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2023 is proving a bumper year for flagship releases; with Xbox's titanic Starfield now just around the corner, Sony and Square Enix are hoping to score some points for the PS5 with Final Fantasy 16.

While it might be the latest in a long series, this is as radical a departure as I can recall in a mainline Final Fantasy, and probably the biggest since a shift to real-time battles - Final Fantasy 16 is a self-professed action RPG, and proud of it. We've played the entirety of it, and think it might just enter the PS5's growing hall of fame.

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Final Fantasy 16
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Final Fantasy is a gorgeous epic that oozes polish and has some of the most spectacular sequences the series has ever seen. Not everyone will love its full action-RPG combat, but we think it's an absolutely terrific ride. Platform tested: PlayStation 5

  • Genuinely stunning visual presentation
  • Grounded, more realistic storytelling
  • Engaging and deep combat system
  • Tremendous voice acting performances
  • Some filler quests
  • Uneven performance mode

A world at war

The sixteenth mainline Final Fantasy game (if you allow for some squiffy counting), this time we're situated in the world of Valisthea, and in particular around two large islands that make up an effective continent of geopolitical complexity.

These two islands have five colossal Mother Crystals scattered around them, each powering the ambitions of a nation-state aiming for survival or supremacy depending on the character of its rulers.

Final Fantasy 16 review Martha's Rest

Crystals are the source of all magical power in the realm, with key exceptions in the form of Dominants - superhumans who can channel the power of immense summoned beings called Eikons: the likes of Ifrit, Garuda, Titan and Shiva that might be recognisable from games past.

Through a far grittier lens than the series' recent fare, Final Fantasy 16 asks you to consider what this sort of ridiculous power would actually look like if brought to bear on a pseudo-medieval battlefield, and the answer is awesomely destructive, a nuclear-level threat.

This is the fuel for the game's overall plot, a narrative that is boastfully inspired by the likes of Game of Thrones - but we sample it from the personal perspective of Clive Rosfield.

Final Fantasy 16 review Odin Bahamut fight

Discarded heir to the Kingdom of Rosaria, we first meet Clive as a depressive mercenary threading his way through the clash of two powerful Eikons, before flashing back to see how a tragedy in his youth formed him into the grim character we've met.

After returning to his older state, the game eventually shifts later into Clive's life, playing out across these three distinct time periods in chronological order, as he gathers faithful allies, and discovers his own ability to channel the power of Eikons.

While its broad strokes are hardly revolutionary, Final Fantasy 16 feels refreshing in its maturity - this is a bloody and profanity-laced game, to match the themes it's dealing with, and more than one twist gave us a taste of the "oof" factor that peak Game of Thrones owned so well.

We're talking throats slashed, villagers massacred, villains de-limbed, and far more besides - it's impressive how committed the game is to its tone.

Final Fantasy 16 review Cid

There are lighter moments at times, and side quests provide more levity but, for the most part, this is a pretty self-serious story. Thankfully, it's also told with panache, and in particular with the best voice acting the series has ever featured, bar none. Some of the deliveries really do make Cloud, Aerith and co. sound positively wooden.

Violence and timing

So, amid assassinations, bribes, invasions and night raids, we're in Clive's shoes - outlawed and on the run as he attempts to radically change the structure of power in Valisthea.

That isn't accomplished via dialogue choices (of which there are none in the game) or persuasion. Rather, Clive and his assortment of companions - which generally means his faithful hound Torgal and childhood friend Jill - typically solve problems through the medium of fighting.

Final Fantasy 16 review Benedikta Harman Garuda

Final Fantasy was a turn-based game for the longest time, before making the leap to real-time battles that still revolved largely around timers and cooldowns to the point where they were still almost using turns.

16 rips that up, moving fully to action combat, the sort of system that you'd normally find in a Devil May Cry or Bayonetta game, albeit one that's less labyrinthine to learn.

