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Change YoY: NEW!   My Rating: 9.0 / 10

The first new game finding its way to my list this year, and the only 2023 release so far to make it here. Final Fantasy XVI marked a return to true greatness for the series in my eyes, at least as far as the main series' offline titles are concerned. XV had been a very uneven experience with definite highpoints, but also various shortcomings that held it back, and even if XIII had the makings of a genuinely good game, those elements were buried under an avalanche of weird design choices and storytelling issues. XVI, while still not perfect by any means, is the first time since Final Fantasy XII that a main series entry in the series has felt like something truly special.

The game does set itself firmly apart from the rest of the series, having a much darker tone and featuring a more violent and harsh setting compared to earlier Final Fantasy games. Yet, thanks to this FFXVI also quickly finds an identity of its own. I found the main cast of characters very interesting and well-written, the story very good with heavy themes running through it, the gameplay a lot of fun, and the visuals and music absolutely exceptional. I found it wonderful how every region felt distinct from each other, all the way down to the dialects and even the naming conventions of both people and places. It was also great to realize that the side quests actually fleshed out both the characters and the world itself, adding some wonderful detail to the backstories of various people you came across, and giving you a better understanding of how the world had become what it was in the game. The sheer scale of the Eikon fights is also incredible to behold.

My only real complaints are that the game could be a bit more challenging, or at least feature a few more difficult optional encounters if nothing else, and the lack of enemy variety. It would also be nice if a Final Fantasy game would feature an ending that was just happy, for a change. In this game in particular, where so much of the world and story is bleak and hopeless, I think the ending could have been a bit more positive and upbeat, rather than the bittersweet finale that we got. Still, I can't complain too much as I did very much enjoy my time with Final Fantasy XVI, never once getting bored or frustrated with the story or gameplay.