Final Fantasy XVI: Echoes of the Fallen is light on story, heavy on action goodness

Posted on December 14, 2023

Announced last week at The Game Awards, Final Fantasy XVI’s first of two DLC expansions have arrived. Echoes of the Fallen is this very first expansion, adding little to the story but going all in on the combat and dungeon exploration goodness.

Echoes of the Fallen more or less requires you to have beaten the base game of Final Fantasy XVI, or at least get up to the point of no return just before the final Mothercrystal and dominant that Clive and the gang must tackle. As it’s at this pivotal point in the story, Joshua and Jill are both along for the ride. Mysteriously and ever-so-conveniently for this low-stakes DLC, a new Mothercrystal has appeared, bringing about quakes to the land of Valisthea. An assumed abandoned spire has awoken, brought to light by both the new Mothercrystal and a new material known as Dusk Crystal.

This is an incredibly threadbare excuse to reacquaint you with the game after some months. With many gaps in the story and room for further exploration, why spend time conveniently exploring a new Mothercrystal? Why not go the Final Fantasy XV route and have the story bettered by post-game story content? Why couldn’t we see what Joshua was up to all those years? Or get a little more exploration of Cid? These are all perfectly reasonable questions to ask. They’re ones I even found myself asking as I booted up the venture. If nothing else, I hate when games waste my time. It didn’t take long for Echoes of the Fallen to reel me in and justify itself with its fantastic dungeon and thrilling combat. It is far from a waste of time.

The fantastic news about this DLC is that if you loved oppressive architecture and luscious views found in the original story, there is more of that here. The Spire may be tucked away behind some mountains, only just poking its head above it, but when you’re in there and working through the ascent, you’re taken aback by its proportions and majesty. The stonework is highly detailed and feels brutalist, with hints of sci-fi technology shining through in the fantasy and futuristic blend one can every so often find in RPGs. A setting and visual style that I am always a sucker for. This opens up in big ways towards the end, with curious flesh and membrane intertwining with the pillars and spire supports. A futuristic ship is situated near the top. What does it all mean? Only the apex of the tower has these answers.

In my original review of Final Fantasy XVI, I talked about how at times parts of the game feel reminiscent of the franchise’s successful MMORPG, Final Fantasy XIV Online. In Echoes of the Fallen, that DNA and fingerprint is everywhere. In simple terms, they more or less added a raid into the game. The ascent through the spire is thrilling, clashing with a lot of robotic monsters, corrupted creatures and the like as you slowly progress. It’s a good challenge too, but especially if you’re a little underlevelled like I was. The dungeon assumes you’re close to the max level mark of 50; I was in the lower forties and it meant combat was punchier and making me sweat more, but it also meant I was in my element. In true raid fashion, I was learning the patterns of enemies and dodging area-of-effect attacks, inching through thanks to the wonderful perfect dodges and parries that can slow down time.

There are several bosses to work through, further emphasising the explosive and involved nature of the spire. Though there aren’t new Eikonic abilities to garner as you don’t tackle the new Eikon until right at the end, there are at least small pieces of new gear to help you through the dungeon marathon. These have felt like the most purposeful items we’ve had in the game yet, providing perks such as getting a free self-revive in instances you’d normally die in, provided you have a charged Limit Break gauge.

All of this coalesces into a thrilling final boss fight. Without spoiling too much, it’s a popular fight that also can be found in Final Fantasy XIV and in a year that had games like Lies of P, also managed to have one of my favourite final fights. Clive and the gang are transported to a cyberspace, rich with dazzling neon lights. The boisterous operatic singing that you’ve heard for a majority of the soundtrack thus far kicks in but is now fused with interesting techno electronic sounds. The AoE dodging is very XIV in fashion, avoiding spots zones of orange. It takes on even more of an extreme in this climax, often asking players to thread the needle and stand in the tiniest of spots, or else they’d wipe out and die. Everything is just…big, tense and all over the top, leaving me letting out a notable exhale when it was all over.

Final Fantasy XVI was released nearly six months ago, and though it’s a fantastic and different mainline entry for Square Enix’s franchise, it occupied my brain less and less throughout the year because it had small spots where the story left a bit to be desired. However, playing Echoes of the Fallen has me taken with the game once more, reminding me just how brilliant the combat really is. Spectacle is well and truly what the game does best and there’s more of that here. Better yet, it’s a modest 2-3 hours runtime. The perfect size for a quick little dungeon delve. Yes, I’m ready to have the story further expanded, but that’ll have to wait a bit yet.

Final Fantasy XVI: Echoes of the Fallen is available to play now on PS5. Its second, final and more sizable DLC, The Rising Tide is slated for an Autumn 2024 release.