REVIEW: Final Fantasy XVI

One of the oldest jokes in video game RPGs is how long-running the Final Fantasy franchise is, given its name. The original Final Fantasy, released in 1987 in Japan and 1990 in North America, was named partially because had it failed, Square might well have gone bankrupt. It was also by far my favorite game on the original Nintendo, and I’ve kept up with most of the games in the series as it’s progressed.

There’s been much talk in the fandom as to how different or similar this particular game is compared to others. Each game in the series has different gameplay and strategy, but this one is fully an action gameplay, with control of a single character (and his dog, and for a very brief sequence, one other character.)

Creative Business Unit III, a team within Square Enix, built this game, using inspiration from the popular Final Fantasy XIV MMORPG and the good seasons of Game of Thrones. It’s not necessarily that it’s a significantly bleaker world than some of the other games (6 and 7 in particular have some very bleak themes) but the greater the detail the more some of that bleakness can be made explicit.

You play as Clive Rosfield, and you start in a very Heroes Journey kind of story, a noble who’s also a Bearer—which means he can do magic without a crystal. He’s training to be a Shield, a knight protector, for his younger brother Joshua, who is a dominant of the Phoenix. Dominants mean that they have magic and can transform into Eikons, this Final Fantasy’s take on summoned monsters that have been a mainstay of the series since Final Fantasy III.

Things go awry, and Clive faces another Eikon who murders his brother and destroys much of Clive’s home while he is helpless to stop it. He is enslaved and dreams of nothing so much as gaining vengeance on the dominant who slew Joshua.

Clive however has a strange power in that he unwillingly takes powers of dominants and can then use them, which works as the sole playable protagonist in this sort of game. You can level up various powers and as the game progresses switch between various Eikon’s powers.

The other draw of this game are the major Eikon against Eikon battles, which are a lot of fun. It feels like Kaiju against Kaiju, without making the rest of the game feel meaningless. It’s an impressive line to walk.

The gameplay is generally quite easy. I have heard of people just making their way through it grinding the basic attack and the occasional magic spell, and while there are scenarios where this won’t work, they don’t come often. But it is more fun, and significantly faster, to chain attacks, and it’s not hard to do. The game has a new game+ which increases the difficulty and, from my understanding, requires a lot more strategy, but I have not played it.

The story is strong, balancing the typical Final Fantasy tropes (crystals, dragoons, moogles, chocobos) while going in a much more traditional story structure. The side quests don’t offer much in the way of experience or crafting supplies, but the stories in them ranges from passable to really, really good. In particular, the All Bark and Playthings sidequests in the Moore area are some of the most brutal stories I’ve seen in a Square Enix game. They’re also quite short. The hunt board, with powerful monsters you can optionally take down, are more fun from a gameplay standpoint even if the stories around them are nearly non-existent.

The crafting and gear mechanics are a legitimate problem, as there is never any real thought behind them. You are given near-limitless amounts of certain crafting supplies and then need one of something else that will only be unlocked by a hunt or a main boss. Your gear will be identical to the gear of anyone else playing the game.

In addition, while some of the eikonic powers are more useful than others, there isn’t any of the strategizing which monsters are vulnerable to which that was a mainstay of most of the prior games. Fire doesn’t do extra damage against cold enemies, nor lightning against water. Nor do they have status effects (the Malboro, feared in most Final Fantasies, is one of the first bosses in this because it can’t poison, blind, or stun you.)

That said, the gameplay is still fun, and the story remains engaging throughout. The game has some missteps and it does not feel like the older Final Fantasy games, but those games have evolved constantly through the years from the original through the job systems of 3 and 5, the flexibility of 6 and 7, the ‘whatever the junction system was’ of 8, the gambit system of 12, or the paradigm system of 13. Final Fantasy will keep changing between each game, and we can only hope the stories are worth it. For 16, it definitely is.

On a final note: If you really want the old school turn-based combat, might I recommend Octopath Traveler I or II? They’re also made by Square Enix and designed specifically to be like their classic era of JRPGs, and I really enjoyed both of them.

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Ryan is a mid-30s nerd, married, with two kids. Also two cats–Cathulhu and Necronomicat. He likes, in no particular order, tabletop gaming, board games, arguing over books, ancient history and religion, and puns. You can find him as unconundrum on reddit.