How does it play? “Final Fantasy” was often known for turn-based combat, but this version is a more hack-and-slash, action-based experience. It starts as a simple balance of melee and magic attacks that can be modestly customized, and Clive unlocks increasingly powerful combat techniques as the game progresses. Like most RPGs, “Final Fantasy XVI” contains ability and item management, but it’s awfully shallow here. I keep picking up crafting materials that have almost no discernible purpose, or visiting vendors who have weapons that are inferior to my own even though I have a ton of “gil” to spend on them. Even the abilities that I can upgrade seem to follow a rather predictable track. If there’s a common complaint against “FF XVI” out there, it’s that it’s an RPG that doesn’t have enough RPG elements in it. Yes, you can pick 2-of-3 powers for each Eikon branch you unlock, but that’s pretty shallow customization. It’s a game that’s so deep in mythology that one wishes it was deeper in control over your role in it.
However, every time I get frustrated with “Final Fantasy XVI” on one side, there’s something about it that impresses me on the other. Yes, the environments can look a little blandly barren, but then a boss fight will sprout up that’s incredibly well-crafted and memorable. Yes, the storytelling will feel repetitive but then there will be a musical sequence by composer Masayoshi Soken that’s unforgettable—the music here is stunning, as is usually the case in this series. Yes, the side quests will feel like a drag, but then the combat systems will expand one more time and really impress with the way the action is enhanced in a new way.
I have about half of the massive game (60 hours) to play, and so it could still capture my imagination like “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” did for Roger so many years ago. I suspect that my opinion won’t shift much—and felt both that I had enough time invested to share it and that the basic pros and cons of the game are pretty entrenched by this point—but I’m interested to see where this journey ends. There’s a reason this franchise has been so beloved for literal generations at this point, and that 3 million people have played this title already. Roger understood the potential when a creative team takes a magical universe as seriously as the “FF” people have with most of their properties. In that same review, he wrote, “In reviewing a movie like this, I am torn between its craft elements and its story.” While video games and films are undeniably different beasts, I feel the exact same way about a “Final Fantasy” experience all these years later.
The publisher provided a review copy of this title.