Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, Final Fantasy made its glorious return recently in the form of Final Fantasy XVI for PlayStation 5. What began humbly in 1987 on the NES as a turn-based dungeon-crawler culminates in 2023 as a cinematic showcase of polished videogame storytelling and action. Final Fantasy XVI has incredible highs and middling lows, ultimately making it a worthy follow-up in the long-running series.
Final Fantasy XVI follows the story of Clive, a prince who’s been displaced as a slave after war tears his family and homeland apart. What makes Clive unique is that he also carries the power of the Eikon, Ifrit. Eikons are what we normally know in Final Fantasy games as “summons,” or giant godlike entities that we all know and love like Shiva, Ramuh, Odin and Bahamut.
The game starts with an incredible bang, diving right into the epic Eikon action with an absolutely mesmerizing Ifrit VS Phoenix fight. It’s here that you realize this isn’t like any Final Fantasy game before it, as the gameplay turns into a flight-sim cinematic-action extravaganza with a roaring choir and orchestral score as the two monsters tear each other apart.
I found it really interesting how the game embraced the Eikons as a major part of the story. Hell, the whole story really revolves around them. In previous Final Fantasy titles, the “summons,” really just pop up as spells during battle, inflicting damage on enemies and then disappearing. Final Fantasy XVI doesn’t make this stark distinction between the battle system and the story, as anything that Clive can do in a fight, he can do in story cinematics as well.
This made the cutscenes particularly interesting, as they really embraced a kind of anime-inspired epic absurdity that previous games hadn’t. Watching Ifrit battle Bahamut above the earth’s atmosphere was probably the most incredible shit I’ve ever seen in a video game.
Me playing the Ifrit vs Bahamut fight in FFXVI: pic.twitter.com/DfAurSqlWa
— Maximilian Uriarte (@TLCplMax) July 6, 2023
These insane highs are punctuated by unfortunately overlong and meandering sidequests that, while adding some lore and background to the world, are an absolute slog to play through.
Main quests are marked by red icons in the game, while green markers indicate a “side quest.” While some of the side quests unlock upgrades and new features, I groaned every time one of those damn green icons popped up, because I knew I was in for about 20 minutes of boredom.
The problem is that, while most of the main story is fully fleshed out with well-directed and acted cinematics that push the boundaries of videogames, the side quests are often relegated to the “B-team,” and feel incredibly video-gamey, with bad camera angles and stiff animations of talking heads saying way too much dialog to each other.
Despite these bits bogging the game down, I found the positives really outweighed the negatives. I think there was a point about halfway through where the game really clicked for me and went from being a 7 to being a 9. I think if you can embrace the anime-inspiration of Final Fantasy XVI and just love it for what it is, you’ll have a great time with this game.
The battle system in particular I found to be tons of fun. While it lacked the depth of other action RPG’s like Elden Ring, it was flashy enough and fun enough that I didn’t care. There’s something so satisfying about flying around and unleashing Eikon powers that just never gets old. Despite having more simplified RPG mechanics, there is still plenty of game here. Overall, Final Fantasy XVI took me well over 50 hours to complete from start to finish.
Overall, I think Final Fantasy XVI is a great game that gets occasionally bogged down by some annoyingly outdated game design decisions. As a longtime fan of Final Fantasy, I felt like it was a worthy follow-up to the series and ultimately incredible in its own right in many ways.