Final Fantasy XVI Review: Slow Burner

Before I dive into our review of Final Fantasy XVI, a disclaimer.

I am not a big Final Fantasy fan. Yes, I know that sounds sacrilegious given my penchant for anime and generally all things otaku in nature, but JRPGs have just never done anything for me.

When the opportunity came to review this PlayStation 5 exclusive from Square Enix, however, I jumped at the chance as Sony’s current-gen platform still suffers from a distinct lack of noteworthy exclusives. Yes, God of War Ragnarok was nigh perfect, and Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is already on pre-order, but seeing as how I am not signed up to Game Pass, I need more from the PlayStation side of things.

So how does Final Fantasy XVI deliver for someone who’s not an FF head, but is on the lookout for a new exclusive to sink their teeth into?

Well, in that respect, it grows on you.

Let’s explain why that is the case.

Welcome to Valisthea

Final Fantasy XVI (FF16) kicks off with a cut scene involving two Eikons going mano a mano as we are introduced to the world of Valisthea and the lore of the Mothercrystals.

Eikons and their Dominants play a central role in the storytelling of this game as each realm in Valisthea is reliant on an Eikon much like modern nations use nuclear weapons as a deterrent to all out war. Battles and skirmishes still do happen, however, and that is where Dominants take the field in order to give their respective sides the advantage.

While there are six different realms in the world of FF16, players focus mainly on the Grand Duchy of Rosaria, which is reliant on the Dominant of the Phoenix (the Eikon of Fire).

Players also take up the mantle as Clive Rosfield. That’s right, the protagonist in FF16’s name is Clive. It does not truly inspire much confidence if a dude name Clive was leading you into battle, but young master Rosfield leads by his actions more than his words.

In general he is a fairly middling character in terms of likability, but much of that has to do with his past. We won’t get into specifics in order to avoid spoilers who have not played yet, but a video we posted of the opening 30 minutes of the game will provide a bit more context.

As for the story itself, FF16 is a bit of a slow burner. It is also a lot darker than some may be use to from the franchise, with megacities like Midgar replaced by a Tolkien-type world with some heavy Game of Thrones influence.

Needless to say FF16 is edgy, and no we’re not talking about the fact that characters swear in the game.

There is one cut scene in particular which sums up the different tone of this 16th standalone title compared to its predecessors, where one Eikon is tearing the limbs off of another and beating it to a bloody pulp as two characters scream in anguish in the background. This happens about an hour into the game, and this is when you realise that FF16 is different.

It also happens to be the point in the game when we started to take a real interest in the story being told, so if FF16 does not grab you at first, give it a little time.

Hack, slash, dash, and more

Now for combat, which is a core part of any Final Fantasy title. For FF16 there is a decent amount of variety, much of which is dictated by the strength of enemies and bosses. The lower level grunts are fairly easily taken care of with some square button mashing.

They exist mainly to take journeying from one point of the map to another a little more eventful, interspersing interactions with more powerful enemies.

The higher ups and bosses are best approached much like eating an elephant – one bite at a time. While there is the urge to charge in sword drawn and hack your way to a win, because of how much action is developing on screen, you can very quickly and easily find yourself on the back foot after a few hits that you have failed to avoid by getting caught up in the melee action.

As such, you’re almost prompted by the game to use all the tools made available to you in order to take on tougher foes, whether that be keeping your distance when special moves are being employed by enemies, or directing your trusty furry companion Torgal to assist, or saving your special moves for when enemies are staggered and prone in order to maximise the amount of damage dealt.

If there are indeed many ways to skin a cat, FF16 wants you to explore every one of them by the time the end credits roll.

Square Enix has also looked to keep the action interesting by adding quick time events, as well as cinematic clashes. These help to stop any potential monotony, and also make for great opportunities to snap screenshots or make use of the Photo Mode.

Speaking of which, it the Photo Mode on offer is rather basic, only allowing you to adjust the camera angle, focal length, and whether Clive appears in the shot or not. This is a little disappointing, especially when compared to what past exclusives like God of War and Ghost of Tsushima allowed you to capture.

Final verdict

I did not have many expectations for Final Fantasy XVI, other than knowing that it had a loyal fan base that would let Square Enix know if its standards had not been met.

While the game started off extremely slowly, it ramped up nicely and maintained my interest throughout. So much so that another playthrough on one of the harder modes, or finishing all the side quests for my inner completionist are in order.

In terms of a visual spectacle it delivers, with solid fighting gameplay, and an engaging storyline all adding to the notion that this is indeed a worthy AAA PS5-exclsuive. If we were to fault it anywhere, it is that the succession of cut scenes sometime dulls momentum when playing, undercutting any chances for long periods of hack and slash.

Has FF16 made me a Final Fantasy fan? Not quite, but I am a fan of this game, even at the current asking price (R1 429).



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