Final Fantasy XVI Review – Eikon May Cry

The reality of the Final Fantasy series is there will never be a final entry. It will continue to be around as the flagship title for publisher and developer Square Enix.

The other reality that one should know about Final Fantasy is that it can be whatever it wants to be. Through all the mainline titles with the ever-increasing Roman numerals, Final Fantasy has always been introducing players to new worlds, new stories, new characters and new gameplay experiences. Sure, there are series traditions, staples and Easter Eggs that continue to manifest in each entry, but fundamentally each new numbered Final Fantasy is essentially a completely new game.

Enter Final Fantasy XVI. The first to grace the current 9th-generation of consoles, exclusively released first on PS5, Final Fantasy XVI is pushing the series boundaries more than ever. The RPG series has always flirted with action-based and real-time gameplay, nudging itself away from the standard turn-based gameplay so hardcoded to many RPGs made in Japan that it become its own subgenre, the JRPG.

Developed by Square Enix’s Creative Business Unit III team, featuring an assemble of high-profile names leading the charge, Final Fantasy XVI is an action game that has all the trimmings of an RPG, but the action aspects overpower the hints of what’s left of its RPG elements. Pair that with a drastically darker tone and this makes this entry the bravest and boldest numbered Final Fantasy game.

But thanks to a strong vision and even stronger execution, Final Fantasy XVI nails its landing, making this a landmark title not to be missed.


Final Fantasy XVI sure is dark. No really, there are a lot dark environments at the start of the game where, with the addition of most characters you see sporting garments and armour of dark shades, making this game really hard to look around for a while. Even when the brightness is bumped up. Maybe it’s just my TV set or my eyesight waning or something, but the first few hours sure involves bumping into walls here and there.

Minor complaints aside, the presentation here is immaculate. Your cast of main characters have amazingly detailed outfits that give all the more reason to stare and appreciate the little design flourishes it has. Spot how many checkerboard patterns Clive’s getup has hidden on him. The appearance of Eikons, recurring ancient beings from the series, are regal and brimmed with details as well.

The various regions of Valisthea has a geographical, and even architectural, detail associated with each ruling nations. The marshes and swamps of Rosaria with its simple but sturdy buildings looks different to the more ornate artistry seen in the capital of the Holy Empire of Sanbreque, located far from the deep, lush forests within its domain. And as you can expect, the sandy dunes where the Republic Of Dhalmekia rule the lands have Middle Eastern-inspired designs, including the geometrical symmetry tiles and patterns seen on walls and windows.

Performance-wise, the game can reach 60fps during most battles in performance mode, but a lot of the game runs at 30fps. Any town or village in the field will usually run at 30fps. And in some intense battles and cutscenes, the game does chug a bit.

Yet fascinatingly, I have never felt that the framerate moves inconistently in the way that hampers gameplay. There are moments where the game chugs, especially when there’s countless of particle and beam effects at play, but these performance dips are no hindrance to gameplay. In fact, it’s one of those instances where I felt like the framerate chugging enhances the spectacle, in a way how games use the pause for effect.

The UI is actually what impressed me the most visually. It’s clean but yet not sterile. It has flourishes yet nothing distracting. The use of fonts here is also great. Numbers are chunky and wide, which is very FF-like, header texts get serif fonts but texts for quick glances are non-serif. The little animations when you switch Eikons or hold down R2 so the button prompt swaps between the attack buttons to the skills you have equipped are snappy, yet elegantly animated with love and care for the craft. The ember of flames on the pause menu. The fascinating “health-low” effect is not just a red vignette, but a series of red lines swishing in elegant motion to kindly remind you to pop that potion real quick.

Plus, FFXVI is one of the rare games that makes use of both the Destiny-style mouse cursor and still allows you to use the d-pad in all but one submenu. And the cursor movement on the analog stick feels good whatever your choice of menu navigation, it’s always a good time. Well, switching pause menu tabs with L2/R2 is slower than moving the cursor to select the right tab. Except for that, the UI is immaculate. Amazing stuff to see.

I now understand why people who played the critically acclaimed MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV raving about how good the music the game has. And that same composer has led the charge here for the soundtrack for Final Fantasy XVI. It is remarkable how the jolly ol’ FF interlude tune can be rearranged to be so… menacing, ominous and foreboding. In more ways than one. Because there are multiple renditions of the interlude.

And the soundtrack is just impressive all around. There are so many uses for leitmotifs. Sure, there are specific character themes, but a lot of the recurring music helps reinforce the identity of the various nations in Valisthea. The song Forevermore kindles a sense of nostalgia for a once-proud duchy of Rosaria that is enough to make me shed a tear once in a while when I hear it plays. But the same melody is used for a more uplifting, patriotic anthem. And another for times get really dire, and for times when it’s jolly fun. As you play through the many hours, you will get to feel a sense of place in the realm thanks to the soundtrack, each realm having a sonic identity.

