Final Fantasy 16 Review - IGN (2024)

Even with 16 mainline entries (20 if you include X-2, 13-2, Lightning Returns, and Final Fantasy 7 Remake) and a slew of spinoffs, there’s no Final Fantasy game quite like Final Fantasy 16. The latest in this legendary series is more an evolution of the character action genre than the RPG foundation the franchise was built on. It merges quick twitch reflexes with character-building RPG mechanics, but focuses far more on the former than ever before. It’s not a perfect mixture – while the combat is phenomenal for an action RPG, it is admittedly a bit lacking when compared directly to the greats of the character action genre – but even an imperfect mix is potent enough when paired with FF16’s epic, 50+ hour story. It’s packed with unforgettable characters, outstanding worldbuilding, an incredible soundtrack, and knock-your-socks-off moments of sheer spectacle the likes of which are rarely seen in any game.

Final Fantasy 16 picks up the ball that FF14 got rolling and continues to move the series back down the path of high fantasy, taking more than a little inspiration from Game of Thrones along the way. Its story spans decades’ worth of history in the realm of Valisthea, a land brimming with both beauty and death as an encroaching blight forces neighboring kingdoms to fight over untainted resources, including five enormous Mother Crystals that are the primary source of the realm’s magic.

At the heart of this tale is your character, Clive Rosfield, the eldest prince of the kingdom of Rosaria and protector of his brother Joshua, the Dominant of Phoenix (...let’s not get bogged down in jargon for now, we’ll talk about Dominants a bit later). Clive is a fantastic, well-rounded protagonist, brilliantly brought to life by actor Ben Starr. He undergoes a lot of change and development over the course of the decades-long story, but always remains supremely likable, relatable, and an absolute badass when the need arises, as it very often does.

Clive is a fantastic, well-rounded protagonist.

The rest of the cast is excellent as well. Jill (played by the excellent Susannah Fielding) is Clive’s childhood friend and acts as a wonderful companion who understands and empathizes with Clive on a deep and emotional level, and the tender scenes between them are always a highlight as their relationship grows. Cid is probably my new all-time favorite Final Fantasy character. He’s almost got a young Liam Neeson kind of vibe going on, despite being voiced impeccably by Ralph Ineson (who’s having quite a 2023 in the world of video games, having also starred in Diablo IV). Cid is a natural leader, full of charisma and charm, and without going into detail, his cause is one that was very easy to rally behind and made me excited to follow him and his band of outlaws.

A Story that Sticks

The greatest achievement of Final Fantasy 16’s story, though, is how it never leaves you to drown in its lore. This is a massive world complete with five kingdoms, each with their own forms of government, rulers, religions, and ideals; a whole encylopedia’s worth of realm-specific terms, like bearers, Eikons, and Dominants; and a grand history of the world that you’re expected to keep up with in order to get the most out of the big story moments. It would all be a little overwhelming if not for an ingenious quality-of-life feature that I truly hope becomes standard throughout all story-heavy video games: Active Time Lore.

At any point during any cutscene or conversation, you can hold down the DualSense touchpad to bring up a series of contextual compendium entries that are relevant to what’s going on in that scene. So anytime a character mentioned a term, character, or location that I either didn’t know or needed a reminder about, I could bring up the Active Time Lore and a succinct entry would be right there to get me up to speed. These entries change with the events of the story too, updating with new information about the state of the world and Clive’s knowledge about it as it happens.

Active Time Lore should become a standard throughout all story-heavy video games.

Having this kind of feature was a godsend. Later on, big missions are also preceded with stylish history lessons by your crew’s scholar that fill you in on what you need to know about the region you’re about to visit – who the rulers are, their ambitions, their allies, their enemies, and so on. I know that might sound like school, but it actually did a really effective job of bringing me into, and keeping me invested in, the realm of Valisthea.

One of the most interesting elements of the story – and one that also ends up being an excellent addition to the already very good combat – is the existence of Eikons and Dominants. Eikons are supremely powerful beings that Final Fantasy fans will recognize as the usual summons from previous games, and Dominants are the special humans who are able to tap into their power, even to the point of fully transforming into them. In the lore, Dominants are used almost like nuclear deterrents; saved as a last resort due to the potential mutually assured destruction that would be caused by their fights.

But fight they will, and everytime they do, it’s an unforgettable scrap of gargantuan proportion. I’d hate to spoil these encounters by talking too much about them, but I will say that they’re absolute spectacles. Some are like giant kaiju fights mixed with Dragon Ball Z, others take the gameplay in a completely different direction and play out like a Panzer Dragoon level. But nearly all of them brought back memories of playing Asura’s Wrath or God of War 3, and that feeling of just being absolutely floored by the breathtaking sense of scale and overwhelming power.

Fighting Fantasy

Final Fantasy has been shifting further and further away from its turn-based RPG roots for a long time now, and with Final Fantasy 16, it feels like a metamorphosis that’s been in the works for years is finally complete. Final Fantasy 16’s combat is a straight-up action game, full stop. It is fast, flexible, extremely reflex-driven, and is full of opportunities to absolutely style on your enemies with air combos, jump cancels, and a huge arsenal of extremely powerful spells and abilities.

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Some sacrifices are made to facilitate this transformation: You only ever control one character, levels are far more linear than they’ve been in the past – though about as linear as they were in Final Fantasy 13 before that game opens up – and many of the actual RPG elements have been made to play second fiddle in ways that I’ll discuss shortly. Purists might not be a fan of these drastic changes, but I found this approach far more preferable to FFXV’s more hybridized take on combat, and equally enjoyable to FF7 Remake’s unique approach.

