My love for the Final Fantasy series is no secret. I’ve been a fan since the NES days. My entire summer of 1990 was spent exploring every nook and cranny of the original game. At the time, it was unlike anything I had ever played. But, compare that first title in the series to this latest release and wow! What a difference! Granted, a series with sixteen entries is bound to see some major changes over the years. But, Square Enix really decided to go in a different direction this time around. I’ve spent the last two months playing this game and I’m finally ready to share my thoughts on Final Fantasy XVI.
Before getting into the details of the game itself, I want to take a moment to discuss the different versions of the game. At the time of this writing, Final Fantasy XVI is exclusive the Playstation 5. Just a couple of days before I published this review, a PC version was announced for release at a later date. But no specifics have been given thus far. It’s safe to assume that when the PC version finally sees the light of day, it will include any future DLC that’s published (much like what was done with Final Fantasy XV). The game is available in three versions; the Standard Edition, Deluxe Edition, and Collector’s Edition. This time around, there’s really not that much of a difference between the different releases of the game.
As you might expect, the Standard Edition of the game comes with just the game itself. Nothing more, nothing less. Original retail price $69.99.
The Deluxe Edition includes the game, a cloth map, and a special steelbook case. Original retail price $99.99. (There’s also Digital Deluxe Edition that features a digital art book and soundtrack available on PSN for $89.99.)
The Collector’s Edition includes everything from the previous versions, plus a collectable statue, a collection of pins, and a digital item (Blood Sword). Original retail price $349.99.
It’s also important to note that players who pre-ordered the game received two unique digital items (Braveheart Sword, and an accessory that boosts money drops). Players who pre-ordered from PSN also received an additional item that boosts exp when equipped.
Now, if you don’t want to shell out $350 to get your hands on that Blood Sword, trust me… It’s not a big deal. Not to mention the pre-order sword is identical in stats to the sword from the Collector’s Edition. The difference is merely cosmetic. Plus, you’ll outgrow these swords pretty early in the game. Don’t stress. You’re not missing anything. Plus, if SE stays true to their usual tactics, all of these “exclusive” items will be available from the PSN store as DLC in six months anyway.
Personally, pre-ordered the Standard Edition and I’ve been completely satisfied with my purchase.
Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk a bit about the game itself. As is the case with most Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy XVI is heavily story driven. In fact, when I first started the game it felt more like watching a movie than it did an interactive experience. Final Fantasy XVI takes place in a realm known as Valisthea and follows the character of Clive Rosfield, firstborn son to the Duke of Rosaria. Despite being the firstborn, it is Clive’s younger brother Joshua who is expected to be the successor to the Duchy. This is due to Joshua’s ability to summon and control Phoenix, the Eikon of Fire. Valisthea plays host to a number of kingdoms, each represented by a specific Eikon. These kingdoms are typically located near mysterious elemental crystals. It is said that these crystals choose a representative (aka: a Dominant) and grants them the ability to summon the Eikon associated with the crystal’s element. Over the centuries, people have learned to harness the magical power of the crystals. However, in recent decades it is becoming apparent that the world is slowly being depleted of “aether” – the magical element that gives the crystals their power. This catastrophe has caused the neighboring nations of Valisthea to turn on each other. The nations are now locked in cold war to control the remaining aether in the realm.
The game begins when Rosaria is invaded by the Empire of Sanbreque. It is during this invasion that the Duke of Rosaria is slain. In attempt to protect the Duchy, Joshua summons the fiery power of Phoenix. However, another Eikon of fire also appears (something believed to be impossible). Phoenix is defeated by this mysterious Eikon. Seeing his home nation defeated and both his father and brother killed, Clive vows to seek revenge on the Imperials. It is soon revealed that Clive’s own mother has sided with the Empire and she orders him to be taken prisoner. As part of his sentence, Clive is assigned as a soldier in the Imperial army. Eventually, Clive is given an assignment that allows him to escape. From here, he sets off on a quest to learn more about the mysterious Eikon and seeks to reclaim his homeland.
