final fantasy XVI review

Final Fantasy XVI Review: A Rosarian Rose

Right off the bat, I need to tell you that I have a pretty strained relationship with the Final Fantasy series. It wasn’t always that way, though.

Like any relationship, the early days provided some of the most magical moments, from Midgar to Spira, from Cloud to Squall; I had a blast. Even in spite of the fact that I generally loathe turn-based combat. Final Fantasy was always that welcome exception I would absolve of its turn-based sins because it was so damn captivating as a series.

However, I haven’t felt that overwhelming sense of wonder and excitement when playing a mainline Final Fantasy title since Final Fantasy XII, and that was almost twenty years ago!

Final Fantasy as a series has been in desperate need of a new approach, and a format that would modernize and galvanize the series. Mainly so we don’t have to rely on remakes of decades-old games to get our fill of Final Fantasy-related goodness. 

I thoroughly rinsed Square Enix last year in my Most Disappointing RPGs of 2022 list, stating that they are a company running out of ideas and lacking the quality they once had.

So when awaiting the much-anticipated release of Final Fantasy XVI, I wasn’t confident that Square Enix had the chops to right the wrongs of Final Fantasy XV and push the series forward. Well, against all the odds, they have managed to make a Final Fantasy that feels fresh, modern, and totally throws a curveball at fans, for better or worse.

It’s a new entry in the series that will divide opinion. The title moves away from the rigid turn-based strategy model and also shoots for a much darker and more sinister tone when it comes to storytelling.

However, although this may upset the traditionalists, I see this as a brilliant move, making this Final Fantasy the best jumping-in point for new fans in years, and a much more action-packed, cinematic, and enjoyable experience.

However, the devil is in the detail. So without further delay, here is Final Fan Insider’s Final Fantasy XVI Review, conducted on PS5.

By The Flames, That’s Pretty

Let’s kick things off with the overall presentation of Final Fantasy XVI, beginning with the positives. I’ll speak plainly. Final Fantasy XVI looks absolutely stunning, providing the player with a vast collection of large open spaces to explore that look screenshot-worthy no matter what direction you turn.

The vast wilderness, open fields, and marshes are a joy to explore, with enough enemy encounters to make up for the lack of points of interest as you wander around. Then you have the more built-up areas such as the city holds, quaint villages, and The Hideaway, which have their own unique charms.

Final Fantasy XVI Review A Rosarian Rose
Fantasy storytelling with true-to-life photo realism / Image by Callum Marshall

The character models, textures, lighting, and animations are all on point as well. In truth, I see this as a formality when it comes to Final Fantasy games, as titles that were produced in the PS2 era still have cutscenes that arguably hold up against modern visuals today.

Square Enix has been so presentationally ahead of the curve on that front that I’ve come to expect flawless visuals, and they have once again delivered. However, what I feel they have really improved upon are the cinematic set-pieces that lurk in that limbo between hands-off cutscenes and full-on gameplay.

Square has employed a trick they used all the way back in 2002 when producing Kingdom Hearts II, which was a game that used action commands to influence cinematic moments in the heat of battle. Are they effectively QTEs? Yes, they are.

But, they are well-implemented QTEs that make players feel like they are an influential part of the grandiose and intense set pieces on screen.

The game looks impeccable for the most part, but due to some performance issues and a lack of graphical consistency, it’s not quite presentationally perfect. In graphics mode, the game will regularly lag during busy set-pieces, and you’ll witness quite a few frame drops during your adventure.

Then in performance mode, you’ll be able to lock the game at a solid 30FPS, but the drop in fidelity isn’t really a fair trade-off.

Then you have moments in open gameplay, mainly in shorter main quests and side quests, where characters lip-syncing will be way off, and they will be far too rigid, to the point where you could mistake it for Final Fantasy XIV at times.

In short, it’s not flawless. But if you make some allowances for minor issues, the jaw-dropping moments will more than make up for the shortcomings.

No Nobuo, No Problem

There are a lot of varying aspects of Final Fantasy games across the decades-long run that fans will argue on.

You may think that a particular protagonist was dull, you may think a mainline entry’s story was too wacky, or you may not have appreciated some of the wild swings which altered the overall combat system.

