Final Fantasy XVI Review – There is always hope

Reviewed June 22, 2023 on PS5




June 22, 2023


Square Enix


Square Enix

Final Fantasy XVI arrives triumphantly nearly seven years after the last mainline release. Featuring a tale of epic proportions with many twists and turns while also breaking many franchise traditions, in concept and boldness alone it won’t be a title for all fans. It’s entirely not what you’d expect when it comes to the series. The very reason I preface that upfront is that I fall exactly into the target audience. I bloody love Final Fantasy XVI. It’s turned me, a disbeliever of the game’s marketing, into a pure fan, various oddities and all. Rest assured, it’s a Final Fantasy game to be remembered.

A fantastical ballad

Final Fantasy XVI takes place in Valisthea, with players controlling an outlaw by the name of Clive. The world is in disrupt as nations fight for power. Magic crystals known as Aether are the very life source of Valisthea, creating water plants and the food people need to live.  However, it’s a precious material that is just another reason for war to violently erupt. Prominent individuals known as Dominants that can summon, channel, or quite literally transform into Gods are too at the center of this conflict, wanting to control the world. It’s a set-up that would otherwise be boilerplate if it were not created with the majesty of Final Fantasy. However, with excellent writing chops from Kazutoyo Maehiro and crew, fantastic music from Final Fantasy XIV composer Masayoshi Soken, quality production by Naoki Yoshida, and a wonderful vision by director Hiroshi Takai, it transcends into something beautiful.

Clive quickly is revealed to also be one of these Dominants. Though, they didn’t start their journey (or additionally the one as an outlaw) as such. As those that have experienced the prologue demo that dropped some weeks ago will know, his roots stem from nobility. Residing in a picturesque castle with an idolised and esteemed sibling Joshua (coincidentally one of these very Dominants), his father, his mother, and ward Jill, royalty is very much in his blood. However, in one of the most jaw-dropping openings that have happened in games in recent memory, Final Fantasy XVI really goes there, delivering a somewhat unsubtle but devastating and blood-drenched end to the prologue in high fantasy fashion. Yes, if you’ve been getting Game of Thrones-style storytelling vibes so far, you’re absolutely correct.

The excitement and gripping narrative continues from there. What I found most intriguing is that hour five of the game feels incredibly different from hours ten, fifteen, and so on. What one may first consider a story of revenge soon becomes a story of atonement and then… an enriching character piece. This doesn’t make Final Fantasy XVI a confusing story. Instead, the twists complement the complexity and brevity of each beat, accompanied by a few time skips in there to further emphasise Clive’s epic story. Our hero’s teens, twenties and thirties are experienced on-screen, making this a decades-long affair that you’re itching to get to the bottom of.

Eventually, you begin to see Final Fantasy XVI for the aforementioned character piece that it is. Players travel the lands of Valisthea, clashing iron with lords and mercs. You’ll see figures driven mad by grief, mad by lust for power and mad by jealousy.

Players will meet other Dominants that control the Eikons of the world, likely conquering them in battle before gaining said abilities. At the very focus of it all are the friends you make along the way that can (in scripted moments) join your journey or be waiting for you back at the home that is your hideout, a reprieve from missions. Many are richly written characters with equally engaging voice acting that is incredibly British. That’s just it. Writing you get here you won’t find in many other RPGs. Both Clive and the villains get moments of emotional vulnerability and self-doubt, it’s that type of good writing you find in Final Fantasy XIV that leaves you wanting to absorb every single facet.

Some of these friends are your furry friend Torgal, a cute and adorable dog that becomes a handy ally in combat. Jill, the ward-turned-intimate friend and Cidolphus (Cid), a charming cocky lad who, like Clive, has seen some stuff. These all remain well-written characters, servicing the mostly iron-clad story, but holes appear in the final quarter of the game. Like in Final Fantasy XV prior, female characters can be left in the dust. Most egregious is how Jill, a powerful and promising figure that has been with you for most of your journey gets cast aside and forgotten in the late-game, not utilised in some of the final fights. The very way they choose to do so is in a very convoluted and annoying way to have her and Clive be on different grounds than before.

It’s frustrating we’re back on this issue when Final Fantasy XIV has such a strong cast of characters that are women. Many of the development talents from that ongoing game have made their way over here but yet this has reared its head. They’re better than this. That becomes a bitter pill to swallow in the closing moments for a game that is otherwise exceptional and moving in its storytelling.

With testing moments aside, for better or worse Final Fantasy XVI is a game that doesn’t pull any punches. It is a significantly darker story for the franchise than those we’ve come to know. That will inevitably be grating for some. Though it wasn’t what I wanted from a Final Fantasy story walking in, I did come away impressed. It’s a fantastic, sweeping story where Clive and his friends must overcome darkness, and trying moments in an ugly, hate-filled world that has seen chaos rips across its lands.

