One of the longest running game franchises, Final Fantasy has come a very long way as a series. The latest now – Final Fantasy XVI (FFXVI) – is the 16th title.
Developed by Square Enix for the PlayStation 5, FFXVI sheds its historical roots as a Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) and plays more like God of War with its emphasis on action and combat combos than previous Final Fantasy titles where you can customise your party in terms of spells, equipment and actions.
FFXVI takes place in the realm of Valisthea that is modeled after medieval European. Here, different kingdoms are warring over the blessings of Mothercrystals that can harness magical powers in the form of Aether, the lifeforce of the land. As a blight spreads across the lands killing off all life, the battle for unsullied land, crystals and Aether intensifies.
Many kingdoms practise severe discrimination against individuals who have the natural ability to use magic without the crystals. These individuals are known as Bearers as they are branded with a mark on their faces and treated as slaves, or worse.
Only the Dominants who are magic users that host and summon Eikons, which are powerful creatures such as Ifrit (fire), Shiva (ice) and Garuda (wind), are treated as royalty or are used as weapons of war.
With intricate subplots of political intrigue, betrayals and death, as well as the serious theme of the dehumanisation of individuals, FFXVI’s plot is dark, heavy and brutal — a far cry from its predecessor FFXV which was essentially a buddy road trip with cooking, fishing and other aspects of merrymaking.
A song of earth, wind and fire
With such serious themes at play, FFXVI’s story is epic, with some elements that bear resemblance to George R.R. Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire books (that inspired The Game of Thrones TV series). FFXVI’s lengthy and luxurious cinematic cutscenes make you feel like watching a movie while jumping in to help out sometimes.
The game’s main protagonist is Clive Rosfield, the oldest son of Elwin Rosfield, the Archduke of Rosaria. After a fateful incident that changed his life, Clive has to fulfill his convoluted destiny and help save the land and the people from destruction caused by evil forces at play as well as the oppression by those in control.
Clive the hero is mostly all emo and brooding, but fortunately he has his allies who offer interesting backstories. These include Torgal, his faithful hound, Jill Warrick, his childhood friend and other companions that he befriends along the way.
However, as the plot is so serious with lives constantly at stake, we don’t get to see a happier side of the characters.
Thankfully, there are some slightly more cheerful characters later in the game that bring some joy to an otherwise melancholy game. Having Chocobos and Moogles around offer small comfort, and I find myself talking to the adorable Nektar the Moogle very often just to seek some levity in the game.
Unlike previous Final Fantasy games, there is no customisation for members of Clive’s party — they serve simply like companions who act on their own volition.
There isn’t any way to select their gear or skills, nor give them any commands during battles, with the exception of Torgal the hound.
Although Clive can give Torgal commands such as sic, ravage and heal during battle in real-time, this can be automated with Clive wearing the right accessory.
FFXVI offers a limited open world. You cannot traverse the entire map freely, but instead fast-travel to certain areas via the World Map and explore within those areas.
Clive and his friends can ride Chocobos, which are unlocked later in the game. This helps in side quests that require exploration and hunting down certain creatures.
Apart from the main missions which move the ambitious and epic plot along, FFXVI’s side quests range from food and item delivery, pest control, locating people and items, and gathering ingredients, all while fighting off monsters.
However, the developers do manage to make the menial tasks seem meaningful, and some particularly memorable side quests that focus on the plight of the Bearers and the cruelty they suffer will make you teary-eyed.
There are also bounty hunting jobs offered by Nektar the Moogle on the Hunt Board, which gives you clues on the locations of powerful monsters where you can find and defeat them.
I quite enjoy the Hunts as the monsters are grotesque yet spectacular, are fun to defeat, and you get rare crafting items as rewards.
A dance of swords and magic
FFXVI is rather limited in terms of weapons and gear, as Clive can only equip one weapon, one belt and one set of vambraces.
Better variants of weapons and gear can be found or be earned as rewards, and you can also craft new gear by finding new recipes in your adventures.
These can be upgraded at the Blacksmith’s with the right crafting materials which are found in chests scattered around the map, dropped by felled foes or given as a reward for completing quests.
Clive can also equip up to three rings or amulets that offer special attributes. For those who prefer combat to be automated, some rings can automatically execute combos, evasive moves as well as Torgal’s actions, letting you only focus on hitting the enemies.