However, I think you would struggle to find someone that ever found the soundtrack within any Final Fantasy to be lacking. That’s because Nobuo Uematsu has been churning out hits for about thirty-five years, composing the score behind all your most treasured Final Fantasy moments.

So it may have been a cause for concern to fans when Uematsu announced that he would be taking a hiatus due to health concerns and fatigue in 2018, essentially ensuring that he would not be leading the composition for Final Fantasy XVI.

But come of the hour, come of the man. That man being Masayoshi Soken. Soken has been the man leading the line on the musical stylings of Final Fantasy XIV, and this earned him the lead role working on Final Fantasy XVI.

A role that he took to like a duck to water as the musical score of this game is quintessentially Final Fantasy, with a unique spin to fit the in-game world.

No Nobuo, No Problem Final Fantasy XVI Review A Rosarian Rose
Best Cid ever; I will die on this hill! / Image by Callum Marshall

The score is largely comprised of medieval themes and ditties, making use of instruments like harps, lutes, Fiddles, Lyres, and a whole bunch of other ‘Ye Olde’ instruments to suit the scene. However, when things aren’t as calm, the score bursts into life with battle themes and swelling orchestral assortments that make each encounter feel like a larger-than-life affair.

Again, it’s something that I have almost come to expect from the Final Fantasy series, but with the change in personnel, and the sharp change in tone this game takes when compared to the rest of the series, this makes this musical triumph all the more impressive.

Couple that with some of the most outstanding vocal performances I have heard in the series to date, with special reference to Ralph Ineson’s performance as Cid, and you have a game that is a holistic treat for the ears.

Game of Chocobos

I’ve eluded to the fact that this game, from a narrative perspective, takes some big swings, and offers a more mature story.

However, I haven’t offered my cynical and reductive take yet, so allow me to do that. Back in 2015, when the development of Final Fantasy XV wrapped, you know what was a big deal in the cultural zeitgeist? Game of Thrones.

Then think about what the biggest game of the moment was back then. That’s right, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. It’s very clear to me that Square Enix wanted to ride that wave, and opted to make a gritty medieval-inspired tale with a Final Fantasy filter.

The parallels are clear to see, with a focus on war and conquest, or the fact that Clive gives me big Geralt vibes at times, minus the charisma. However, to this game’s credit, it works.

Game of Chocobos Final Fantasy XVI Review A Rosarian Rose
As you can see, it all gets very Game of Thrones-y / Image by Callum Marshall

To give some context, you play as Clive Rosfield, a member of the royal Rosfield family of Rosaria, a SHIELD solider, and a bearer of the Phoenix.

You begin life as a young fledgling soldier, but after the tragic events at Phoenix Gate, the way of the world changes drastically, and the way Bearers are viewed changes with it, meaning Clive must fight to survive, escape from his masters, and find the Eikon of Fire that killed his brother Joshua. No spoilers there, I promise; that was all in the demo. 

The opening few hours are very slow and cutscene-heavy, but they do a fantastic job of placing you in this world, explaining the politics, ideals, and traditions of the land of Valisthea, and allowing you to connect with the key characters along the way. All the while not overwhelming you with information like Game of Thrones was all too keen to do.

As a whole, the narrative is one of the strongest outings in the Final Fantasy franchise to date, and without doubt, it has some of the most impressive cinematic moments, character relationships and has the best iteration of Cid ever, in my humble opinion. However, the story does have a lot of peaks and valleys, with the valleys dipping pretty low.

Does That Come With A Side of Boring?

Speaking of those valleys, they mainly come as a result of pacing issues, and a general lack of interesting content outside of the more grand and action-packed quests.

From a pacing perspective, the game has a habit of having the player complete a series of quests that do next to nothing to push the narrative forward. You could make the argument that they introduce supporting characters and give the player reason to visit larger settlements, which is fair. However, there is no reason that these quests have to be so simplistic and dull.

For the first act of the game, which will run about 10+ hours, the player will complete a series of fetch quests and travel to new areas with skirmishes along the way. These trips allow the game to develop the bond between Clive and Cid, but if you take Cid out of the equation, this is just a linear slog from point to point.

