Final Fantasy XVI Review – Utterly Eikon-ic

Final Fantasy XVI Review

What makes a good Final Fantasy game? I thought I knew the answer to this question. I was ready to list off a heady mix of mechanics, aesthetics, and music. And yet, Final Fantasy XVI has opened my eyes to the truth. It turns out the answer was vibes all along. Rather, this must be the case. How else to explain what’s happened here? This latest entry has changed almost everything about the series, and yet! XVI delivers a pure, uncut FF experience unlike anything I’ve encountered in decades. Don’t let the haters fool you. This is the platonic ideal the whole series has been reaching for.

Our setting this time around is a marriage of two extremes. It’s a throwback to the older games, full of warring kingdoms, gallant dragoons, and epic music. At the same time, this is a brand-new world. Or rather, it’s a familiar setting through a new lens. The language gets crude, the violence gets gory, and the stakes feel more real. You’ll be tempted to compare XVI to Game of Thrones. You’re not wrong, but it’s so much more than that. The blend of two disparate tones has created something powerful, something magical. It’s hard to pin down, but I have to try.

Brand New Yet Familiar

Final Fantasy has always balanced epic stakes with emotional storytelling. Nations are at war, yes. But one man’s heart threatens to break, to be overwhelmed. XVI is no different. Somehow Clive’s individual struggle is perfectly threaded through this massive continental conflict. His grief, his revenge, and his evolution mirror and merge with the fate of Valisthea. I’m dancing around specific story beats, and will continue to do so. There’s a lot of twists and turns waiting to sweep the leg, so to speak. If you’ve played the demo, you know what I’m talking about. Just know that the game mostly maintains that crushing momentum throughout its runtime. Although my breakneck pace, spurned on by my deadline, threatened to overturn this.

Final Fantasy XVI Review

XVI’s narrative pace comes in waves. After every sweeping, soaring peak, you relax for a while in a valley of sorts. This is a good, nearly essential decision. You’d burn out like a candle otherwise. But for someone with a hard deadline, this was a bit painful. Every time I was forced to like, relax for a minute, I could feel myself squirming in my seat. Under any other circumstances I’d be loving these sections most of all. You get time to mess with side quests, upgrade your gear, and soak up some extraneous lore. (I don’t recommend playing this for a review, is what I’m saying.) But let’s get back to those side quests.

I love side missions. Most of the time, they’re just a grocery list to check off, which is fine. I’m all about that. But in this game, they’re more than that. Clive uses these jobs to learn more about his comrades, about his fellow man. He connects with friends and underlings, with shopkeepers, physickers, and blacksmiths. I finished every quest feeling enriched. For example: I was tasked with delivering food to some patrons of a restaurant. In doing so, I learned how hard they’d been working, and what connected them to me and my cause. Almost every side quest rewards you like this. It’s nothing short of remarkable.

Take Your Time With This One

Also remarkable? The combat. I was nervous at first, to be sure. There’s so much action, and so little RPG. And yet, it’s incredible. Maybe this sounds familiar to you. You start out fairly weak, leaning on physical strikes and quick dodges to get by. Slowly, bit by bit, you acquire new powers to expand your repertoire. Suddenly, you pass a tipping point. You’re exploding into every battle like a car full of fireworks. Regular enemies are melting under your furious gaze. Boss fights are a chance to test your blossoming skills. By the end of the game, you’re a natural disaster with a sword and a cloak. In other words, just what I hope for from a Final Fantasy game.

You don’t have a party to customize and control, but that’s okay. You’ve got a wide variety of powers and skills to choose from. Clive eventually plays three characters at once in every battle, all without a single hitch. But there’s more! You can string together every move with surgical precision, on the ground or in the air. You’ve got dashes, cancels, parries, and perfect dodges to work with. These systems run deep. And the super moves! I forgot about those. Basically, get ready for some jaw-dropping gameplay clips on YouTube. But what if you don’t want to bother with any of that? You don’t have to, thanks to the timely items.

