I’ve finished Final Fantasy XVI and am now working on 100 percenting it, including beating the game a second time on the New Game+ “Final Fantasy” mode difficulty. For all the game’s flaws, of which there are plenty, there’s just so much it does that I just can’t get enough of. From the music and environments to the heart-stopping Eikon battles, Square Enix’s latest action-RPG is chock full of things both big and small, in your face and very subtle, that make it, for me at least, one of the most memorable Final Fantasy games in nearly two decades.
Released on June 22 as a timed PlayStation 5 exclusive, Final Fantasy XVI tells the story of the orphaned prince Clive and his (not so merry) band of outcasts as they seek to overthrow the powers that be and install a new, more equitable world order. It trades the turn-based, menu-heavy RPG customization the franchise is known for for chunky action combat and cinematic spectacle that’s constantly cranked to 11. And it works. Mostly. Here are some of our favorite things we can’t stop thinking about from Square Enix’s latest blockbuster adventure.
If we’re talking about little things in Final Fantasy XVI worth spotlighting, I think it would be a crime to not include Clive Rosfield’s slutty little waist. Who gave that man permission to wear a blood-red corset and just show off what he’s working with at all times? Oh, you’re sad about your brother’s death? I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the sound of your loud-as-fuck fit. Criminal. Lock him away. — Kenneth Shepard
Spectacle is at the heart of Final Fantasy XVI, and that includes using its Kaiju Eikon fights to recreate some classic anime moments. An early sequence where Ifrit punches the crap out of Phoenix is an homage to Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Eikons can regrow entire limbs like in Attack on Titan. The development team took almost every opportunity afforded by the game’s central premise and used it to go berserk (speaking of which).
Final Fantasy XVI’s soundtrack was composed by Masayoshi Soken. It’s very subtle in parts compared to some earlier scores in the series, but goes very hard in others. Most satisfying of all is how elegantly it shifts mid-battle to take advantage of choreographed quick-time cinematic moments. “To Sail Forbidden Seas” is the name of the song that plays during all of the Eikon battles, and the mood ebbs and flows in perfect sync with the battle, as you go from hacking away at the stagger gauge to unleashing a flurry of cooldown abilities while the boss is vulnerable. The track builds, brings in the chorus, and then reaches another level when the cinematic clashes begin before settling back down again when it’s back to the main combat. Final Fantasy boss fights have always sought to be dynamic and exciting even when turn-based, but XVI takes it to a whole new level. Especially during the Titan fight.
At a certain point in the game, you start amassing keepsakes from your adventures, little remembrances of people you’ve helped or things you’ve accomplished. I like this because you don’t get anything for them except the keepsakes themselves. They don’t provide you with any combat bonuses or stat boosts. They’re just keepsakes, a little reminder that what matters most of all in the world of Final Fantasy 16 isn’t your strength stat or how good your bracers are, but the connections Clive forms with others.—Carolyn Petit
Speaking of epic boss fight moments, holy hell Torgal is out of his mind. I pointed at the screen like Leonardo DiCaprio when he grabbed Benedikta in his jaws and swung her across the battle arena after she beat the crap out of Clive. We’ve moved so far beyond “Can you pet the dog?” If your game’s canine friend can’t go Super Saiyan on a demigod, then what’s even the point? Final Fantasy VIII’s Sant’ Angelo di Roma walked so Torgal could run.
A lot of massive crystals get destroyed in Final Fantasy XVI, and every time it’s as satisfying as watching an ice sculpture get sent through a wood chipper. Probably not great for Valesthea’s air quality, but beautifully effervescent nonetheless.
Sometimes a game’s graphics are so good you don’t even notice all the ways in which they’re incredible. Final Fantasy XVI’s intricate costumes and long hairstyles are particularly notable for how rarely, if ever, they clip through one another, let alone the environments. Clive in particular has a long dark mane and a long dark cape, and they never get caught on one another or stray objects across all of the environments, even when the rebel sellsword is vaulting over fences or climbing up ledges.
In keeping with Final Fantasy XVI’s theme of providing the occasional ridiculous level of attention to small details, I can’t get over the automatic animation Clive goes into every time you’re about to steer him into another NPC. Getting snagged on random characters in the world has been a staple in older games in the series, but here you’d have to go out of your way to steer into one. And even still, Square Enix’s developers decided to add a bespoke animation precisely for those rare occasions, just to keep things flowing naturally and avoid the the game-y-ness of the game coming through.
Whether it’s the rounding up of the numbers like a slot machine or the clink, clink, clink of new gil and items getting added to your inventory, there’s something magical about Final Fantasy XVI’s minimalistic battle results menu. At first I hardly noticed it, but with every battle the tiny dopamine hit of seeing and hearing Clive rack up points wrapped its tendrils around my lizard gamer brain.
Final Fantasy games are known for being beautiful, but I can’t get over the muted extravagance of some of Final Fantasy XVI’s environments. The hyper-realistic style almost masks how much is actually going on, whether its giant kingdoms in the background or dense forests thick with different types of foliage. Except for the deserts, which look like how my brain remembers every other Final Fantasy desert.
Shiva, Ifrit, Odin and Bahamut have been blowing up stuff since 1990’s Final Fantasy III, with summon animations that got more and more over-the-top in each new entry. Final Fantasy XVI is the first to render those scenes as if they were just part of the underlying fabric of the game rather than rewards doled out sparingly. My favorite is when, in one scene early on, Bahamut and Odin stare each other down from across a battlefield as their two kingdoms’ armies collide. It’s presented so nonchalantly that it’s easy to forget just how incredible it is to play a Final Fantasy that never flinches from showing you everything.
Clive is great and Cid is excellent. I love Gav too. There’s no shortage of great (mostly male) characters in Final Fantasy XVI, but let’s give it up for Uncle Byron, who thinks Clive is an imposter until they recite a scene from a play they used to perform together years ago at family parties. He’s a coward but throws his vast reserves of gil into the rebellion, wants to make amends for past failures, and never misses a chance to talk a big poetic game like he just sprang out of a Sir Walter Scott novel. The developers at Square even made sure to keep him animated behind the bar guzzling down beer at the inn during an early brawl in the Dhalmekian Republic.