The Final Fantasy series has always demonstrated different ideas within its gameplay, though the more elaborate innovations have mostly been reserved for spin-offs that don’t impact the core numbered entries. This last generation saw the greatest change to the established formula though, with Final Fantasy XV and Final Fantasy VII Remake taking a more action-orientated approach when compared to its forebearers. Now, with Final Fantasy XVI, the series has gone all-out in embracing it, with the newest release feeling like a culmination of all of those changes, albeit with a darker and more mature tone.

And you know what? It’s PHENOMENAL, with Final Fantasy XVI taking the series in a new direction that I’m sure a lot of fans are going to adore.

Check out some screenshots down below:

Final Fantasy XVI puts players in the role of Clive, who finds himself caught up in a devastating war between nations where destructive creatures known as Eikons (which are summoned by special individuals known as Dominants) are used to change the tide of each battle. Thirteen years earlier, he lived a life of high esteem with his father ruling over the land of Rosaria, whilst he also served as the protector of his younger brother Joshua, who held great power as the Dominant for the Eikon Phoenix. A betrayal saw that life flipped upside-down, with his brother murdered by the Eikon Ifrit and Clive forced to fight alongside his enemies. Now, in modern times, he serves his own purpose: to find and kill the Dominant who murdered his brother.

I’m really simplifying things there because there’s a LOT going on in Final Fantasy XVI. It’s the most politically driven narrative players would have seen in the mainline series, with plenty of different characters influencing the war in their own different ways, whilst multiple plot threads are constantly at play that don’t only cater to the untold desires of each villain you encounter but also deal with a Blight that’s scouring across the land. It also deals with magic, social classes, and discrimination in deep ways, with no detail spared across every aspect of the narrative.

Check out some screenshots down below:

It’s utterly engrossing and one of my favourite narratives that I’ve seen unfold across the entire series. It’s easy to compare it to the likes of Game of Thrones with its politics-heavy plotline and constant shocks and twists, but there’s so much more going on that helps make it feel unique. This is Final Fantasy but with a darker twist, all whilst embracing all of the ideas that made the fantasy elements of the series feel so epic to begin with. There’s more gore, swearing, and sexual scenes that you wouldn’t have seen in any other entry before, but there are also familiar summons like Bahamut, Shiva, and Ifrit, Chocobos to ride, and, of course, Moogles.

One thing I have to give a big shout-out to is the fact that you can pause cutscenes and check out information about the characters and events involved in the sequence. With so many characters at play and events occurring across the world, it’s easy to find yourself a little confused at times. This gives players the chance to get a quick refresher on everything that’s going on, ensuring you’ll recognise each face, locale, and situation that’s being discussed. I wouldn’t say Final Fantasy XVI is a tough game to follow so it’s not essential to use to understand what’s going on, but it’s nice to have a quick reminder when you haven’t seen a character show their face for a few hours.

The one big change that has come to the gameplay in Final Fantasy XVI is the combat, with it feeling more akin to an action-RPG (or arguably something like the Devil May Cry series) with its fast-paced showdowns. Players can string together basic combos of attacks by mashing the attack button and throwing in a few ranged magic attacks (there’s no MP meter so you can unleash these carefree), whilst players can also equip two abilities that can be performed to deal out more elaborate element-driven attacks. These need to be recharged, but with some allowing you to deal heavy damage on a singular target or attack multiple surrounding foes in a stylish fashion, their use is pivotal to your success. Your abilities are tied to the Eikon you have equipped at any given time, but with more unlocking as you progress and easily switched between with a quick button press, your skillset and combat capabilities are constantly evolving to ensure showdowns with enemies are continually enthralling and action-packed. You can upgrade each skill too, with players able to fine-tune their setup to suit their needs.

“There’s more gore, swearing, and sexual scenes that you wouldn’t have seen in any other entry before, but there are also familiar summons like Bahamut, Shiva, and Ifrit, Chocobos to ride, and, of course, Moogles.”

You’ll face plenty of formidable enemies on your journey, with Clive encountering them directly in the wild (I can’t imagine we’ll ever see a random enemy encounter in a mainline Final Fantasy release again). Whilst there are plenty of foes that are just there as fodder to stylishly destroy, others offer a sterner test and demand a bit more strategy from the player. They’ll often choreograph their attacks for players to dodge (a well-timed press of the R1 button won’t only zip you out of the way of an attack but also allows you to counterattack), but there will also be times when you have to manically run across the battlefield in order to evade attacks. It’s a lot of fun, especially in boss encounters where the screen can be filled with enemy attacks, with your defensive capabilities often proving to be just as significant as your offensive skills.

