Game of the Month: Final Fantasy XVI

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Creative Business Unit III
Platforms: PS5
Release Date: 06.22.2023

Across its 35-plus year history, the Final Fantasy series has consistently offered players experiences that worked to redefine the RPG genre while charting new territory for the franchise itself. Outside of the rare times when we received direct sequels, no mainline game has ever been bound by what its predecessors did, meaning that each new release could have its own chance to feel fresh and new from what’s come before.

And yet, even with that said, Final Fantasy XVI is unlike anything the series has previously seen to a degree that caught us by surprise. In many ways, the tale of fallen prince Clive Rosfield and his crystal-destroying quest to save the world is quite similar to its forebears on a surface level. It’s in how the game portrays Clive, the rest of the cast, and the drama that unfolds in the world of Valisthea that will be striking for longtime fans.

From the return to a fantasy-forward setting, to the focus on a war between kingdoms and their Eikons (FFXVI’s versions of summons), everything has a more grounded, mature, and emotionally developed nature to it—even when introducing the fantastical ideas that are key to Final Fantasy. Not every story beat or character arc that’s attempted works as well as it should, but this is definitely a case where we can forgive the missteps given how ambitious the game’s scope and narrative side are.

Gameplay is another area in which Final Fantasy XVI strives to be different, and it’s mostly successful there as well. Make no mistake, we do at times miss the days of turn-based battles—but, if the action is going to be more fast-paced and visceral, this feels like a better execution of that over what we saw in Final Fantasy XV. The various Eikon-powered elemental attacks Clive unlocks over the course of his journey offer up a wide variety of ways to tackle combat, making fights just as fun the 500th time as they were the first. That’s definitely a good thing, as enemies do tend to have more hit points than we’d like to see, which can leave some encounters dragging on a tad too long.

We also must mention the Eikon-focused battles, which offer up thrilling, cinematic wars between superpowered beings that are as fun to play as they are to watch. The entirety of the game itself is a pleasure to look at, from the lush landscapes to the incredible character models (at least for the main cast).

What’s taken us most by surprise about Final Fantasy XVI is that, if we’re being honest, it’s at its weakest during those moments when it feels the most chained to the legacy of its franchise. Square Enix’s Creative Business Unit III clearly has some grand ambitions for what the future of Final Fantasy could look like, and we hope that what they’ve created here won’t end up cast aside when it comes time for whatever’s next.

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