It is true that most games in the Final Fantasy series are very story-focused and steeped in lore. This game, however, takes that tradition to a new level. In fact, there’s so much mythology and plot behind this game that the developers have included a new mechanic called the Active Time Lore system. This system allows players to pause the action and pull up details on just about anything they’ve heard about in the game thus far. On top of that, new entries are added to the Active Time Lore system as the storyline continues to unfold. For example, the first time you meet a character, the system will display only basic information about them. However, as the game continues, and players have more interactions with that character, more details about that character are unlocked and available to view at any time.
The game also has similiar systems that allows players to check up on the current state of the realm as well and a library system that enables players to research various topics related the gameworld and its mythology.
The things I mentioned above are certainly unique. But it doesn’t stop there. You may have noticed the M-rating on the cover of the game. That’s right, Final Fantasy XVI is the first title in the main series to receive a mature rating. It seems that Square Enix has realized that the bulk of their audience has aged along with the games. This entry in the series is very much designed to appeal to older gamers. The storyline itself is quite mature. Concepts like international politics and wartime strategy are very prevalent. The script is also peppered with profanity and adult themes. There’s no full frontal nudity in the game. But there are several very suggestive scenes.
Other changes come in the form of a completely new take on combat. Historically, combat in the Final Fantasy games has always been tied to the series’ turn-based roots. Later entries in the series have deviated from this as time has gone on. But this game severs those ties completely. Combat in Final Fantasy XVI is completely action oriented. Many have compared it to the Devil May Cry games. I find that comparison pretty fitting. The main buttons on the controller each execute either an attack or action (most of which can be swapped out as new abilities are learned). The crosspad is used for consumable items, while the left stick controls Clive and the right stick controls the camera.
So, while the combat itself feels pretty new, there are still some familiar territory. For example, the stagger system from previous entries of the game is still present. However, this time around, the trick to filling the gauge is mix melee attacks with magic attacks at the appropriate time. The better the offensive performance, the faster the gauge will fill up.
There is an experience point system that works in tandem with combat and players still level up just as they have in most other games in the series. Actions and abilities are unlocked as the story progresses and can be purchased and mastered through an in-game ability chart.
One of Clive’s unique traits is his ability to absorb the essence of other Eikons. So as the game progresses, he will learn multiple new skills. Learning how to customize and swap-out abilities is a big part of the strategy behind the game. Some enemies (especially boss fights) are weaker to certain types of attacks. So, coming equipped with the proper arsenal and executing attacks in a specific order can really turn the tide of battle.
Of course, the paragraph above only applies if you’re playing the game on the normal difficulty setting. Final Fantasy XVI offers a “story mode” that gives the player some special items. When these items are equipped Clive will chain-attacks and/or dodge enemies automatically. This makes the majority of the battles in the game as easy as spamming a single button. Honestly speaking, this kills a big portion of what makes the game fun. The combat is boring if all you’re doing to mashing a single button over and over.
Progress in the game is measured with a chapter-based system. This is handled similarly to Final Fantasy XV. Once the player accomplishes a specific objective, the game moves on to the next chapter. Early in the game, players are very much confined to specific areas. But eventually, the game world opens considerably and players can travel to previously visited areas at will. Aside from the main storyline progression, players can also undertake optional side quests. This is something that I highly recommend doing. The side quests serve to provide additional background on various characters and areas. Also, they frequently reward special items or unlock perks (like the ability to hold more potions).
All of the things I’ve mentioned above may make Final Fantasy XVI seem like a bit of a mess. And at first, yes, I found all of the systems and the playcontrol to be a bit confusing. But, trust me, it doesn’t take long before everything starts to come together. In the end, what you’re left with is a fantastic story with some really interesting character customization and action-packed gameplay. This is a game that you don’t want to rush through. It took me almost two months to play this game from start to finish and I’m glad that I took my time. I got so much more out of the game by doing all of the side quests and seeing everything this game has to offer.
Usually when I finish a game of this size, I’m ready to be done. But upon completion of Final Fantasy XVI I felt compelled to immediately start the New Game+ and see what other secrets I could uncover. That’s the sign of a pretty solid game if you ask me.
