Final Fantasy 16 Review – A Polarizing Experience

When a franchise has as many entries as Assassin’s Creed or has been running for as long as Final Fantasy...

When a franchise has as many entries as Assassin’s Creed or has been running for as long as Final Fantasy (36 years in this case) it makes sense the creators would want to evolve the series in a drastic way to not only keep the experience fresh for veterans but also welcome a newer generation of gamers. One of the biggest hurdles for Final Fantasy 16 was the fact that the franchise has typically been a turn-based JRPG, something that might put off a lot of people in this day and age. This was noticed by the developers at Creative Business Unit 3 of Square Enix as well and they decided to do a massive overhaul of everything Final Fantasy when working on Final Fantasy XVI. Now whether this experiment paid off; similar to Assassin’s Creed going the RPG route with Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla or not is another matter.

Final Fantasy 16 Review

Final Fantasy 16 is set in the land of Valisthea and just as you would expect from a Final Fantasy game, everything in the world revolves around Crystals. These Mothercrystals are the source of magical power in the land and as such, in a Game of Thrones-esque setting, each Mothercrystal is controlled by a different nation and they are at war with each other. These wars are mainly fought by Bearers, slaves who can wield magic without requiring smaller crystals, and Dominants who serve as avatars of the various Eikons (Primals/Astrals/Summons in other Final Fantasy games) as the frontline forces of each nation.

While being born to bear magic might make someone respected in some other universe, that is not the case in Valisthea. Anyone with the natural ability to use magic is branded and turned into a slave. That treatment of Bearers as something of a low rank than even beasts like chocobos and wolves is at the heart of Final Fantasy 16. While the protagonist, Clive, might have been born a noble, circumstances shift in such a way that he is forced to witness firsthand how these slaves live or essentially suffer on a daily basis. This essentially leads him to try to change the world to make it a place worth living for everyone.

Final Fantasy 16 Review

Unfortunately, the journey doesn’t go as planned since the world isn’t ready for such a change. Over the course of 30+ hours of the main story, Clive has to contend with not only his past but also new political forces at play. You see when Clive was a teenager, he was initiated into the ranks of Shields, sworn protectors of the Dominant of Phoenix who happened to be his brother Joshua. His failure to do that leads Clive through an 18-year journey of revenge, sadness, and despair.

Final Fantasy 16 by no means tells a unique story but it definitely starts off as a compelling one. However, at the start of the second act of the game, the story started turning into a political mumbo jumbo that was impossible to keep track of despite the Active Time Lore feature, one of the best things about Final Fantasy 16. It’s as if writers were too fascinated by Game of Thrones and wanted to make a vast narrative saga of intrigue but didn’t really have the breadth for that endeavor.

Since I mentioned Active Time Lore, I think this is one feature that every Final Fantasy game should adopt going forward, and would love to see this in the upcoming FF7 Rebirth as well. What Active Time Lore does is essentially pause the game while you are in a cutscene or conversation and display lore information relevant to the current scene. Given how narratively dense FF games are, it is great to have constant reminders of events or people. The information is also updated as the story progresses so you have new things to read every time you open the Active Time Lore page by holding down on the DualSense touchpad.

Final Fantasy 16 Review

While a decent and interesting protagonist, that issue with writing also affects Clive greatly and he comes off as having 3 different personalities. You start off as a dark brooding adult, move up to a somewhat chipper and easygoing person and then change into having the weight of the world on your shoulder. Sure those personality switches have a reason behind them but given how quickly they happen after events, it did feel a bit jarring to me. As if different writing teams worked on different parts of the story with no proper cohesion between them.

Another big issue I had with the writing was the lack of memorable characters and how strictly the game operates between black-and-white morals. Either people are very good and willing to sacrifice everything for others or they are bad to the core. There is no in-between. The gray characters that do show conflict and have some interesting development are severely wasted and discarded pretty quickly. Some important characters like Jill have no development at all, making you wonder if there was even a point in having them in the game.

