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Final Fantasy 16 Review: A Song of Fire and Blood

Guardian Force.

It’s been some time since I played a Final Fantasy game. Though I thoroughly enjoyed some of the older games when I was younger, and I passed over others as I got older. Tastes change over time, and FF16 intrigued me with its presentation, combat system, and over-the-top action. It’s a reintroduction into the series for fans like me, new fans, and longtime fans alike, wrapped in a grim-dark package with blazing effects and ferocious fights.

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Final Fantasy 16 stars Clive Rosfield (Ben Starr), a nobleman who aims to protect his brother, Joshua. In the land of Valisthea, where nations wage bloody wars of conquest, Clive sees his own life crumble before his eyes at a young age. From there, Clive’s adventures take him to new kingdoms and villages. Seeking vengeance and the truth about his powers, our hero is joined by a memorable cast of characters, such as Jill Warrick, his childhood friend (with a budding romance to boot), and the formidable Cid Telamon, who becomes a friend and mentor.

In just the first few hours or so, FF16 managed to hook me completely. The action is visceral, and the emotions are perfectly conveyed. The presentation grafted deeper connections to the main characters, and although the series explores dark and mature themes, this was the first one I’ve played with such pronounced violence.

The visual design here is nothing short of spectacular, with vivid landscapes, terrific cutscenes, and sweeping set pieces. All of it is further enriched by a beautiful musical score, at times haunting and heartfelt, and plenty of pulse-pounding riffs.

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As past developer interviews have noted, Final Fantasy 16 takes inspiration from HBO’s Game of Thrones. Apart from the obvious “medieval era fantasy tropes,” there’s a certain “feel” to it that intertwines with George R.R. Martin’s world — the drama, political machinations, blood, grit, partial nudity, and sexual themes. Despite the high-fantasy drama and intriguing set pieces, FF16 unfortunately stumbles at times from poor pacing and unrewarding objectives.

My experience boiled down to a simple equation that you may also encounter should you go along for the journey. After each epic boss battle, gameplay distills into: go back to base, talk to NPC, do main mission, run NPC errands, perform mundane task, and get insignificant rewards.

To be fair, the side quests deal with the ramifications of wars between different nations and seeing their effects on the common folk. Sadly, a huge chunk of these objectives lead to generic rewards like crafting materials, and only a select few quests can be considered truly important. This feeling of mundanity is compounded by the game’s very linear presentation, with smaller maps that afford little exploration, reminiscent of FF13.

Some segments will truly wow you and subvert expectations. But then it all crashes down to its foundation, where you have no choice but to check out or invest in uninteresting side characters and meandering plot points.

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Still, when Final Fantasy 16 goes for broke, it ascends to a completely different level, breaking new ground completely. This is most evident in the clear emphasis on an action-oriented combat system, one that eschews turn-based bouts, ATB gauges, and Wait Modes in favor of full real-time battles.

As Clive, you’ll unleash a full arsenal of abilities, ranging from Ignition’s burning charge to bulldoze numerous enemies to a multi-slash attack that increases the power of a devastating blow. There are ground eruptions, ice shards, flaming spins, long-ranged beams, and more. Since you can equip various abilities (up to nine different picks for your current “loadout”), you’ll have an assortment of combinations to try at all times.

There are also core mechanics like precision dodges, counters, and parries, the latter of which I found surprisingly hard to pull off — and full of reward because of it. Similarly, you’ll have to break enemy Will Gauges to stagger them, increasing hits within a combo while they’re temporarily stunned. Moreover, there are Timely Rings, which can automate certain actions or moves, making FF16 more approachable to newcomers.

In a way, Final Fantasy 16 reminds me more of the flashy and frenetic combat from Devil May Cry, sans having different weapon types or a combo counter, as opposed to the more traditional RPG systems that the franchise has been known for.

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Perhaps my only gripe is that you don’t really get to control party members. Apart from Torgal the Dog, who has their own command inputs (and a Timely Ring that can automate those), your teammates are just there. They’ll automatically attack or cast spells, but you have no means of customizing anything else. I would’ve preferred something similar to FF12‘s Gambit mechanics, at the very least.

The main draw, however, is the Eikons. In Valisthea, those known as Dominants are able to tap into the powers of a particular entity (a summon, Eidolon, or Guardian Force). That leads to real-time bouts between gargantuan beasts and creatures, such as franchise mainstays Phoenix, Ifrit, Titan, and Shiva.

To avoid more spoilers, all I can say is this: there were times when I wondered if a moment could ever be topped, and, just a short while later, another encounter blew me away. You’ll see everything from dazzling projectiles, bone-crunching punches, and furious QTE clashes. It’s reminiscent of an anime with all the beams and fireballs flying around.

Final Fantasy 16 Review — The Bottom Line

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Pros

  • Fast-paced, real-time combat that relies on chaining different ability combinations, evasions, and counters.
  • Some of the most epic and memorable boss battles, where gargantuan Eikons duke it out.
  • A grittier, more violent tone that feels refreshing.
  • Amazing visuals, landscapes, set pieces, and musical score.

Cons

  • Linear campaign with questionable pacing, which devolves into mundane tasks for uninteresting NPCs.
  • Most side quests are unrewarding, save for those related to late-game Hunts.
  • No party-building systems.

Final Fantasy 16 takes you on an emotionally packed journey, further enriched thanks to a grim and gritty presentation, fast-paced real-time action, and jaw-dropping set-piece boss battles. However, it’s also bogged down by poor campaign pacing and a lack of a party customization system.

My tastes have changed over the years, and I neglected certain franchise titles in that time. However, despite its missteps, I can wholeheartedly say Final Fantasy 16 managed to bring together in one title the things I loved about the earlier series’ entries, all while making most of the experience fresh and entertaining. The grim-dark tone, spectacular “kaiju battles,” and grandiose transformations with over-the-top action kept me entertained.

[Note: Square Enix provided the PS5 copy of Final Fantasy 16 used for this review.]

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Final Fantasy 16 Review: A Song of Fire and Blood
Guardian Force.

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Author
Jason Rodriguez
Jason Rodriguez is a game reviewer and guides writer from the Philippines. With around 5,000 published articles, he's freelanced for numerous outlets, including GameSkinny, GameSpot, Polygon, IGN, PCGamesN, PC Invasion, and more.