It isn’t often we have spoiler chats within Geeks Under Grace’s Workplace app. Only such video games as The Last of Us Part II, Cyberpunk 2077, and Tears of the Kingdom have warranted such a thing. Final Fantasy XVI was recently added to the list upon release; some of us writers were already going to play it on day one while others weren’t sold until Square Enix released a demo. Even rarer is when we writers put together a “GUG Plays” article for new releases when in the past this kind of piece was meant to look back on heralded classics or fantastic recent indies that broke through to the top of the charts.
New titles to have this honor are Breath of The Wild and Tears of the Kingdom—both of which we found especially difficult to put a score on. Final Fantasy seems to be the other franchise many of us have felt the desire to share our collective thoughts on for various reasons. Final Fantasy XVI is the latest talking point amongst many of us and one we wish to share our thoughts with our readers. Though it could be considered just as divisive as the FFVII remake, some of us are so bold to say that XVI may be one of our favorite games of all time.
First up is David Koury, who has already written a full review of the game, but we asked if he’d be willing to share more thoughts now that he has had some time away since the review.
This game has beaten all the odds and skyrocketed to my favorite game of all time. Despite having written my longest review yet on this game, I’ve still got a couple more thoughts to address. First, I’ve seen a lot of comments claiming FFXVI was “clearly” inspired by Game of Thrones. I don’t see it. Medieval Europe fantasy stories were around long before Game of Thrones, and they would still be here if it had never been written. In fact, I was already a fan of medieval fantasy long before I’d heard of the book series, which I only learned about because of the TV show.
There are so few similarities between the two stories that I have to wonder if Game of Thrones is the only medieval fantasy such a commenter knows. Even the first Final Fantasy, which came out nearly a full decade prior, had many of the same elements the series has kept from 1987 until today. Just like back then, FFXVI has a Medieval Europe aesthetic, dragons, zombies, and magic. The story it tells with those things is what makes FFXVI so special, and utterly different from A Song of Ice and Fire, The Witcher, and any other popular Western Fantasy story out there. There are more differences than similarities, which in my opinion, makes the comparisons pointless.
The last thing I want to point out is something I only briefly touched on in my review: the characters. Specifically, I want to address the way they’re written. Most stories nowadays have a “battle of the sexes” trope going on. It’s beyond tedious at this point seeing stereotypes of both men and women trying to outdo the other in everything.
Well, this is yet another area that the game does things right. Rather than compete, the masculinity of the male characters and the femininity of the female characters complement each other and build each other up. Where one is weaker, the other’s strength fills in the gaps. With that cooperation, they’re able to achieve so much more than they otherwise would have if they had tried to prove they were better than the other. This leads to positive role models for both men and women who play the game. I could ramble on about a myriad more reasons why I love this game and why I think it’s the greatest game ever made, but this will have to do.
As a long-time fan of Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy XVI is an entry that is unlike any of the others in the series. In many ways, it actually doesn’t resemble a typical Final Fantasy game. Depending on how familiar you may be with the franchise, and how much you appreciate the series’ continuous attempts to experiment with each entry, you may find that you either enjoyed what XVI had to offer or hated it. It’s promising that XVI has garnered much praise from its release, but how likely is it that it will have a great staying power, like its predecessors? I’d say that it has a good chance and that it’s the result of the developers taking more risks with the game’s approach than any entry before.
This is by far the most mature title that has come from Final Fantasy yet. That’s not to say that it makes it the best out of the entries, but there is a lot of room for reflection. Death and loss is rampant throughout the story; it’s always been a staple for the franchise, but from the characters’ point of view, whenever they make a step forward towards progress, they are forced to take two steps back because of some unforeseen catastrophe. The characters are portrayed as human, in both the best and worst senses of the world (perhaps to an inflated degree, if we compare some of the themes in the game to their real-life counterparts, such as when it comes to racism and classism). These themes, and whether they’re portrayed with tact and quality in the final product, are worthy of a discussion all on their own with players who take the time to digest these thoughts.
I enjoyed the character study XVI had to offer, and the voice acting is stellar (by far the most natural and grounded cast I’ve heard yet in a JRPG; phenomenal job to the cast!), but I have less praise for its battle system. I hardly pay much mind to the battle systems in Final Fantasy, but I have to mention this because the RPG mechanics I enjoyed from previous entries seem to be put aside in favor of button mashing. In comparison to an older entry, such as IX, X, or even XII, I didn’t feel there was a lot of strategy involved when it came to fighting monsters. I could literally turn my brain off while pushing random buttons in different orders and still win a battle. To me, there’s more to a Final Fantasy battle system than that, and I, unfortunately, found this aspect lacking. Time will tell if Final Fantasy XVI is another classic in a much-beloved franchise. I could tell that a lot of love and creativity was put into a story by a team who continues to invest in ongoing fantasy games that will be anything but final.
I came into Final Fantasy XVI with both a careful disposition and high expectations. The series, known for turn-based combat, moogles, chocobos, and someone named Cid, has typically always been more of an upbeat series with stories more fit for a teenage audience. Knowing the development studio largely watched at least some Game of Thrones to draw their inspiration put me on edge as a fan that draws my experience back to my own youth. The shift to a proper sequel having action combat didn’t sit right with me early on either.
As an adult, experiencing Final Fantasy XVI was a real joy, though. I could have done without all the foul language and heavily provocative sex scenes, but the actual story of the Rosfields and the kingdom’s other Eikons was fantastic. As a fan of fantasy, it spoke to me from a narrative perspective. As someone that enjoys action games, the combat satisfied. As a fan of spectacle, well, Final Fantasy XVI actually gave me more than I hoped for and then some. (I found some of the battles a little too wild for my own taste, but they served the game well.)
At the end of the day, the team at Square Enix gave us a game I’ll remember for years to come. When a game can get me emotionally involved enough to shed genuine tears, it earns a special place in my heart. Final Fantasy XVI did that and more. That post-credits scene was quite the special nod to fans, too.
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with JRPGs for many years now. I spent the money on them and would never finish them, and would find myself getting very bored with them. The most recent expectations have been the Persona games and surprisingly, Octopath Traveller II. It has certainly ruffled some Chocobo feathers, but Final Fantasy XVI was made for players like myself—what we might call the “modern gamer”. It feels as though with each entry, this franchise has become somewhat divisive as Square Enix leaves some of their old ways behind to gain a wider audience.
Despite my struggle with the genre, I have played enough Final Fantasy games to say for certain that the developers’ love for storytelling is the one thing that stayed on the table. While I love the Devil May Cry roots of the combat, it is the story and the characters that make the game worth playing. The characters are the highlight for me, as the world-building is mostly handled through the well-implemented Active Time Lore mechanic should now be a staple for video games that aim to be this grandiose. A very specific feature that I was pleased to find, though a bit lacking, is the photo mode. The images in this article come from some shots I took in-game with a little post-editing help from Adobe Lightroom.
My progress has been much slower than those who contributed to this article, I can say that it is going down as one of the most memorable games I’ve played on the PS5 console. At the time of writing this, It will be my game of the year, but I expect that Spider-Man 2 will dethrone it this Fall unless that game somehow fails miserably. For more of my thoughts on the game, alongside co-host Shelley Nollan’s, you can give episode 351 of the official Geeks Under Grace Podcast a listen and further on if you find yourself interested.
What are your thoughts on Final Fantasy XVI? Share in the comments!