The thing about Final Fantasy, is that there’s a lot of them. Not counting the countless spin offs and sequels, there’s roughly 16 of them (in the mainline series, at least), and with that many games not all of them can be bangers – even if a lot of them are. You all have a favourite, that one entry you swear is the best one, warts and all, but it seems that since Final Fantasy 13, the beloved series has been a bit rough around the edges. Only thing is, I’m a Final Fantasy 13 defender, and as you might have guessed I’m the same when it comes to 15 too – so much so that I truly do think it’s better than Square Enix’s latest, Final Fantasy 16.
I finally got around to playing Final Fantasy 16 over the holidays, months after everybody else, and, well, it was fine! Maybe even good, if you like games with all the rough edges sanded off, but I’m not that kind of person. More than anything it is refined, a complete picture not ruined by years of troubled development, clearly laying out what it wants to be: God of War, but Final Fantasy. Unfortunately, what that has ended up doing is offering up something that I ultimately think is a bit dull compared to its predecessor, even if as a final product it’s a lot more cohesive than 15.
Clive Rosfield is generally well-performed by English voice actor Ben Starr – there’s even some stunning moments from him in there – but he feels very let down by some poor writing. He’s a pretty uninteresting protagonist, with his defining character trait being “grump,” and it never really evolves past that point. The game doesn’t help itself by not really developing its supporting cast either, even though we somehow spend hours worth of cutscenes with characters like Jill. It’s issues like these that really shows how much 15’s writing shines.
Trust me when I say I know how much of a mess 15 is as a game. The open world portion of the title hardly pushes the plot forwards at any point, the action combat isn’t for everyone, and there’s also the fact that half of the DLC was cancelled, with the director leaving Square Enix for good. But! To this day, I have so much love in my heart for those boys.
I do think it was a smart choice to stick to just four characters for the main group in 15, as you spend so much time with them in the Regalia, the main vehicle of choice, and it really allows each of them to shine. Prompto taking photos of the gang as you fend off baddies, Ignis coming up with a new recipe, Gladio being so incredibly passionate about Cup Noodle, it’s all so charming and makes them feel like such real people. I literally never refused whenever Prompto would ask to stop and take a photo, and those that have beaten the game understand how much the photos matter for one of the game’s most emotional moments.
And aren’t the characters really the most memorable thing for most Final Fantasy fans? Sure, there are things like Eikon fights, supplexing trains… blitzball. None of that matters as much as the characters, though, as they’re the through line throughout it all. It’s why I still tear up thinking about 15’s ending, knowing what those boys have been through, even if it was a mess, and even if it didn’t deliver on Versus 13’s promise.
I didn’t care much for 16’s story either, as it kind of fumbled the slavery storyline, later opting to focus on the vaguer concept of free will and not having anything insightful to say about it. Nor did I think the Devil May Cry-style combat was all that good; more involved than 15’s, sure, but only marginally, the basics not offering much variety. So when you put these two things, along with underwritten characters, even if you can’t exactly call it bad, it just doesn’t excel.
Final Fantasy 15 didn’t excel in many places, but it certainly did when it came to its character writing (at least for the main boys), and in a series like Final Fantasy, that’s not just what I want, but what I need. So, I’m sorry to come into 2024 with a bit of a hot take, but hey, at least we can all agree that the best Final Fantasy is– oops, sorry, no time left, I’m sure we’re all thinking the same thing!