Final Fantasy 16 is likely to be one of the most divisive entries in the JRPG series, but it is also one of its best. Square Enix and developer Creative Business Unit III have crafted a sweeping fantasy adventure that is more action-heavy than any previous entry, while still mixing in a political backdrop and a larger-than-life circumstance that raises the stakes. It’s Final Fantasy of a different flavor, but it is just as compelling, engaging, and exciting.

Final Fantasy 16 seeks to preserve familiar elements but give them modern twists, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the story. What at first seems like a cut-and-dry tale of revenge featuring Clive Rosfield expands to become a sprawling journey about giving power back to the people. It's a story filled with memorable heroes and villains set in a land with a rich backstory. There are obvious inspirations present in the narrative – most notably Game of Thrones – but the components that makeup the FF 16 story still feel like a part of the series’ core. For example, the Summons of past Final Fantasys are now called Eikons, and they are massive, fantastical creatures that specific people, called Dominants, can transform into.

In Final Fantasy 16’s world of Valisthea, Dominants are a rarity but during Clive’s time, there are more Dominants than there have ever been. Dominants, and by extension Eikons, give a ruling nation power, but what happens when everyone has access to that power? What does the world look like when everyone has a nuke? It’s an intriguing concept that only colors the backdrop of Final Fantasy 16, but it is so rich with detail and lore. No doubt without the game’s brilliant Active Lore System, it would be easy to get lost – not unlike a George RR Martin book - but the core story of Clive and his cohorts is engaging all on its own. Without spoilers, the best thing that Final Fantasy games do is bring their main characters’ individual arcs into the larger conflict, and Final Fantasy 16 does that in some fresh and new ways.

final fantasy 16 review

Final Fantasy has typically been a franchise that pushes the boundaries of console visuals and its 16th entry is no exception. This is a stunning video game with sights and sounds that are incredible. There will be some criticisms regarding the game’s performance, but it’s nothing too distracting. Considering the level of detail and the scope of the world in the game, and the fact it has practically no loading screens, it’s not surprising that the frame rate can get inconsistent.

Performance issues aside, Final Fantasy 16 is luscious, with vibrant landscapes, environments that are surprising and imposing, and character and enemy designs that can run the gamut from beautiful to grotesque. There are a lot of linear corridors and battle arenas in the game, but FF 16 has a few larger, pseudo-open world areas that are perfect for testing out combat abilities or exploring for loot. But even when the game expands it always gives the player something cool to look at. Put plainly, this is a video game that feels like a feast for the eyes.

Alongside its incredible design, Final Fantasy 16’s music is up there with some of the franchise’s greatest scores. From the opening moment, which many have already played thanks to the recently-released demo, Masayoshi Soken creates an epic tone that fits perfectly with the medieval fantasy aesthetic. Of course, there are plenty of cues that call back to the series’ heyday, but the original music is where the game really shines. There is a particular battle theme in the game that never failed to build excitement for the impending showdown.

final fantasy 16 review

As we mentioned in our Final Fantasy 16 preview, the gameplay in this entry feels more like a character action game. The series has been moving away from its turn-based roots for a while now, but the transition is the most extreme here. With a singular controllable character, Final Fantasy 16 doesn’t ask players to micromanage a party or work on constantly buffing, debuffing, and healing allies. There are still some of those roots present in combat; however, the complexities have been smoothed over to keep things faster-paced and to give players more agency in the moment-to-moment gameplay.

Final Fantasy 16’s combat is deceptively simple. It can look like just a simple button masher on the surface but with the combination of Clive’s Eikonic Abilities and a suite of sword abilities that function on the ground and the air, the developers give players the tools to experiment. At first, it might seem like whatever does the most damage is best, but eventually players will learn how different attacks can combo into each other. For example, a Phoenix ability can pop an enemy slightly in the air, then a Garuda ability will launch Clive and the opponent even higher, and when that animation concludes an Ifrit fire spear attack will send Clive’s sword drilling through its helpless foe.

Battle Director Ryota Suzuki comes from the Devil May Cry franchise and the influences from Capcom’s series are apparent. But what isn’t lost is that sense of strategy – where combining specific abilities and actions will lead to devastating damage. It’s just that the timing is a lot faster now.

The introduction of a parry, a jump button, and a dodge are familiar components of action games, but their implementation in Final Fantasy 16 leads to immensely satisfying moments that reward precise timing. Players can also customize their version of Clive with up to six Eikonic Abilities that favor different playstyles and that have clever movement tech based on the Eikon activated. In combat, some players might want to dole out damage quickly to stagger enemies (that mechanic returns from Final Fantasy 7 Remake) and then use basic attacks to chip away at baddies. While others will be more tactical, saving their more devastating Eikonic Abilities for when the enemy is staggered. Players have a lot of choices when it comes to fighting different enemies, but any approach should feel rewarding.

final fantasy 16 review

What’s cool about Final Fantasy 16 in comparison to other series entries is that its new identity as a character action game gives boss battles a greater flow. Gone are the days of helplessly watching a boss charge up an attack that is guaranteed to chunk a huge portion of HP. Instead, every attack can be dodged or parried, or at the very least avoided. The boss designs are consistently fantastic but now the fights themselves become memorable in a way they never have before.

If the swordplay wasn’t enough to give Final Fantasy 16 its own feel, the Eikon battles will surely be a showstopper. Like incredible Kaiju battles, these showdowns between classic FF summons are a sight to behold and would be impressive merely as cutscenes. However, when the player gets to take part in them it’s hard not to be blissfully enamored. These aren’t glorified QTEs either; the Eikon battles have their own ebb and flow, and the game consistently doles out new abilities to make them more complex.

Throughout most of Final Fantasy 16, the game continues to build and by the 30-hour mark players will look back on the start of their journey and realize how much the combat has evolved thanks to new Eikonic abilities and how the game has expanded through side quests, larger environments, and monster hunts. Final Fantasy 16 can feel quite linear, but there are a decent amount of distractions along the way to give fans a deeper sense of immersion.

final fantasy 16 review

Final Fantasy 16 has a lot of elements that diehards fans of the franchise will say are not true to the IP, but the series means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Some come to Final Fantasy for an epic story where a sword-wielding hero faces insurmountable odds and extremely powerful foes, and this game has that. Some come to Final Fantasy for combat that makes them think and strategize while also unleashing abilities that are larger than life, and the game has that. Some come to Final Fantasy just to walk around and talk to people and learn more about the living breathing world that Square Enix has created, and the game has that. Final Fantasy 16 is Final Fantasy for a new generation, but it’s still Final Fantasy.

The game is by no means perfect – its pacing is inconsistent and side quests can be hit or miss – but the combination of the combat and the story at large are strong enough to reduce any complaints to minor quibbles. Recently, Square Enix has come out to say that Final Fantasy can take on many different forms depending on the team behind it, and the folks at Creative Business Unit III have found a way to make this latest game their own. There is so much joy and care put into making sure that this experience feels epic and rewards its fan base, even though it’s doing a lot of new things. Final Fantasy 16 is proof that the unexpected can be just as enjoyable as the tried and true.

final fantasy 16
Final Fantasy 16

Final Fantasy 16 is an action RPG developed by Square Enix. Set in the land of Valisthea, six different factions are on the brink of war due to a spreading disease known as the Blight. Much of the plot revolves around summoned monsters called Eikons, who are controlled by unique humans called Dominants. 

Final Fantasy 16 releases June 22, 2023 for PlayStation 5. Game Rant was provided a PS5 code for this review.