Time for a different type of content on this blog: video game reviews!

After finishing Final Fantasy XVI last week, I decided to gather my thoughts and just write a short, non-exhaustive, incomplete review of the game, so here it goes.

On my background: I have been a gamer since the PS1 days, and Final Fantasy is by far my favorite series.

I have spent countless hours on almost all the FF games after FF6. I am in love with their stories, settings, and general awesomeness, especially with FFVII and all its spin-offs and remakes.

In fact, whenever I want to focus on programming, my favorite genre to listen to is Final Fantasy music.

Nobuo Uematsu’s compilations are a staple in my day-to-day and I can be listening for hours on playlists like “Final Fantasy Relaxing Music 8 hours”. It’s the mix of relaxing piano melodies and drops of nostalgia that keeps me hooked on it.

Now, let’s get on with the review!

My playthrough

As an avid FF fan, I played the demo and then immediately pre-ordered FFXVI. I started on the release date, and after casually playing it during the summer (with all the vacations, weddings, etc. interrupting),

I finally completed my first playthrough last week, after almost 40 hours. So keep that in mind, as I have read that New Game + is worth trying; I personally think I will try something else for now.

Story

So, I feel I found the story quite good.

It’s a classic story of good beats evil, so it has the usual tropes, but it kept me interested and invested in it throughout the game. It gets a dark turn at times, which is welcome, since we are talking about the possible destruction of the whole universe.

The various characters are well-written, and their motives are clear and understandable. I found Barnabas, Benedikta, and Dion the most interesting, while Jill’s story fell off in the later stages.

I also found the live Codex option, where you can interrupt a cut scene to read about people/events mentioned in it, really useful for keeping track of the storytelling.

Score: A-

Setting

Final Fantasy XVI features a Game of Thrones-meets-godlike-summons setting, setting it apart from recent titles. Its medieval theme resembles more the ninth and twelfth entries of the series, and not the sci-fi/cyberpunk ones.

Indeed, I found the world of Valisthea quite enticing. It was interesting to learn about and wander around the various kingdoms, empires, and city-states. The posh English language used was a bit cringy at times (especially that theater scene with Uncle Byron), but I guess it fit with the medieval theme.

So yeah, we are good here: the world was intriguing enough, with variety and beautiful settings, although I still miss the free roaming around the world map, that older entries had.

Score: B+

Music

FFXVI’s soundtrack may not reach the heights of FFVI or FFVII, but still, there is little to complain about. Some boss fights especially had music so good, that it blended with the importance and criticality of the fight perfectly.

Score: A

Graphics

FFXVI has some of the best graphics I have seen in a video game. In fact, it reminded me of when I first played Horizon Zero Dawn on PS4, where I had an “wow” moment when I saw the grass movement or the water textures in the game.

There are some frame rate drops, especially when navigating around large areas, but I guess this is expected and it will get better with subsequent patches.

Its graphics engine especially shone during battles: all lightning and magic animations were splendidly displayed on the screen and made each battle a wonderful sight to behold.

Score: A

Gameplay

So, here we are. Here is where the meat is!

The gameplay can generally be split into three flows:

  • Exploring around an open-ended area, where you can also see a mini-map. There are random mobs scattered and people to interact with and complete quests. You can go from one area to another via fast-travel or teleporting with crystals. This is the “main” mode of the gameplay.
  • Linear, battle-focused sequences where you are, for example, making your way through a fort, until you reach its top and fight the boss. There is no map here, and almost no one to interact with.
  • Boss battles, which are huge, epic fights that might take 40 minutes to complete.

There is no world map, since everything is done with fast travel, which is a pity. You also get a ship at one point, but it’s only used as a way to travel to the other continent, and not as a means of transportation, like Highwind or Ragnarok in previous games.

Let’s break down the gameplay section even further:

Combat

The battle system is famously more action-focused than previous games. It ditches ATB or turn-based systems, and goes all-in with a dodge-attack-combo-special setup, similar to Devil May Cry or Nier:Automata.

