Final Fantasy 16 review – Incredible and flawed | The Sun

FINAL Fantasy 16 has some of the most explosive moments I’ve ever seen in any game. 

Scenes where Eikons battle and tear apart the scenery are genuinely some of the most awe-inspiringly satisfying of any game, any series, period. 

But when you’re laying in a post-action-climax glow, the game slows down to a crawl. 

And you’ll be playing for hours before seeing the action start to build again. That’s the Final Fantasy 16 experience.

The world’s most famous JRPG series has implemented some pretty drastic changes in its latest instalment. 

There are still the RPG tropes you expect, like gear, weapons, and party members, but they’re all sidelined. 

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You can’t change your party composition, their gear, or their behaviour – aside from your canine companion Torgal, who can be given a few basic commands.

If you’re used to your JRPG adventures functioning a little bit more like a traditional JRPG, then FF16 will immediately feel like it’s missing a certain something, and that feeling won’t go away. 

You’ll notice how the “skill tree” is now just a list of abilities you can buy in any order.

You’ll see how your gear decisions are based entirely on whether or not the new numbers are green or red.

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And you’ll notice how all of your elemental abilities have the same effects on all enemies.

Yes, you heard that right. Final Fantasy 16 features Eikons – you’ll recognise these as the Summons from previous games – and each of them embody an element, with each element relating to a single Eikon. 

That is until a second Eikon of Fire appears during the game’s inciting incident. 

With these elemental deities being a central theme of FF16, you’d expect their elemental abilities to be a key component of battle, just as they have been in almost every Final Fantasy game. 

But you’d be wrong.

You can use Fire, Ice, Wind, Lightning, or whatever else against, say, a Bomb, Final Fantasy’s fiery spirit monster. 

Each of those elements will do the exact same damage. 

The animation will be different for each, but ultimately, swapping through the elements to use your magical ability results in a simple aesthetic touch: magic has been reduced to a ranged attack, nothing more.

Hardcore Final Fantasy fans will likely dip into menus, searching for options earlier games always had, and come up empty. 

It’s a monumental disappointment, honestly, that Final Fantasy 16 isn’t a JRPG – as a description it fits, but when compared to genre contemporaries, it doesn’t quite match up.

The game is layered with obvious influences, from popular anime to Game of Thrones, while grounded in a “believable” mediaeval European setting.

It seems to take a few cues from Western RPGs like The Witcher 3, too. 

Protagonist Clive is even built like Geralt, a big wide man in armour with a sword slung over his shoulder.

The comparisons are even easier to make when Clive is exploring the world, actually engaging with NPCs and completing side quests.

Every quest – save for the Hunt Board locations – is clearly waypointed and signposted. 

It’s impossible to get lost during any of the quests in your journal – the game just won’t let you. 

Despite having multiple large “open world” areas to explore, the overt signposting makes the game feel linear despite its scope. 

There’s no reason to go off the beaten path and search for something specific: just plough ahead towards your next waypoint.

It all ends up being carried by some truly brilliant voice work and decent animation quality. 

Animations certainly take a dip when a random NPC is asking you to kill a group of mobs, but the world otherwise feels full of life and, in general, the game is beautiful, as long as the performance holds.

In its best moments, Final Fantasy 16 is a triumph. 

The cinematic action of Eikon clashes are brilliant and, against all odds, mostly playable, to an extent.

There are a few pre-rendered cinematics at work here, but for the most part, the game is all being rendered in real-time, and when it peaks, it might be the best-looking game on the PS5. 

The highs are that high.

And despite the disappointments with magic attacks, combat is surprisingly sharp and satisfying otherwise. 

There’s a level of depth in the combat that you can go through the entire game ignoring, but there are few things as satisfying as using Titan’s ability to parry the strikes of a giant dragon, or executing a level 5 Zantetsuken combo on a group of tough foes. 

The combat here is genuinely brilliant, but you’ll need to go out of your way to actually discover that, as most standard enemies can be taken out with a single special ability, and that will inevitably recharge before the next encounter. 

There’s no MP to limit your ability use, they’re all just cooldowns, so you can spam all your strongest moves, finish basic fights in seconds, and then do it all again by the time you get into another battle. 

The only truly memorable fights involve Eikons. These are usually highly scripted and give you a limited amount of control.

Or the Hunt Board quests, where you’ll be taking on more powerful singular monsters and focusing on dealing massive amounts of damage after building a Stagger gauge. 

When you find the perfect stack of abilities to deal massive amounts of Stagger damage, you’ll have a massive smile on your face.

You’ll be undergoing all of this combat and these highs and lows in service of the story, of course. 

You’re here to discover more about protagonist Clive Rosfield and see him take revenge, or change the world, or whatever. 

He starts out as a Branded, a slave to the Empire, and escapes its clutches when he encounters a Dominant that he refuses to kill. 

From here Clive meets with Cid the Outlaw, a legend of the land, and a friend to the Branded, Bearers, and the oppression that they face.

Clive travels the world, makes allies in each region, and does battle with the other Dominants in climactic Eikon battles. 

The story is well told, but a bit too predictable in places, and a bit too inelegant in others. 

The build towards each main story section feels disjointed and almost random: the team defeats one Eikon, rests at the Hideaway, and then an ally will have a problem, to which Clive responds “guess we’ll have to go kill that other Dominant.” 

And away they go, making their way through a new land to kill a new foe. 

At any point you can hold the Touch Pad and bring up the RTL – Real-Time Lore – to do some homework and get some context as to what is actually going on. 

The characters have detailed backgrounds and the history of the world has been given some genuine thought, but you won’t know it unless you read through the RTL regularly. 

The basic threads are easy to keep up with, but what Clive and the team will do next feels unpredictable, and it’s almost a coincidence that it manages to coalesce into something that, mostly, makes sense in the end.

When Final Fantasy 16 is at its best, it manages to be one of the best games in an incredibly stacked 2023. 

But it disappoints a little too often, and the time between those amazing moments gets longer and longer as the game goes on. 

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Still, when the highs are this high, everything else ends up feeling like a nitpick. If you skip the side quests and learn a few cool combat tricks, you will love playing through Final Fantasy 16 for what it is, instead of what you might’ve expected.

Score: 4/5

Written by Dave Aubrey on behalf of GLHF.

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