Final Fantasy 16 took a big swing when it decided to eschew the franchise’s traditions and drop a command-based combat system for something that was completely real-time and a hundred percent action-driven. It was, of course, a risk that paid off, with its character action-esque mechanics making for one of the best and most slick combat systems we’ve seen from this franchise in while- but how does it compare to other action games that have excelled with their combat. How does it compare to more recent releases in that genre that have impressed in similar ways. How does it compare, in paticular, to something like God of War Ragnarok?
It’s no secret that Final Fantasy 16 has taken more than a few cues from Sony Santa Monica’s franchise, with producer the developers at Square Enix even having said as much in the lead up to the game’s launch. Interestingly enough, however, they said that it was more the older God of War titles that they looked to rather than the Norse era ones, in particular drawing inspiration from the scale and epic proportions of some of the boss fights and combat encounters in the older God of War games. Compared specifically to God of War Ragnarok, while the similarities do still exist – what with both of them being combat-heavy action games – it’s also clear that they take different approaches to their combat.
God of War Ragnarok is about heft and power. It’s about weight, deliberate movements, hard-hitting attacks that can often have longer wind-ups. With what’s probably been thousands of years of experience with superhuman abilities and imperviousness to almost all things that can be dangerous to a mortal, Kratos is a veritable tank, but true to his characterization in the new God of War games, he has also tempered his strength and powers with thought and patience, which means the combat in Ragnarok (and its predecessor) is focused on landing deliberate series of attacks rather than just wailing on enemies.
Final Fantasy 16, on the other hand, is much faster. It’s about agility and deftness of movement, about flitting from one enemy from the other with quick strikes, dodges, parries, and strings of abilities- again, much like the older God of War games in that regard. Even with your starting moveset, when you have access to just one Eikon’s abilities, FF16’s combat has a quickness that you’d expect from more old-school character action games, and that only gets emphasized more as you play more, upgrade Clive’s moveset, and add more abilities to his arsenal.
Of course, in spite of their different approaches, Final Fantasy 16 and God of War Ragnarok do ultimately have the same end goal in mind, as all action games do- they want to be the ultimate power fantasy. Both games arm you with a veritable arsenal of attacks and abilities and challenge you to master their execution to the point where you’re flawlessly chaining them together in creative and flashy ways. And both games are excellent at it. But given the different approaches they take, how do you pit them against each other, beyond simply saying that it’s going to be a matter of taste?
Well, you look at the ancillary elements of the experience, and see how well they back up the combat system. And both games end up having a leg up over each other in different areas here. When it comes to the scale of the kinds of fights you’re involved in and the sheer visual flair of the things that you’re doing on the screen, Final Fantasy 16 is ridiculously clear of God of War Ragnarok. Obviously I won’t be going into spoilers here, but FF16 is just as good at making the action feel satisfying and engaging as it is at making it look bombastic and wonderfully over-the-top.
Of course, that’s not to say God of War Ragnarok is completely lacking in scale. But though that’s been the bread and butter of God of War in the past, with its new identity, the series has definitely pulled back on those elements by a significant degree, which means the action that you’re actually involved in in Ragnarok never feels as high-flying as some of the most gleefully extravagent sequences in Final Fantasy 16 do. Which is all the funnier when you cosider the fact that the old God of War games were what FF16 looked at as inspiration for many of those sequences.
On the other hand, you come to the progression mechanics surrounding the combat system, and here, God of War Ragnarok probably comes out on top- which is amusing because, strictly speaking, Final Fantasy 16 is an RPG, and God of War Ragnarok is not. Ragnarok’s loot mechanics and its systems around build variety and progression aren’t special by any means – in fact, they’re actually quite standard in their execution – but they’re effective, and most importantly, they provide a much greater level of investment and depth than Final Fantasy 16’s progression systems do.
To be fair to FF16, it does start making up for this deficiences in this area by constantly adding new Eikon ability sets to Clive’s moveset, and deciding which ones suit you best, which abilities you want to upgrade, and how you want to mix and match does inject a healthy dose of options. But though that helps with the build variety aspect, the game’s overarching progression mechanics tend to feel disappointingly shallow and straightforward for the most part- especially when it comes to the gear and upgrade mechanics, which are so shallow that it’s easy at times to almost even forget that they exist.
At the end of the day though, that both Final Fantasy 16 and God of War Ragnarok deserve a ton of credit for their combat systems would be a bit of an understatement. On paper, you could say that the latter has a more well-rounded and more balanced combat system, especially because Final Fantasy 16 doesn’t really begin challenging you until you’ve finished the game and decide to jump in for post-game content or replays on higher difficulties. That, of course, is where its combat flourishes even more though, because that’s where Final Fantast 16 comes into its own as a proper character action experience.
So yes, on paper, Ragnarok might be the more well-rounded combat system on paper, but for my money, Final Fantasy 16 edges it in this face-off- because, going back to what I said earlier, this is also a matter of different tastes. If you prefer faster and more stylish action games, which I do, Final Fantasy 16 more than “edges it”, in fact. I love the new God of War games, and Ragnarok’s combat in particular is obviously excellent, but as someone who has been hoping that the series would swing back into its older tendencies a little bit, I also love the fact that Final Fantasy 16 fills that void, and fills it as well as it does. Calling it one of the better character action games in recent years wouldn’t be an exaggeration in the slightest, because not only is this the series’ first crack at this kind of a combat system, technically, it’s not even a character action game.
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