I’ve played most of the Final Fantasy series. But in 16 numbered games and a handful of spin-offs, I've only ever finished one. I have nothing against the series, it’s one of my favorites, same goes for the genre. Most of them were fun, exciting, and well-written. I still rarely close the deal. My first Final Fantasy that I saw from beginning to end was Final Fantasy IX. I’ve come close a couple of times, but I’ve gotten side-tracked, busy, or life just happened. Final Fantasy XVI will make the second game in the series, and boy am I glad saw it through.
Why do I play Final Fantasy games? The story. I can get into combat, fiddle around with side quests and activities like Final Fantasy X’s Blitzball, or even take a deep dive into an intricate leveling or job system. But when it comes to my single-player experiences, it’s always the story that makes or breaks a game. Final Fantasy XVI has an excellent story. This time around there was so much change being made to the overall style of game that choosing to go back to a more basic fantasy setting was the right idea.
A small selection of people in the world of Valisthea are born with demigods, called Eikons, living inside them. The main character Clive’s younger brother Joshua is one of those people. Clive wasn’t lucky enough to have the Phoenix Eikon, but he was unlucky enough to have some of the powers associated with an Eikon. Those that do are labeled bearers, which is just a fancy word for slave. Clive is a bit lucky at first, he’s royalty so instead of being marked as a bearer he tends to his brother’s needs. Most nations use their Eikon to wage war against the other nations. The Blight has come, taking any living area and turning it into dead, gray, nothingness. Nothing can grow or live in the Blight, and the fear of the Blight destroying all of Valisthea is putting all the nations at war with each other for land still untouched by the Blight.
As we see the story play out, we follow Clive. I loved that I got to play him at several stages of his life. The prologue, or demo, that was released before the game, sees you play him as a 15 year-old-boy, a bearer prince for his younger brother Joshua, the eventual king. The first act then jumps ahead 13 years, we see Clive living with the results of the prologue. Things have not gone well. After about ten hours of the game, we then jump another five years, making Clive 33 and again, living with the results from act one. Things haven’t turned out great for our hero. It may sound a bit worrying to have three time jumps taking place in the span of about forty hours of overall gameplay, but Final Fantasy XVI handles it perfectly. I never felt shorted in any of the three acts. I hate to talk too much about the plot of anything, I always feel with any video game it is something that the player should explore. But I will say that I haven’t enjoyed a story of this scale since I played Mass Effect 2 in 2012. Final Fantasy XVI has surpassed it.
Final Fantasy XVI pushes cinematic storytelling to a level I haven’t felt before, to both great and not-so-great levels. Frequently in battle, a cinematic strike or cinematic evasion will take place. You may need to hit a certain button in time or mash another until you win or lose a standstill. These will give a short cutscene showing the results before getting back to the actual fight. When paired with an excellent musical score, these cinematic scenes work flawlessly. I feel the epic vibes they are trying to give off, and it almost always works. On occasion it feels a bit cheesy or silly, but that was a rare occurrence. XVI also tries to make the overall game feel epic by having either a small or no HUD on the screen at all. In combat, a small HUD will show health, stats, and commands you can give your dog when in a fight. Outside of combat, there is no HUD at all. This works for the most part. XVI is beautiful to look at, and I appreciate that the developers want to show it off.
Since Square-Enix has tried so hard to make this feel like a cinematic experience, they have included two modes to see that you can experience the game the way the player wants. I found myself playing in the graphics mode instead of the frame-rate mode. The only time I really noticed frame-rate drops was in the big open parts of the world I could explore. And even then, the frame-rate drops only took place when I would look far out into the open world. The enemy NPCs I could fight would drop to what felt like ofiver six frames a second. If I was close enough to engage them in combat, I never saw the slow frame rate, it was always at a great distance.
Another new element to this Final Fantasy is how you can play. Like having two different modes for how XVI feels and looks, there are also two different styles of playing. The first is more combat focused, and the second choice places the story as its focal point, making combat a breeze. On top of that, you can also equip three different rings at any one time. Rings can add defense or attack, shorten spell cooldowns, have fights give you more experience or money. But you are given four rings at the start that can fundamentally change how you play XVI. One can do all your evading for you, another will command your dog for you. One will use potions for you. The fourth one is a bit game-breaking. The Ring of Timely Strikes makes it so Clive will use whatever his best move is at that given moment, all you need to do is press the square button. This turns Final Fantasy XVI into a single-button masher of a game. You just need to walk near an enemy, spam a single button and watch Clive perform all his amazing acrobatics, spells, or simple swing his sword.
I can see the Ring of Timely Strikes as a real mixed bag. If you want to experience the game and story you can choose to equip this ring, have story mode on and it almost becomes a walking simulator. I think it’s great to give players a choice. I found myself wearing the ring, especially when doing some of the side-quest content. I knew I wouldn’t have an issue clearing side-quests, but this made them quick and painless, while still giving me the chance to see all the content Final Fantasy XVI has to offer.
All of this praise is not to say there are not some issues. In Final Fantasy XVI’s attempt to always to feel as cinematic as possible, developer Square-Enix has decided not to include a mini-map. At first, I loved the idea of having as little space as possible taken up by a HUD of any kind. But I found myself, especially in the second half of the game, frequently hitting the menu button to take a look as the map. I have an issue with needing to make sure I’m heading in the right direction constantly. No mini-map is a nice look on the screen. But I missed it more than I thought I would.
With Final Fantasy XVI being the most cinematic entry to date I expected long cutscenes. What I did not expect was to enter a cutscene that would last two minutes, only to walk 20 yards and enter a second two-minute-long cutscene. It would have been great to have a four minute cutscene.
I only had two major gripes, but I did have a handful of small thoughts that entered my mind while playing. Every character is wearing so much leather. Everyone is running around in environments where the temperature is clearly scorching, and not a single drop of sweat is present throughout the game. And finally, this is certainly the easiest Final Fantasy game ever. Even in the action-focused mode, without the timely rings on, I never felt like I was experiencing a true challenge. There were a few fights that were hard, and a few I had to do more than a few times. Side-quests feel a little tacked on and quick without adding much to the overall enjoyment. I could not have spent time on them and probably wouldn’t miss out on much.
I don’t care if this isn’t my dad’s Final Fantasy. It’s mine. I love it. I love the new combat style, it feels modern. It’s fun, quick, intense, and leaves me wanting more. I find myself clearing out all the open areas because it’s exciting. I don’t miss having to decide how to level up my healer, or controlling more than just my actions. On top of that is a great story that still feels like Final Fantasy. This is the best version of Cid yet. Is the game too easy? Yes, but only because I’ve chosen to make it that way. Square Enix made bold choices with Final Fantasy XVI and it has paid off.
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I'm pulled towards anything that isn't driving or sports related; having said that, I love a good kart racer. I Can't get enough RPGs, and indies are always worth a look to me. The only other subject I pay any attention to is the NFL (go Colts!).
While writing about games is my favorite hobby, talking is a close second. That's why I podcast with my wife Tessa (it's called Tessa and Elliot Argue).View Profile