| Crystallis is Coming |
Square Enix played it safe with Final Fantasy XVI — after FF15’s reception regarding its enormous, relatively empty open world and lack of story content; FF16 does the complete opposite in narrowing its scope to a much more linear design, jam packed with insurmountable cutscenes and story. With its design philosophy reverting back to nearly PS3-era, my 55hr playthrough shown me that FF16 is at its peak with excellent, yet deviated gameplay, cinematic scope and a story worthy of the Final Fantasy name. It’s not perfect however, and it’s a shame that some of its forward pushing ideas were thrown out the window — nevertheless, it stands tall as one of the biggest Action Adventure games to experience in 2023.
Brothers Torn Asunder
Final Fantasy XVI delivers an adventure that immerses players in a captivating world filled with magic, war, and a incredible cast. With Clive Rosfield at the center who is supported by standout characters like Torgal, Cid, Gav, and Jill — this latest installment in the legendary franchise takes players on a thrilling journey that combines tried and true Final Fantasy storytelling with a more grounded medieval setting. My particularly favorite character is the presence of Torgal; his role as a brilliant companion and “the best boy” adds depth and emotional weight to the narrative for me, creating a bond that I was not prepared for. Truly a magnificent “Red XIII” element I’ll always cherish.
“it’s high time that they include a diverse cast within the world of Final Fantasy, SE just refuses to do so and I hope there’s a change soon.”
Final Fantasy XVI takes place in a war-torn country called Valisthea, where the dominion of Crystals spread across the region sets the stage for conflict and disparity. The game presents a compelling depiction of a medieval world filled with the harsh realities of life and death. Square Enix skillfully weaves a narrative that explores the consequences of war and the sacrifices individuals must make in the pursuit of peace. While the story may be relatively simplistic, it manages to captivate with its high fantasy elements, strong emotional core and thought-provoking themes — striking an impressive balance between it all. FF16 seamlessly integrates magic, mythical creatures, and epic battles into a world that feels authentic and believable. However, there are some incredibly jarring missed elements within the plot. Square was adamant that the reason for the absence of ethnic characters was due to the nature of keeping the realistic depiction of midieval era in check — yet one of its key story focus is slavery. This is ontop of the already immense amount of fantasy elements in a world that doesn’t exist. This was a poor excuse on Squares part; it’s high time that they include a diverse cast within the world of Final Fantasy, SE just refuses to do so and I hope there’s a change soon.
But I digress, much like the previous FF games, summons are here in the form of Eikons; godlike beings laying dormant within a select few called Dominants — with the help of aether, Dominants can prime themselves to these gods to wage war against other nations. The iconic summons we’ve come to know and love are easily recognizable — especially Bahamut, Ifrit and Odin. There’s a drawback when priming into Eikons — the degredation of the host body over time, a high stakes element that brings balances the otherwise super-human feats I was experiencing in the course of my playthrough.
One of Final Fantasy XVI’s major strengths lies in its willingness to embrace mature elements. This time, Square Enix did not hold back when it exploring darker themes and tackling mature subject matter — something I’ve been hoping they would do for years. This decision adds depth and complexity to the story, elevating it beyond a mere fantasy tale. I hope that they will continue this trend in future installments. However, there are some moments in the game that interrupts its otherwise good pacing; while the majority of the game maintains a compelling flow, some chapters feel disjointed and disrupt the overall rhythm of the plot. These moments of inconsistency can be a bit jarring and detract from engagement where the game otherwise excels at.
Additionally, the game features a number of side quests that, despite Square Enix’s claims, serve no real weight to the overarching story. While side quests can provide depth and additional content to a game, in Final Fantasy XVI, they often feel unnecessary and lack meaningful impact. More than 80% of the side quest are fetch-quest in design with meaningless conversations that felt like filler/fluff the more I progressed. Players may find themselves engaging in these side quests only to realize that their completion adds little to the main narrative or character development. This lack of significance in the side quests can be disappointing, especially considering the game’s otherwise well-thought-out world.
The Luminous Engine truly shines in its ability to showcase its glandular scale in performance and fidelity. The engine’s physical-based rendering (PBR) technology is a true standout. It seamlessly combines with the game’s fantastic elements, such as the use of of magic particles through GPU acceleration, resulting in visually stunning and awe-inspiring effects. The environments, from sprawling landscapes to intricately designed dungeons, showcase the grandeur and scope of the game’s world. The blending of realistic elements with fantastical designs creates a visual feast that is both mesmerizing and believable.
