tl;dr Devil May Cry on a diet, mid game, B tier.
If you've never played an "action" game before and would like to try then this game won't be bad. If you expecting an JRPG or an RPG then this is not the game you are looking for.
Alright, let's get this out of the way: I feel genuinely sorry for Square Enix. It's like watching an old friend who's lost their way. Sure, FF7R was a beacon of hope, but since then, they've been throwing out titles that could only be described as exercises in embarrassment. There goes my hero, indeed.
Well dear reader let's first get to a few points before we dive in to my more in depth thoughts. The game is not bad however I find it only excels at one point which is the interactive lore systems which I will get to later. I do consider myself to be quite the Final Fantasy fan so I have some emotions about this.
Launched exclusively on PS5 on June 22, 2023, This time around it was the first mainline entry to launch on the PS5. Final Fantasy 16 veers sharply off tradition, morphing into a full-fledged action game. The classic RPG elements are all but stripped bare, and the absence of difficulty settings leaves me questioning: who's the target audience here? Certainly not me.
So the big question, Final Fantasy 16 — Does it qualify as a Final Fantasy game? Yes.
It has the elements, but that's just window dressing. The theme is more fantasy and sombre but in the set dressing, I can't see how it's not a Final Fantasy game.
It's neither a Dragon Quest clone nor a fresh IP. It's distinctive. Even if you hated Final Fantasy 13, you'd still accept this as part of the franchise. But don't even get me started on Final Fantasy 12 – it's like the black sheep of the family. This game, at least, hasn't lost its way to that extent.
Personally, this game is a step back and one in the completely wrong direction for the series, but luckily we have the next installment of FF7R coming. I am almost positive this game will have a barrage of DLC as is Square Enix current tactics and it's highly likely I won't buy it. At ¥8500, this game feels like a pickpocket's handy work. It doesn't justify the hefty price tag.
Now, let's delve deeper.
I won't spoil the game or the story so I might touch lightly on this. This is a real slow burn story, I only felt like I was in the game once I unlocked the Lore & Map system which is so much hours into the game. Unfortunately the prologue and everything up to that point is so badly written.
WARNING: This touches on some story element's I dislike -Click to reveal
This game has two story elements I don't really enjoy. It's not much of a spoiler as it's right their in the demo but, it uses the dreaded Time-skip. A lazy device to shove the plot ahead whenever it hits a brick wall. After all, why bother to build a branching narrative when you can simply hit fast forward and teleport us into an entirely different subplot, leaving more questions than answers?
Oh and the second thing: Cutscenes, ah those sweet and dreadfully overused cutscenes, are as intrusive as a mosquito in your bedroom at night while you trying too sleep. Picture this - you're knee-deep in a boss fight, the beast's health bar decreasing faster than your enthusiasm for this game. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, these cutscenes depict you as a wilting flower getting crushed by the boss. And then, as predictably as a bad movie plot, the deus ex machina swoops in, endowing you with more powers than you'll ever need. Such an imaginative treat, I tell you. Oh and don't even think this is a one time thing, it happened so much it started to upset me. No cutscenes and no QTE's (Quick time events) in boss fights!
Inconsistency in the story feels as if a group of writers were locked in separate rooms, scribbling their parts of the story with no communication, only to slap their work together like a poorly made sandwich at the end. And the cherry on this unpalatable cake? Our supposed hero appears to be as ignorant of the world as a goldfish, leaving us with a view as insightful as a brick wall.
Admittedly, it's not all bad. There's a peculiar charm that keeps you trudging through this sludge of a narrative, like a guilty pleasure soap opera. It's not groundbreaking; it's just...passably tolerable.
Our protagonist, Clive, is okay. But just okay. He's no Cloud or Noctis, hell, even Lightning had more personality. I miss the freedom to change characters in battle, to adapt and strategize on the fly. Hey at least it's not Vaan & Penelo from FF12.
This may require some high level thinking, but bear with me. You'd be forgiven for wondering if the game even has characters. The party? Practically a ghost town. Building a rapport with your fleeting, inept sidekicks is about as rewarding as yelling into a void. Party dynamics? Non-existent. Gone is the camaraderie that was a staple in previous Final Fantasies, replaced by a lonely sojourn with Clive. It's like going to a festival and finding out all the fun attractions have been cancelled.
But perhaps the game's saving grace lies in its villains. They're crafted with more depth, gradually revealing their intricacies as the game trudges on. Engaging with them is entertaining, weird, but oddly captivating. This is a bold move, and one I cannot think of being done else where. I wish some villains were given more screen time even if there characters were shallower than a puddle. It felt different, it hooked me.