You'll almost exclusively control Clive (occasionally slipping into the clawed boots of a terrifying Eikon for bigger-scale explosive battles), his companions sorting themselves out, and take the fight to your enemies.

Final Fantasy 16 review Crystal sanctum

Basic combos are easy to execute, precision dodging is the key in many ways, and there's even a parry system, all married to a wide range of abilities that you can use. These are still on cooldowns, meaning there's still a hint of old-school stuff here, but it really is an entirely new system.

Doubtless, there will be some out there who mourn this change, but Final Fantasy 16 earns the decision by offering combat that's simply fun as hell to play, and abilities that offer varied and satisfying opportunities to change the pattern of a fight.

The key decisions in your loadout are how to balance the length of a cooldown against the damage the ability offers - by late-game you can quickly swap to access six abilities at once, and how you set these up can impact a battle significantly.

Final Fantasy 16 review Clive limit break

It's not quite as deep as the likes of Devil May Cry 5, in terms of combo options and more but it's fun enough that, in Final Fantasy 16's early hours, we kept expecting a grade to pop up at the end of a fight, instead of just experience and ability upgrade points.

In between fights, you'll explore fairly linear areas that get you from point A to point B with small diversions along the way, in a world that is technically largely interconnected but feels more like a series of hubs stitched together than a trule open world.

Side quests get more plentiful as the game goes on, but also feel fairly inessential, although a couple of them do offer major rewards like a Chocobo for quicker traversal, so you might want to complete the majority until at least the latter stages of the game.

Drink in the spectacle

With a grittier storyline and an all-new all-action battle system, there's already plenty going for Final Fantasy 16, but it's on the technical side that its scores arguably its most convincing victories.

Final Fantasy 16 review Mythos

This is a jaw-dropper of a game, a powerhouse of imagery and fidelity that queues up shockingly impressive cut-scenes but is just as ready to amaze you with actual gameplay moments.

From the stunning particle effects of a screen-filling spell to the incredible scale of its biggest monsters and battles, it feels like the most polished and visually stunning game the series has seen yet, and that's some going.

Character models are outrageously detailed and, in story scenes, they're lip-synced perfectly and emote flawlessly (this does drop a level when you talk to side-quest givers), and as mentioned above the whole cast is absolutely gunning it with their performances.

Final Fantasy 16 review Titan

Ben Starr as Clive is particularly committed, and his anguish actually translating on screen is a real feather in the cap of Square Enix's Creative Business Unit 3 - a studio name that surely merits changing to something less incredibly corporate off the back of this success.

The play of colour and light in the game is so deliberately tuned as to totally change the character of some areas that you visit throughout the game, and each time I played a sequence near a mother crystal I just couldn't stop screenshotting.

These tend to be climactic story moments for reasons that we won't spoil, and each involves boss fights that almost beggar belief with their scale - facing off against one enormous foe we actually gasped at the audacity the third time we realised the fight wasn't over, while another battle just went gung-ho and fully took us into orbit.

Final Fantasy 16 review Fallen Ruin

There are still occasional awkward moments, but they're basically never down to the visuals, which in some cases have been burned into our retinas.

You get two graphical options on PS5 - quality mode targets 1440p upscaled to 4K at 30fps, while performance aims for 60fps at 1080p upscaled to 1440p, and after playing the first five hours in performance mode I ended up settling on quality.

A smooth 30fps is better than a choppy 60fps to our mind, and those are the options here, and the sheer scale of Final Fantasy 16's battles makes that 4K sharpness feel worth it.


Final Fantasy is a blast, an emotional journey that has as many high points as you could care to count, almost all of them accompanied by battles playing out at astonishing scale.

It's got a lovely sense of heart at its core, but a completely rebuilt battle system also makes it feel refreshingly new for a series as old as this one.

We hope this doesn't mean Final Fantasy is done with turn-based combat for good, variety being the spice of life, but as an experiment in tone and pacing, we'd call this a truly resounding success.