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How the anime helped ‘Final Fantasy XVI’ find the series’ rhythm

At one point in its history, “Final Fantasy” was the pinnacle of video game storytelling and graphics. Each title pushed the boundaries of the hardware and delivered a satisfying story full of epic adventures, heartbreaking moments, and breathtaking surprises.

Square Enix lost momentum during the PlayStation 3 era. That’s when the hardware managed to produce visuals that could handle developers’ imaginations. Suddenly, it took a lot more to impress players than fancy computer graphics sequences or the summoning of the Knights of the Round.

What worked in previous generations seemed dated, and it didn’t help that the combat system was going through an identity crisis. As technology advanced, developers moved away from turn-based combat and sought a combat system that matched the epic showdowns they wanted to bring to life.

After several entries that felt like superficial missteps, Square Enix’s Creative Business Unit III has finally found a formula that feels perfect. “Final Fantasy XVI” is a take on role-playing that seems fitting for the moment. The last entry feels more like a throwback as it returns to the high fantasy setting of the past, but this chapter is more mature.

At first, it seems like “Final Fantasy XVI” is imitating “Game of Thrones” by focusing on different nations, politics and adult situations. The campaign throws players into a world where enormous crystals the size of mountains are worshiped without much explanation about the countries or powerful beings called Dominants, who are people with the power to call forth divine entities called Eikons . Each Eikon is associated with an element.

“Final Fantasy XVI” follows the exploits of Clive Rosfield from his charmed early childhood to the darkest days following the fall of his country. (SquareEnix)

Although it may seem similar to the HBO series at first glance, “Final Fantasy XVI” is more influenced by the anime. This is evident in the addictive narrative that follows Clive Rosfield, the eldest son of the Archduke of Rosaria. He was apparently born without any powers while his younger brother Joshua inherited the Phoenix, the Eikon of Fire. Clive becomes the First Shield, or protector of his Dominant brother.

The two men, along with Jill Warrick, a ward of the Northern Territories, were close friends until an ambush by the Holy Empire of Sanbreque led to the fall of Rosaria. Joshua died, Jill was captured, and Clive was sold into slavery. Everything changes with an unexpected reunion and a mysterious man named Cid Telamon helping Clive. This begins a journey that upends the world order and leads to confronting an even darker foe.

“Final Fantasy XVI” is divided into 68 chapters that guide players through Clive’s life. Like any good anime protagonist, he possesses a hidden power and players must extract it as he discovers how his destiny ties into the larger drama.

The combat in “Final Fantasy XVI” is comparable to “Devil May Cry,” but what makes it special is how Square Enix interprets the franchise’s famous spells and summons in an action-packed setting. (Square Enix)

Square Enix fully embraces the action-packed combat of games like “Devil May Cry,” but the developers adapt it to fit the storytelling and touchstones of “Final Fantasy.” Clive initially has powers adopted from his brother that allow him to dash across the screen and use powerful attacks. They are basically spells.

As players progress through the campaign, Clive gains more elemental powers and players can strengthen these abilities. To explain this new “Final Fantasy” in older terms, the spells and attacks that players chose through the menus are now activated with the press of a button, but the only downside is that they have a cooldown.

Players must find the right combination of powers as there are six spells and a limited number of attacks and abilities to defeat enemies. Limitations create some depth as players discover powerful combinations to take down bosses and elite opponents. These tougher enemies are powerful and cannot be defeated in a few hits. Players will need to stagger them by wearing them down with attacks, which will open them up to more powerful combos.

This reinterpretation of the old “Final Fantasy” fight into a more cinematic and visceral fight works well. Instead of watching combat sequences in cutscenes like in the old days, players feel like they’re participating in combat and doing it convincingly.

The Phoenix versus Ifrit
Dominants can become the embodiment of their Eikon leading to epic battles reminiscent of Kaiju fights in “Final Fantasy XVI”. (Square Enix)

Like any good anime, “Final Fantasy XVI” also features kaiju-style confrontations. The developers have transformed summoned beings from previous games into Eikons, and Dominants can call upon their power to transform into these enormous beings. This is reminiscent of the flagship series “Attack on Titan”.

Meanwhile, the showdowns themselves echo shows like “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” “Dragon Ball Super” and “One Punch Man.” The sequences are dazzling and show the immense dominance of the dominators as they cross oceans or fight in space. These fights reignited the wonder I felt playing the “Final Fantasy” series in its heyday. This shows that “Final Fantasy” was not short of ideas to impress players, the developers needed to find inspiration and the right vision to reignite players’ imagination and show them what is possible with the gender.

The only problem is that the pace of the campaign slows down after the second act as players can find themselves bogged down in unimaginative side quests. Stories built around tasks are good, providing depth to tertiary characters, but they almost always end with the players killing a creature. Plus, it feels like most crafts are just wasted or seem superfluous.

These are small gripes compared to the larger vision, and it’s a “Final Fantasy” that lives up to the franchise’s high standards and impresses fans with a fresh vision of what the series can be.

“Final Fantasy XVI”

3½ stars out of 4
Platform: PlayStation 5, PC
Rating: Mature


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