The Final Fantasy series is no stranger to pivotal moments in its games that have stuck with fans years after they first experienced them. From Aerith’s death in FFVII to Yuna’s sending in FFX to Fang and Vanille’s sacrifice in FFXIII, each of these moments were so powerful because of how effective their stories were in getting us to feel for these characters after all the hours we invested into getting to know them. While battles may be what keep us leveling up our party, it’s the game’s story that easily becomes the most important component in creating an experience that is both memorable as it is worth playing.
- A more mature story that keeps getting more interesting as you play
- Fast and fun combat that lets you customize how you pick fights
- An impressive, complex cast of characters that you will empathize with
- A majestic soundtrack that complements all the action and drama
- Some framerate issues
- Long battles that can make your hand hurt from all the mashing
Thankfully, Final Fantasy XVI knows this very well and provides us with a mature, refined narrative that continues to evolve hours after its prologue and always makes sure we know what is going on. Add to that a battle system that keeps the action fast, frenetic, and highly customizable, and you get an adventure that hits all the right buttons from start to finish.
Lore Rich in Fantasy
One of the reasons FFXVI’s story is so good is that it focuses on its protagonist Clive Rosfield through the majority of his life. Allowing us to see what his life was like as a teenager then the struggles he has to overcome in his late 20s to finally what he accomplishes years later lets us empathize with him but also realize how harsh things are in the world of Valisthea. Plus, it effectively keeps our attention through each of Clive’s downfalls and victories.
Not to mention, Valisthea has own issues of its own which drive the game’s various conflicts and give us a more mature backdrop – and the first Mature rating of a main series game. Without spoiling too much, the various kingdoms all fight for the control of various mother crystals that give each region certain powers to control magic. The magic users, however, are none other than slaves that are branded by a poisonous mark on their cheek and are exploited to death to tend to the whims of the elite. Clive, unfortunately, becomes one of them after his father’s kingdom is overtaken, his mother deserts him, and his younger brother is killed. It’s a bit like something you would see in Game of Thrones and in Lord of the Rings but with the usual brand of “Fantasy”.
It is Clive’s internal demons coupled with the ones that his brand brings him that make you empathize with him hoping his life will get better and truly make for some of the darkest moments the series has seen. The game follows a linear storyline over three stages in Clive’s life, and each main quest gets you closer to its conclusion, but side missions provide a more intimate look at the social construct of the world and also a closer look into Clive’s relationships with his colleagues and friends. There are missions, for example, that let you realize how Branded are used as playthings and then replaced like broken toys.
Clive, being the son of an archduke, is now one of them, so these instances are sure to mess with your head when you realize how unfair things truly are for him. It’s rare to see Clive happy sometimes so getting him to smile is something to look forward to during these side missions. You may not have a party of characters that join your party, but you do get companions as you play that are controlled by the computer and have their own backstories you do explore. Characters like Jill, Cid, and even your enemies are complex and have plenty of layers worth exploring. Even the lowly blacksmith has missions that let him open up to you and reward you with extra upgrades as well.
While the story is FFXVI’s best feature, be prepared to sit through a lot of cutscenes. Don’t get me wrong, the game is filled with plenty of battles that I will get to you in a bit, but even certain fights have cinematic moments where you need to press buttons to dodge or attack. They give the game this grandiose feel to it, feature an impressive cast that really exemplify all kinds of emotions, which is great, but you do sometimes wish you didn’t have to put your controller down for 10 minutes after a climactic boss battle.
Unlike FFXV, the game’s map isn’t open-world but rather features areas you can travel to and explore. Some of these areas are pretty huge, but certain borders or even paths feel more restricted when walking or running through them. There are dozens of fast travel locations in the game that make travel a lot easier so completing side quests is much more approachable when everything is within reach. In fact, these quests have that feeling of “one more” considering you run into them as you explore making them hard to pass up. I also wouldn’t dismiss them as your typical fetch quests as many of them provide you with crafting items you need to make stronger gear, reveal something worth knowing about the story or relationship with Clive, or simply give you a fun battle that gets you some nice experience points.
Fast, Fiery Fights
Getting into battles is as easy as approaching an enemy and hacking away at them. There hasn’t been a Final Fantasy game that uses the old turn-based style in years, and FFXVI shows why moving away from that makes for a more fun experience. Because you only control Clive during battle even when others join you, you can focus on racking up damage, dodging attacks, and then punishing enemies with quick blows and combos. You do get to control his dog Torgal by issuing him commands that can complement your own attacks, but the game even allows you to equip an accessory that makes Torgal act on his own.
Combat is also the perfect pairing for the game’s story as it gets better the more you progress through the game. The world of Valisthea has certain people known as Dominants who possess the soul of an Eikon, powerful elemental beings known as summons in previous games. Clive has the Phoenix’s blessing so he can zoom into enemies, unleash a plume of fire to launch them up into the air, and then continue his onslaught in the air for a bit or shove them back down. Later on, you gain the powers of other Eikons such as Garuda, Ramuh, and others so your repertoire of abilities grows as does your combo potential. Add to that a limit break gauge that charges up as you attack, and you can do a lot of damage if you do the right attacks at the right time. It feels absolutely amazing using your Phoenix abilities to start a combo, swap to use Garuda’s quick Gouge attack, and then finish it off with another Eikon’s multi-hit punches to stagger an enemy and leave them open to even more punishment.
You may not hear a playful theme song when you ride a Chocobo, but the spirit of the series lives on in how Final Fantasy XVI weaves both combat and story to create an exciting experience that is hard to put down.
During story missions, battles happen quite often so there will be times your hand will be hurting considering how much quick button inputs you will be doing each time. It’s not all bad as the game does give you ample time to recover during cutscenes, but some boss battles can drag on for a while. They’re not hard as the game gives you chances to recover your health and you always can restart from checkpoints for the more pivotal boss battles, but battles do tend to last for a while. The game also features amazing Eikon battles that feel like kaiju fights the series has not seen before. They’re very flashy, feature some cinematic moments, and always leave you hungry for the next one.
In addition to main and side quests, the game also offers various monster hunts you can go on to fight unique monsters for crafting components or to upgrade parts of your arsenal. I always felt I had the best weapon with me after defeating a boss as you get the materials you need to upgrade your sword each time, but there are special weapons that require you to go on hunts or to farm enemies for components. The game also features a very helpful Active Time Lore feature that lets you quickly pause to learn more about the characters recently featured onscreen or about topics you just heard of. It’s a lot like Amazon Prime Video’s X-Ray feature and is super helpful to better follow the game’s plot. You can even speak to the resident historian on your crew to catch up on various topics adding to the game’s rich history and lore.
The world of FFXVI also looks and sounds amazing, and each cutscene really captures the fantasy the series is known for. You can see the emotions in a character’s face during these cutscenes, and all the spectacle you would expect from a Eikon battle is there. Add to that an original soundtrack that has samplings of past legendary Final Fantasy scores, and you get a game that truly feels lofty yet welcoming. In the 60 some hours I played, I did experience a few drops in framerate even on performance mode. They didn’t mar the experience for me, but it’s surprising how the game struggled through some of these moments considering how quick and nonexistent some of its load times were.
Final Fantasy XVI is another masterpiece from a series that usually features more lighter tones and various party members for you to manage. Stepping away from these usual practices, Square Enix has focused on the game’s story and its complementary combat system to really reignite what makes the games fun in the first place. You may not hear a playful theme song when you ride a Chocobo, but the spirit of the series lives on in how it weaves both combat and story to create an exciting experience that is hard to put down.
Giancarlo Saldana | Gamepressure.com