Living and breathing Valisthea

It doesn’t take long to recognise how gorgeous and realised Valisthea is. Much of the imagery is haunting but compelling, giving a clear class divide between the parts of society dying out and those more flourishing. Wilting and dying fields dotted with huts will give way to giant, oppressive castle walls. A small village known as Martha’s Rest is home to common folk, lying scarcely above horrid wetlands filled with monsters, only a short walk down a hill.

This vivid storytelling translates also through character design and writing. The poorer servant class all have an identical mark on their faces, labelling them as Curse Bearers. Clive, too, has this mark, and when he enters certain towns or areas he’ll be treated differently, regarded with disgust and quickly ushered along. Racism, or the othering of individuals is quite an unsubtle trope in fantasy at this point. Though it is effective in its bluntness (there’s a series of subquests in a village town where you learn Curse Bearers are hunted for sport), it’s a little patronising when the game made little effort to put many people of colour in its world.

This is perhaps the prettiest the Final Fantasy franchise has ever looked. Often the loop goes that you’re after the hunt for both a Dominant and the Mothercrystal in the region that that Dominant is situated in. This Mothercrystal is a monolithic crystal that is often the source of the Dominant’s powers and hence must be destroyed. The final sprint to each of the Mothercrystals is what feels the closest to literal dungeons in-game. Mining caves that open up to chasms only to find a gigantic castle situated under the Earth, illuminated in the dark by the bright, blue light of the crystal… it’s jaw-dropping. Combine this with the fact some of the utmost important cutscenes are animated and captured so beautifully they feel akin to the side-movies such as Kingsglaive and it’s apparent how much of a visual feast this game is.

This rush to areas of utmost importance; the vibe that the world stands between you and your target is another feeling reminiscent of the same DNA as beating a momentous dungeon in Final Fantasy XIV. Great man-made medieval halls meet with the natural environment. Your friends are at your side, helping you push through and encouraging you along the way. Suddenly, Clive and the player feel like they can overcome anything.

The art direction for Final Fantasy XVI is impressive and I have few complaints. It’s more open areas that interconnect and can be travelled around which works better than the daunting open world offered in its predecessor. Think more akin to Final Fantasy VII Remake. After all, it’s a game with a little less busy work, more focused on highlighting spectacle and setpieces. What busy work there is includes plenty of sidequests and hunts.

“Much of the imagery is haunting but compelling, giving a clear class divide between the parts of society dying out and those more flourishing.”

Players pick up these sidequests and hunts in the Hideout, where you too can check up on your friends, buy items and upgrade your gear. Most handy for those overwhelmed by the dense story will be visits to the loremaster cleverly named Harpocrates, an old man who’s known to tell a long story or two, but also is how players access the menus to revise terminology and events in the Final Fantasy XVI universe. The Hideout is just the right amount of bustling and feeling like a base constantly in development, allowing for that sense of growth throughout the story but also reprieve.

I’m not going to lie and pretend that the sidequests on offer are the most interesting thing in the world, but if you’re a lore nerd they do provide substantial context for Valisthea and its locals, along with even some important upgrades and items for crafting. There are some of those drier quests both in the sub and main quests templates where you hear rumours of an ongoing, then requiring you to move about a location, searching for the one or two people with key information to progress a plot. They’re thankfully relatively few and far between and are once again very Final Fantasy XIV in their design. I’m battle-hardened by these quest structures, they can’t whittle me down!

Where I think lies the most room for improvement lies is in the hunts. Yes, they’re thrilling fights and are often where I’m most challenged in combat as I riskily engage in fights with boss enemies sometimes a significant amount of levels ahead of me. Seeing Clive finally push through a battle as the enemy falls is immensely satisfying. Still, they’re largely beefed up versions of monsters and beasts you’ve fought before. This feels like an area begging to chuck in some more trademark Final Fantasy monsters and creatures to fight. Though there’s a good amount in Morbols, Fire Bombs, Adamantoises and the like, there’s an entire desert biome with no Cactuars.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Final Fantasy XVI is unrecognisable from the franchise, I mean, you’re literally channelling and embodying some of the most iconic summons known to the series. I’m also incredibly relieved there’s Chocobo riding. Still, every now and then I couldn’t help but wish they wore the franchise’s heart on their sleeve sometimes. Maybe add a Tonberry or two. Definitely chill out and lighten up just a tad.

Final Fantasy May Cry

This is a considerably more Action-RPG-focused title than ever before for the series. Similarities to character action games such as Devil May Cry have risen as you thrash about a combat arena, juggling foes up in the air to devastating results. Those comparisons are incredibly founded. We already know combat director Ryota Suzuki worked on Devil May Cry 5. Though that goes one step further. Not long ago at Final Fantasy XVI’s pre-launch event, it was unveiled that PlatinumGames along with the Kingdom Hearts 4 development team were brought in to help work on the game. That’s one hell of a dream team to drive combat-focused players mad. In practice? It’s near pitch perfect.

