Final Fantasy XVI review — Eikonic

The Duchy of Rosaria is no more. During the assault on Phoenix Gate, the Duke and his sons are killed in a battle between Phoenix, who’s Dominant is crown prince Joshua, and a mysterious second Eikon of fire. Somehow Joshua’s elder brother, Clive, survives but is drafted into the imperial army by his traitorous mother, enslaved, and branded. Thirteen years later, Clive finally sees his chance to escape and hunt down the monster who killed his brother. Along the way, he’ll meet friends new and old, reckon with his past, and discover the dark truths of Valisthea.

Final Fantasy XVI Video Review --- Eikonic - PS5 [Gaming Trend]

I had high expectations for Final Fantasy XVI. As Gaming Trend’s resident Final Fantasy Fanatic, I’ve played every mainline game in the series and even written about most of them here in some capacity. While I adore turn-based RPGs, I also love in depth action games like Bayonetta, Devil May Cry, and Kingdom Hearts, so XVI looked like it was a combination of everything I enjoy about games. After playing over 80 hours, completing the main story, all side quests and activities, and even starting New Game +, I can confidently say that Final Fantasy XVI is not only a fantastic Final Fantasy game, not only a touching tale of love and responsibility, not only a fast and fluid action game, but quite possibly one of the greatest games ever made.

Final Fantasy XVI revolves around Clive, taking place in three distinct periods of his life: his teens (15), his twenties (28), and his thirties (33). While the game begins in his teens, the majority of the experience takes place in his thirties. In fact, you don’t even unlock the majority of non-combat game mechanics until about 10 hours in. However, I would recommend you really savor the experience by exploring Valisthea, completing all the side quests, and even reading lore entries as you unlock them by holding down the touchpad or speaking to a certain NPC in your home base. This is a game that begs you to explore its depths, both in battle and out.

This is the first mainline Final Fantasy game to be entirely action focused, and combat here is incredibly satisfying. Clive can perform a four hit combo by tapping Square, but you can follow each hit with a magic burst by tapping triangle immediately after Square. This serves as the basis of combat, giving everything a nice rhythm to it. Pressing Triangle on its own will fire ranged spells, so you can always keep up the assault no matter when you are on the battlefield. You can hold and release Square or Triangle for a powerful, flaming sword swing or the next tier of spell, and press Square and X at the same time to lunge forward on the ground or thrust down in the air.

Final Fantasy XVI First Hour - PS5 [Gaming Trend]

After a certain point in the story, Clive’s childhood dog Torgal will join the party, giving you access to three commands at all times using the D-Pad. Up is Sic, his basic attack, Down is Ravage which will have the good boy launch an enemy into the air or back down to the ground, and finally Right will have him howl and cast cure, regenerating the gray portion of Clive’s HP over time. You’ll obviously want to heal when you take damage to recover at least a little bit of health, but you actually don’t want to be using Sic and Ravage willy-nilly. Instead, Torgal can perform a Precision Sic or Ravage by pressing the button immediately after a combo or ability. This will do a lot more damage than normal and adds to that rhythmic feeling of combat.

All of those moves are available to Clive no matter what Eikon he’s channeling. Eikons are powerful, magical beings akin to gods, with one of each element inhabiting Valisthea. These Eikons inhabit Dominants, who control their power and are able to cast magics without a crystal, much like Bearers or Branded, but can also take on their forms. Clive eventually gains the power of Eikons so he can go toe to to with them. While Clive can only equip three Eikons at a time in battle, you’ll be able to swap out channeled Eikons whenever you like once you have their power.

Each Eikon comes with their own set of abilities. You begin with Phoenix, and pressing Circle will activate its feat allowing Clive to teleport towards the targeted enemy. Pressing Square while teleporting will follow this up with a sword slash while Triangle will activate a magic burst. You cannot change an Eikon’s feat, but you can choose what Eikonic Abilities you can use while the Eikon is equipped. Accessed through the Abilities menu, Eikons come with three abilities (plus a special ability), of which you can assign only two at a time. For example, with Phoenix I like to use its Rising Flame move for multi-hit damage and Heatwave for ranged and close up damage as well as projectile counters. In the Abilities menu, you can also upgrade and master these abilities as well as feats. Mastered abilities can be equipped to any Eikon, allowing you to mix and match feats and abilities as you like.

This system encourages creativity, and you can pull off some amazing combos. For example, in large groups of enemies I like to use Shiva’s Mesmerize to draw several of them into close range, then Garuda’s Wicked Wheel to launch them all into the air, and finally Titan’s Upheaval to come crashing back down to earth dealing massive damage to anyone caught in the blast. It’s incredibly simple and satisfying, but you could extend the combo even further with Garuda’s Gouge or normal attacks midair. Throw in Magic Bursts, Torgal attacks, precise dodges (R1) and counters, as well as parries to slow down time and every battle will keep you engaged and pressing buttons with both of your hands at all times.

