Final Fantasy XVI review – A fantasy spectacle that takes its time

Final Fantasy XVI is the latest entry to a series known for innovative combat and dramatic storytelling.
A giant winged humanoid-bird creature with a creepy smile and glowing orange eyes
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

Final Fantasy XVI has been out for over a few days, and its unique take on the series has seemingly divided fans. While the much more fast-paced action combat is definitely new and the main staple of the series’ sixteenth entry, there are still a lot of staples that remind me of the few Final Fantasy titles I’ve played over the years.

This works both in the game’s favor and against it, as the grandiose storytelling makes for an engaging premise that hits highs and lows over the few dozen hours that players are likely to spend exploring the land of Valisthea. Thankfully, due to what feels like much more curated content in response to Final Fantasy XV‘s aimlessness, the world and those inside of it are easier to understand.

FFXVI isn’t perfect, it’s barely great, and probably isn’t the best Final Fantasy game that I’ve ever played. However, it does cinematics and combat in a way that I saw games in my head as a kid, with giant spectacles of power and drama that are nothing short of what this series has always sought to be.

Heartbreak worthy of a Final Fantasy title

Jill looks sadly as Clive conjures a fireball in his hand
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

Ahead of Final Fantasy XVI‘s release, there was a lot of discussion on social media about the demo that was available, providing two to three hours of gameplay. The demo is still available and takes place over the entire prologue to the game, following anti-hero protagonist Clive Rosfield as a young child, teaching players the basics of combat and magic.

Since my progress carried over, I figured it would be smart to go ahead and get a head start on the game, and the prologue delivers in a big way. As is typical with these stories, a decent kingdom and its characters are built up before being destroyed in something so devastating it could only come from the Final Fantasy series, but it sets Clive on his journey for revenge and redemption.

It seems apparent to me why the game offers such a long demo considering that most of the two hours are spent watching cutscenes that establish the world, the characters, and the lore, only for tragedy to take it all. In that brief time, you only get a few basic battle tutorials and one fight while in the role of an Eikon, elemental beasts that humans called Dominants can channel at the cost of their health.

Clive, Jill, and Torgal stand side by side with a house to their back
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

When it’s over and you get to start in the present day, it feels like the game starts over again from the beginning. By the time I got to more than nine hours in, I found myself looking at my phone and absent-mindedly tuning back in when something major happened. Most of the time the cinematics move pretty slowly outside of the blockbuster action sequences, so it’s more like watching a drama in those moments than anything.

That’s not to say they weren’t appreciated, I just found myself zoning out or looking forward to the next fight when the camera hung on a character for a few seconds too long. The scenes are beautiful and what I’d expect from a main Final Fantasy title, but it feels hard to get invested in the social relationships outside of Clive, Torgal, Jill, and maybe Cid.

Every fight is cooler than the last

Clive stands with his sword drawn and ready opposite a knight with a lance
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

The combat in Final Fantasy XVI is a lot of fun, but I don’t necessarily think it reinvents the wheel like some have given it credit for. It reminds me of my other favorite convoluted series, Kingdom Hearts, which has always featured live combat with similar ability switching in real-time as FFXVI does. While this is obviously the more advanced title and takes advantage of unique powers, the resemblance is there.

What I appreciate is how easy the combat is, which can vary from chaining abilities together yourself or using the game’s handy accessibility gear that makes everything much easier. I initially started with all three pieces of gear equipped and then removed them just shy of the first Eikon fight to find that I felt pretty comfortable with the combos having seen them performed moments before.

As you unlock more powers by defeating the elemental beasts of Valisthea, these combos only become more impressive and each fight becomes a monumental show of everything Clive has learned up to that point. Even still, early on it does feel like a standard slasher where you’re using your sword to hack away at an enemy while it ignores your onslaught until you manage to wear down the enemy’s stamina.

Clive is in a crouching position after finishing a diagonal attack that connected with his Shadow self's arm, causing them to bleed
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

FFXVI makes up for these moments with the different finishing animations and interwoven cinematic clashes that require the repeated pressing of one or two buttons. It feels like a series as monumental as Final Fantasy would’ve moved passed quick-time events in games that largely just involve one side pushing against another. Not every instance is a waste, but there are padded fights with QTEs.

While there might be complaints, the combat and monsters seem to be the largest focus in this title and that pays off in spectacular fashion. As many others have noticed, it’s a very cliche story that we’ve seen in fantasy titles a million times over, so the combat can only do so much. Overall, it balances out and most of the scenes are fine to sit through if you know the payoff is more powers.

The Final Word

Final Fantasy XVI has over 25 years of history to live up to, largely acting as the culmination of the battle systems and dramatic storytelling from that time. While the animation and combat are truly extraordinary, the pacing in the quests and drawn-out cinematics often left me hungry for the next fight.

8

Final Fantasy XVI was reviewed on the PlayStation 5. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website!

Christian Harrison

Christian Harrison

Christian Harrison is a writer and gamer, the latter he's been doing for the last two decades. When not working, he enjoys streaming the latest show or spending time with his family and friends. Contact: Christian@tryhardguides.com

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