Apart from executing combos for both Clive and Torgal, you can also select what elemental Eikon attacks to use, and also unleash devastating and spectacular limit break attacks.
As you progress, you earn Ability points that can be used to learn new attacks or upgrade current ones. As for attributes like Strength, Vitality and Willpower, they are automatically upgraded as you level up, which does not offer much in terms of character customisation or replayability.
FFXVI pits Clive and his friends against a wide variety of enemies including humans from other factions, a variety of wildlife and monsters, and even fantastical colossal bosses.
I find dodging and counterattacks to be particularly useful especially during boss battles with many stages and bosses with a great variety of devastating attacks.
Enemies can also be staggered when taking enough damage, which will render them immobile and weakened temporarily — ideal for some serious button mashing attacks.
Notably, FFXVI’s bosses really test your gaming endurance and reflexes with lengthy battles comprising multiple stages.
For extended boss battles, there are also cinematic quick-time events where you need to hit or mash certain buttons following on screen prompts, which means one cannot simply mash buttons blindly.
At one point, my thumb was cramping from an especially exhausting boss battle but it’s not one I will forget any time soon!
A feast for the eyes and ears
As with most Final Fantasy games, FFXVI’s characters and scenery design are top notch.
From the intricate details of the character’s costumes, the different fabrics and textures and lifelike motion capture, FFXVI is a beautiful game to watch.
The characters’ hair is especially beautifully rendered, and even Torgal’s fur looks so soft and strokeable.
For those who love to explore, there are many scenic places in Valisthea that are breathtaking and Instagram-worthy, like the limestone pools inspired by Pamukkale in Turkey, outworldly ruins of mysterious airships in the sea and magnificent crystal mountains.
FFXVI’s fast paced combat with the blinding elemental effects can be rather overpowering, so much so that I occasionally lose sight of the enemies.
There is also quite a lot of motion blur with Clive’s sweeping attacks and fast movements, which makes it rather taxing on the eyes. The game taxes the PlayStation 5 console as well, and I find my console running hot during major boss battles.
I played FFXVI with the English voice track, which is very natural sounding and features a variety of British accents. The soundtrack is suitably rousing and dark, with the heroic battle theme providing a wonderful accompaniment as Clive is pounding away at his enemies.
Even the familiar Final Fantasy victory fanfare is sung by a male choir, which adds to the darkness and intensity of the battles.
With detailed maps, key characters, story development maps and a wiki of sorts offered by tutors and loremasters, FFXVI is chock full of information for those keen to decipher the political intricacies and history of Valisthea.
This helps in making sense of the complicated politics and convoluted story. I kept feeling like I had missed part of the plot, and it does take quite a bit of effort and reading to get past that.
The game does tug at the heartstrings and is rather sentimental, with a Wall of Memories dedicated to pivotal moments and in remembrance of characters in the game. It’s a nice touch, and I find myself going to the wall frequently to remember and mourn.
One complaint I have about FFXVI is that the user interface is rather unintuitive, with commands buried in menus that need a sharp eye to find.
For instance, there are training grounds known as Halls of Virtue where you can practice attacks and combos, but it is not obvious how to exit the training.
Plus, the Photo Mode is accessible only in the “Attributes” tab of the menu, which isn’t the first place I will think of when I want a nice shot of Clive.
FFXVI is the first Final Fantasy game ranked “M” for “Mature” by ESRB for profanity, partial nudity and sexual themes, which is a huge change from previous Final Fantasy titles that are somewhat whimsical, light-hearted and innocent.
Needless to say, this is one Final Fantasy title you would not want to start young children on.
For an action game with an epic story and interesting characters barring a moody protagonist, FFXVI is deserving of accolades for its beautiful graphics, intricate and emotional stories and thrilling combat with spectacular enemies.
However, it is easy to forget that it is a Final Fantasy game, if not for the consistently gorgeous hair, occasional pieces of music that hark back to the themes of previous games, and the presence of Chocobos and Moogles.
FFXVI appeals to a lot of emotions but can be rather dark and heavy, with very few light-hearted moments and characters, which makes one desperately seek some levity in the game.
Although combat and gameplay is very satisfying, the game doesn’t differentiate itself enough from many other strong titles featuring similar action and combo-oriented gameplay.
There is also minimal role-playing and party elements, unlike previous titles in the series, which is a bit of a letdown given its rich Final Fantasy lineage.
FFXVI for PlayStation 5 is available at the PlayStation Store at S$97.90.