It may be hard to believe, but it's been nearly seven years since the last main series Final Fantasy title was released. In November 2016, players were introduced to Noctis and his brothers on a nationwide road trip where the series made its first introductions to action-based combat. Still dependent on the rules of Active Time Battle behind the scenes, there was still a framework in place that prevented Final Fantasy from becoming a true character action game. Now, with a development team announced by Ryota Suzuki, a combat designer with years of experience in the genre, Square-Enix and Creative Business Unit III have finally cracked that code with the soon-to-be-released Final Fantasy XVI.
Taking place across three different eras of his life, Final Fantasy XVI focuses solely on the trials and tribulations of Clive Rosfield, the elder of two sons born to a lineage of those who embody the sacred Eikon of Phoenix. Taking the myth of summoners and l'Cie in a new direction, the dominants capable of summoning and using these mythical beings are often revered (or shunned) as wielders of a source of magic far beyond what the commoners can muster. Dominants aren't the only ones who can wield magic in the world of Final Fantasy XVI. Those marked with an auspicious mark on their left cheek are given the power to draw magic from crystals and use them in various ways to improve their lives, though they are most often in the service of mundane tasks that house servants tend to do. Because of their status as marked persons, the bearers constitute the uneven arrangement of a malformed caste system.
It is this relationship between the Bearers who live their lives in slavery and the common townsfolk that sets the stage for Final Fantasy XVI. Clive Rosfield, shortly after the Phoenix Gate events that leave the Grand Duchy of Rosaria and his family either torn apart or left for dead, is stamped during the five-year gap between his adolescence and his young adulthood. In his service as a bearer for the Republic Army, he is tasked with assassinating the Dominant of Ice, the wielder of Eikon Shiva. In a twist, the dominant is herself a girl from Clive's past and best friend of him and his fallen brother Joshua. It is during this fateful encounter that Clive is introduced to Cidolfus "Cid" Telamon, his faithful wolf Torgal (who remains the only companion to follow Clive throughout Final Fantasy XVI) and the resistance group that Cid leads.
Final Fantasy XVI soon shifts from a story of political intrigue and practical alliances to the story of an environmental message to save the twin continents of Storm and Ash. As Clive soon discovers, the mother crystals that bestow magic on the land are also draining their energies from the earth, leaving a barren, gray landscape in its wake. The power of Ifrit that awakened in Clive after the prologue and the tragic events of the Phoenix Gate gave him a godly power that upset the balance of power and order between the Dominants, as the world was never meant to support two Dominants of Fire. Ifrit, through sheer will and chaotic strength, is able to destroy the aether-sucking mother crystals in hopes of one day stopping the spread of harm and destruction across Valisthea.
Final Fantasy XVI revolves around the lore of eight Eikons, including Leviathan the Lost, who true to his namesake is always lost and missing from Valisthea. Already imbued with not one but two Eikons of Fire in the form of Ifrit and Phoenix, Clive's journey across the land has challenged him with beings who can channel the power of the gods and take their powers for their own. While the adventure begins with only the singular fighting style enhanced by the powers to channel Phoenix, soon the powers of Ifrit awaken in him new powers and the ability to semi-prime (essentially a powered state spurred on by triggering a Limit Break, a new Final Fantasy staple ). As Clive Rosfield travels across Valisthea acting as a morally chaotic good environmental terrorist, his actions in destroying the Mothercrystals and then the Dominants that protect them form the connection to the game's third and final act.
Set five years after the defeat of Garuda and the dominant given her power, the first Mothercrystal fell and with it a revenge plot that sees much of the resistance group forced to retreat and redouble their efforts. During this time, Clive has forcibly removed the markings of a bearer, as have many others recruited to his cause. The story fully embraces the Outlaw mantle, focusing on Clive's attempt to rid the country of the remaining Mother Crystals, while political opponents and rival countries also wage their own petty wars and skirmishes. The political intrigue never leaves the field of Final Fantasy XVI, even if certain events veer towards catastrophic events on several occasions. It is not until a common enemy is discovered by means of those who have gone akashic: poor souls flooded with Aether and transformed into enraged husks of their former selves, robbed of all free will and thought. In another influence drawn from George RR Martin's signature work, there are many similarities to those who have gone akashic with the White Walkers in the latter's stories.
Bringing in a combat designer known for their work on Dragon's Dogma and Devil May Cry has proven beneficial to Final Fantasy XVI's transition into a full character action game. No longer bound by timers (Eikon abilities must be recharged after use, but regular attacks are fair game) or MP costs, Clive's entire arsenal of abilities is freely available to engage enemies as each sword slashes, jumps, dodges and parries everything. weaving together in a fast-paced dance of death. Without difficulty or accessibility settings and a handful of accessories that automate some of the game's tasks, Final Fantasy XVI isn't going to be accessible to everyone who wants to see the story of the Rosfields to the end. The accessories equipped to the player from the beginning of their journey if they choose Story-Focused (or still available but must be manually selected on Action-Focused) only do half the goal of making Final Fantasy XVI playable by players of all skill levels.
This accessory automates the consumption of a potion when Clive's health gets too low, and automatically orders Torgal to attack instead of through the d-pad palette, and a pair of accessories that automate Clive's dodging and facilitate down combos by pressing Square- button for flashy gestures. The ultimate downside to these is that they take up precious inventory slots that could be used to reduce cooldown timers on your favorite moves or increase damage/defense. Battles that take 30-60 seconds to get through still take just as long, and the auto-dodge accessory still fails from time to time if Clive gets caught mid-attack or in an incoming breath that he can't get far enough away from . It's a step in the right direction, but still not quite enough to get new players who want to experience the brutal story of Final Fantasy XVI without having the necessary hours of experience with other character action games.
