Final Fantasy XVI

Final Fantasy XVI is an excellent game with a lot of troubling bits around the outside. It has an expansive story between kingdoms and magic that spans 20 years with an incredibly satisfying end, but I think it fumbles some aspects that the Final Fantasy franchise prides itself upon.

The World of Valisthea

Final Fantasy XVI is set on the continents of Valisthea, which is divided between six nations in the beginning. Nations engage in war and alliances between each other to either preserve peace or expand their empire. A ravaging blight that spreads across areas of the continents forces these nations into cooperation or conflict.

Each kingdom's capital is built at the seat of a towering mother crystal. From mining the crystal, people are able to channel magic used for filling wells with water, or lighting fires used for cooking, etc.

There is a subset of humans known as bearers who are able to channel magical powers without the aid of crystals. Within the world, the general population considers bearers sub-human and treats them as slaves. Bearers are sold and used as tools for villages and armies and are often abused and lynched by their masters.

A very few select bearers are more than simple magic users, they are dominants. Dominants can channel divine beings known as Eikons (or Summons, in previous games). These Eikons are the embodiment of a magical alignment and are massive creatures that can easily destroy armies and cities with a single movement.

Only a few dominants are known at the beginning of the story, but there are a total of 8. Many of the kingdoms of Valiesthea have at least one among their ranks. Battles between nation's Eikons are rare as they are considered the nuclear option. If one nation began using its dominant to attack another, that nation would have to respond and would result in extensive losses on both sides. Plus, allied nations would have to respond as well. There is always a thin balance of peace and war.

Many kingdoms view dominants as divine humans and many dominants are part of the royal bloodline of the ruling class, but others view them as demons. A single human should not have control over power great enough to rip the world apart. One nation, The Iron Kingdom, regards them as abominations and puts any child to death that could possibly become a dominant.
Cloth Map Scan: /ffxvi_cloth_map.png (205.9mb)

Overall, this is the world of Final Fantasy XVI at the beginning of the game. The Deluxe Edition of the game came with a cloth map of the world that I scanned and included above. The five mother crystals are pretty easy to see. The castle and capitol of each kingdom lies at the base of the crystal, with the exception of the red crystal to the west. It sits on an island between the Iron Kingdom in the southwest, and Rosaria on the mainland.

Years ago, there used to be a sixth crystal in the north which had its own kingdom. But the blight engulfed its land destroying the crystal, and completely severing the nation from its resources. All of the brown swaths across the map are areas ravaged by the blight, no longer able to sustain any life.


The story of FFXVI focuses on Clive Rosfield, the prince of Rosaria. Clive is the firstborn son of the king, Elwin Rosfield, and has a younger brother, Joshua. Clive attempted the ritual to become the Dominant of the Phoenix, but failed, so his mother, Annabella, rejects him for Joshua.

With the collapse of the northern kingdom, they attempted to invade Rosaria, but failed. To ensure peace with the remains of the north, the Rosfields took the princess, Jill Warrick, as ward. After the complete dissolution of the north, Jill remained in Rosaria and became like a sister to Clive and Joshua. They also have a dog, Torgal.

Story - The Beginning

In the beginning, Clive is a teenager and Joshua and Jill are still children. The Iron Kingdom is moving against Rosaria, so the Duke of Rosaria, Elwin Rosfield, father to Clive and Joshua, moves to attack them. Joshua had successfully completed the ritual to become the Dominant of the Phoenix, so Elwin brings him to the battle as a backup plan. Clive is Joshua's sworn Shield (protector), so he goes, too.

They travel to Phoenix Gate to prepare their battle plans, but their army is secretly attacked and killed in the night. Annabella betrays them and led the rival nation of Sanbreque to their location. Elwin Rosfield is killed, and Joshua awakens as the Phoenix. Another figure appears as awakens as a second Dominant of Fire, Ifrit. They battle, and the Phoenix is killed. Clive is taken by the Sanbreque army.

The Good

The World and the Story of Final Fantasy XVI are the best aspects of the game.

The lore has been well thought out, and the general themes of Final Fantasy have been woven into the fabric of that lore. The conflicts between each country and people make sense and build the relationships between all of the characters in the game. The story takes a lot of inspiration from Game of Thrones, not only in its world building, but its adult story, too. People are killed in often brutal unexpected methods, including main characters.

