What makes a Final Fantasy game…well, Final Fantasy? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself the whole time I was playing Final Fantasy XVI. Is it the stellar visuals? Is it the characters? Is it the world and lore? Is it the battle system? Is it the music?

I kept mulling the question over and over because Square Enix’s newest mainline Final Fantasy entry is a totally different beast than any other entry in the series.

After hours of deliberation, did I finally settle on the answer?

Read on to find out.

What is Final Fantasy XVI?

Final Fantasy XVI is the latest mainline entry in the Final Fantasy series. It is a Playstation 5 console exclusive for the next six months, after which a PC version should be coming. An Xbox version is rather unlikely, but hey, weirder things have happened in the past.

Developed and published by Square Enix, the third person action RPG follows 7 years after the release of its predecessor, Final Fantasy XV, though the games are unconnected.

Our copy was provided to us by the kind folks at SIE! Thanks so much guys!

The whole time I was playing Final Fantasy XIV, one thought stuck with me throughout; this isn’t my Final Fantasy. I came into the series with Final Fantasy VII, getting it on release in 1997. While I felt that the game was overrated (I honestly preferred Suikoden and Wild Arms), that didn’t stop me from realizing how awesome the series could be (which Square proved with FFVIII, FFIX and the seminal FFX).

From Final Fantasy XII though…something changed.

The series began to morph, change from its JRPG roots to incorporate action elements.

It dabbled with real time battles in Final Fantasy XII and then finally, went all in with Final Fantasy XV. In that sense, Final Fantasy XVI is an evolution of the real time fighting introduced in Final Fantasy XV, albeit much more refined and polished.

Eikons this time around are Godzilla-sized!

I honestly don’t know how to feel about that.

I’ve always associated the series with its ATB (Active Time Battle) system, where time continued on even as you mulled over what your next move was. I’ve never felt the series was particularly suited to be an action title, despite Final Fantasy XV and Final Fantasy VII Remake.

I’d always thought that Square Enix would outgrow the action phase and the need to appeal to the mainstream gamers, at least where Final Fantasy was concerned. I mean the game sold bajillions without needing to be action based in the past, so why shake up the formula for no reason right?

Unfortunately, it looks like I’m the one who has to face up to the fact that Final Fantasy is now an action RPG, just like SEGA’s Shining Force series is no longer an SRPG one.

Thankfully, Final Fantasy XVI is a good action RPG.

Guess what Clive’s having for dinner!

Whereas past titles had you assuming control of multiple characters (even in the action based Final Fantasy VII Remake and Final Fantasy XV you can swap to other members in your party), Final Fantasy XVI is all about Clive Rosfield.

You spend most of the game (barring some sections), following him. Peering over his shoulders and witnessing his actions like a ghostly voyeur. Like it or not, this is a game about ONE person. If you hate Clive, you’ll hate the game.

Thankfully, Square Enix has done their best to make that hard.

Clive’s trials and tribulations might be fantasy, but their themes are grounded in what we experience ourselves. Class segregation, apathy towards the less fortunate, the rich utilizing the poor as tools…these are themes that exist right now, themes we are familiar with.

Clive just wants to avenge the death of his brother. It’s an admirably basic plot, but it gets the job done. It also evolves into something much, much more complicated as you play, but I’ll leave it at that for fear of spoilers.

Good Guy Cid won’t let you forget the plot.

Clive and the people he journeys with (and fights against) are rather likeable (or in the case of his enemies, despicable) and I quickly found myself enjoying the characters, be they friend or foe.

They don’t feel fake, they don’t feel like they’re there to advance a particular story. They feel like living, breathing people living their life in the game. Cid is particularly charming and reminds me a lot of Sean Connery’s Highlander character, Ramirez. Glib, witty, smooth and charming, Cid plays off Clive’s dour and sour outlook really well.

In many ways, Final Fantasy XVI reminds me of Final Fantasy XIII. It’s incredibly linear, breathtakingly gorgeous and is set in a world overflowing with its own terminology and lore that you could write a book about it. In fact, the game has its own Glossary that you can access at any time to remind you of the terminology, factions or characters in play. It’s that complicated. Think Game of Thrones and you’re on the right track.

In fact, Game of Thrones has more in common with Final Fantasy XVI than you’d think. Final Fantasy XVI doesn’t shy from mature themes, has political intrigue up the wazoo and even has a sex scene or two. There’s no nudity (a shame) but there’s pretty of death, betrayal and violence.

With the change in themes, also comes a major shift in the gameplay. Battles are now fully action based, in same vein as games like Devil May Cry or God of War.

Flame on!

Clive does combos, dashing to and from enemies (he even has a lunge akin to Dante’s Stinger move from the DMC series) all the while dishing out Eikon imbued attacks (which are unlocked and upgraded via Ability Points you get from battles). MP is a non-existent concept in Final Fantasy XVI, having been so prevalent in most of the series. It’s instead replaced with a cooldown timer for most of Clive’s Eikon abilities.