Despite how chaotic the action may look, it's actually elegantly simple once you break it down.

Despite how chaotic the action may look, it’s actually elegantly simple once you break it down. Clive can execute a four hit melee combo by mashing Square, he can shoot magic with Triangle to hit enemies at a distance, he can use an ability unique to whatever Eikon power he currently has equipped, and he also has access to up to three abilities from that Eikon as well.

In familiar Final Fantasy fashion, for bigger enemies and bosses there’s a stagger meter that you can fill by landing attacks, and once it’s full, they will be put in a staggered state, giving you an opportunity to build up a multiplier and lay down huge amounts of damage for a limited amount of time. Much of the skill involved with combat comes from your ability to quickly stagger enemies, and then maximize the amount of damage you’re able to do while they’re staggered by optimally using your skills and switching between your Eikons.

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To that end, there’s a lot of smart mechanics in place that reward skillful play. If you just mash the attack button, you won’t build up stagger very quickly, but if you use carefully timed magic attacks in between your melee attacks, you’ll execute magic bursts, which do more damage and build more stagger. On top of that, perfectly timed evasions give opportunities for counter attacks that deal big stagger damage, or if you’re feeling extra fancy, you could try to time an attack to clash with theirs to trigger a parry, which slows down time and allows for even more punishment.

It’s a great combat system that kept my brain firing at a rapid pace as I balanced timing my magic bursts with managing my skill cooldowns and keeping an eye out for enemy tells to be ready to dodge – on top of just trying to look cool for the sake of looking cool, which is always an important element of any action game in my book. One of my favorite touches is that you can issue commands to your hound, Torgal, one of which will launch weaker enemies, allowing me to zip right to them in the air, juggle them with some quick aerial hits, and then send them crashing down with an explosive helm splitter-style attack.

All that said, this is a long game, and while you do pretty regularly get new Eikons and abilities, they don’t change up the combat in ways that make the basic fights substantially different or more engaging, which means they do eventually lose some of their luster. That isn’t helped by lots of recycled enemy types in the open fields and linear dungeons that you explore, either.

At least the bosses were always fresh and exciting, with many playing with some fun Final Fantasy tropes like having the names of their big attacks show up on the screen, and some exceptionally dangerous techniques even having a countdown that ends with an extremely powerful blow if you’re unable to do enough damage to stop them from getting it off. Many of the bigger boss battles also have QTEs that do a wonderful job of adding extra cinematic flair and punctuate the different phases of a fight with some truly awesome moments.

Imperfect Fusion

The weird twist of FF16 is that while the action elements are all top notch, the RPG elements feel a little underdeveloped. Status ailments are basically completely absent, there’s no real system of elemental strengths or weaknesses, very little in the realm of buffs and debuffs, and most crucially, loot seems like an afterthought. I never once felt incentivized to explore either the corners of the linear main levels, or the more open fields of the interconnected overworlds; and in general there just aren’t a ton of character building choices that you can make to customize Clive in any sort of unique way.

The weird twist of FF16 is that RPG elements feel a little underdeveloped.

The deepest it gets is that you can equip Clive with up to three accessories that can have a variety of useful effects, usually powering up specific special abilities, increasing your combo damage, or increasing healing potency. You also begin with a total of five special rings that are designed to take some of the edge off of combat in lieu of lower difficulty modes. One essentially lets you mash Square and let the AI take the wheel as it automatically casts spells, switches Eikons, and uses basic attacks, while another will automatically dodge as long as an attack is capable of being avoided. While I personally didn’t feel the need to use these rings, I do appreciate their inclusion as a completely optional way to adjust the difficulty in very specific ways. Of course, the downside is that if you do equip them, you won’t have space for other stat-altering accessories, thus removing the one element of RPG-like customization all together.

But where Final Fantasy 16 really impressed me was in the quality of its side quests… eventually. They actually start out pretty generic and menial, with objectives like finding X number of Y items out in the field, or delivering three hot bowls of soup to people in the hideout. However, in the back half of the story, these sidequests act as smart ways to button up all of the loose threads outside of the main campaign. Side characters are given proper send-offs, pieces that were toppled over in the central story are satisfyingly built back up, and characters that you wouldn’t really expect to have very deep backstories open up to you in often very moving ways. It’s exactly the kind of side content that I want in a big RPG, even though it takes a little while to get there.

And the soundtrack, by Bahamut's grace, the soundtrack!

In addition to side quests, there’s also a bounty board that you can use to locate exceptionally challenging monsters for some greater rewards. Many of them are just stronger versions of enemies that you’ve already fought, but others are boss encounters unto themselves and make up some of the hardest fights available. All things considered, there’s a fair amount of extra content here to keep you busy, and you’ll want to do as much of it as you can to be ready for New Game+, which significantly ups both the challenge and the level cap, and introduces new gear upgrades. Even beyond that, there’s also an arcade mode that you can use to go through previous levels to try and set high scores to upload to an online leaderboard. Needless to say, there’s a lot to do even once credits finish rolling.

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And the soundtrack, by Bahamut’s grace, the soundtrack! It manages to perfectly accompany every big scene, whether it's the tender moments between Clive and Jill, the quiet moments of respite inside the hideaway, or the absolutely epic battles between Eikons. I don’t know if I’m ready to claim it’s in the top Final Fantasy soundtracks of all time just yet, but it’s certainly one of the best soundtracks of 2023 so far. Final Fantasy 16 looks stunning, too. The performance may not hold onto a consistent 60 FPS all the time, even on the prioritized frame rate graphical setting, but those minor hiccups don’t stop it from still being one of the most gorgeous games I’ve ever played.

Final Fantasy 16 Review - IGN (2024)
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