Final Fantasy is one of those gaming titles that carries a lot of weight for many people as a series that’s been around for thirty odd years. This new entry of Final Fantasy 16 grounds the series in a darker setting and gives you full control over the action rather than the turn-based battles of older titles.
An Eikonic Epic
As this is a Final Fantasy game, the story is probably the most important aspect to consider so I will steer clear of anything too specific except for a few mild story spoilers for the early sections of the game.
Without a doubt, this is one of the darkest FF entries yet and it’s hard not to see inspiration from the gritty Game of Thrones, especially during some of the opening chapters. Straight from the get-go, you are thrown into an incredibly cinematic battle between Eikons (huge creatures that are known as summons in previous FF games), before flash forwarding to witness a full scale battle with Eikons taking to the field. FF games are known for their iconic openings and I will certainly remember this one fondly.
At its heart, this is a story about vengeance, hope in the face of oppression, and defying your fate. This is a realm where those who can naturally cast magic are branded and treated as slaves, and a select few, known as Dominants, are born with the ability to channel and transform into Eikons. Some regions treat these Dominants with respect and reverence, others use them simply as weapons to be used. The world building of FF16 is some of the best I’ve had in an RPG, with it being given to you as needed, rather than having huge ‘lore-dumps’ as many fantasy settings tend to do so. At a hold of a button, you have access to ‘Active Time Lore’, which gives you details on the people, places, and terms given to you in that cutscene or area. There’s even a comprehensive glossary that fills with these entries and updates as you learn more.
Gameplay (Hack ‘N Flashy?)
This is an action focused game with an emphasis on pulling off combos with your sword, magic, and flashy Eikon abilities while you nimbly dodge incoming attacks. You start the game with the Blessing of the Phoenix which gives you a powerful fire strike and a fast dash ability to close distance with foes. I found the tutorial to be a good start, but the first proper battles did take some getting used to.
Once you get further in the game, there are new features and skill trees added to give you more combat options. Without spoiling anything, these new abilities can really change your approach to combat and there’s definitely fun to be had in finding interesting combinations. A favourite of mine involved placing a trap that caused a shockwave whenever it’s attacked and then summoning swirling fireballs around myself to mow down weaker enemies. These different power sets really expand your combat options, yet I would say that this takes a bit of time to click properly. However, I got into the swing of switching between these relatively quickly and once new options came around, I was intrigued by what new combinations I could find.
The other big addition to combat is the inclusion of Torgal the hound who has quickly become my new favourite dog in a game. Besides being the best dog that you can pet at any time out of combat, he also helps in combat with attacks and a useful regeneration heal. He acts like a support to your combos as tapping his attack buttons causes him to jump in and, with some practice, you can get him to launch enemies up in the air.
If this is all sounding a bit much for you, do not worry as there are excellent options to make combat a bit less daunting. There is a selection of “timely” accessory items made available from the start of the game that can automatically assist you in battle, with effects like automatically use potions when low on health, slowing down time before an enemy hits you, or getting Torgal to auto attack without your input.
There are also a number of huge Eikon based battles where you directly control these powerful monsters. The gameplay here changes depending on the Eikons in play, some are all-out scraps and others involve blasting projectiles at your foe. Each one of these feels incredibly cinematic and it's hard not to make the comparison to anime fight scenes. These fights do often involve a number of quick time events during some very flashy cutscenes, which I personally do not mind as they feel more impactful than just watching a cutscene, but I’m aware that they are not for everyone.
Just One More
As an RPG by the makers of Final Fantasy 14 (Square Enix’s MMORPG), you can expect quests aplenty. During the earlier stages of the game, these are mostly story based main quests with a handful of side quests that are relatively standard fetch and hunt quests. There are also a handful of main story quests that follow this pattern, meaning there were a few sections of the game that felt like the story had really put the brakes on.
After a certain story event, more side quests start to appear and some of these are marked with pluses and award you unique features such as increased potion capacity. I won’t spoil any details but the first of these gives you arguably the most important reward in the game so do not miss it! I went through every side quest as they popped up and I will admit to that there was one point late in the game where there were so many quest markers on the map that I started to feel a bit overwhelmed. However, most of these quests did offer more context and backstory to the world which meant that it felt worth completing each one. Side characters from the hideaway have their backstories fleshed out and you get to see how events in the main story impact the characters inhabiting the different towns. In fact, those quests I mentioned that piled up all at once were some of the most satisfying to finish outside of the main quest. While I enjoyed finishing every quest to glean every bit of lore and character development I could, I can see other players becoming fatigued with the amount of them and the formula that most follow.
A Thing Of Beauty
One thing that never failed to impress was the overall presentation of FF16, from its massive Eikon battles to the grand orchestral tracks. As previously mentioned, the opening of the game shows off a huge battle with bloody combat between soldiers and cavalry charging across the field, before trebuchets rain down magical fire. Not long after this, the battlefield is dominated by two opposing Eikons who tear apart the battlefield with their magic and colossal strength. As cliche as it sounds, there were moments that I had my jaw drop during these cutscenes and this is the first game in a while that has had me rapidly taking screenshots. Even outside of cutscenes, I found the whole game to be very visually impressive with a good variety of locations throughout the story. The characters are all very well acted and voiced with a good number of regional accents (including some brilliant Northern ones). I was also really impressed at the overall polish of the game as a whole, at no point did I notice any bugs or glitches.
Something that is always mentioned when it comes to Final Fantasy is the music and every FF fan has their favourite tracks, whether it’s boss themes or overworld ambience. FF16 is certainly no different and clearly a lot of work has gone into the audio aspect of the game. I played the game with headphones in and it really amplified the whole experience, especially when it came to the dramatic boss fights. The Eikon themes that play during these are the stand out examples here, and opening Eikon fight is a perfect example of this, with its operatic lyrics steadily rising as the battle progresses. Many of these are grand orchestral affairs, though there’s one in particular that becomes surprisingly techno with a Devil May Cry vibe which really impressed despite it being so different in genre. The hideaway features a jukebox that you can collect themes for to have as the background music while you are there, although these are mostly for overworld themes than all the bosses. These overworld themes are also brilliant in a different way, with them giving a different feel to each area of the map. I soon found myself humming along to the theme of the first open area you visit and I don’t think it’s possible for me to not start tapping along to the hideaway’s song. There are also a handful of moments in the story where an arrangement of the classic FF theme plays and that really gives a hit of nostalgia.
Final Fantasy 16 was one of my most anticipated games for the PS5 since it was announced and it certainly did not disappoint. The story hits hard with its darker tone, there were tears and even some laughs during my play through. Combat makes you feel powerful once you’ve mastered the powers at your disposal and I was at the edge of my seat during the dramatic boss battles. If you are a fan of fantasy or have played a Final Fantasy game before, you will find something to love in this game.