The story is a little complicated, but the game has ample resources for you to keep up with the story and understand what's going on. There are two characters in your hideout that help you with this. One character shows the current political map both from the relationships between characters to the actual world map. Another character writes entries in his library about everything you encounter. Also, during action sequences, you can pull up "active lore" that shows all the information that led to the moment you're experiencing.

The Story - Continued

13 years pass, and Clive is a slave in the Sanbreque army. He vows revenge against his mother and against the person who became Ifrit and killed his brother. During a battle between Dhalmekia and the Iron Kingdom, Clive finds Jill being used by the Iron Kingdom to wage war. He's ordered to kill Jill, but he kills his squad mates and the soldiers holding her captive instead, and they attempt to escape.

Cid, an outlaw who gives protection to bearers and dominants, finds them and rescues them from the battle. Cid's dream is to create a world where all mankind can be free. No one would keep another as a slave, nor look down on them as being different. Clive agrees to help Cid find and free more bearers that have been enslaved and used by the kingdoms of Valisthea.

As they travel, they are attacked by Benedikta, the Dominant of Wind. As they battle, Clive pushes his use of magic passed his limits and transforms into Ifrit to defeat her. Clive realizes that he was the person who became Ifrit and killed his brother. After the battle, he accepts what he has done.

Clive and Jill join Cid's group of outlaws to bring their idea of the peace to the world. Ultimately, in order to accomplish, Cid says that they must destroy the mother crystals. They infiltrate Sanbreque, and destroy their first mother crystal, but (spoiler) Cid is killed in the battle.

With Cid gone, Clive takes the mantle of Cid, and for the next 7 years, they continue to free slaves and help everyone they can. Ultimately, they continue Cid's quest to destroy every mother crystal in Valisthea.

The Bad

Characters and Story are the backbone of every Final Fantasy game. Final Fantasy XVI excels at its expansive, well-thought-out story, but it focuses on a single point, Clive. The whole game revolves around Clive as the central figure responsible for nearly everything that happens in the world.

In the beginning, it seemed like all the kingdom and characters had agency in how the story and world was shaped. But, after the second time skip to 20 years after the story began, all the other characters are mostly sitting by, idle, until Clive confronts them on his quest to destroy all the mother crystals.

The Gameplay is an extension of this as you only ever play as Clive. Perhaps the most controversial change from the Final Fantasy formula was making this more of a single character action game. Final Fantasy used to be the premiere Japanese RPG, where you control a party of characters who excel at magic and weapons. Final Fantasy VII Remake did an excellent job of adding modern action elements while still allowing you control multiple characters and balance your party. In Final Fantasy XVI, you get in a battle and just hack and slash to win. There's a little more than that, but every battle is pretty much the same.

Because Clive is such a focus in the story and gameplay, other characters get pushed into the background and out of sight. Even if other characters are with you, you almost never really notice.

Jill is an amazing character, and watching Clive and Jill's relationship grow over the course of the game is one of the highlights for me. But, once their relationship hits their peak and they admit and express their love for each other, Jill is pushed off to the side. She hangs back on the ship while you go into the next battle.

While this happens with most other characters in the game, it especially happens with all the women. Because Clive in the main focus of everything in the game, it pushes the masculine attitude that everything in the man's responsibility and everything must be done by the man, which is somewhat troubling given Final Fantasy's history of strong female characters.

The game does often recognize this, though, as characters will occasionally tell Clive that saving their world is everyone's responsibility, not just his. But, it is brushed off and forgotten as he continues to kill the next boss.

The Music

Music is another weak part of Final Fantasy XVI. Final Fantasy prides itself on all of the music through the franchise, and even makes rhythm games to relive classic moments of your favorite games.

So much of the music from Final Fantasy XVI is forgettable. There are no strong melodic themes between all of the tracks, and often many of the songs are derivative of previous Final Fantasy music. It all sounds like filler music. There's no identity.

I almost never pay attention to the background music when playing the game. And now listening to the soundtrack on my computer, I find myself skipping many of the songs to try and find something interesting. No one is going to play these songs in Theatrhythm.

The Graphics, Art, and Performance

Back to the positives, the game looks absolutely stunning and plays like a dream.

The gameplay is pretty repetitive, but there is no point of any input lag between what I'm doing in battle. I'm always able to switch around to the skills that I want to use and evade when an attack is incoming. Any time I get hit is because of my own screw up. Switching to Performance mode, the game doesn't keep a consistent 60 fps, but it's still quite fluid. Also, loading between scenes takes no more than 2 seconds. It's almost instant between changes map locations or starting a dialogue scene.

