The Final Fantasy series has long been, and likely will be one of my all time favourite series of video games. There’s something so magical about jumping into a new world, meeting a new party of characters and battling through hordes of the series’ most iconic creatures. Final Fantasy 16 has brought the fantasy part of the series back to the forefront and features a cast of characters that are right up there with some of my favourites of the whole franchise. The shift back to fantasy has also allowed the game to feature a darker, medieval high fantasy story that pushes what we expect from a Final Fantasy game and is great to jump in and enjoy whether you’re a Final Fantasy first timer or an existing fan of the series.
Final Fantasy 16 takes place in the world of Valisthea, a land scattered with mothercrystals, large crystal formations who’s aether powers the magic of the world and thus are the cause of ongoing conflict and wars across the continents. You play as Clive Rosfield, first son of the Archduke of Rosaria who at the beginning of the game is tasked with being the Shield of his younger brother Joshua, responsible for his protection as the young prince is the Dominant of the fire Eikon Phoenix. Dominants are people that act as hosts to the god-like creatures of this world, referred to as Eikons and are capable of harnessing the abilities of that deity. After a catastrophic series of events sees his kingdom devastated and Joshua attacked, Clive spends many years chasing his revenge and trying to track down a mysterious second Eikon of fire, Irfrit.
That synopsis is just the tiniest, high-level glimpse at the game’s overall story and Clive’s adventure is full of so many twists and turns that take place after the events of the prologue that kicks off his quest. Final Fantasy 16’s worldbuilding is incredibly deep and chock full of terms, concepts, magic systems and political parties that make the world feel like a grounded, unforgiving yet fleshed out place. Thankfully, one of Final Fantasy 16’s most awesome features goes hand in hand with the rich lore that this game is built upon. The Active Time Lore system allows you at any time to view contextual information that is relevant the the current scene taking place and can even be accessed during cutscenes. It’s the game equivalent of flipping to the glossary section of a fantasy book while you’re reading to refresh yourself on the concepts of what you’re reading. By pressing in the touchpad on the DualSense you’ll be presented with a breakdown of the terms, locations, characters, world history, political parties among other things that you can then expand on to view all the information you need to be able to refresh yourself or follow the deeper aspects of the lore more effectively. I used this feature so many times and it’s something I hope many other developers see and implement into their games as I found it so helpful to be able to refamiliarise myself with certain events or concepts that had not been referenced in some time as the main story of the game is fairly lengthy.
The world of Valisthea is incredibly vast and made up of widely varied environments. The game doesn’t give you a seamless open world to run around and explore, instead it’s made up of large scale fairly open zones that are able to be travelled between either by reaching the boundaries of each zone or fast travelling from area to area as you more around from area to area completing the many quests Clive is sent on. The game’s structure, especially in the first half is fairly linear, no where near FF13 closed hallway linear but more in design of the narrative progression. It does get to a point though where it really starts to open up, provide a lot more side quests to pick up and complete and plenty of optional objectives and bosses that you can go a hunt down to give you plenty of things to tackle outside of just the main story.
Some of the biggest changes Final Fantasy 16 introduces comes within its combat system. FF16 features action based real time combat, not too dissimilar to what you would find in games like Kingdom Hearts or even the Devil May Cry series. I know this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, especially those that are Final Fantasy purists that prefer the more tactical, turn based approach to combat, but I loved the change. It’s fast paced, fluid and super customisable allowing Clive to get right up into the action, utilising his melee weapon, Eikon magic abilities and dodging enemy attacks in real time to gain the upper hand and take down the many many enemies and bosses he’ll face along the game’s journey. The second biggest change is that Clive is the only party member that is controllable, both in and out of combat. You will often be accompanied by other party members but they are solely controlled by the game’s AI, putting you right in the shoes of Clive, and Clive alone.
As briefly touched on, the game does feature a number of customisation options for Clive, so even though he is the only playable character, there’s a lot you can do to ensure the experience doesn’t get stale. There’s plenty of weapons and gear to unlock and craft, multiple Eikons whos abilities can be harnessed and enhanced along with Clive’s own skill tree of abilities that can be enhanced and then levelled up to keep the combat side of the game feeling really fresh and consistently fun. The boss battles in this game offer some of the largest scale, jaw dropping moments I’ve ever experienced, not only in Final Fantasy, but in any game in general, often giving the classic God of War games a run for their money. The combat system itself I can understand not being for everyone, but the actual combat and encounters are some of the most awe inspiring experiences I’ve witnessed in a very long time.
One aspect of the gameI really loved was the Hideaway. This area acts the home base for Clive and his comrades. Throughout the course of the game I found myself getting quite attached to Clive and the core group of characters you adventure the world with, but I wasn’t expecting to become attached to so many of the side characters that help out along the way and reside within the Hideaway. Final Fantasy 16 does a great job at telling a story that takes place across a lengthy period of time. I came to really love the characters that make up the community of the hideaway and it’s clear throughout the game’s narrative that these characters grow even more when they’re off screen and that life at the Hideaway rolls on even when Clive isn’t there. I loved this, as returning to the Hideaway presents opportunities to catch up with the other side characters, many of which have their own personal things going on too that you can sometimes help them out with dealing with, the same way they each help Clive out throughout the course of the game.
Final Fantasy 16 has become one of my personal favourite entries in the series and its darker tone really helped sell the grim nature of the world it takes place in and it’s story is well paced and filled with mysteries that had me continually wanting to play more. I loved just about everything about it. There were really only some minor gripes I had with my experience. Firstly, the game’s side quests aren’t all built equal. Quite the number of them are engaging and often consist of their own smaller sub plots that are fun to complete alongside the main story, but some fall into the most basic of fetch quests that they felt uninspired by comparison. There are only so many quests where I’m told to deliver bowls of food, go collect someone’s items or go to an area to farm a particular resource I can do before it gets old. The only saving grace is that many of the side quests do reward you with useful rewards or craft able items for weapons and in some cases the side quests have huge impacts on the core gameplay that I couldn’t imagine what my experience would have been like had I just ignored them all and mainlined the main story. The second issue comes in the lip synching, it’s also something that’s widely inconsistent. The lips are designed to match the English voice track, which is great. Some cutscenes and dialogue sequences it looks fantastic but in others it’s not even close, forcing the scene to fall right into the uncanny valley. I really hope it’s something that’s potentially patched in down the line as it was shocking how great it was in some scenes and not in others.
The performances all round though are incredible. Each and every one of the characters is performed fantastically with special mention needing to go to Ben Starr for his portrayal of Clive and also Ralph Ineson who portrays this game’s rendition of Cid with a suave and gritty charm. It’s a good thing the performances are a highlight as I was surprised just how frequent the cutscenes were and how long some ended up being. It really helps flesh out the world and the characters as I’d estimate around a quarter of my overall playtime was viewing the story via story cutscenes.
Whether you’re a newcomer to the series or a Final Fantasy veteran, there is a ton to love with Final Fantasy 16. Its darker tone really helps portray the grim nature of the story and the series’ return to high fantasy. I fell in love with the characters throughout the lengthy journey and am looking forward to jumping back in to test my skills in the game’s more difficult new game+ mode. Magic may be disappearing from Valisthea but its truly returned to the mainline Final Fantasy series.
A PS5 review code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
If you want to see more content like this and never miss one of our frequent gaming and anime giveaways come and Follow Ani-Game on Twitter.