Since the release of Final Fantasy XV, I believe the series has seen a rise in popularity among casual and hardcore gamers. Over the years, we’ve seen remakes and remasters that gave new fans the chance to experience classic entries in the series, but it was anyone’s guess what the next installment would become. The reveal of Final Fantasy XVI would bring it back to its high fantasy roots, where magic and medieval themes coexisted, which is exactly what I wanted.
However, I will say that the action-centric gameplay systems had me concerned with the overall direction. That said, there are plenty of turn-based entries across this franchise, so I came in with an open mind. Probably to no one’s surprise, Final Fantasy XVI is far beyond what I expected. It combines narrative, action, and RPG systems in a way that hooks you in the opening hours and doesn’t let go.
Final Fantasy XVI opens with the introduction of the main protagonist Clive Rosfield. I think going into this character knowing absolutely nothing about him will make the impact of the opening 2 hours more significant. There’s been plenty of trailers out there that show off his true strength, but for those looking to go in blind, I’ll put a time stamp that skips his story introduction.
Clive is an honorable swordsman born into royalty as the Archduke of Rosaria’s first son. However, he faces ridicule from other high-born individuals after he was not chosen by the fire Eikon, Phoenix. Instead, that power went to his brother, Joshua. Clive dedicates his life to growing stronger to protect his kingdom and brother. He does his best to stay out of trouble, but his entire world is crushed after a tragic event.
I found myself more attached to Clive than I initially thought I would be. He’s very to the point and blunt about his feelings during combat but struggles when interacting with his emotions through simple conversation. This could be because combat is all he grows to understand, and the troubles of daily life or personal relationships take him a while to fully comprehend. He’s a loyal warrior but makes his own choices during situations that cause him to be a bit unpredictable. There’s room for character growth within him, but his goals are fueled by revenge and curiosity, which makes me eager to witness how he adapts to later parts of the narrative.
I’d say the approach to the narrative mirrors interactions that you might see in The Game of Thrones or even The Lord of the Rings. You don’t only see the world through the eyes of Clive. Instead, the story shows other character interactions that Clive may be unaware of, causing the player to, at times, know more about what’s going on than Clive does. This approach highlights political commentary on the overarching war or foreshadows enemy attacks and potential moments of double-crossing allies. So as the player, you’re left to witness Clive react to events with only information that he has access to. Whether that’s the right or wrong approach is just something that comes with the territory, but the outcome is significantly powerful.
Aside from the narrative, we have combat. I’ll say that combat itself is a bit more strategic than action games such as Devil May Cry. While it’s possible to spam the attack button and tie in some Eikon abilities, you won’t be causing much damage. There’s a flow to fights that extend past general action systems. Attack animations are a bit slower, allowing you time to plan a follow-up attack for a combo or dodge. So, depending on your comfort level with switching between Eikons, and your understanding of Clive’s moveset, you can chain together some really cool attacks.
Throughout the game, Clive will gain access to new Eikon abilities. However, in the beginning, skills are limited to Phoenix, where you can blast out some fire magic, dash, or cause some major damage to surrounding enemies. The game gives you enough time to get used to the basics, but it isn’t long before you’ll likely want more, which is where skills upgrades come in. There are various upgrades that require new attack combinations or simply holding down a button to execute. I feel like the game really wants you to master this, as there’s even a training simulator to work out combos. Sure, it’s possible to get through encounters without touching the advanced systems, but you’ll be missing out on what makes the combat so addictive.
There’s intent with every action. You feel the weight of attacks and abilities as you read the battlefield to react to the handful of enemies trying to attack you. Dodging feels exceptionally rewarding, but I will say that sometimes it’s tough to read enemy attacks when they group up around you and an enemy off-screen zooms in with some ability.
This can be mitigated by equipping one of the accessibility rings that give you the option to dodge after a quick-time event. This also works during boss battles, along with the several other rings that make fights easier, such as one where your dog, Torgal, auto attacks. After you’re more comfortable with the action, you can unequip these items or switch from story-focused mode to action mode at any point.
There are brief moments of open world-esque areas where you can explore and fight enemies. These also act as areas where you can take on side-quests, but after exploring, I didn’t find anything too exciting outside of equipment. On the other hand, this was a preview environment, and I’m hoping the side quests give the player more reason to look around. Regardless, each area that I explore was gorgeous. The environments are all distinct as you make your way across the map.
I was also able to explore and interact with the people of The Hideaway. I will say that interactions with NPCs appear a bit stiff. I believe this is highlighted further by the negative space surrounding the characters during conversations. It makes the stiff animations and awkward exchanges more prominent. Regardless, I really enjoyed the English dub as each actor played their character wonderfully, which is needed for the more emotional story beats.
Final Fantasy XVI is the evolution of this series we’ve been waiting for and a must-play this summer. It doesn’t forget about the traditional fantasy JRPG systems, as it raises the bar for storytelling and combat within the genre. It’s an experience that extends far past what you’d expect from this series, as you’re left dwelling on the events that transpired long after you put the controller down. Even after the 5 hours that I played, I can’t stop thinking about what comes next from Clive and his crew. I’m eagerly awaiting to see how he responds to the powerful forces set on hindering his goals.
Final Fantasy XVI is coming to PlayStation 5 on June 22, 2023.
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