The battle themes are great too. The normal battle evokes a bit of FFVIII in particular, in that you can sort of sing “water and water and water water” during the opening sequence, but takes a dramatic, melancholic turn after a minute in, like how FFXIII’s battle theme turns into a whole other song around the same length. Definitely one of the better and more memorable battle themes in the series.

When the action kicks in a gear or two, you know. You know a boss fight is epic when the enchanting choir assemble arrives and sings. And yet somehow a boss fight can get even more epic beyond that, by a switch to some unexpected genres for the more grandiose set pieces. The soundtrack goes hard, and even buck wild at places, and will definitely get you pumped to see the battle end in your favour.

The setting is going for a high fantasy theme, and it shows. Most of the natives of Valisthea have, from what I can tell, British accents. The royalty uses more posh parlance, but the commonfolk come in various accents and they do it proper. At least to a non-native English speaker it sounds as such. The phrases they say, the mannerisms, and the way they cuss and curse, really evoke that ye-olde medieval times depicted in other media. Some of the texts in the UI are also written as such. You don’t “go to Laurent’s Pass”. The objective says “Make for Laurent’s Pass”.

There’s a good flavouring in the English text and voice localisation, but thankfully not too powerful to make a non-native English speaker, or those still learning the language, be at a loss for words for not being able to make any sense of what these people say or what the text is supposed to mean. FFXVI is by no means the first to do this, but that doesn’t make the localisation flavour to be any less profound. I like it.


Final Fantasy XVI is set in the realm of Valisthea, two continents blessed by the Mothercrystals where men and women make use of this boon to live. But with a Blight slowly enroaching the lands, the various nations that reside in the two twin continents have walked the path of war to secure whatever resource is left. People can make use of magick thanks to the crystals, though a number of people can conjure magick on their own, which the lands marked them as Bearers to be treated as slaves, or Dominants, who have the ability to call onto the power of Eikons, which are incredibly powerful beings that are even used in times of war.

The game follows the story of Clive Rosfield, son to the Archduke of Rosaria, and swore guardian to little brother Joshua. We see Clive in his teens, his late twenties and then early thirties over the course of the story, where this man fall from grace and faced various tragedies and hardships before finding a reason to continue to fight and live. All while the lands of Valisthea continue to plunge into uncertainty.

Final Fantasy XVI has to be the darkest numbered entry yet, thematically. The game doesn’t shy away from implied sex and onscreen bloodshed, sometimes used for shock factor. The beginning few hours is quite the rollercoaster ride as you are given a quick glance of the characters, the world and all its lore. All while making you wrestle with the fact that this game is the first to be rated M for Mature.

Yet somehow, the lore is rather accessible to follow along. Yes, there is a codex of sorts to keep up with the lore, but its written concisely, and thanks to the Active Time Lore system, you can pause at any time even in cutscences to get a quick overview of particular characters, location, or concepts being discussed at the moment.

Later on, there are more visual ways to ascertain the state of the world as well as how all the characters connect to each other. Yes, there’s a built-in character relationship map, and it’s wonderfully crafted. The world is rich with political intrigued as well as character development, and thankfully, all of this is made digestible. Don’t worry, the pace won’t be as intense in the opening hours throughout the game, so you can make time to breathe in the lore.

FFXVI is the first in the numbered series to go full-on real-time combat. Sure, its predecessor Final Fantasy XV had real-time combat as well, but there’s an option to pause and input commands from there. Not here. Everything during the combat runs in real time. The only momentary break you get is when it’s in the middle of a special attack animation, or a cinematic action sequence during specific boss fights.

The feel of the combat is also different. It’s more akin to a character action game like the Devil May Cry series, in that there’s a good sense of flow to it all. If you can keep a combo going or press on the attack on smaller enemy types, they’re basically stun-locked, free for you to stylebeast on them as you please. Tougher enemies have clearly project attacks that can be dodged, blocked or parried, with a very specific timing window to get it right. When you do get it right, everyone looking at the screen knows it, it feels really good.

That said, there is a lesser requirement in regards to the inputs. There’s no special moves that involves the combination of an attack button and a specifc direction to pull off. And there’s no combos where you have to pause mid-way before continuing the inputs. In fact, there really only is one bread-and-butter combo, and two specific special moves (lunge and downthrust, done by pressing jump and attack together on land and midair respectively).