The bigger, better quests are luckily in frequent enough supply that this never becomes a major issue, but failure to make the smaller quests stand out is a missed opportunity.

Final Fantasy XVI Review A Rosarian Rose
Killing literal gods. That’s fun. But fetching Bearers Wine and Bread to eat. That’s less fun / Image by Callum Marshall

This is only true for some of the time during the main questline, but it is almost always the case with reference to side quests. I found it staggering just how boring and lifeless each optional quest was in this title.

I will concede that they helped with world-building, exhibiting brutality toward bearers and building relationships within the Hideaway. However, the quest content wasn’t all that far removed from an MMO. You would regularly be asked to do more fetch quests or go slay basic enemies, with practically no nuance or motivation to do so other than making some Gil.

Take the first act’s side quests. These offer pitiful rewards, no Renown, and aside from expectations to the rule like ‘No Bark,’ are absolutely no fun to engage with. Which only taught me as a player that side quests were to be avoided.

Which, when you make the unfair comparison to The Witcher 3’s outstanding catalog of memorable optional quests, showcases how pitiful the offering on show actually is. 

Final Fantasy XVI Review A Rosarian Rose
Clive loses his baby face, and equally loses all of his personality too. / Image by Callum Marshall

This could have been sidestepped slightly if Clive was a bit more charismatic and interesting. However, due to the fact that he is a character born from tragedy, and cut from the cloth of a typical hero archetype, it means that the role of entertainment falls to the NPC’s and supporting characters, and as mentioned, they are stiff and a board and pretty unremarkable in every way, at least where non-mainline story quests are concerned.

It’s akin to Aloy in the Horizon franchise. She is written in such a way that everything around her is much more interesting than she is, which is to the character’s detriment as they tend to be a bit of a buzzkill.

Clive has that same quality, and even though the second act casts him in a leadership role, and has him become more confident and sure of himself, he never quite fills the void that Cid leaves behind. 

Devil May Clive

Of all the things that Final Fantasy XVI does, the combat is by far the biggest pivot the game makes when compared to its predecessors.

This title decides to throw away the turn-based playbook altogether and opts for a real-time hack-and-slash format akin to the likes of Bayonetta or Devil May Cry. Picking the right status effects, timing your magic attacks and Limit Breaks, and fine-tuning your party builds no longer hold as much importance, as this game favors fast combos, precise dodges and blocks, and careful use of Eikon special moves to succeed.

It’s something that goes against everything that we know and love about Final Fantasy, and yet, I absolutely loved the change.

A little about me. I love the Kingdom Hearts series, and while I respect that Kingdom Hearts can’t exist without the success of Final Fantasy, it will always be my preferred of the two. The reason why was due to the much more fast-paced, real-time action with just a hint of FF-style strategy.

Well, I would argue that FFXVI uses Kingdom Hearts as a blueprint, and creates a simplistic, accessible combat system that beginners will love due to the fact that it rewards button bashing to succeed.

However, as the game progresses, the system becomes deep enough to offer a real challenge that will force the same button bashers to adapt their style and refine their combos.

Final Fantasy XVI Review A Rosarian Rose
As the game progresses and the combat deepens, the boss battles only grow in quality and nuance / Image by Callum Marshall

The core combat is very simplistic, with an attack button to do basic strikes, and a couple of additional functions like downward strikes, fast recoveries, lunge strikes, and a handful of others being added as you go to help chain combos.

However, the real joy of combat comes in the form of the Eikon powers you acquire. As Clive acquires the powers of the Eikons of the realm, who essentially represent the main elements of the world, you’ll gain access to new powers that will, in turn, provide varied playstyles you can change on the fly.

It’s actually not too far removed from the Tantra powers present in Forspoken, so that may have been a dry run to see how people took to this combat format.

Gaining access to more airborne abilities through unlocking Garuda’s powers really opens up some combo possibilities; unlocking lightning powers allows you to become more of a ranged attack specialist, and without spoiling anything else, each other Eikon has an equally nuanced and diverse set of powers that will help you take down even the most fearsome of foes.

If you haven’t guessed, I think the combat is spectacular due to its accessibility, its ‘on-the-fly’ functionality, and its diversity.

