Final Fantasy 16 Is The Coolest Game of 2023

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                                                                             Story Highlights

  • Final Fantasy 16 is a recently released action RPG and the latest game in the Final Fantasy series, developed by Creative Business Unit 3 and published by Square Enix. 
  • Final Fantasy 16’s impossibly high scale and highly entertaining boss fights result in the highest highs of any video game this year. 
  • Its idealistic tale about the strength of human will, a lovable cast, and some of the best boss fights of the last two decades make Final Fantasy 16 the coolest game of 2023. 

During one of the interviews for Final Fantasy 16, producer Naoki Yoshida stated that a lot about Final Fantasy 16 was directly inspired by the early God of War games. After having played Ragnarok, this news washed over me like a wave of relief. Minor spoilers for Final Fantasy 16 follow. 

One of my main gripes with last year’s God of War Ragnarok was its incredibly constrained scope for a game meant to be a conclusion of a multiple decade-long saga. It was the first time we would see the full scale of Ragnarok in a video game, so imagine my surprise (and disappointment) upon discovering that Ragnarok was essentially limited to fighting through a bunch of trenches while everything cool happens in the background.

What’s even worse is that it ends in a boss fight against two of the most prolific figures in Norse mythology, both of which end up being mechanically and visually underwhelming. Based on Sony Santa Monica’s trajectory in God of War 2018, it was obvious that I was never going to get the game I expected, which was essentially Asura’s Wrath for Norse mythology. God bless FF16 then, that I finally got the game I longed for, except instead of Norse mythology, it’s fantasy Medieval Europe. 

Final Fantasy 16, A Divisive Launch

Final Fantasy 16 Cid
Hey, I just really like Cid.

Final Fantasy 16 has drawn an ugly discourse in the industry right now. What constitutes a Final Fantasy game? Is Final Fantasy 16 a true RPG? To all those questions I say, does it really matter? Because seriously, there are moments in this game that have me prostrating in pure awe, kissing my copy of the game and saying a prayer for Naoki Yoshida and everyone at Creative Business Unit 3. 

Final Fantasy 16 is the kind of game that makes me glad that I get to partake in this hobby and passion. A borderline overwhelming injection of adrenaline that truly understands what next-gen scale and scope mean. It’s the game turning itself into the ultimate Kaiju action flick on a whim. It’s the game understanding and utilizing the medium and delivering the most impactful button prompt in a video game since The Wonderful 101. 

More than anything, it’s just really freaking cool. Its boss fights convey a sense of scale unseen in the industry since Capcom’s 2012 gem Asura’s Wrath and just like Asura’s Wrath, the game has a crucial understanding of how to wring the most “juice” out of a boss fight. What I mean by this is that to have a great boss fight, you need an adequate set-up through engaging writing and build-up. 

Asura’s Wrath takes a similar approach to Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, as in, it sets up a brutal revenge story and a list of baddies that you will eventually hunt down one by one. It wouldn’t work however without a proper trigger to begin the story. In this case, it’s Asura getting framed for the murder of his wife and the Emperor at the hands of the other Gods.

He also watches his daughter get kidnapped by them and put into an endless state of torture so she could provide “mantra” (energy that powers every piece of technology in the game) to the Gods and their army. Asura is then essentially murdered and banished into the depths of hell (or Naraka as the game calls it). What follows is an insane action romp as Asura fights through the Gods one by one. 

Asura Final Fantasy 16
Asura’s Wrath

This build-up and the subsequent cruelty of the villains that follow, make each fight feel meaningful. Every battle has you salivating for not only the fight itself but to finally show the piece of crap antagonist a piece of your mind, which in the case of Asura’s Wrath happens to be a generous helping of godly fisting. (I hope I am allowed to keep this in.)

While Final Fantasy 16 doesn’t follow this formula to a T, it understands that a boss fight starts long before the fight itself, and the only thing that can make a fight as emotionally cathartic as mechanically and visually is strong writing. There’s a fight in this game against a person that was responsible for a very bad thing he did to you and your companions. 

When you finally put them down, it’s a moment of great relief and satisfaction. Even after the battle is over, you get a following quest that’s about telling each of your companions that the person that wronged them is dead. Even the most stoic of your companions breaks down at the news and thanks you for what you did. They celebrate it with joy and mourning for those who were lost at the hands of this person. 

While I do find the battles in God of War Ragnarok unsatisfying when it comes to scale and actual mechanics, the one thing it does phenomenally well is the emotional payoffs. Even if it comes at the detriment of God of War 2018, by using that game to set up the sequel’s ultimate confrontation with Thor and Odin, Sony Santa Monica delivers an incredible emotional payoff to the arc of essentially every single character who was screwed by Odin’s schemes. 

Another extremely clever aspect of Ragnarok is after building up Thor as essentially this evil ******* for a whole game and a half when you finally get to see him, he is a broken man. He laments the loss of his sons and is trying to be a better man, trying to set a good example for his battle-obsessed daughter and trying to be a good husband to his wife. He’s failing, but he’s trying his best.

He embodies the struggle that Kratos was put through at the start of his journey in the events that led up to God of War 2018. During their final struggle, the parallel between the two Gods of War makes for an emotionally powerful moment as they clash in the ultimate battle of the Gods. Yet the fight underwhelms because of their underwhelming scale. 

The Light Of Hope

Final Fantasy Hope
I am a very funny person.

This is where Final Fantasy 16 picks up the torch and carries it through to the finish line. It knows that both emotional and visual payoff is essential to an engaging boss fights and it delivers on both in spades. What further elevates Final Fantasy 16 for me are its themes and story and how they come together and rise towards a crescendo by the game’s final act.

Beyond its grim, Game of Thrones-inspired veneer, it’s a wholesome, idealistic tale about the importance of community and the bonds we make with others. It’s a story of humanity’s will and its undying, unrelenting strength even in the face of complete and utter annihilation. It’s also a story about doing what you think is right, even if everyone else thinks it’s wrong, and accepting the sacrifice that comes with it.

It’s not something you see all the time in AAA games, especially not with this production quality. Many modern AAA stories are either terrible or have this obsession with being “gritty and mature” and end up being outright miserable.

Kazuma Kiryu Yakuza
Kazuma Kiryu aka Taichi Suzuki aka Judgment Kazzy aka Kiryu-chan.

Protagonists in these games are usually sad or depressed most of the time, and on the other hand in FF16, you have Clive “the indomitable human spirit” Rosfield. A kind man doing everything he can to help anyone who needs it. Clive is a kind-hearted man trying to do his best to make the world a better place, whether it’s fetching food or herbs for the cooks or the doctors, or going out on errands to help his friends. 

He’s a far cry from the protagonists we’re used to, and in his kindness, I’m almost reminded of another favorite protagonist of mine, Kazuma Kiryu from the Yakuza games. A man who is generally stoic but is filled with overwhelming kindness and the urge to do what is right. 

But what makes this cool you might wonder? And my answer is, optimism—hope and positivity is cool. Final Fantasy 16 is not afraid to be any of these things. Its wholesome, idealistic tale about the importance of our bonds and the strength of our will, Its strongly written cast, and its unparalleled scale make Final Fantasy 16 the coolest game of this year. 

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