Throughout the entirety of my life spent as a devoted gamer, there are two genres that I've come to champion to this very day - fast-paced action games (a la Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden, and Bayonetta) and epic JRPGs (I'm quite enamored with the giants of there genre that comes from the likes of Square Enix and Bandai Namco). When I learned that the latest mainline entry in the Final Fantasy series embodied a combat feel similar to the sort of games I've just mentioned, my interest skyrocketed. And with the promise of a weighty story and a decades-long journey with a likable protagonist, I came into the newest FF game with high expectations. I'm happy to say that those expectations have been met, albeit with some not-so-endearing problems that keep this game from being a perfect 10. Stay with me now as I take you for a deep dive into my Final Fantasy 16 review.
'Final Fantasy 16' Review: A Mature Medieval Marvel
'Final Fantasy 16' Review
Final Fantasy has always started anew with each mainline series entry by throwing players into a new world dominated by a new conflict that's set to be remedied by a new cast of characters. For Final Fantasy XVI, I found myself knee-deep in the fantastical medieval kingdom of "Valisthea," which is rife with strife thanks to separated kingdoms and their constant clashing over the all-powerful "Mothercrystals." The parallels between real-world struggles between nations over oil & other natural resources are prevalent in the way this game's regions come to blows over the magical benefits of such massive natural landmarks. I found myself swept up in the drama that erupted more often than not between the powers that be, who will stop at nothing to claim the power of multiple Mothercrystals. The reliance on "Dominants" and their towering beasts, which are known as "Eikons," play well into all the political intrigue and bloody warfare that rests at the heart of this epic JRPG.
The game's main protagonist, Clive Rosfield, grew into one of my favorite protagonists across the entire FF series. Watching him go from a young soldier-in-training to a resistance fighter to a full-blown outlaw willing to lead a revolution encapsulates everything I loved about playing as him. The people that aid him in his journey, such as the wise-cracking yet tactical rebel Cidolfus Telamon and childhood friend Jill Warrick, do a lot to help Clive open up and evolve his character arc. The same can be said for his enemies, such as the other Dominants, whose cutthroat actions push him to go to great lengths to defend the ones he has sworn to protect and provide with a better way of living. The overall plotline reaches into more fantastical themes as it moves on from a story of revenge and political strife, but I still found myself fully enthralled with the otherworldly forces looking to take advantage of Clive's much sought-after Eikon mastery. Thank god the game's developers implemented the debuting "Active Time Lore" system, which does a fine job when it comes to providing integral info on crucial characters and events.
As you all know at this point already, FF XVI forgoes turn-based battles and party management for a full-fledged action RPG experience. And as someone that has enjoyed the likes of Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, and Asura's Wrath, I can confidently say that this game provides the same thrills those games are known for. Clive is a sword-swinging powerhouse that's able to tap into the power of multiple elemental-based Eikons, which changes up his moveset as he adds new ones to his repertoire. Being able to instantly teleport to an enemy, land a few sword strikes, command my trusty dog to launch it into the air, and then proceed to grab it back down with a wind-based ability to deal further punishment is just a sample size of the crazy stuff you can pull off during combat sequences. Another part of FF XVI's combat that shines is its multitude of Eikon-based boss fights. The sheer scale of each kaiju-sized battle is impressive, plus the sense of weight behind every impactful blow can not be understated. The implementation of quick-time events also played a great part in adding to the excitement that unfolds as I landed devastating attacks with Ifrit's fiery offense.
There are two main issues that kept nagging me as I got deeper into my epic journey through FF XVI - the reliance on just one weapon and the easy difficulty present during everyone's first playthrough. While I love the fact that Clive's elemental powers give him new abilities to play with, I would have loved to have been able to mix it up with different weapons over time. The addition of a spear, dual knives, or an ax of some sort would have done wonders to make Clive's moveset even more interesting. And as someone who's an action game veteran, I didn't have much issue tackling many of the game's regular battles and boss encounters. I was left wishing that the game's much tougher "Final Fantasy Mode" was available from the very start. The only battles that gave me a true challenge on the base difficulty were the monsters seen on the "Hunting Board," to be quite honest. FF XVI isn't a complete cakewalk, mind you. It just doesn't provide much of a considerable challenge during one's initial playthrough.
Now much has been said about this game's side quest and just how unfulfilling they come off as. I half agree with that sentiment. While putting together my Final Fantasy 16 review, my mind reverted back to mindless fetch quests and "kill these monsters at this location" objectives that didn't do a whole lot to make me look forward to the entirety of them. But I still have to show a bit of love to some side quests in particular thanks to the way in which they expanded upon the game's narrative and produced some truly shocking revelations. The horrid treatment of Valesthia's enslaved "Bearers" and the status of Clive's loyal Chocobo after years of no contact are clear examples of worthwhile outcomes from certain side quests. I was left wishing that FF XVI's side quests threw in more varied gameplay elements to measure up to the intriguing plot developments that came from some of them. Even still, I got a kick out of gaining the experience from those missions that strengthen Clive and his revered status as a hero that grants him donations from his followers throughout the realm.
It would be remiss of me to not mention just how gorgeous this game looks and the excellence of its soundtrack. FF XVI is a fine specimen when it comes to next-gen graphical performance - its various biomes made me stop from time to time to take in their visual flair, the Eikon clashes that erupted from time to time constantly wowed me thanks to their abundance of flashy moments, and the cutscenes are supplemented by memorable character designs and well-written dialogue (Cid's snappy comebacks always elicited humorous reactions from me). Random instances of dropped frames during cutscenes and on-foot traversal are noticeable visual hiccups that I hope get patched out at some point soon. On the musical front, the standard battle theme, boss battle tune, and "Before The Storm - Caer Norvent" are definite standouts. FF XVI unsurprisingly upholds the grand legacy brought forth by the series' penchant for a strong visual and audio output.