Final Fantasy XVI is a feast for the eyes that should be experienced by as many players as possible on the PlayStation 5. The facial capture and voice acting are some of the best Square-Enix has put out in a console game and if you If you play it with English, Japanese or one of the other supported dub languages, the performances are just as spectacular. The English voice cast hits all the right notes, and while the Japanese dub is certainly full of heavy hitters known for other voice work, the cast of Ben Starr and Ralph Ineson steal the show.
Apart from the brief moments of taking pictures of distant vistas with rays of god shining through the clouds or the densely forested areas filled with both spiders and goblins, there was little desire to play Final Fantasy XVI with the graphical quality present. The drop in performance and frame rate wasn't worth the trade-off for a cleaner presentation, especially given the heavy focus on action in his entry. While performance mode was stable for the most part, occasional moments of heavy particle effects and screen-filling attacks would both cause noticeable drops in frame rate, but were to be expected in most cases. The camera control in Final Fantasy XVI is also far from perfect, falling into the usual problems of getting stuck in tight paths or being pointed away from the next available objective. Initiating a manual lock-on helped the camera regain focus on combatants, but also had the most damning problem that I see crop up too often in action titles: when the enemy is too big. Massive dragons and Couerl the size of small cars, once locked on and close enough to stab, would cause the camera to shift erratically with their movements. Getting too close to a fallen dragon with the lock on sometimes meant you couldn't focus your attacks on the head or even see attacks from the various limbs as the camera moved to track the center mass. Despite the urge to lock on for boss encounters versus a single target, I found it much easier to just manually control the camera and tilt the analog stick to angle at the enemy with certain attacks, such as a great strike infused with the power of the Titan.
Each of the available Eikons builds upon Clive's basic skills with a variety of abilities and spells unique to that summon. With magical elements having no effect on combat, players can freely throw bolts of light at coeurl or quick throws of Fira at a bomb without the usual negative or absorbing effects. Regardless of the Eikon gear, Clive's primary attack is imbued and enhanced by the innate powers of Ifrit, so his charged blade attacks will never emit ice shards instead. Each Eikon comes with a core skill for the Circle button, three different primary attacks, and a separate Ultimate skill that, once mastered, can be freely equipped to other Eikons. These skills associated with the Circle button are what make each Eikon unique and provide versatility and strategy as the player must decide which tree to use at any given time. With the power of the Phoenix comes a quick jab, the Garuda a grappling claw that either pulls Clive towards enemies or launches itself into the air at them (with the added effect of being able to stagger and bring a powerful enemy to their knees when their chessboard is half depleted), Ramuh a shotlock system where multiple bolts of lightning can be fired and split between opponents and others. Once a skill is mastered and can be freely moved between Eikon, that's when the strategy of the Eikon composition becomes crucial to the adventure.
After the Dominant who has been blessed with the power of Titan was vanquished, the special Eikon remained the mainstay of my combat palette for the rest of the game. His ability on the Circle button to block incoming attacks with a precisely timed block that produced a massive counterattack was strong enough to silence all but sustained enemy attacks over multiple hits. Likewise, Odin remained my favorite attacking Eikon once purchased. His skills revolved around giving Clive a second sword to use, and a series of flourishes and spinning attacks that, while doing little damage and would not fill up the Limit Break meter, would instead fill up a separate Zansetsuken meter. Initially limited to three levels and an upgrade that would eventually increase it to five, attacks and dodges that filled this meter to the various levels would be rewarded with a flurry of fast, highly damaging attacks that could wipe out an entire encounter's worth of fodder enemies at the highest level.
If there's anything holding Final Fantasy XVI back from being a perfect experience (aside from the accessibility options that can be worked out), it would be that the RPG trappings feel mostly redundant. Level-ups provide extra health and stats that work directly into how much damage Clive deals/takes and how much his attacks fill his Stagger gauges. Crafting is bog standard with most weapons/two armor attachments each having two upgrades that increased the same basic stat. Crafting materials are thrown at Clive by the dozens despite only needing a handful of each to craft any gear (every time I opened a chest only to be met by 20 sharp fangs was met with a sigh of disappointment). Fans of Final Fantasy XIV's sidequest format will be eager to get into the dozens of sidequests, filled with witty quest names and banter and the usual kill/collect X-types that don't deviate much but offer some padding to the already 40+ hours of running time of Final Fantasy XVI. Truth be told, I was much closer to the 70 hour mark when I finished my first playthrough with all the rants about sidequests and infamous marks to kill.
Final Fantasy XVI ushers in a new standard for Japanese RPGs, and while the RPG components themselves are limited by Square-Enix standards, it's the narrative and gameplay that surpasses all expectations. What begins with realm-wide subversion and destruction ends with a world forever changed, and the player, as Clive Rosfield and Ifrit together, is the driving force to see it all through to the end.
Review code provided by the publisher.
Products mentioned in this post
Nothing short of a technical marvel, Clive Rosfield and Torgal are among some of the best character action duos, and their 70-hour epic adventure across Valisthea will forever be remembered in Final Fantasy XVI.
SUBSCRIBE to Final Fantasy Union for more extensive coverage ► http://bit.ly/1ARxUIGBecome a PATRON to unlock behind the scenes content ► http://www.patreon….