Final Fantasy XVI (No Spoilers) Review
Final Fantasy has struggled with itself for a good long time. How do you recreate the scale and majesty of a massive SNES or even PS1 game in the HD era? The answer, for a long time, was that you just don’t. You stick to narrow corridors, or scale back the story. Maybe you confine your characters to a car for long journeys, with passing landmarks doing just and only that.
With Final Fantasy VII Remake and now Final Fantasy XVI, that has changed. The franchise seems back on its way. And all it took was for it to abandon its roots. Easy right? Franchises should do it more often.
The sci-fi fantasy combination of other recent games has been replaced with a darker medieval aesthetic. The party has been replaced with a major focus on just one character. The pretense that these games are still ATB-driven RPGs is gone, replaced with character action.
And all of these things have proven a major success. But fans who have held out, or are waiting for the PC (and Xbox?) release: don’t panic. There’s still more than enough of the old franchise to keep you happy. I certainly was.
A Character-Driven Epic
Meet Clive. He’s the dark-haired chappy in the picture above, and Final Fantasy XVI is about him. Not in the way previous games have been about Cloud or Squall, as those stories tend to use their central character to tell wider events. Sometimes, as with Vaan in XII, you question why the hell they’re there in the first place. But I digress.
This game is a vehicle for Clive. You’ll follow him over decades of his life as he discovers his place in an epic, sprawling tale as old as time. Everything that happens, every character’s action and reaction, is about getting him where he needs to go.
Don’t get me wrong, the other characters are great. But they are shadows compared to Clive. While it sounds like that might be a bit of a mixed bag, I can tell you that it mostly works. There are people I’d have loved to spend more time with. Some side characters don’t get their time to shine, all because Clive happens to be in the room when something cool is happening.
But the trade-off for that is a character we get to know more deeply than any other in the franchise’s long history. We follow him for years of his life, as he goes from one state to another completely. We see him during his highs and lows. Most of his development happens right in front of our eyes.
This is important, because it grounds the epic Game of Thrones style plot going on around us. Yes, they’ve definitely borrowed from HBO. It’s not as adult as that, despite some people getting super serious over implied nudity. But it’s certainly less peppy that previous entries have been. It’s a pleasure to play through. The story drives you on well, leaving twists and turns until the very end. Granted, it’s not always as surprising as it thinks it is, and it’s not totally resistant to the odd JRPG trope. But overall, the plot is what makes this game a GOTY contender for me.
Devil May Cry or Final Fantasy
Some have suggested this game is a bit of a Frankenstein’s Monster. Final Fantasy, but only in bits. And, yes, Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, but not as good.
Those people are partly correct, in that this game certainly attempts to be a jack of all trades. It’s not going to be as good as a dedicated Character Action game, but it is more than serviceable. It took me more than 40 hours to get through the main story and all the side content, and I never got bored of it. You have enough powerful moves from almost at the start that you can play the whole game without swapping anything out. But there’s a seemingly endless combination of other moves you accrue along the way. It’s hard to talk in too much detail about some of this, because it amounts to spoilers. But suffice to say, you have enough to choose from.
The action itself is easy to learn and some moves – like dodging at the last second to slow down time – will be with you right til the end. It is too easy at times. But you will find yourself right back on the floor against some of the bigger bosses. It’s fun. Not genre-defining – that would have been something to write about. But fun.
Talking of bigger, the showstopper fights between Eikon summons that you may have seen in trailers are as epic as you might thing. Personally, I found them the least interesting of the fights themselves, but they are definitely the eye candy you expect them to be. I’m not sure we’ve seen anything like it on this scale.
Needing a Potion?
There are a few minor downsides to the change from RPG. Weapons seem far less interesting now, with most of them just bought or forged. If you’re doing the side quests, you’ll always have the latest and greatest equipment. And it won’t matter. All it does for the most part is increase your stats. That’s where the choice ends.
That’s a problem across the board. Clive has one weapon style which you’ll use for every hour of your adventure. You can swap out skills, but your standard bash, bash, bash won’t change. Your clothes remain the same unless the story changes them. Even your party is, by and large, chosen by events outside of your control.
I mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again: this game is very easy. You’re given a number of potions and hi-potions, which will replenish in their entirety when you die. Checkpoints in boss fights mean even if you absolutely suck, you’ll probably only die in a single segment once before moving on.
Side quests are another sticking point. Some people hate them. I found them enjoyable, mostly as a method of doing more fights. You’ll sometimes find out important world or character details through quests. Sometimes it’s just about going and smacking something in the face. They remind me very much of the side quests in the Yakuza franchise. But while their repetition is masked by quirky dialogue, here the end result is a little flat. Especially if you’ve already decided you don’t like the world, the fighting scheme or the characters.
There are also hunts, which let you take on bigger and badder enemies. These, like the rest of the game, aren’t massively difficult. But they’re fun, and force you to explore. My major gripe with these, and with the side quests in general, is that they are all unlocked far too late. You’ll get through the majority of the game with only one or two quests after every chapter. Then, in the final third, you’ll suddenly have dozens to do. It feels very uneven, and slows things down as they should be speeding up.
These, to me, are minor issues. I was enjoying the game enough that I powered through them to spend more time with Clive and Co, and so I could play more with the action. It’s clear from reading other reactions that mileage will vary.
Graphics and Sound
Final Fantasy XVI is one of the best-looking games on PlayStation. There are times when you’ll begin to get used to the visuals, and then you’ll see something that blows you away.
Part of this is the world design. The maps look fantastic. Part of it is making use of the tech. Particle effects especially stand out as something that you don’t see as often as we should. The downside is that they’re sometimes overused. It can make some battles difficult to get through.
It’s an extremely playable 30fps and, if I’m honest, even the much-maligned 60fps isn’t too hard on the eyes. It’s a bit sludgy, but as a compromise for the higher framerate, many will be happy to put up with it. I stuck with 30fps, and wasn’t bothered by it in the slightest. My only tip is to turn off motion blur – it’ll make the experience much better.
The voice acting is incredible across the board. It’s awesome to hear an English cast. Call me old-fashioned, but American voices in fantasy and historical media always feels like a bit of a red flag. The main characters, and especially Clive, give a detail and intimacy that previous games in the franchise haven’t even begun to approach, and without need. In fact, most video games full stop fall well short of this mark, and the cast bring their performances with ease.
And the music is just as powerful. It’s some of the best music since Final Fantasy X. Both memorable and touching, the soundtrack is the tip of a wonderful iceberg.
Final Fantasy XVI Review – Conclusion
Final Fantasy has found itself again. There are still some things to figure out, but I hope this is a sign of things to improve upon in future entries, rather than a one-off. I’m not sure I could go back to a Final Fantasy XIII or XV again.
With that said, it’s not a perfect experience. There are some repetition issues, and player choice is basically out the window. And the hardest thing about the game has been not writing XIV in this review out of habit. These flaws are usually made up for by more standout areas of the game, but the fact they exist at all is a problem to be solved.
Clive is not only a worth hero for the franchise, but has instantly become a fan favourite. And his adventure is amongst the best the series has to offer.
But fans of stats, build options and the ATB bar will find themselves wishing the game was something it isn’t, and isn’t even trying to be.
But for my money, this deserves to be in the GOTY conversation just for its scale and scope, and its bravery to do something different. Even this year, when every title seems to be part of that conversation, this is one that deserves your time.