After I played and beat the three PS5 Spider-Man games I jumped right into FFXVI. This was actually the game that made me want to get a PS5 in the first place, it looked dark and cool and the mention of action focused combat (FFXV meets Devil May Cry) had me sold.

The story focus was nice, I liked how the game looked and the world that was being built around the characters. The music was super nice too, especially when I got to Hellfire. Though something felt off the entire time, maybe it’s because I’m not good at or used to DMC-style gameplay but the game felt pretty brutal and complex at times (while being oddly simplified). Which is odd, because you essentially unlock the entire combat kit within a few hours…and something about that felt pretty lacklustre. It felt like the combat had no more room to grow, what I could do that wasn’t energy/time limited I’d unlocked.

I did find the controls to be more comfortable once I moved magic castling from Triangle to L1, but then I came across the “winning combo” where you just spam lunges and magic bursts for maximum damage. It was satisfying on fodder but then it made the bigger enemies feel like such a slog.

This was all giving me flashbacks to Tales of Arise. And it was like a domino effect, the games are similar in so many ways (characters, story, my feelings towards teh game and how it reflected on the respective series) it was hilarious how many parallels I was making. I did beat Tales of Arise, but Arise also killed my love for the Tales of series. From Symphonia to Berseria the series felt like it kept being iterative on itself (Berseria really felt like the pinnacle of the combat system), improving and trying new things while keeping the core concepts there. Arise felt it was Tales of meets God Eater, which really spoiled the fun of the game. Everything in the game was a damage sponge, and the only saving grace was how fun the combat got over time.

Still, though, up until the final dungeon it felt like a slog at times. A grind, considering that in many JRPG’s you really need to fight every enemy you come across to keep afloat to _avoid_ grinding sessions. The final dungeon, for some reason, even though it had a ton of damage sponge enemies felt like I finally got a hang of the characters swapping and things were clicking. I was glad I stuck it out, but I can’t see myself playing the DLC. I especially can’t see myself playing future entries if it follows the game design of Arise more than the past games.

To rollback a little bit, that was when the first nail in the coffin struck for me. FFXVI’s combat was basically set within the first 5 hours. Soon after that, you unlock Ifrit and Limit Break but by then you’ve almost “mastered” the unlocked abilities for the basic combat set. Mastering the skills just feels like they come out a little faster and may even hit harder… but that’s it. The combat is all there, knowing from friends that it’ll be unchanging…a stark contrast to Tales of Arise—a game where I knew the series formula would without fail would keep adding more to the combat to keep things fresh.

The fight with Ifrit, or more so dungeon leading up to it, was more or less where I felt like I’d reached my limit with the game. I was done, I wasn’t having fun, I had no desire to see out the end of the tale. The characters and music are fantastic, I can tell it’s setup to be a wonderful story—but if I want to experience a pure story, I want to watch a show or movie instead. If I’m booting up a game, I want to enjoy the gameplay. The gameplay loop should be inviting, give me mini-goals and provide the carrot on the end of the stick to entice me to look forward to more. FFXVI just offers me none of that, and I think in part being told that by friends expedited the additional nails in the coffin. Which is a shame, because the fight with Ifrit was so much fun and so “epic”. I wanted that to keep happening, but then the game went back to the slog right after. The game feels like it really wants to expand on its simplicity, to offer more alternatives and choices, but it’s locked into a core set of skills and options.

I really enjoyed FFXV (pre-Royal updates), but I remember hitting a similar point in the game. That point where I questioned if I should continue, if I was having fun. I do want to go back and replay the game again with Royal, NG+ or something, because going through OP as heck would probably be really fun. I know I love the combat, and the music is nice too, and Royal also adds a whole lot of new content.

However for FFXVI, I don’t know if I’ll ever go back. Simply because the gameplay loop doesn’t jive with me. Instead, I started up Crymachina this week. Based on reviews it will just be Crystar all over again. Which is a disappointment, because there’s a lot of things Crystar needed to tweak to really shine brighter and Crymachina apparently tackles none of that. In playing Crymachina, and with this knowledge in hand, my expectations are tempered and I’m just enjoying what fresh ideas the game is bringing that are unique from the last entry. Even though this series is pretty heavy on the grind and respective locations/motions, the battle system is fun. Crystar and Crymachina suffer from the same issue as FFXVI, where the combat won’t ever really change but it has two key improvements FFXVI lacks: different characters with different weapons/movement feel and a growing number of sub weapons to choose from. It’s also is much more fast paced, and the enemies don’t really feel like complete damage sponges. I’m only a few hours in though, so my ideas aren’t as concrete, but I’m over 5 hours in and I’ve only been having fun compared to how I felt over the same time span in FFXVI.

Here’s hoping maybe my personal experience with Crymachina is more of a joy than the loops and hoops I jumped through for Crystar. For now, I’m really having a blast and it’s fun to have things to work towards and look forward to.