Much of the art direction is excellent, too, with creative and diverse kingdoms with sweeping landscapes. Although, many of the colors are very unsaturated. The world looks very drull and shabby. Many sequences are very dimly lit, too, making everything very dark. This is obviously the image they were going for, and it matches well with the story, but it doesn't make it very scenic. Also, halfway through the game, a spell is cast which darkens the skies and puts a purple hue on everything.

The End - Ultima

Spoilers After destroying the first mother crystal 13 years ago, Ultima reveals himself to you. Ultima is an unworldly mysterious figure who attempts to possess you, but is thwarted by Joshua, who is actually alive. As you take over Cid's quest and destroy crystal after crystal, Ultima's intentions reveal themselves.

Ultima is of a race of beings that existed long before humanity. The beings all had individual bodies, but shared a single consciousness. Together, they were all known as Ultima.

In the beginning, Ultima create magic, and with magic, life was created as well. Life flourished throughout the world, but a darkness was also born to balance the forces of nature. This darkness grew, consumed life, and Ultima could not stop its advancement. This was the blight.

The blight was unstoppable and Ultima had no means of saving their world. So, in order to survive, they had to create a new world where their lives could be born and grown again. To create a new world, they first had to find a land that was pure and untouched by the blight. This was impossible in their physical bodies, so they shed their corporeal forms to become a singular spirit. Then, they were able to find the pure lands of ancient Valisthea, rich in the life force known as Aether.

Being only spirit, Ultima had to plant the seeds of what they would become. They created the mother crystals in order to collect and channel the aether of Valisthea. And secondly, they created humanity. Over time, as humanity matured, they would be able to harness the power of the aether from the crystals. Each crystal bore a different tribe and different magic. One day, there would a single person who would be able to wield all of the magic. And this would be the person that Ultima had waited for.

Being able to receive all of the aether inside of himself, Ultima could possess this person and cast a spell that would bring them back to physical life in the world and paradise they had created.

With the world created, Ultima went to sleep and waited for the day when this person would emerge.

The End - Humanity

From humanity's perspective, God had abandoned them. And without God to shape their morality and purpose, man had to find their own purpose. Some men desired power and used magic in order to claim it. Powerful men then led their nations in wars against each other in order to keep and expand their power. And with the overuse of magic, the blight had begun to form in Valisthea. Humanity now had its own purpose and will of their own, and God / Ultima was forgotten.

After Clive's destruction of the mother crystal 13 years ago, Ultima had awaken to see that humanity had spun away from their purpose, his purpose.

Being able to steal and absorb the magical essence of others, Clive was the person that Ultima was waiting for.

While Fate had given Clive the ultimate power, it had also given Clive a torturous life of rejection and pain. Ultima needed Clive to give himself completely to Ultima in order for Ultima to become alive again. But, with every obstacle in Clive's life, every death, every defeat, every failure, Clive continued for himself and the others in his life.

Humanity was its own being, it was no longer Ultima's to command. Creation of life does not serve as ownership.

So through the final battle, Clive finally punches God hard enough in the face, and God submits.

Clive absorbs the power from Ultima eradicating him and casts a spell that would remove all magic from the world, which ultimately stops the blight. By casting such a powerful spell, it's implied that Clive uses all the aether from within him and is turned to stone.

Millenia later, humanity lives on with the lives of Clive, Joshua, and the others becoming stories.


Despite its overall problems, this is the most well told Final Fantasy to date. It has an incredible story and very strong characters of Clive and Ultima. Because of the story, it makes sense that everything is funneled into a singular main character, and that everything is very linear.

Again, it's unfortunate that many other characters get shuffled off to the side. I think the story probably could have been reworked to give those characters more of a spotlight and perhaps made a party of characters. And having a more traditional party could have resulted in more interesting management of equipment and items.

But, would the game really have been better as a result? The story probably would have suffered, and they wouldn't have been able to completely tell the story that they wanted.

It's not perfect, but not every Final Fantasy has to be perfect.

I think the biggest problem with the previous game, Final Fantasy XV, was not having an overall vision from the beginning and trying to balance too many ideas at once. There was a lot of good with Final Fantasy XV, but that game was broken for a long time, and many of the story sequences are still not quite consistent after all the updates.

Final Fantasy XVI solved all those problems and created a very specific experience that is technologically sound and fantastic. The lows aren't too bad, and the highs are incredible.

Overall, I think it's excellent.

Images (316)