But it doesn’t mean the game’s dumbed down. Try and do continuous magic bursts, that timing window is tricky. Though the combo potential, however, comes from the use of Eikonic Abilities, which two can be equipped per Eikon, of which you can equip three at a time. These abilities vary in properties and will require a specific playstyle to really eke out their potential. Abilities like the Windup and Rooks’ Gambit are deadlier when used as a counter/parry, timing it just before an enemy strikes to deal bigger damage. While abilities like Ignition and Scarlet Cyclone can deal with multiple enemies.

But it goes deeper. Lightning Rod, for example, isn’t any good on its own. But this trap ability enhances the damage done to the glowing thunder ball and applies an AOE. Crafty players can use this as one would add salt while cooking, enhancing the flavour of their dish. And the dish served here is cooked from a series of combos in which said salt can add a hint more damage, or turn an otherwise single-target attack into one that can hit multiple, assuming you can get the ball in the middle of a congregation of enemies that is.

Heck, there’s an ability that is used solely for animation cancelling, that’s how technical you can get with the battle system. For the combo chefs out there looking to serve three-star battle techniques, this game really lets you cook.

Another contribution to this flow of combat is the limit break meter. As you deal and take damage, a meter fills up where you can do the traditional FF Limit Break. In this game, it makes Clive semi-prime into his Eikon where he not only glows but also deals more damage and gains HP over time. Mechanically, it’s sort-of like FFIX’s Trance. Or even Devil May Cry’s Devil Trigger, in some ways.

Since Limit Break heals you back, and you have finite sources of healing (there’s a hard limit to how many potions and high potions you can carry at one time, and party member’s healing spells only recover chip damage over time), there’s an incentive to use the Limit Break from time to time and not horde it only for boss fights. It’s a waste of meter if you have full LB meter yet not use it to recover some health, especially since it’s easier to build LB meter when fighting regular enemies that come in droves.

There’s always a decision to make, which makes combat always engaging. You can’t turn your brain off for too long, even if it’s just battling an underleveled enemy in the fields whereas in other FF iterations, you would just be spamming attacks until you be done with it. I mean you can still do that, but it’s a bit more involved, and while you’re at it it’s not a waste of time to actually put effort and make use of all the abilities you have. It’s good training, and you won’t be wasting resources if you’re good at it.

The character-action combat does mean that despite having party members accompanying you from time to time, they really don’t play much of a part during fights, especially major fights. Not only do you not have any direct control of them (aside from your dog Torgal), you have no option to customise them in any way either. Sure, some of them can pull their weight and take out one or two small enemies on their own, and sometimes use magic to deal damage or cure you, but not in fights where it matters. When it matters, it’s still essentially just Clive, with some assistance from Torgal if you can figure out how to incorporate his moves into your game plan.

And that is one of my issues with FFXVI, is that there are not enough of the RPG elements that I like from the series that are retained. Party members are an afterthought. The ability customisation for Clive unlocks so so slow, because of story reasons, I get it. But there will be a long period of time when you really don’t have much to tinker with your build. Is it weird that I feel like the recent God Of War games has stronger RPG aspects than FFXVI? Because that’s how it felt to me. Or maybe I just miss the time when skill trees in FF games were overly complicated.

For every design impasse the designer team has had, where they have to pick between making the game more action-oriented or RPG-oriented, the action-oriented camp wins out.

Yet somehow it still feels like a bonafide RPG. Some dare say a JRPG, even. Valisthea is not an open world, but you do get to visit a good chunk of the regions on foot, roaming about the various regions in the Twins. There are some elaborate towns and villages dotted around too, each filled with life, or signs of prior life.

And as such, no, FFXVI is not just a series of walking through walkways into an arena of enemies on repeat. There are specific linear stages where it plays like a DMC level through and through. And it’s in these stages where you get to see what’s essentially kaiju battles as two Eikons duke it out in a set-piece fight of increasingly epic proportions. It’s ridiculously over-the-top where you want to scream “Let’s go!” every time something cool, wild, and crazy happens on screen.

But for the most part of the game, you do be roaming about the world, speaking to people and completing quests. In those moments, it is unmistakably a Final Fantasy game.

FFXVI isn’t the first to use character-action-style gameplay for an action RPG, just look at Square Enix’s own Nier Automata. But it is another successful example of this. For a series steeped in tradition as well as innovation, the move to character-action-style combat is a surprise and has resulted in some compromises in the RPG aspects of the game.

Yet it has not impacted scale and structure as much as I once first thought it may be. The pacing here takes account of how wild the linear stages can ramp up the action, and how plodding and slow the traditional RPG exploration gameplay can be. And for the most part, the team has gotten it just right. You’ll always be motivated to keep pressing on, but there are appropriate points where you can take a breather before seeing the story unfolds further.


