Final Fantasy is one of the most popular video game franchises of all time, spanning decades and continually re-inventing itself with influence from pop culture and innovative technologies. The release of Final Fantasy XVI came with praise and uncertainty, for the series has now moved away from the turn-based action style it became synonymous with. But was the change to an action-adventure title a masterstroke, or the guillotine to the hope of the fanbase? A comparison with the other major recent release – Final Fantasy VII Remake – is the perfect opportunity to pit old against new, style against substance. Which game is a better representation of the series and gaming in general? Please read on.
As most gamers will know, Final Fantasy games are not linked by their stories. There are similar themes and notable creatures – such as the chocobo being the steed, and crystals/elements thriving as valuable commodities – but the narrative is never a continuation when focusing on the mainline titles. Both games deal with end-of-the-world type antagonists/scenarios and focus on a brooding central character, but their journeys are unique. Final Fantasy XVI takes its lead from Game of Thrones, God of War and DragonBall, while Final Fantasy VII Remake is the industrial, steampunk section of the original game that is more intrinsically linked to classic JRPGs. XVI may feel more grand and complete, but this is largely due to movie-style progression and a classic hero’s quest. Which is considered better may come to preference, but it is hard to argue with the scale and intertwined stories within XVI. Twists and turns are frequent and impact the game, while VII Remake is more anime-focused when not moving through each chapter’s dungeons. XVI is a brutal and bloody tale, while VII Remake plays more into the fantasy. The nod must go to XVI due to its complete arc and mature take.
Machine-like skyscrapers in a world beneath the surface, or a world with every biome one could imagine. The setting of VII Remake can be rather depressing and suppressing due to the confines of metal, while XVI is lush with rolling mountains, Arabian-style deserts, crater-sized waterfalls and deep jungles brimming with wildlife. This is very much nature versus slums/factories. While Midgard can feel stifling, Valisthia is open and fresh. Sure, there are castles and dungeons. But from land to sea to space, XVI has much more variety and is all the better for it. The colour of towering mothercrystals and distance rendering gives this the edge over VII Remake, even if there are spectacular smaller areas to discover in the latter. Graphically, both are impressive and make use of the latest technology – but Rebirth, the next instalment in the VII Remake, will be a stronger comparison in setting.
Many Final Fantasy fans have been aggrieved at the series moving from turn-based to action. VII Remake is an combination of both styles, providing general button-smashing with time-freezing menus to use more powerful (and elemental) attacks. The result is middle ground that works incredibly well, and also has the flexibility of using multiple characters. In XVI, it’s Clive alone. Sure, there are party members – but they can never be controlled outside of Torgal’s biting and healing. This is a shame, because controlling Cid or Jill would have been beneficial to the overall theme of the series. Either way, the combat in XVI is both cinematic and powerful. Using a range of different Eikons, Clive can shatter the earth and its enemies with colourful, upgradable moves. After some time, it can become a little tiresome despite the many options. This is largely because there is no impact of elements (for example, using fire on ice) whereas VII Remake is built on finding enemy weaknesses and exploiting them via strategy. This adds depth, and XVI chooses a more God of War ‘barbarian’ style in its fights. The difference – and it is a huge one – is the application of Eikon battles. XVI has some of the most epic fights of all time, controlling Ifrit (a summon character in VII Remake, which demonstrates another recurrence) to battle enormous gods. These sections are so impressive on the PS5 that it is hard to argue against using VII Remake’s set pieces. But in general, VII has an enjoyable amount of depth in customisation (while also having a much higher difficulty – something XVI lacks).
The main discussion would often be the leads, Clive and Cloud. But Final Fantasy is a series about parties, villains and NPCs. Jill versus Tifa. Ultima versus Sephiroth. The comparisons are endless, and much will come down to taste, but XVI has better voice acting overall to bring the characters to life. Clive’s arc is much ‘fuller’ as it is the complete story, as opposed to the first third of Cloud’s tale. We play as Clive in different ages, seeing him grow from boy to man (alongside the many themes that change with age). Cloud’s past is shrouded in mystery in VII Remake, but Clive is easy to connect with following the torture of the first few hours. We live more of Clive’s life, and therefore he feels like a stronger lead. Personality in XVI is also less ‘stereotypical’ from the grunt of Barrett and some of the lesser villains twisting their moustaches. Limited time with Sephiroth also makes analysis hard. XVI puts more emphasis into its side characters, even those who may perish too soon. Many players feel the nostalgia of Cloud and his party, eagerly anticipating their growth in Rebirth. But XVI managed emotion and connection with the classic ‘shades of grey’ coined by George R R Martin.
Final Fantasy VII Remake won the award for best soundtrack at the 2020 Game Awards, and Final Fantasy XVI will without a doubt win it at this year’s ceremony. Therefore, this is a heavyweight battle between two masters in the field of sound. VII Remake leans on the nostalgia again, remastering many of the tracks in the original. XVI also borrows some core Final Fantasy themes but applies them to the style of the game in a way that amps up the fights. All regions in both games have unique tracks and choosing a favourite is a challenge. But XVI leans into rock and energy to enhance the boss battles and pivotal story moments. The XVI soundtrack is the 2023 standout, but all Final Fantasy games take their music seriously and continue to be played as ambience for years after release. This section can be called a tie, for individual tracks on each game are among the best in gaming.
Based on this comparison, we are dealing with games of immense quality in a series that continues to reinvent itself with the times. Choice comes down to personal preference in many of the categories above, and while XVI is the shiny new toy it is hard to argue against VII Remake for its ability to blend old with new. The discourse will rage on until Rebirth, and then XVII, but every fan has a different order in terms of favouritism. Our recommendation? If you’re a sucker for Game of Thrones and enjoyed Ragnarok – XVI. If you’re a turn-based enthusiast with a drive for nostalgia – VII Remake. But ultimately – buy both, play both. The experiences stay with you.
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