What struck me most was the engine’s exceptional lighting and shadow system. Final Fantasy XVI’s use of global illumination is a testament to the engine’s capabilities. The game boasts one of the best lighting and shadow systems since The Last of Us Part II, with soft shadows that create a realistic and immersive environment. The attention to detail, especially in the seams of clothing and the crevaces of environment, is remarkable. These finer shadows almost resemble ray-tracing, adding a level of realism that elevates the visual experience.
“you are forced to upgrade your accessories and do pointless side quest to level or else youll be facing enemies that’s beatable, but with an pseudo infinite health pool.”
The Luminous Engine offers players two performance options: Graphics mode and Performance mode. In Graphics mode, the game runs at a native 1440p resolution upscaled to 4K, locked at 30fps. The result is a visually stunning experience that showcases the game’s detailed world and character designs — with the best frametime this game has to offer. On the other hand, Performance mode targets a 1080p resolution upscaled to 4K, with a targeted 60fps. While Performance mode offers a smoother gameplay experience, it does suffer from occasional instability in frame times and dithering artifacts on smaller sharp objects. However, during combat, the game locks at a stable 60fps, which is an interesting choice that enhances the fluidity of gameplay.
The Dominance of Gods
Harnessing the powers of the Eikons in battle is exhilarating, combined with a fluid Devil May Cry-inspired combat system, results in a thrilling and engaging experience. But to say FF16 is an RPG would be an incredibly enormous overstatement; there are damn near zero RPG aspects other than stats that increases as you level, very basic accessories/weapon upgrades that tailors towards just Attack/Defense and Cooldown/Damage Up. You have the abilities to upgrade abilities with skill points, but again there are no elements of affinity or ailments of any sort — its all damage throughput. The overall gameplay approach is designed to attack in real-time with twitch reflects, which utterly decimates the entire franchise identity. And the unfortunate part about all of this is, you can’t just button mash your way through the game — you are forced to upgrade your accessories and do pointless side quest to level or else youll be facing enemies that’s beatable, but with an pseudo infinite health pool. So, the best thing you can do for yourself if you’re a huge fan of the franchise is know that Final Fantasy XVI is a Devil May Cry inspired experience. And once you come to terms with that, you will find yourself lacking disappointment.
With that rant out of the way, there are some things I really enjoy — you can approach your playstyle with build variety, a key component of Final Fantasy XVI’s gameplay. Each Eikon you acquire offers a unique set of abilities, enabling different playstyles. You can tailor your build to focus on continual damage over time, stagger-focused combos, high-damage output, or a blend of both. Experimenting with different builds keeps the game feeling fresh and exciting as you discover the strengths and weaknesses of each approach. It falls short of being as robust as I had hoped. The absence of passive builds that heal or buff allies feels like a missed opportunity to further deepen the gameplay. Additionally, there’s no way to adjust your allies personality to allow it to be passive, aggressive or supportive, which worked well in FF13’s Paradigm system or even FF15 method. Though you cannot directly control your companions, the intuitive AI makes them reliable in battle. They do not suffer defeat, making them valuable assets to your team.
I mentioned that FF16’s design philosophy has reverted back to its more traditional roots; the lack of true exploration contributes to the feeling of a slightly closed-off experience. While the environments are meticulously crafted and showcase breathtaking vistas, the linear format of the game’s design limits the sense of freedom and exploration; I couldn’t tell you how I wished during my playthrough an expansive environments to explore within the engine/gameplay tweaks it provides. Sure, FF15’s reception is the reason for FF16 design approach, but when I think of ways to improve on what’s available to them, completely eliminating forward pushing elements isn’t one of them. It’s so easy to see how other studios completely improve on its open world design — Breath of the Wild to Tears of the Kingdom or Red Dead Redemption to its sequel, does a phenomenal job not only making their world’s bigger, but also filling them with mystery and tangible content that feels organic and alive. I think FF16 could have benefitted with that level of production if they wanted to. They played it safe with this one.
REVIEW SCORE: 8.5/10
Final Fantasy XVI is an incredible action adventure game that blends scope, gameplay fluidity and epic story telling while looking absolutely dashing in the process. It’s a shame that some forward pushing elements that could have made it even better, was gutted for a much safer, linear approach. It’s a beefy game, one I highly recommend, especially given the cast — just be sure to know that it’s not the RPG you hope it to be for a mainline FF game.