The main scenario for FFXVI is said to be around 30 hours in length, but make no mistake, this is an RPG. With a lot of optional things to do. I ended my playthrough in 50 hours, and I still have a good 10 or so side quests left and a few more hunts still.

The linear missions in the main missions, the stages, can be replayed at any time once first cleared. You can also try the Arcade Mode, where all those stars you get from doing battle techniques come into play. Arcade Mode is where you are graded for your battle prowess, not with an alphabet like a typical character-action game would do, but via a high score.

For better or worse, there are no mini-games to distract you from the action (that also means, fortunately/unfortunately, you can’t do fishing). But the sheer quantity of the side quests alone should keep you busy.

The side quests themselves, mechanically, isn’t that interesting. Some are really just fetch quests or worse, just talk to people. But thankfully, the writing makes it all worthwhile. Usually at the end of each quest, you learn more about a particular character, or the history of something. And it’s always an interesting revelation. Side characters even have character development over the course of some quest chains, so it’s definitely worth your time investment if you need a break from all the action.

And when you’re done with the game, there’s not only New Game+ waiting for you. There’s also Final Fantasy mode where enemy placement is remixed, they have higher levels and the level cap also gets bumped to Level 100. It’s for those who wants to really sink their teeth into the combat system, using all the abilities and gear available to push their skills to the limit.

Personal Enjoyment

I wouldn’t call myself a die-hard FF fan, but I am now the resident FF fan here at Gamer Matters. I gave most of the main numbered entries a try starting with FFVII, and until now I only managed to finish FFXV (which I reviewed all those years ago), and yet my favourite entry from the numbered series is still FFXII. Make of that what you will.

I was hesitant when I learned that FFXVI will play more like a character action game than it is an RPG. Sure it calls itself an action-RPG, but I fear that the other aspects I always like about Final Fantasy, the RPG aspects where you get to grow the party members, assign different abilities that unlock over time, and tinker with the equipment they have, will be reduced.

And it has. Sure, a lot of the RPG aspects I mention are still present in FFXVI, but it’s not the same. At least I can see that not every aspect of them is abandoned.

The other point where I feel a bit let down is thanks to the whole conversation about Final Fantasy wanting to not be a JRPG. The first 20 hours or so I can definitely feel that they’re onto something here. But I didn’t like where it went later on. The story and themes are provoking at first glance, but say little new or interesting at the end of it all. At least the personal stories of the cast are deeply touching.

I have jokingly been calling this game Eikon May Cry, and guess what, I can say that I may have cried at the end. Okay, that pun was terrible, but surprisingly there’s a buttload of good/terrible puns in FFXVI, and I love them dearly for the effort.

Still, overall I still enjoyed my time with Final Fantasy XVI. Objectively judging it as a video game, it’s one of the best FF entries yet. As a Final Fantasy game, it’s probably in the top 5 for many fans, I reckon. For me, it’s in my top 3. It’s bold, it’s trying something different and succeeding in executing them. Even if it goes against some of the things I cherish about the series, and kept the status quo of some elements I wish were changed, I still had immense fun with FFXVI. This is what happens when you make a fundamentally sound core gameplay loop, which a couple of previous single-player FF entries have struggled.


Final Fantasy XVI continues Square Enix’s tradition to push the envelope with each numbered entry of its iconic franchise. This game is the boldest yet, moving into a full-on character action experience, while moulding it to fit a long, girthy experience you would expect from an RPG.

However, the RPG elements have disappointingly been reduced by too much. In its place are over-the-top action scenarios and blood-pumping real-time combat that’s easy enough to play but has enough depths for the combofiends and veteran players that live off stylebeasting over enemies for that S-Rank.

The Creative Business Unit III team made a Final Fantasy game on their own terms, and it shows in the resulting product. It may not be what most fans expected an FF game to be at first, yet it is more than worthy of waving that franchise flag.

An engrossing story with excellent worldbuilding, a fantastic performance by the cast and slick UI tops off this emotionally-charged entry. Prepare to cry over joy, pain and sorrow, Final Fantasy XVI is not to be missed.

Played on PS5. Review copy provided by PlayStation Asia


Final Fantasy XVI

The boldest yet, moving into a full-on character action experience, while moulding it to fit a long, girthy experience you would expect from an RPG.

An engrossing story with excellent worldbuilding, a fantastic performance by the cast and slick UI tops off this emotionally-charged entry. Prepare to cry over joy, pain and sorrow, Final Fantasy XVI is not to be missed

  • Presentation 10
  • Gameplay 9
  • Content 9
  • Personal Enjoyment 9.5

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