Version Reviewed: PS5
Difficulty: Variable – Final Fantasy XVI offers a few different difficulty options. For players you simply want to experience the storyline and avoid any challenge whatsoever, there is Story Mode. This mode of play allows players to equip a handful of items that effectively remove any challenge from the combat system. Needless to say, by playing this way you’re missing out on a big part of what makes the game fun. Personally, I recommend choosing the “Action Focused” option when starting the game. This is the normal and recommended mode of play. When playing this way, most random battles are fairly easy to overcome, but boss fights still provide a pretty decent challenge. It’s not unusual to lose a few fights here and there before having to step back and re-evaluate your strategy. Thankfully, the game offers a combat simulator in the form of a special stone (found in the player’s home base) that allows players to practice different combat techniques. Once the game has been completed, a new option becomes available; Final Fantasy Mode. This is an extremely challenging mode meant for New Game+ players.
Story: This is where the game really shines. FFXVI brings the series back to a medieval/high-fantasy setting filled with political intrigue. Many people have drawn comparisons to Game of Thrones and it’s easy to see why. This game is chock full of so many characters and locations that SE felt the need to invent a whole system within the game just to keep track of it all! But, let’s be clear, I’m not complaining. Nearly every aspect of the game’s storyline is expertly crafted and masterfully told. However, for those of us that pay close attention and take the time to read much of the lore that’s available within the game, there’s still a few nagging loose ends left dangling at the story’s conclusion. Perhaps, we will learn more in a future DLC?
Originality: An original story, new combat system, active time lore – all wrapped up into a game marketed for an adult audience. SE sure didn’t shy away from taking some risks with this title. And the payoff is pretty big. This game felt like a whole new experience.
Soundtrack: The music in this game is very well done and the themes fit the game nicely. That being said, I didn’t really catch myself humming any of it when I was away from the game (something I’ve been known to do with other FF titles). Still, the music is epic and it really suits the visuals on the screen.
Fun: My experience with this title was that it started off pretty slow. I initially had a little trouble getting accustomed to the various systems and combat techniques. But eventually, things started to click and I found myself having a blast. The fast-paced action of the combat system is fun and engaging. The character acting and storyline is fantastic and really adds to the enjoyment of the overall game.
Graphics: Final Fantasy XVI offers two options when it comes to visual rendering; Graphics Mode or Performance Mode. It’s important to note, that no matter what setting you choose, the game’s cutscenes are always presented in “Graphics Mode”. Graphics Mode renders the game with the best visuals possible but also limits the framerate to 30fps. Combine this with the Motion Blur option in the game’s settings and some people have complained about the visuals making them nauseous. I personally didn’t encounter this problem, but I also tend to set Motion Blur to the lowest setting on nearly every game I play. Performance Mode bumps the framerate to 60FPS but it causes a pretty noticeable hit on the visuals. For the best experience, I recommend playing the game on Graphics Mode. Just set it and forget it. The game is absolutely gorgeous on this setting. Everything from the character models to the environmental rendering is beautiful beyond words. FFXVI is a real showcase of the PS5’s rendering power!
Playcontrol: Right out of the gate, I found the controls to be responsive and well designed. The button mapping makes sense and the camera controls are flawless. I can’t really find a single thing to complain about here.
Downloadable Content: TBA
Mature Content: Adult language, some nudity, violence, and suggestive themes.
Value: The base game retailed for $69.99 brand new. To me, that seems like a lot for a game. But, I also recognize that’s the new normal for this current generation of games. I spent that amount and I feel like I got my money’s worth. Of course, this price is only going to drop as time goes on. When it comes to the other editions, I find it hard to recommend shelling out the extra money for what little extra you actually get.
Overall score (1-100): 90 – If you’ve been waiting for a reason to buy a PS5, this game is that reason. Final Fantasy XVI is the first look at the next generation of RPGs. It offers everything a lifelong Final Fantasy fan could ask for. From the classic European middle-age setting to the mysterious cosmic origins of the game’s ultimate antagonist. There’s something for every RPG lover here. On top of that, it’s presented with jaw-dropping visuals and storyline that’s nothing short of epic.
Original System: PS5
Available today on: PS5 – (Updated as of Summer 2023)
Best Experience: PS5 – (Updated as of Summer 2023)
Other Reviews In This Series:
IV: After Years – VII: Dirge of Cerberus – VII: Crisis Core – VII: Advent Children (Movie) – XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s Tale – XV: Brotherhood (Anime) – XV: Kingsglaive (Movie) – Final Fantasy VII Remake – Final Fantasy VII Rebirth
World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light
Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2
Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers