In defence of Final Fantasy XVI’s side quests

final fantasy xvi side quests

They may be rote in structure, but you really shouldn’t skip Final Fantasy XVI’s side quests. Alan Wen explains why.


Final Fantasy XVI marks a bold and divisive departure from past instalments in Square Enix’s long-running series. Any new entry that does something different from before is always bound to have its share of detractors, even an all-timer like Breath of the Wild (but for the love of god, let’s not get back into that weapon durability discourse right now).

I should say that I love Final Fantasy XVI in the way that it’s essentially if Final Fantasy XIV had a single-player expansion made with a blockbuster budget. And despite a lot of emphasis on taking cues from western media like Game of Thrones and God of War, the vibes still intrinsically echo shounen anime or other Japanese games like Platinum’s larger-than-life combat setpieces and Yakuza’s cinematic face-offs. I even smiled once I realised its plot was pivoting to a return of the ‘attack and dethrone god’ trope shared by many classic JRPGs.

That isn’t to say I don’t recognise the issues that other fans have been airing since the game’s launch. There’s no traditional party system, and your AI-controlled companions make little-to-no difference in battle; the towns and villages you get to explore are pretty forgettable; much of the story takes place in very dark caverns or night time; and yes, there’s the sluggish pacing in the back-and-forth of the Hideaway that gets worse in the latter half of the game. There’s more niggles that I’ve probably forgotten about, though ultimately I think the good vastly outweighs the bad.

final fantasy xvi side quests

Credit: Square Enix.

One area that is probably going to be the hill I die on, however, concerns its side quests. The critical consensus is that they’re some of the dullest in the series, a checklist of formulaic fetch quests, where you talk to an NPC, go somewhere, do a pretty basic battle or collect x amount of things, talk to someone again, then get handed a reward that’s barely worth the effort.

I’m not here to say that those people are completely wrong, and it isn’t that flattering if you make comparisons with the morally ambiguous narrative choices in The Witcher 3 or the wacky side quests in the Yakuza series. But they’re far from as egregious as they’ve been made out to be, especially when you compare them with a lot of other JRPGs that fall into the trap of throwing in filler for the sake of it.

I think, more than anything else, Final Fantasy XVI’s side quests are primarily adept with world-building, fleshing out the realm of Valisthea and its people, in particular the plight of the enslaved Bearers who Clive finds himself fighting for their freedom. Take the first side quest that’s available at the Hideaway – a basic task of waiting tables at the Fat Chocobo tavern. It’s hardly something you’d expect someone of Clive’s skills to do. But this simple act is also telling because, for the Bearers you’re serving – who’ve only just been freed from the tyranny of their masters – it’s perhaps the first time they’ve been treated with kindness, let alone a hot meal.

final fantasy xvi side quests

Credit: Square Enix.

There’s a fair bit more of this even as Clive eventually takes on Cid’s mantle as the Hideaway’s leader, and no task is beneath him. After all, in a world where Bearers are fighting to take control of their destiny with the freedom to live and die on their own terms, everyone’s got to pull their weight. I found myself warming to the gruff, at times reluctant yet dutifully obliging tone Clive has when listening to and taking on a side quest, which puts him somewhere between Geralt and Kiryu, despite the character actually still being younger than either.

A lot of the credit goes to voice actor Ben Starr, whose winning performance gives us one of the most likeable game protagonists the series has had in a while. That’s actually a benefit across the board as every line of dialogue has voice over, and while presentation can vary between cinematic story beats and regular NPC interactions, hearing these voices with their varied British regional accents (being quite partial to Northern accents, I have an unsurprisingly soft spot for both Gav and Mid) helps you get invested compared to just reading reams of text, something patient FFXIV players will know all too well.

Read more: Final Fantasy XVI starter guide – 10 key tips for beginners

It’s true that there isn’t a huge variety between what you actually do in the quests, and the game is so singular about its character action combat that it doesn’t even have any mini-games. But then I can hardly complain when one side activity is one of my returning favourites from Final Fantasy XII, the hunting board. I can’t think of an activity better suited to the combat system, which also provides a decent challenge both in battle and for figuring out their location.

Side quests are generally less a time waster and more often than not conveniently placed, sometimes popping up when you visit a new location or when you return to the Hideaway. It does go a bit overboard nearer the end game when you’re suddenly getting more green markers popping up at once when your instinct is to just make a sprint for the finish, but for the most part I found many quests moderately paced, and you kind of take on a ‘it’s on the way so I might as well’ attitude.

Credit: Square Enix.

That said, if you are short on time, FFXVI also does a good job of distinguishing quests in the second half, where quest markers with a plus sign instead of the usual exclamation mark indicate that you will get an important new feature or upgrade as reward, such as unlocking a chocobo mount or increasing your potion inventory space, so you can prioritise.

Really, though, it all comes back to world building and the characters, which is where completing side quests truly pays off. Some are actually multi-part quests that develop over the course of the game, giving some supporting characters emotionally satisfying arcs. If there’s been a mixed reaction over the treatment of the female characters in the main cast, it’s balanced by a headstrong supporting cast, such as innkeeper Martha, or brothel owner Isabelle, who holds more influence and authority in her town of Northreach than the Empire’s soldiers. And despite my point about unmemorable towns, one easily overlooked quest sees you restoring Eastpool, a town seemingly wiped off the map after its people are massacred early on. There’s a special poignancy to seeing it rebuilt to re-settle newly liberated Bearers learning to stand on their own two feet, even in the face of the Blight literally just next door.

Sure, you might not find anything to match the likes of ‘The Bloody Baron’, but be like Clive and humbly accept the requests that come your way, and you might find yourself surprised. But also, if anything does bore you, or if like me you’re playing New Game Plus in Final Fantasy mode and just focused on the combat, then it’s good to know you can always skip all the cutscenes and dialogue.

Read more: Final Fantasy XVI combat guide

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