You don’t even need to worry about Clive’s compatriots. While the AI will help out in battle, they don’t have HP, so can never be killed. It’s all about Clive, all the time, as he fights everything in his path.

Battles are fast, furious and seamless.

Enemies you see milling about in the map can be attacked with any of Clive’s moves, to engage a fight. Clive handles superbly well, and while his combo attacks are rather basic (one of the game’s major weaknesses), the battle system is deep enough to have a parrying and dodging mechanic to encourage smart play.

Dodge just before an enemy attack hits and Clive can slow down time to dish out a powerful counter attack. If you’re feeling particularly brave, attacking (and hitting an enemy) right as they’re about to hit you executes a parry, which also slows down time and lets you execute a combo (or special move) on the slowed down enemy.

Fighting is fun, especially later on when you get a lot of different skills to incorporate into battles.

These two mechanics make the battles much more than simply smashing buttons to dole out the pain.

Conflicts against major enemies are incredibly cinematic too, with cutscenes interjected at various points of the fights. Quick time events (where you’ll need to press a button depending on what’s happening) are also peppered throughout the major fights too, so you can’t just enjoy the show without a care.

If there’s a major highlight for the game, it’s the battle choreography. Simply put, it is magnificent. Whether it’s the Eikons duking it out or Clive fighting a boss, the battle cinematics are top notch and are worth the price of admission alone. If you thought previous games and their summon sequences were awesome, wait till you get a load of the fights in Final Fantasy XVI.

In fact, I’d say the entirety of the visual design of Final Fantasy XVI is a highlight. The game is a visual tour de force. If you’d shown me this game when I was a kid, you’d have blown my mind. It’s all real time too, which makes it even more impressive. The game seamlessly segues between cinematics and gameplay without a hitch.

I played on the Playstation 5’s Performance mode and everything was just slick and smooth all the way though I’ve heard that the Graphics mode is the way to play the game due to the visual improvements.

Here are two galleries from the same area, with one image taken on Performance and one taken on Graphics. See if you can tell the difference.

Apart from some finer detail being blurrier, there’s not that much that changes. There are niftier effects on Graphics mode though, so if it might be worth suffering the lower framerate if you like your games to look great.

I’m really looking forward to the rumored PC version of the game to see how much better the game can look with top of the line hardware and AI assisting tools (like DLSS) in the mix. Picking between visual fidelity and framerate really sucks for me…I want the best of BOTH worlds!

On the flipside, the audio for the game is pretty damn good. Characters all speak with an English accent, which fits the settings really well. The voice actors for Clive and Cid are the cream of the crop, delivering awesome performances throughout the game.

The music is a bit of a miss in my opinion though.

Some of them are repurposed versions of classic FF themes (like the victory fanfare, the crystal theme and the Final Fantasy main theme) but these new versions don’t pack the same punch as the originals. Some of them even have vocal tracks now (such as the victory fanfare) and they sound cool, but again, I still think the originals are leagues better.

The tracks new exclusive to Final Fantasy XVI fare much better. I particularly like the theme that plays during battles, which is great since it’s one that players will hear the most throughout the game. The rest of the music isn’t as memorable, definitely not in the way of past music from legacy FF titles.

That’s the biggest shame of all I think.

The Bottom Line.

Helping a Moogle makes it all worthwhile.

Is this the typical Final Fantasy? Nope, it’s one that sorely targeted to get new fans into the fold. For old school stalwarts like me Final Fantasy XVI doesn’t feel like a Final Fantasy game, despite some familiar trappings.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the game and think it’s a stellar title that Playstation gamers need to play. It’s just not a Final Fantasy game to me, despite its title. Too many of the series’ trademarks are missing or modified that it feels like a different series, or even an off-shoot.

Of course others may fill differently, but I’d rather Square Enix went back the old school route than continue down this path.

If you’re a fan of action games though, Final Fantasy XVI is just what the doctor ordered. It’s got a lengthy plot, insanely cool cinematics and great, responsive gameplay that fans of God of War or Devil May Cry will love.


Final Fantasy XVI is a radical departure for the series and while great, is not for everybody.

The Good:

  • The visuals.
  • Responsive combat.
  • Great voice acting.
  • Mature theme and plot.

The Bad:

  • The music isn’t as great as past games.
  • Too linear.
  • Doesn’t feel like a Final Fantasy game.

Sal's been in the industry since the early 2000s. He's written for a ton of gaming and tech publications including Playworks, Hardwarezone, HWM and GameAxis. Recently, Sal served as a juror for the Indie Game Awards at Taipei Game Show 2020. A geek and hardcore gamer, Sal will play everything, on any platform.