There are other things to consider too, such as an enemy’s Stagger meter that’ll see them left in a vulnerable state after taking a set amount of damage. This is only temporary but brings in a damage modifier to ensure your attacks pack a bit more punch – timing these moments with the use of your more powerful skills can ensure you deal the most damage and make what might otherwise be a trickier encounter a breeze to get through. You’ll also have allies join you in battle, though they act independently with the exception of your dog Torgal, who you can give basic commands to with a press of the d-pad. Then you have the Eikon battles which take place on a grander scale, but those are better for the player to discover themselves. Put it this way: they’re absolutely amazing to see unfold and offer some of the most epic cinematic sequences I’ve seen in ANY video game, even if the mechanics behind them are a little straightforward.

I absolutely loved the game’s combat, with Clive’s ever-evolving skillset ensuring that showdowns remain thrilling from start to end. However, there is one thing about it that always bothered me: the QTEs. The actual QTE sequences themselves are fine, with each adding a cinematic twist to encounters that really show off the stylish flair found across the whole of Final Fantasy XVI. What I didn’t like was how EASY they were. I didn’t even come close to failing a single QTE throughout the entirety of the game, with the window to press buttons overly generous to the point where it felt a little insulting. It’s not a big deal because it doesn’t affect the gameplay all that much (and I think they were mainly included as an excuse to add lots of cinematic flair to enemy encounters), but I wish they were a bit more challenging just to keep players on their toes.

Check out some screenshots down below:

Exploration spans across multiple area types, with some linear dungeon-like areas joined by more expansive landscapes that feature plenty of small towns and landmarks to explore, with the world of Final Fantasy XVI certainly vast in scope. There are always little nooks to explore through to find hidden items or chests with goodies, whilst each area has plenty of roaming enemies to keep you busy too. You’ll also encounter plenty of side quests when playing, though these are of a mixed quality. For every juicy side quest that fleshes out the storyline in a meaningful way, you’ll have a boring fetch quest that simply sends you from point A to B. There’s way more good than bad (and some of the bonuses you unlock for completion are a massive help), but there are a few that can feel like a slog.

In between the main questline, you can take time out to explore the world or chill out in your hideout to craft and upgrade equipment, learn more about the world at the handy library, or take time out to simply listen to the music of the game. You can even re-visit battles and dungeons from earlier on, which offers a MUCH easier way to grind if you fancy levelling up or grabbing some items. There’s a handy fast-travel system in the game that makes getting around a breeze too, with Final Fantasy XVI streamlining a lot of the more drawn-out aspects of the RPG genre with its accessible features.

Check out some screenshots down below:

The thing I liked the most about exploration was simply seeing all of the beautiful sights of the world. Final Fantasy XVI is an absolutely gorgeous game, with picturesque vistas aplenty that blend together almost photo-realistic landscapes with astounding fantasy landmarks. Every area you explore is rich with detailed flora and fauna, with no single biome spared of attention to detail. There’s a vast variety of biomes to discover as you explore the world, and with each open environment packed with areas to uncover and NPCs to see going about their everyday lives, it really feels like a living and breathing world. Add to that the brilliant enemy and character designs that bring some of the best-looking monsters you’d have seen across the series as well as the simply magnificent cinematic sequences involving the Eikons, and it’ll be easy to see that Final Fantasy XVI is easily a contender as one of the best-looking PlayStation 5 titles out there.

When it comes to the sound design, the music is perfect and fits the tone of every area perfectly. It’s as simple as that. And the voice acting? Everything is expertly delivered to make each interaction and cutscene all the more believable. Whilst it took me a while to get used to the Britishness of it all (and I’m saying that as a Brit), I found myself loving it by the end – especially Ralph Ineson’s (aka Finchy from The Office) portrayal as Cid.

Final Fantasy XVI Review

Final Fantasy XVI doesn’t feel like a traditional Final Fantasy experience, but that doesn’t stop it from being a masterpiece. There has been a big leap in the evolution of the gameplay as the series moves into action RPG territory, but the results are astounding, with the game offering some of the best combat I’ve seen in any action title. Add to that the gripping narrative, the astounding visuals, the wonderful soundtrack, and the sheer scale of the epic adventure, and it’ll be hard not to be wowed by just how magnificent it feels to play.

I have no doubt it won’t be for everyone (there’ll be those that crave to see the series return to its roots) and there are some things the game could do better. As it stands, though? Final Fantasy XVI is simply magnificent. It might not feel like the Final Fantasy titles of yesteryear, but it still has the epic sense of scope and phenomenal production values that have made the franchise so beloved by fans.

Developer: Creative Business Unit III
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform(s): PlayStation 5