Mood and Tone
One thing I have to say is the game is serious, too serious. There are no comic relief characters, no breaks from the constant grimness. It tries to be bold, but never quite crosses that line. If they are doing to keep the age rating low — Fine I respect that but it does leave you wondering who the audience here really is..
The game's attempt at world-building is around average or above average if I was being generous. It's like inviting someone to a fancy restaurant and then serving them regular food. The overall aesthetic feels half-baked, as if the 3D assets forgot to set their alarms and ended up missing the deadline. The city layouts, the designs, they just don't vibe. It's like having all the right pieces but not knowing how to put them together.
The sprawling metropolises shown in cutscenes tantalize the senses, but they are like a beautiful cake behind a glass window, to be looked at but never tasted. The cities, though artistically unique, are mere touristy postcards.
And before anyone blames the chosen era for this disaster, let's take a moment to reminisce about the glorious world-building of Witcher 3. The setting of that game didn't just work, it was like a master conductor orchestrating a symphony. Final Fantasy 16's world? More like a tone-deaf musician struggling with a broken violin.
Gameplay and Combat
First and foremost this game has no difficulty settings.
This game feels like if Devil May Cry went on a diet.
Now, the combat. For a game so heavily focused on it, the lack of variety is astounding. The sword and the basic skill tree are the only tools of the trade, and they don't offer much variety. The combat inputs feel delayed, there's no room for last-second dodges, and the dodge 'window' is absurdly long. The parry mechanic feels redundant, and the overall difficulty level of the game is more akin to a walk in the park than an epic quest.
So far I've seen no way to change the combat style or weapon, or even switch to a different party member to keep things fresh. It's the same basic skills you have in the demo.
There is no buffing or casting spells or doing anything remotely tactically, just dodge before the enemies hit and "counter". There is no elemental weaknesses or critical hits. I suppose the attack followed up by the magic is a bit reminiscent of Squall From Final Fantasy 8, pulling it off feels good, until it becomes second nature.
Consider your party members or any sort of interaction outside of Clive to be non-existent.
If you're a seasoned warrior, used to the silky fluidity of God of War, the adrenaline-fueled madness of Bloodborne, or the balletic chaos of Devil May Cry, brace yourself. This game is to smooth combat what sandpaper is to silk. Inputs feel like they're being processed by a sloth on a leisurely Sunday afternoon. Forget about the thrill of last-second dodges; this game requires you to hit the button in what feels like last-century.
It's not all negative though, even here there is rays of lights piercing through the darkness. The DualSense controller feels great! Each attack carries a hefty punch, reverberating through your palms like a well-tuned orchestra. The audio feedback, too, hums in harmony, creating a symphony of senses that does a commendable job of keeping tedium at bay. Against my better judgement, it actually managed to reel me in.
So overall I'd say if you never played an action game and this is your first introduction to this type of game play, my tirade about the combat might sound like alien mumbo-jumbo. This could serve as a decent starting point into the genre, free from the baggage of comparisons and critiques.
Every game mechanic that exist has been stripped out. Forget it, no magick, no elements, no critical hits.
There's the whole leveling up and monetary system. It feels utterly pointless. I mean, do we really need experience points and money if we're never in a situation where we're under-leveled or needing to grind? It's like they're just tossing them in for the sake of tradition. The crafting system feels absolutely useless as well.
Are these just ideas that never got completed or were they forced to be kept in to mock you?
I'd say though the combat system/eikon (Pronounced Icon) system seems to have 2 "skills" you can bind to Square and Triangle respectively. With ○ being the ability button. You rotate between up to three at a time. This is the only bit of strategy you have access too, and unfortunately even here it's just the illusion of choice. Some skills are just better than others.
Party Dynamics and Character Interaction
The party dynamics, or the lack thereof, Where are the party members? Where's the banter, the camaraderie? Where are the support characters? I miss casting my buffs and setting up combos. I don't even know what to say other than this section is as empty as it's in game.
I hate to say it but the World feels a bit lifeless. There are open world areas but the main quests are railroaded. Instead of doing either really good they done both just above average, enough so that it's adequate. The 3D assets or architecture out in the accessible world don't spark inspiration. In my first few hours I was really struggling to get immersed in the world but I eventually did. But I don't like the setting. Nothing really stands out or brings it all together. The world does not feel as detailed and grandiose as it should be to capture the fantasy setting.