I have to say that I found it a bit dry. After a while, I was able to do almost the same thing for all fights, either mob or boss battles:

  • Attack, attack, attack.
  • Dodge enemy attacks.
  • Use some Eikon abilities (which had really cool graphic effects and animations).
  • Attack, attack, attack.
  • Stagger the enemy.
  • Attack and use Eikon abilities on the staggered enemy.
  • Repeat.

It got boring after the first 10 hours of the game. Even after unlocking all Eikon abilities, I found that I wasn’t inclined to switch my play style to accommodate the new ones.

The major flaw here is that the game completely lacks elemental effects and status ailments as battle mechanics, which added depth and required thinking in previous games.

It’s really weird to be hitting Bombs with fire attacks, or Malboro’s Bad Breath to just do plain damage. All enemies feel and fight the same, especially the non-boss ones.

Malboro’s Bad Breath is a fear ingrained in every FF player’s mind. Not in this one, though.

I think that FFVII Remake’s battle was the sweet spot between action-focused and RPG-driven battles. It’s fair to say that 16’s combat feels way inferior to that.

Score: B

Boss battles

OK, these were EPIC.

Boss battles are the most memorable moments (hours?) of this game by far. They are well-choreographed, with pace changes, Eikon duels, massive spells, and outrageous environments (I believe I was fighting Bahamut somewhere in the solar system).

The bad thing is that it’s weird to go from these epic moments to fighting weak mobs afterward, but that’s expected.

Score: A+

Quests

The main quest takes around 20-30 hours, and is generally well-paced and interesting to play through.

However, the side quests were easily the worst part of the game. I found that most of them were fetch quests, or “talk to 4 different NPCs and come back” ones. It was a struggle to get through most of them, and I felt they added little to the games’s world-building. Their rewards, with some exceptions, were useless craft items and gil (which you already have a lot of).

Also, what’s up with the Mid quests (the ship-building ones), which were also part of the main quest? Those were so boring to complete and really slowed the game’s pacing at a critical moment.

I hate you, Mid.

After a while, I decided to just power through some of them, skipping all dialogue and just going from quest pointer to quest pointer. Bad.

Score: C

Other game mechanics

Leveling up gives you a stats upgrade, without you being able to customize your stat points at all.

You can only customize your abilities, via the AP points you get from battles and quests, depending on the Eikons that Clive has mastered. This worked well, and there was also a reset option, in case you want to start over with the point allocation.

On the other hand, I was disappointed with the lack of a good equipment system. There is a limited selection of weapons to equip, and they generally just increase 1-2 stats. Also, crafting options are pretty shallow. It feels like the developers just put together the simplest equipment system that you can imagine, and left it at that.

Score: C+

Things I miss from other FF games

OK, here is my shouting random wants to Square Enix:

  • Where are the mini-games? Give me Chocobo racing (could do in XVI, since Chocobos have drift mechanics!), a card game, or a random mash-the-buttons mini-game.
  • The world map! Have we reached the point that roaming around a map is so difficult to include? Fast-travelling everywhere gets tedious and unrealistic after a while.
  • Mega-bosses! Where is the Ultima Weapon equivalent here? All FF games have an optional, mega-boss that challenges you to do your best in terms of equipment and strategy to defeat.
  • Meaningful side quests or none! Fetch quests are so passee right now. Either give us interesting side quests with valuable rewards, or simply don’t bother and focus on the main one.

Final verdict

Final Fantasy XVI is a feast for your eyes and ears. The graphically stunning world of Valisthea and a pretty solid soundtrack make for a great time. Story-wise, it’s a strong showing, with a few dark twists and well-rounded characters that keep you hooked.

The catch? The battle system starts out exhilarating, but after a while, it becomes a rinse and repeat job. Also, gotta say the side quests don’t feel super rewarding, not to mention the basic equipping system could be off-putting for some.

But yes, the FF charm is still there. Epic boss battles, unforgettable music, and that signature FF style we all love. It’s not perfect, but it’s still a must-play for any FF series fan or just any gamer looking for a good time.

My rank? I’ll give Final Fantasy XVI a solid B+. It’s a wild ride for sure, but there’s some room for improvement.

Also, Torgal is a good boy.

Final score: B+