However, there is a big problem. It takes a long time to actually show its true quality. You’ll play about 5+ hours before the game gives you access to another Eikon, meaning that you’ll have a basic attack, a shift-attack, and two fire-based melee abilities to swap between. That’s it.

Final Fantasy XVI Review A Rosarian Rose
I was fifteen hours in before I died, and this ugly bugger did the honors. Just shows you how easy combat is early on. / Image by Callum Marshall

It plays into that earlier exhibited pacing issue where the game wants to represent this authentic rise from blunt tool to masterful god-killer, but from the player’s perspective, it doesn’t exactly lead to the most engaging early-game combat.

Where combat is concerned, it’s something that becomes very cathartic, and this game provided bosses that were equally as memorable and challenging as those that have come before in the series. But, you’ll have to wait quite some time for this flower to bloom.

Closest Alternatives

Before I hop on the back of my Chocobo and ride off into the Valisthea sunset, I thought I would provide you with a few great games that you could check out when you finish FFXVI and want to keep that fire burning:

  • The Witcher III: Wild Hunt
  • Kingdom Hearts III
  • Final Fantasy XV
  • Nier Automata
  • Bayonetta 3
  • Diablo 4

The Verdict – 9/10

Although the long-time fans of the series may struggle to get on board with the change in tone and format that Final Fantasy XVI provides, I believe that this big swing from Square Enix has ensured the series’ future, and has finally seen Final Fantasy step into the modern age of gaming with a competent, compelling and quintessentially Final Fantasy mainline entry.

Presentationally, the game has some performance issues, but it’s easy to put that to one side when looking at the sheer level of detail and majesty before you in just about any area you visit. The character models are incredible, the scenery is sublime, and the cinematic moments are up there with any Russo brothers’ action movie.

The story is also a triumph, offering a GOT/The Witcher vibe with a Final Fantasy spin that leads to a much darker and more mature theme throughout, which I personally welcomed with open arms.

I will concede that Clive perhaps suffers from having to be the stoic hero archetype, making all those around him more interesting, but even with that in mind, he is still the most likable and memorable FF protagonist we have had in some time.

Then we have the combat, which is much more reactionary, hack-and-slash adjacent, and much less methodical than past entries. There will still be some need to strategize and approach battles in particular ways, but generally, the game favors combos and button mashing more than meticulous planning. My only big criticism is that the combat only really offers any real depth when you are halfway into the game, but for the most part, it’s a great deal of fun to play around with.

The game also misses a perfect score due to weak, MMO-like side quest content, a first act that is a really slow burn, and a lack of player choice.

However, when all is said and done, I think that many will look back on this title as the game that popped a Phoenix Down and revived the Final Fantasy series. Like a Phoenix from the ashes, Final Fantasy rises once again.


  • Presentationally hard to fault
  • A wonderfully dark and gritty storyline
  • Fast-paced real-time combat
  • The most accessible FF in a long time


  • Long-time fans may lament the absence of FF staples
  • Combat is pretty shallow until 20+ hours in
  • Side quests and some main quests feel like pointless MMO content
  • The game is very linear, which some may not appreciate


Question: How Long is Final Fantasy XVI?

Answer: It depends on how much of the side content you partake in, and how keen you are to thoroughly explore each area. However, if you gun it through the story and avoid the vast majority of the optional content, we wager you would finish the game in a little under thirty hours.

Question: Do You Need to Play Other Final Fantasy Games?

Answer: No, you do not need to play any other Final Fantasy titles to make sense of this one. Each mainline FF title offers a new story, completely separate from all those that come before.

You’ll get some recurring themes and ideas, such as Chocobos, or the fact that Cid pops up in every game. But aside from that, newcomers can absolutely come to this game as a complete FF novice and have a wonderful time.

Question: Can You Pet The Dog?

Answer: Yes, you have a dog called Torgal who will accompany you on your travels, and you can pet him anytime you like. You can even earn a trophy if you give him pets five times.

Play Log

Callum played Final Fantasy XVI for thirty-five hours before writing this review. This allowed him to complete the main storyline, along with a good chunk of the side content, including Bounties, Curiosities, and more.

He will undoubtedly be going back to finish off the side-content, and will probably do another lap to play the game in ‘Final Fantasy Mode’.

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