The first time I saw a summon spell in Final Fantasy was in Final Fantasy IV. It was during a scene when Rydia summoned Titan in a fit of rage. Later in the game, Rydia was able to summon it and other spirits that had control over the elements. Years later, Square took the idea of summons to another level in Final Fantasy VII. Performing a summon meant dishing big damage while watching a movie. Knights of the Round is synonymous with letting the game play itself while destroying Ruby Weapon. At some point in the franchise’s history, summons were dubbed Eidolons. The name changed, but their importance didn’t. No matter what, these mighty spirits would unleash unending devastation on their enemies. But, did you ever stop to think about their impact on their surroundings? For instance, going back to Final Fantasy VII, when Cloud or his friends summoned Leviathan, only the enemies were impacted by its deluge despite it covering a massive area.
Well, that idea of was taken into account in Final Fantasy XVI. The opening sequence shows a battle between Shiva and Titan. Their residual attacks crush, smash, impale, and destroy soldiers below the battlefield. Bloody bodies lie everywhere as a result. Actually, bloodshed is a common element in FFXVI. So is murder, espionage, rape, and brutality. There’s also elements of brotherhood, friendship, and love. All this to say that the highly anticipated FFXVI has it all. It’s often dark and depressing, and other times it’s hopeful and encouraging. It’s a game with a lot of themes that all weave together almost perfectly to create a yarn worth experiencing. With addictive, sleek action-RPG combat, it’s a game that comes highly recommended to fans new and old.
Final Fantasy XVI’s story is epic. So much so that trying to condense the premise in a couple of paragraphs is tricky. The world of Valisthea is not a fun place to be. Kingdoms fight for control of Mothercrystals: sources of seemingly limitless aether that grant magical blessings to its people. Bearers, humans with the ability to cast magic at will, are used as tools that do the dirty work of these kingdoms. They’re often marked by brands on their faces. Then, there’s the constant spreading of death and destruction called Blight. The Blight turns the ground to rot, animals into beasts, and the skies to darkness. Sadly, there seems to be no way to stop the spread of Blight. And then, there’s our hero Clive Rosfield. Once a prominent noble with a strong sense of duty, a treacherous plot caused him to lose everything he held dear overnight. Now, he’s a branded slave that fights to survive. The game opens with the above mentioned battle between Titan and Shiva, with Clive and his group doing all they can to survive the elemental onslaught. After the literal dust settles, Clive has chance encounters with both someone from his past and someone that will change the trajectory of his, and Valisthea’s, future.
Clive’s journey is an epic one, but it has one major issue: the main antagonist. There are lot of excellent characters that play the role of villain well, but the one that’s ultimately the reason why Clive must save the world is a slow talking, exaggerated, caricature of a specimen. It enjoys talking in riddles while simultaneously using the biggest words in the dictionary. It was very tempting to just skip the scenes where he was involved, but doing so would also mean not learning more about Valisthea and Clive’s journey. I won’t get into spoiler territory; just know that this is the story’s most glaring flaw. In the grand scheme, it’s not a dealbreaker. It’s just something that takes away from the narrative.
I don’t know how they do it, but Square managed to make Final Fantasy XVI the best looking game in the series yet. I lost count at the number of times I had to stop and stare at my surroundings because the level of crisp detail in each area is through the roof. Going through regular story beats where Clive is doing something menial to advance the quest look as great as the crazy fights between Eikons. Interestingly, despite the Eikon battles being filled with particle effects and flares, they’re easy to keep track of and stunning to witness. To spice things up, there are classic 16-bit representations of the cast and crew that’ll pop up from time to time. It’s a nice touch that adds some lightness to an otherwise depressing world. The music is perfection. It’s not my favorite soundtrack in the series, but man oh man, it’s up there. I got excited to fight a boss not only because of the fun ahead, but because it meant getting to hear the boss-battle music again. Voice acting is perfect – nothing else to say about it.
The gameplay is probably the most divisive thing about Final Fantasy XVI. I liked it, but I understand why others might not. Turn-based combat is nowhere to be found. The full-on action combat system samples a lot of attributes from games like Lightning Returns. You control Clive while the AI takes control of his dog, Torgal, and any story characters that are fighting alongside him. While limiting, Clive is one hell of a warrior. Along with standard the standard dodge, guard, counterattack, and jump, Clive can perform sleek sword maneuvers and pelt enemies with various magics. There’s a thrust, an aerial slash, charged slashes and magic blasts, and more. And that’s just the beginning. Clive can harness the power of Eikons. These grant him unique abilities and skills. He starts with Phoenix. This lets him warp towards enemies; closing the gap to perform his melee attacks. Phoenix also comes with powerful abilities like Rising Flame and Heatwave. These really rack up the damage, but require a cooldown time before they can be used again. Overtime, Clive will have access to a boatload of abilities that harness the power of their respective Eikon. He can equip three Eikons at a time, with each Eikon having two slots for abilities. So, while Clive is the only character you can customize, the options available make it so one player’s Clive is different from another.
Unfortunately, combat can outstay its welcome during the early segments due to enemies being spongy. Some of them have a stagger gauge; a feature that’s been around since Final Fantasy XIII. But, even getting that down takes time. Stick with it, because Clive will really come into his own with so many battle options before too long. Clive will earn experience points and ability points after a battle. Ability points can be used to unlock/power up any of his powers. One more thing I want to mention about combat: Eikon battles. Due to spoilers, I won’t get too much into the weeds about these. Just know that they’re cinematic and crazy. They’re rare, but when they happen, they’re a literal blast.
Outside of combat, FFXVI is surprisingly traditional. The world map uses a simple point-and-click interface. There are numerous side quests and optional bosses. A downside to the side quests is that they’re dull. I found myself skipping their dialogue sequences just so I could knock them out, claim the reward, and move on. Their high saturation with typically low payoff didn’t hold my interest. Most of the time you’ll be rewarded with money and raw materials. Unfortunately, both are useless 99% of the game. Clive’s gear can be upgraded and optimized, but even after using everything needed, you’ll be swimming in gold and items.
There are shortcomings to Final Fantasy XVI, but none of them take away from the overall experience. One of the most surprising things about the game was that it took me close to 60 hours to finish the main story. That’s a long time, but the momentum never stopped. There was always a new revelation, a new character, or a new Eikon ability that made me eager to continue to playing. The downside to this is that the game lacks that replay ability seen in earlier titles. Finishing the game also unlocked New Game Plus and the difficult Final Fantasy Mode. I’ll be partaking in both in order to get the remaining trophies. All told, this is a long, meaty game that will last a while. It was also a surprising one. The bar was set low after Noctis’ adventure. Clive’s not only raised it, it elevated it. His story is one of struggle, sorrow and sadness. This is a Final Fantasy that has a lot to offer fans new and old.
Overall, 8.5/10: There’s beauty in the bleak. Final Fantasy XVI takes a new, dark approach to the legendary series and the payout is excellent.