All-Powerful Accessories

In a stroke of genius, this game’s difficulty settings aren’t settings at all. Instead, they’re items. The timely accessories are in your inventory at all times. If you ever get stuck, you just put them on. They make things like dodges, parries, and assists fully automatic. Suddenly the combat is totally straightforward, leaving room to focus on the story. But you never need to use them. It’s totally up to you. I messed around with these items for a short while, yes. But I ultimately found the regular combat too engaging to give up on. Pulling off these amazing moves is too cool to let the game do it for me. But I appreciate having that option on hand nonetheless.

Final Fantasy XVI Review

If regular battles are the appetizers, and boss fights are the main course, then Eikon battles are definitely dessert. Each one is a symphony of spectacle. I’m reminded of the summon animations going all the way back to FF7. I’m avoiding story details of course, but you knew the Eikons were fighting one another, right? Like, that’s absolutely happening. And I’m happy to report that it totally rules. Every fight somehow tops the previous one. The music is intense, the visuals are ridiculous, and I was practically on the edge of my seat. To be clear, you’re being thrilled here, not challenged. These fights are always the reward for getting through a series of much tougher battles. Once I accepted the dessert status of these fights, I only loved them more.

Pure Spectacle

While the Eikon battles are exciting, it’s the performances in XVI that really caught me off guard. I normally shun English voice acting in games, but Final Fantasy titles are the exception. Even if the acting isn’t great, it’s always memorable. But this game? There’s some terrific voice work happening here. Clive is a hot, gravelly dude most of the time. But in times of genuine distress, his voice opens up. The change in pitch, in intensity, in delivery, is so stark it feels genuine. It’s like he’s putting on an affectation that he drops when gets overwhelmed. Other performance highlights are less pronounced, but still notable. Joshua feeling unsure about himself. Kupka’s barely restrained violence. Benedikta wielding her sexuality like a blade. Even the minor characters have some great voice work. No skipping cutscenes for me, not in this game. I had to soak in every line, every forceful exclamation.

Final Fantasy XVI might not win best graphics this year, but it’s a serious contender for best art direction. The main cast is rendered with loving detail, while the NPCs feel more standard. The regular towns, fields, and home bases are all perfectly fine, visually. On the other hand, the crypts, castles, and vistas all look absolutely incredible. The aesthetic is funneled towards breathtaking, heart-stopping moments. You forget about the visuals altogether until you get to a boss fight lair, or the emperor’s citadel. Suddenly you’re blown away. It’s the same thing in battle. The regular fights look fine. The regular attacks look pretty good. But the Eikon battles? Your super moves? Totally top-tier. Some of the Eikon fights redefine cinematic. Movies wish they could look and feel this cool.

Jaw-Dropping Art Direction

Don’t forget the music! I certainly can’t. The battle theme lives in my head now, maybe forever. The background tracks in towns and villages subtly change depending on certain story beats. The chorus-style vocals are fantastic. Themes run through the entire soundtrack. Hints and whispers of classic FF tunes poke their heads up all over the place. Those epic battles I keep coming back to would be nothing without this music. Touching scenes are propped up with simple piano melodies. The music in this game is a separate, essential cast member. I’m definitely adding this to Spotify the moment it appears on the service.

In many ways, XVI hardly resembles the usual FF experience. There’s no massive party of adventurers, no MP-based magic system, and no open world map traversal, among other things. And yet, I got the quintessential Final Fantasy experience. There’s a sweeping, epic story. The stakes are incredibly high. Clive is beset by tragedy and hardship. He experiences character growth, moments of joy, companionship, and love. The battles go from mundane to impossibly epic. Clive is given all the power, special moves, and responsibilities of a capital ‘P’ Protagonist. The game is gorgeous, the music is incredible, and the story got its hooks deep into my flesh. Despite my initial misgivings, I’ve come to love this game completely. Long-time fans, series newcomers, RPG enthusiasts, hear me now: Final Fantasy XVI is the platonic ideal of FF games. They don’t get better than this.

***A PS5 code was provided by the publisher***

The Good

  • Incredible combat
  • Masterful narrative
  • Excellent visuals
  • Iconic soundtrack

The Bad

  • Pace ill-suited to review
  • Missing some FF elements