Even though this game is titled "Final Fantasy XVI", it is not the 16th game in the overall franchise. There has yet to be a game like Final Fantasy XVI in the history of the series. Final Fantasy XVI is a departure from previous entries in nearly every aspect. It has the excellent music that Final Fantasy is always known for, mixed with action combat and a dark and gritty storyline. This Final Fantasy is also a series first for being rated 18+. For this review, I will keep my comments centred on the first couple of hours that can be played via the demo while sometimes dipping into later content from the entire game.
The game's initial hours are cutscene-heavy, which can be a turn-off to some players as they'd prefer to get into the action instead of watching a movie. Final Fantasy XVI does also struggle with having a middle ground for action. It's either 0% or 100% action, with no in-between. One moment you are buying potions and enjoying the peace; the next, you are fighting an enormous boss. I would like to have more leadup to some boss battles; it sometimes felt that the bosses were put there for spectacle more than building up to an encounter. That's not to say that I did not enjoy them. I was smiling every moment in every boss battle during my current playtime.
The game's primary protagonist, Clive Rosfield, is at the heart of the story, brought to life by Ben Starr. Ben's voice acting for Clive is phenomenal, and you can feel the passion that goes into the acting. The overall cast is equally excellent and very British. Then there's Jill, Clive's childhood friend, who, later down the line, adds a lot to the character roster and compliments Clive brilliantly. She understands and empathizes with Clive and shares similar internal struggles.
Cid is another character you meet on your adventures who acts as a guide for Clive and supports him on his quest. I like Cid; he seems like a complex character with many layers that I have yet to discover fully. Cid is also why we are saved from death in battle after being surrounded by enemies and reunited with the game's best boy, Torgal.
Final Fantasy XVI takes place in the world of Valisthea. Several nations scattered across the lands, each with its own culture, crystal and Eikon. Eikons in Valisthea are the classic summons from previous entries; Phoenix, Ifrit, Bahamut, Titan, Shiva, Odin, Ramuh and Garuda. Eikons channel their power by choosing someone to be a "Dominant". Dominants can become aspects of their Eikon which, as shown early on in the demo, leads to epic battles on the same level as those found in the God of War series.
Final Fantasy XVI does an excellent job of building up the world of Valisthea. The game introduces a new system to Final Fantasy; Active Time Lore. Active Time Lore helps immensely with keeping up with the story's happenings. A lot happens early on, and it helps keep track of characters you meet, monsters you have slain and the overall lore of the world.
The playable areas of Final Fantasy XVI remind me of how Final Fantasy X through XIV does it by having zones joined together by entering and exiting via specific points or teleportation via the world map. The world map specifically reminds me of how you travel when you gain access to the airship near the end of the game in Final Fantasy X.
Combat in Final Fantasy XVI is different to previous entries. It is fully action based with no turn-based elements at all. I am entirely okay with this change and welcome it. The combat is fun, exciting and fast-paced, with plenty to think about, such as timing your dodges and attacks and when to use your special abilities.
Remember Torgal? He is integral to combat and compliments Clive's attacks perfectly. Torgal will fling enemies into the air, allowing Clive to perform air combos on them, and he will also heal Clive if required. Alongside other companions who join Clive and Torgal on their adventure, they all add something to the combat with their unique abilities, although only Clive is controllable.
The stagger system returns in Final Fantasy XVI, enabling Clive to perform massive damage while the enemy cannot stop him. While an enemy is staggered, all damage is critical, as shown by the yellow damage numbers.
Another new aspect of the combat system in Final Fantasy XVI is "Cinematic Actions". Cinematic Actions are split into three types; Cinematic Strike, Cinematic Evade and Cinematic Clash. These cinematic actions are sometimes tied to the enemy's health points, but some enemies have it as part of their attack rotations. All three are effectively Quick Time Events.
Cinematic Strikes are when you press square within a set time limit to make an attack that does massive damage and typically staggers the enemy.
Pressing R1 within a set time limit allows Clive to dodge out of the way of a significant attack which would otherwise be devastating.
Mashing the square button during a clash between Clive and the enemy. Cinematic Clash signifies an enemy trying to overpower Clive, so successfully performing one allows Clive to overpower his enemy first. Cinematic Clash is my least favourite part of combat, and I prefer to avoid pressing one button rapidly. It's pretty straining.
Easy Mode and Accessibility Options
Easy mode and Accessibility options are a point of contention for many series fans and have been a sour discussion in the Soul's games fanbases for years. Final Fantasy XVI gives the player accessory items that Clive can equip. There are five rings; Ring of Timely Assistance, Ring of Timely Evasion, Ring of Timely Focus, Ring of Timely Healing and Ring of Timely Strikes.
These rings are a way of introducing fast-paced action combat to players of previous Final Fantasy games and also to those who may not be proficient in playing action games. You can equip up to three of these rings, and each will automate part of the combat for you. Ring of Timely Healing will automatically heal Clive using Potions and Hi-Potions if he has any in his inventory. Alternatively, the Ring of Timely Assistance will automate how Torgal uses his abilities and complement whatever attacks Clive is currently performing.
I am okay with these options being in place and even use them myself, as I am more interested in seeing the story and world of Final Fantasy XVI for my first playthrough. If they're useless to you or you do not wish to use them, then you don't equip them; they are entirely optional.
What Makes Final Fantasy a Final Fantasy?
To conclude, I want to discuss what makes a Final Fantasy game because there has been a lot of discourse since the game was announced, especially in the last couple of days since its release. This question has many answers as each person will have their views on what makes a game a Final Fantasy game. The title "Final Fantasy" might not be enough for most people.
Final Fantasy has always done something different with each fresh instalment, even if subtle. Final Fantasy II was very different to the first game, with no traditional levels and each aspect of combat, from spells to equipment, having its own levels. Final Fantasy III added a further extended job system while reintroducing EXP and levels. Final Fantasy IV further expanded on the combat by moving away from pure turn-based to the Active Time Battle system, which was used for all the games up to and including Final Fantasy IX.
Some changes between games were more subtle, but each change still made the game different from a previous entry. Final Fantasy XVI remembers its roots with many references to previous entries. Would this game stand alone if it didn't have the Final Fantasy title? Yes. It's a fantastic game in its own right. Is it a bad Final Fantasy game? No.
Finally, if you do not think this game is a good Final Fantasy game, that is entirely your choice. I'd love to see some debate in the comments but remember that opinions are subjective, and one person's view on the game does not invalidate another's.