Final Fantasy XVI Arcade Mode Gameplay (Spoiler Free) - PS5 [Gaming Trend]

In certain battles, you may also be asked to perform Cinematic Attacks or Cinematic Evasions. These are essentially quick time events, though they only use Square or R1 respectively. Succeeding will deal damage to your foe, while failing will cause you to take damage, though I don’t believe they can kill you. These serve to transition between phases in a boss battle with some cool flourish, and while they were pretty common near the start of the game they appear less often as you go, save for the first phase of the final boss which is entirely QTEs. I don’t particularly like QTEs and turn them off in most games I can, especially the mashing ones, but they’re fine here. They’re inoffensive at worst and provide some incredibly cool spectacle at best, such as the aforementioned final boss phase. Normally you’ll be prompted on which button to press or mash on screen with a timer, but in Final Fantasy difficulty (accessed through New Game +) these prompts are no longer displayed and you need to look at what color particles flash to tell, red for R1, blue for Square, and yellow for mashing Square.

If this all sounds a bit too complicated or cumbersome, you can automate aspects of combat individually by equipping the Timely Accessories. These will come equipped if you begin on Story Mode difficulty, but you still have access to them immediately on Action Mode, which is what I played on. You have three accessory slots and five Timely Accessories to pick and choose from. The Ring of Timely Evasion will have Clive automatically dodge if it’s possible for you to avoid the attack at that moment, while the Ring of Timely Focus will freeze time when you’re about to get hit for a moment, allowing you to still control evasion with a bit more time to react. The Ring of Timely Strikes will have Clive perform complex combos simply by tapping Square repeatedly, including all of Torgal’s follow ups. If you just want to automate Torgal instead, the Ring of Timely Assistance is for you. Finally, the Ring of Timely Healing will have Clive automatically consume a potion upon reaching a certain HP threshold – useful if you don’t want to swap D-Pad menus by pressing Left or go into the menu to use a specific comestible.

In addition to the Timely set, FFXVI also allows players to adjust the size of subtitles, add an opaque background to them, enable closed captions, toggle between Graphics and Performance mode for 30 and 60 fps respectively, and turn on a sound visualizer. While the Timely Accessories are a great accessibility option, I do have to say the game is sorely lacking in that department. You can’t turn off button mashing or QTEs, increase the font size in menus (which is almost Xenoblade X levels of small), or anything else we’ve come to expect. I can understand wanting to preserve the experience for all players, but as it is this just excludes individuals with certain struggles.They deserve to be able to enjoy XVI too, and I hope more options are added in the future.

Going back to the visual options, I would highly recommend sticking with Performance mode if you really want to go all in on the combat system like I did. The game is gorgeous regardless, and I find 30 fps makes timing Magic Bursts and Precision Sics just a bit harder than it is at 60. Performance mode isn’t perfect either, however, and prior to launch it was common to see the game dip in towns. My untrained eye could certainly see when the game would hit 60 in combat and certain cutscenes, but I never really had a problem with the frame rate. It just needs a bit of shoring up to stay buttery smooth at all times, and that seems to be what’s coming in a pre-launch patch.

Of course, the game isn’t all combat. Over the course of the story, you’ll be able to explore each of Valisthea’s (surviving) four countries. In contrast to the Stages (dungeons), these open areas leave you free to explore, battle enemies, shop, and take on quests at your leisure. You can go on foot and Clive will begin to sprint after a time akin to DMC4’s Sprint ability, and eventually you’ll get your own Chocobo to ride around. You do need to fast travel between major areas as the game isn’t open world (which works to its benefit), but loading times are four seconds at maximum so this is a non-issue.

Side quests not only expound on the lore and characters, with some having their story’s conclusion in these quests, but can also unlock new features. Any side quest with a plus is immediately worth doing as this is how you gain access to Chocobos, new weapons and items, and more. Out in the world, you also may encounter Notorious Marks – strong foes you can defeat for crafting items, renown, experience points, and ability points. Nektar, the Hideaway’s resident Moogle, keeps track of all the beasties you can slay, so make sure to check back often.

The Hideaway is your base of operations and changes as the story progresses. You begin with the item and blacksmith shops as well as Orchestreon to select the background music (I used Into the Mire), but over time you will unlock a training mode, arcade score attack style replays of Stages, special combat challenges for each Eikon, the aforementioned Hunt board, a list of all available side quests in the world, rewards for raising renown, a garden, Clive’s quarters, Mid’s workshop, and more. You’ll become intimately familiar with it and your gang of fellow outlaws who live there like Tarja, Jill, Cid, Charon, Blackthorn, Gav, and even more minor characters like the lovestruck Asta have stories of their own you can check in on occasionally. Aside from two trophies I’m still working on, I fully completed the game both because I was having so much fun and because I wanted to see how everyone’s stories turned out.

I’m not going to talk a whole lot about the story because it is excellent and continually one-ups itself every few hours with epic Eikon battles. I do have a few issues with it, however, especially with how Jill is handled. She’s a big player for the majority of the game, but I feel like I didn’t get to know her as well as I should have by the end, especially since she’s shoved to the side for the climax. The story is squarely about Clive, but with this and 15’s treatment of women it feels like the series is becoming a bit of a boys’ club. I like Jill and the rest of the female cast a lot, and it feels like a missed opportunity to not explore them further.

