party is controlled by the AI, which, while disappointing, does streamline things.

The exploration is relatively straightforward outside of combat, but I’m ok with that. I don’t need every game to be a sprawling open world, and I’ve come to appreciate games with a more focused approach. I would’ve liked it if they included some form of mini-map because I’ll admit I did turn myself around once or twice. It doesn’t detract much from the overall experience, but it still would’ve been nice, even if it was a toggle. It didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the game, especially because it is drop-dead gorgeous and filled with fantastic particle effects.

Looking the Part

That’s a big crystal. (Square Enix)

One thing that all Final Fantasy games nail without fail is the presentation, and Final Fantasy XVI doesn’t ruin that trend. This is one of the most visually stunning games I’ve played in recent years. The game takes full advantage of the PS5, allowing for a level of detail unheard of in Final Fantasy. The varied and beautiful world ensures you’ll constantly be in awe of your surroundings. The characters all look like they could be real, with facial animations that look real and not in the uncanny valley way.

Then there are the glorious particle effects, oh, those pretty particles. Every attack has a flash of particles that make every hit feel impactful. Then you have the dominant abilities, where your hits are charged with elements such as fire or lightning, and they look fantastic. You also have the giant Eikon battles, which reminded me of Kaiju fights whenever they showed up. The soundtrack is also an absolute banger, with some fantastic tracks that hit you right in the feels.

Take a moment and enjoy the sunset. (Square Enix)

Final Fantasy XVI is the front-runner for my game of the year. I loved everything about this game, including the story, the characters, the gameplay, and the presentation. I had an absolute blast playing through this game, and it has come close to dethroning Final Fantasy VII Remake as my favourite of the series. Do yourself a favour and play Final Fantasy XVI right now. Trust me, you’ll have an excellent time, with only a few tears shed.

Have you played Final Fantasy XVI? What did you think? What was your favourite Eikon? Let us know in the comments where we can talk all things Final Fantasy.

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