Off the bat, control is taken away from all characters except Clive and Torgal. That’s quite foreign to a Final Fantasy game at first but becomes a non-issue when you consider how many plates you’ll be spinning to dish out combos in battle. Dodges, standard attacks and spell blasts (bound to Square and Triangle) are mixed together with your Eikonic abilities and Torgal strikes. Though there are many Eikons you’ll be able to unlock and channel throughout the campaign, three can be mapped for combat at any time. Two abilities for each mapped Eikon are at your disposal, and its how you manipulate and use these all in your favour that you’ll soon be mopping the floor with enemies.

With all this, combat feels really good. Like all good games with a combat focus, iframes are prevalent, meaning if you time your dodges right you’re invulnerable. Better yet, perfect timing with these dodges and parries will give you brief moments of slowed-down carnage time à la Bayonetta and its Witch Time mechanic. There are so many key pieces offered in combat that clearly are all about prioritising players having the most fun possible. One of Torgal’s abilities you control with the D-pad launches enemies into the air, alley-ooping Clive into a mid-air combo before satisfyingly sending them slamming down into the ground. Staggering meatier enemies after whittling down that meter is an added bonus in any game but especially here when they can hit heavily, giving players breathing room and more damage output when the foe is in this phase.

Bursting Clive into flames to create an area-of-effect attack, whipping enemies towards you with a gust of wind from Geruda and the like all create a smooth, stylish and symphonic combat experience that is intuitive and rookie friendly. Varied and diverse abilities and skill trees that are fairly spaced out and not all that daunting make speccing for the type of fighter Clive is all the easier. I hardly consider myself skilled at fast-paced action games like the aforementioned Devil May Cry and Bayonetta, yet I managed to hold my own incredibly well, pulling off some sweet combos. All of it coalesces when you enter the scripted fights that are all about transforming into Ifrit, taking control of this gigantic, Kaiju-esque creature as you take on an equally if not even more imposing foe of the same ilk.

These are excellent excuses for Final Fantasy XVI to be peak flashy in its delivery. Boisterous set pieces are aplenty when you’re in this form as these giants rip apart the world around them, particle effects taking up so much of the screen. You’re quite literally watching and controlling Gods taking on Gods. It’s an exciting spectacle and some of the arena’s you’re in mid-battle are so thrilling I won’t spoil it further. Though some of these moments boil down to Quick Time Events (QTEs), the best example of some of these is when you’re delivering the final blow, providing all the more gusto as you finally topple your foe and have another God under your belt. Backing all of this is more fantastic soundtrack work from XIV composer Masayoshi Soken, adding to the grandiosity of it all.

There is one glaring issue with Final Fantasy XVI’s combat and it’s an accessibility issue. How well you’re performing often boils down to the gear you have equipped too. Yes, you can upgrade weapons and armour and the like, but equipped accessories are what give you that extra guidance and push. There are the ones you’d expect; extra damage and extra health and so on. However, developer Creative Business Unit III has also decided to tie their closest answer to accessibility options largely through the equipped accessories. These are what’s known as ring ‘Timely Accessories,’ and there are five of these on offer. The Timely Strikes Ring binds complex combos to a simple single press of Square, the Timely Evasion Ring has Clive auto evade all evadable attacks, the Timely Healing Ring saves an extra button prompt by auto healing when his health gets below a certain threshold and so on.

The problem is there are only three equippable accessory slots available. This means you can’t use all five in conjunction with one another, meaning many lesser abled people just simply might not be able to play Final Fantasy XVI at all. I see the logic and appeal behind making accessibility diegetic in the world of your game, but when you can’t even use all the options it can’t help but feel like a poorly thought-out and implemented function. Accessibility goes so much deeper than just difficulty, and it feels like that was maybe all that the team was trying to address.




  • Some of the best Action RPG combat out there
  • A Final Fantasy story that isn't afraid to get dark
  • Valisthea is hauntingly gorgeous, making the series the prettiest it has ever been
  • Strong characters with many complexities
  • Feels like a dream team project


  • Female characters don’t get as much time to shine as the men
  • Accessibility options should've been menu based
  • Final Fantasy XVI is a weirdo black-sheep entry for the series. It won’t be for all nor what all fans necessarily want for the franchise, but I also love it for that boldness. It’s a gripping and harrowing page-turner of an epic high-fantasy story with plenty of heart the series is known for. Complex too are the characters, even if not all see their justice by the end. Valisthea is an eerily gorgeous setting, providing some of the most memorable vistas you’ll have seen in a Final Fantasy game yet. Accessibility might not be at the forefront of the combat in-game but on offer is some of the most stylistic, and satisfying gameplay we’ve ever seen in an Action RPG. Even if you take further umbrage with its small flaws, there’s no denying that Final Fantasy XVI is a special and memorable event. Through thick and thin, that franchise magic is captured once again. Frankly, you can’t ask for anything better than that.