I also have to say I’m mixed on the ending. It gets pretty trope heavy towards the finale, but I feel like it earns that after a story filled with political intrigue and character drama. My issues crop up with how it handles the conclusion to Clive’s story in particular. He’s a very self sacrificing person, putting other people’s needs before his own often to his determinant. Jill and Clive actually talk about this in a touching moment, but there’s no real payoff for this interaction. That does play into the themes of what happens, which is very interesting, but I guess I’m just trying to sort out all of my feelings about it even a week after rolling credits.

Still, this is all about the journey, not the destination, and what a journey it is. The world of Valisthea is gorgeous, dark, and interesting. While it is overwhelmingly white, with not a single character of color to be found, there is technically a story reason for that and I would rather lift up voices more qualified to talk about that particular subject even if I am still very disappointed in SquareEnix for releasing a game with no melanin. There’s even a desert area, but the most you’ll see are people with tans. I digress, however, and this truly is a beautiful game even in performance mode. I counted exactly two pre-rendered cutscenes, though I could have missed some, and even those look exactly like cutscenes aside from Clive’s equipped sword changing. There is a noticeable difference between cutscenes and gameplay, but mostly in the form of more complex shadows which is a good sacrifice for visual clarity.

I adore the character designs, especially Clive, Jill, and Mid, but the environments really steal the show. You’ll explore all types of areas like dense forests, Fallen temples, an erupting volcano with complementary spooky graveyard, and plenty of castles. The texture work, modeling, and particle effects are incredibly impressive, and this really feels like a next-gen (current-gen?) title.

Eikon vs. Eikon battles are especially a highlight. These fights essentially take the normal combat and turn it up to eleven as you inhabit an Eikon. You’re the size of a building, but fight with grace and animal ferocity against enemies the size of mountains. There aren’t many of these battles, but they’re always a joy to play. The confrontation with Titan is probably my favorite of the bunch to play, but Bahamut wins out in terms of sheer spectacle. However, there is a battle early on which presents the greatest button prompt ever in a video game, which I will leave you to discover.

Final Fantasy XVI Final Fantasy Mode Gameplay - PS5 [Gaming Trend]

The voice talent is what really steals the show here, however. Ben Starr puts his all into his performance as Clive, and even just remembering certain moments from the story gives me chills with just how good he is. Don’t get me wrong, everyone else is fantastic too, but Starr is on another level of acting here and gives so much depth to the character. Starr perfectly portrays his tough front but soft, kind, and emotional interior. Clive begins as an emotionally broken man, only able to open up to Jill, but grows into a confident man able to empathize with anyone while still protecting the people he loves. He’s a great example of healthy masculinity and, though he still has his character flaws, he’s instantly become my favorite Final Fantasy protagonist or maybe tied with Terra. If Ben Starr isn’t taking home all of the awards this year, I may riot.

The sound design is likewise incredibly impressive. It feels like every detail was accounted for, from the sounds of Clive’s leather squeaking as he moves to different footsteps and echoes depending on where you are. I did notice a few missing sound effects closer to the end, but that was in a single cutscene, the rest of the game is a triumph in sound design. The non-diegetic sounds also serve as great cues in combat for when you can magic burst or precision sic, both emphasized by some healthy hit stop.

As expected by the master composer, Soken’s soundtrack is truly incredible. This man is at the absolute pinnacle of his craft, with songs ranging from classical piano pieces, grand choirs singing in Latin, and even electronic pieces. There’s leitmotifs everywhere too, some from other games in the series, but others used to represent each character in XVI. For example, Clive’s “theme” can be heard in both the battle and boss themes and clashes with other characters’ themes in the Eikon battles. Every single song is excellent, and serves to connect the music with both the story and gameplay.

Final Fantasy is always reinventing itself on the cutting edge. It can be turn-based battles to real time action or anything in between, and it all serves to tell a unique story with complex characters. Final Fantasy XVI is no different, yet it brings the series back to the forefront of the collective pop culture consciousness. It is both a reinvention of itself and a return to form. It soars above any and all expectations with surprises around every corner. For the first time since arguably the original PlayStation with the seventh entry, Final Fantasy is a must play.

David is the kind of person to wear his heart on his sleeve. He can find positives in anything, like this is a person who loved Star Fox Zero to death. You’ll see him playing all kinds of games: AAAs, Indies, game jam games, games of all genres, and writing about them! Here. On this website. When not writing or playing games, you can find David making music, games, or enjoying a good book.
David’s favorite games include NieR: Automata, Mother 3, and Gravity Rush.

Final Fantasy XVI review — Eikonic


Final Fantasy XVI

Review Guidelines

Final Fantasy XVI features excellent action combat and an intricate story, both with incredible depth. It combines gameplay, story, sound, and music together into one form all inextricably linked. It sets a new standard for action RPGs, and is quite possibly the pinnacle of the series.

David Flynn

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