And give the moogles more to do than just standing around looking cute! Where are all the classic Final Fantasy creatures, where are the quirkier creatures? Cactur? Chocobos? Tonberry?!
Exploration feels quite minimal and is not rewarded.
Easily this game's weakest point besides the useless gameplay mechanics. Side quests are monotonous, and the lack of meaningful interaction between characters makes it hard to get invested. Instead the side quests we are present here are literal chores. Hey Mr Delivery please deliver this food, please talk to this NPC. The side quests in this game is so boring I could not continue doing them.
In contrast to the side quest, this felt like the games biggest victory. Let's dive in.
Where the game falters in its side quests, it more than makes up for it in its lore. The main narrative is weak, creatively bankrupt, but the optional systems for exploring the game's history and world are as intoxicating as a well-aged whiskey.
Behold the 'State of the Realm', a feature that lets you chart the course of significant events and see the ripples they send through the game's geography. It's a virtual war room, showing where armies have clashed and battles have raged. Oh and not just that, but you can inspect every piece present on the map for more depth!
Only when I unearthed this jewel of a mechanic did I find myself lost in a labyrinth of lore, savoring every moment like a fine dining experience. I learned about the various kingdoms, a task at which the main story spectacularly failed.
But the cherry on this cake was seeing the shifting sands of relationships between characters at various points in the narrative. It's like being the puppeteer of a complex web of alliances and betrayals, an experience that hooked me like a juicy novel. These two systems are the best I've seen in any video game.
Well let's not beat around the bush here, I have no control over this but I want to express what I thought could fix the problems here.
Since they went for the "Action" game, nearly every single animation frame has to be tidied up or redone. The player needs to use multiple weapons or switch out characters on the fly with different styles or weapons. There needs to be decision making. Secondly there needs to be more basic combos, sorry but 「◻︎、△、◻︎、△、◻︎、△、◻︎、△」 just get's boring after a while. Oh and your single aerial combo is just a three hit version of that exact same one just in the air.
The controls need to be a lot tighter, "precision" dodge windows have to be drastically reduced to only be a few frames, punish the player for mistiming. The sluggish controls need to go, and cancel animations need to exist.
Once all of that is tidied up there has to be a rating system in combat and way more enemies on screen at once, it has to be a dance, the thrill of going for "Smokin' Sexy Style!!" never gets old.
After all the above is applied and then finally could there be a difficulty setting.
But after writing all that and using a bit of hindsight, even if they did make all those changes I don't think I would like to replay the game, it's in a bad spot where it's not a pick up and go action game but a story driven game, so ultimately yeah "action" was a bad choice here.
This isn't part of the game but thing's I've noticed.
At certain points of the game there is a few song taken from Final Fantasy 7. I think an orchestra version of FF7 opening prelude or the map song. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I found myself humming along more than once, the familiar strains pulling at memories buried deep.
A few points on the localization:
You can see it in the demo as well, but when playing the game in the Japanese language they sometimes address the Chocobos as "horses", but the visual shows a chocobo, this confused me.
On the other hand:
When I put the subtitles on "English", the English translation is beyond weird. They're garish, flamboyant, and a bit detached from the original Japanese. It's way more "colourful" and almost portrays characters to be slightly different. It's like ChatGPT hallucinated the translation going from Japanese to English. An example of this is where Clive just says 「うん」(Like yes) or something and the English translation is trying to make some weird pun I couldn't understand.
There are easter eggs in reference to previous Final Fantasy games.
Then there is the characters, Jill seems to have the same hairstyle as Tifa, and there is a character which looks awfully close to Noctis's father ("Regis Lucis Caelum").
They have mastered the art of making something 'good enough' in every section of this game for it not to be a complete failure but does nothing particularly good for it to stand out.
The cutscenes are great, but there is too many of them back to back. The music did not seem particular bad neither.
The lore system interaction is easily the best I've seen and actually immersed me.
The story is sombre and portrays that mood but struggled to hook me due to the detachment or failure to build up character rapport.
So, should you play it? If you're a hardcore Final Fantasy fan, you'll probably want to give it a try. It's not to bad to not recommend but then I'd have to put the caveat on the price.
In the end, FF16 isn't the worst Final Fantasy game out there, but it certainly isn't the best. It's a game that had potential but just couldn't quite live up to its legacy. But with moving away from the JRPG genre that will be a mountain to climb.
It sits comfortably on the B tier, an average score for a game that feels like an underwhelming echo of past triumphs. To even think this game comes close to some of it's own predecessors would be sacrilege.