Final Fantasy XVI accessibility review

Carlos Moscoso6 minute read

Final Fantasy XVI is the latest in the popular and long-running Final Fantasy franchise developed and published by Square Enix. This installment is a departure from the series’ norms in more ways than one. It forgoes the usual turn-based combat system in favor of a more action-oriented approach resembling Capcom’s Devil May Cry. And it returns to a dark fantasy world similar to the first three entries in the franchise. This was done in an effort to rejuvenate the franchise, and it paid off, as it not only makes proceedings feel more grounded in reality for new players but has enough familiar elements in lore and mechanics to satisfy long-time fans.

This Final Fantasy also puts more of a focus on accessibility than ever before, making it a wonderful starting point for first time disabled players. The story spans 18 years in the life of brand new protagonist Clive Rosfield. He seeks vengeance against those who wronged him, but later realizes that a much greater threat is looming.  

Accessible albeit flawed Fantasy

Players with fine-motor impairments will find very little here that obstructs enjoyment. The title does have a pretty sparse accessibility menu, which includes subtitle size, background opacity, and speaker-tags. There is also an option to activate wave-forms, which I didn’t use. This mode enables in-game sounds and music to be represented as colored waves. Since the camera is almost always focused on who is speaking and motion-capture is exceptional, players should have no trouble following along.

Rings of accessible power

Selecting story-focused difficulty mode will not only greatly increase Clive’s damage output, but also decrease damage he receives. Playing on any difficulty also allows players to equip Clive with rings that provide accessibility features to Final Fantasy. Playing on story mode automatically equips them. My favorite permits Clive to dodge attacks automatically without requiring players to press a button. Another ring allows for complex combat maneuvers to be executed simply by pushing the square button. Editor’s note: the rings were not designed as accessibility features, rather features to make the game more approachable for new players.

Having both of these equipped simultaneously turns any player into a force of nature. There are almost no attacks that can damage a player when auto-dodge is active. With the other ring virtually eliminating complex inputs, combat encounters quickly become a blissful ballet of blinding speed, swordplay, and sorcery. It will satisfy even those who tend to avoid the hack and slash genre for it’s input complexity. 

Gameplay Focus selection, the description for Story Focused explains several accessories will be equipped to simplify gameplay.

Automatic dodge seems to be becoming a standard feature in Square Enix titles, Forspoken had it as well. It would be wonderful to see a feature like this incorporated into other franchises with an action heavy combat loop. It would eliminate one of the most common frustrations for fine-motor impaired players, and that is, losing on the cusp of victory due to the final attack requiring a dodge as opposed to a block, and not being able to react quickly enough to press the required button(s). God of War: Ragnarok is one title that would have benefited from this, as many foes in it possess unblockable attacks.

An unfair choice between accessibility and progress

The rings are provided at the onset when choosing difficulty level and do not require progression to use. But frankly, accessibility like this should be built into the game itself, not be determined by an in-game item. It means players must choose between accessibility and a stat boost when choosing to equip something in a gear slot. Accessibility is not something players should have to sacrifice, it’d make more sense to include auto-dodge as a setting.

Eikonic combat

Combat here is frenetic and consists of stringing sword strikes together with Clive’s elemental magic. These are known as Eikonic abilities and can be used to exploit foes’ weaknesses, which in turn fills the stagger meter. When this occurs, the afflicted enemy is momentarily vulnerable to massive amounts of damage. Clive will automatically use any currently equipped Eikonic abilities as part of his combo if the correct ring is equipped. This means fine-motor impaired players won’t tire easily. 

Final Fantasy's Gear & Eikons menu, showing the Ring of TImely Evasion is selected. The description includes a short explanation of it's automatic dodge effect.

Unfortunately, there isn’t enough feedback to clearly identify when you’re receiving damage. The frenetic pace of battles can sometimes make them hard to follow. I only lost a handful of times, these losses were more attributed to being unaware of damage, than the difficulty. This is alleviated by the option which allows a healing item’s automatic use should Clive’s health drop to critically low.

Death is a rare occurrence, but should it come knocking you receive 3 regular potions which restore 25% health, and 2 High potions (restoring 50%) when loading a checkpoint. If players manage to weaken a boss to 50%, they get the potions, full health, and the boss remains at 50%.

Death by quick time

With regards to bosses, this installment features some of the largest and most fun in franchise history. Moments where Clive assumes his animalistic Eikon form are truly memorable. But it’s unfortunate many of them are marred by unskippable quick time events, breaking immersion if failed. This entry makes such a valiant effort to be accessible that it’s odd not to have the option to set these to auto-complete or set rapid-taps to holds.

In another departure from RPG norms, players no longer need to acquire level-ups in order to use accumulated points. Experience points can be used immediately, provided you’ve got enough points saved and the desired ability is available. A prompt will not appear saying you have enough to unlock an ability as is the case in most RPGS. Traditional leveling still happens, but points are automatically placed into predetermined categories, only Eikonic abilities are chosen by the player.

Confusion in colors

I believe visual accessibility to be a bit of a mixed bag in this particular iteration of Final Fantasy. While size and opacity options for subtitles are decent, an apparent lack of color-blind accessibility is a rather large oversight. Especially for a game in which colors play such an integral role. Clive’s magical abilities, based on the elements, are all color-coded with red being fire, blue being ice, and so on. Any player unable to discern these colors will struggle with determining which enemies to use certain abilities on. As well as identifying when abilities are ready. The cooldown meter is small and tends to blend into the ability’s icon. A colored flourish will appear on-screen to let players know which button a QTE will require during battles with giants.

A hectic combat sequence with lightning effects, showing several UI elements that may be difficult to see due to the colors and contrast applied to them.

Similar albeit smaller problems occur with navigation assistance activated. This option is intended to orient the player towards any active objective marker. The issue is that it simply orients the camera in the direction of the on-screen waypoint. It doesn’t show an optimal path with a trail or pointing an arrow. Often the mark will be in front of Clive, but blocked by water he can’t swim through, or unclimbable hills. It’s ridiculous to have a character who can’t swim in 2023.

Conclusion

Final Fantasy XVI offers the most ambitious and fresh take on a story in the series to date, and enough epic monster battles to make Godzilla proud. With this new Final Fantasy comes an unprecedented focus on accessibility. The usefulness of the rings to the fine-motor impaired, such as enabling automatic dodge, cannot be understated. It is a great example that other action-oriented games should follow. It’s odd and unfortunate to have such integral parts of accessibility tied to in-game items. A price players shouldn’t have to pay for such a wonderful feature.

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