Side quests and activities don’t fare too well either. There are a couple of interesting side quests in that, especially the ones that unlock new features like Chocobo riding, but most are just boring busy work tasks only to grind a tiny amount of XP and AP. Besides side quests, all you have to look forward to when it comes to exploration are the Notorious Marks, something like bounty hunts, to take down elite enemies. Tacked on, on top of that is a Renown system where you gain rewards like crafting materials by increasing reputation through side quests as if leveling a battle pass.

Like every mainline numbered Final Fantasy game, FF XVI is a standalone entry set within its own unique world while also containing hints of what makes a Final Fantasy game, well a Final Fantasy game. Unfortunately, hints are all it contains as in a move to evolve, Final Fantasy 16 has lost a lot of its identity similar to the Assassin’s Creed evolutions.

Being the team that gave us the massively popular MMORPG, Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn, it makes sense that a lot of the MMO’s DNA would seep into Final Fantasy 16. However, FF14 is an MMO while Final Fantasy 16 being a completely singleplayer game is a far cry from fitting well within such design choices, especially those related to side content and enemies. Enemies, even many of the basic ones are extremely spongey, turning the combat into a button-mashing simulator.

Final Fantasy 16 Review

Now on its own, that would be perfectly fine in an RPG because you have skill synergies, elemental weaknesses, and combos to look toward to improve that. This is also something that Final Fantasy 7 Remake did incredibly well; managing to create a great mix of Hack n Slash and RPG combat. Unfortunately, Final Fantasy 16 completely abandons that in favor of a pure Devil May Cry-style experience but never manages to reach the heights of that combat, or even get close to it.

Your abilities and stats just boil down to Damage and Stagger. Every new equipment you get has only these two stats to think about, the abilities you use only have these two deciding factors which will determine which one to use. Sure it makes the gameplay easier and accessible, not having to think about what Materia to use for example, or the elements, but it also makes the experience extremely bland for those looking for a bit more depth, something that Final Fantasy games have always had in combat.

The Eikon battles, one of the most touted features of Final Fantasy 16 are interesting but the gimmick wears off quickly. It is essentially Godzilla vs Kong where you have to pay very little thought to how you are going to defeat the other Eikon. Even if you fail to block a few of their attacks, your own attacks do enough damage to defeat them with ease. The extremely basic combat of Final Fantasy 16 becomes even more basic during Eikon battles, making these long fights extremely boring that live out their welcome after the first 1-2 encounters.

Visually, Final Fantasy games have always had a great presentation that makes them great to look at, even well past their prime. While it may not be as realistic or detailed as other games, they have always come off as “pretty”. The same holds true for Final Fantasy 16, one of the most gorgeous-looking games I have played this year thanks to its vibrant color palette and art design. I wouldn’t have minded somewhat improved visuals considering it’s a timed PS5 exclusive (the PC version is still at least a year away) and despite looking great, it pales in comparison to the likes of Horizon Forbidden West and God of War: Ragnarok. However, that still doesn’t take away from the beautiful presentation of Final Fantasy 16 (when the combat doesn’t turn into a hectic VFX slurry like an MCU third act) making it an absolute treat to watch. Too bad the Photomode is very lackluster so you can’t take full advantage of those graphics.

Final Fantasy 16 Review

I played the game on Graphical mode instead of performance. The graphics prioritized mode is locked to 30FPS and mostly stays locked at that. That smooth experience with the bump in visual quality is why I would recommend that over the Performance mode which can not only have frame drops but also massive resolution drops.

In conclusion, I would say Final Fantasy 16 is a decent and competently made game. It is an interesting addition to the franchise that takes some big risks with the combat and the Mature rating. While they may not fully pay off, it would be nice to see this evolution improved while also not fully moving away from classical elements especially related to combat. FF16 might be in a Final Fantasy setting, but it doesn’t play much like a Final Fantasy which is something that can put off a lot of people who would like some depth to their gameplay even if it is in a Hack n Slash. While the game is a step up from Final Fantasy 15, if Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth does come out this year then I’m sure that will be my FF recommendation for 2023.

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Ashar is the managing editor of He enjoys all sorts of video games except those made by Nintendo. He thinks Fortnite is the only battle royale that should exist. He is a big fan ...