Final Fantasy 16: The Rising Tide Review – As The Tide Arrives, Leading You Back Home

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About ten months after Final Fantasy 16 first launched, its second and final paid DLC, The Rising Tide, is now available. The first, Echoes of the Fallen, served as a solid dungeon romp with some pretty good bosses but not much else, especially with its narrative and level design (to say nothing of the lack of additional content). This time, the development team at Creative Business Unit 3 focused on the story, delivering a separate tale that complements the base game without impacting its outcome.

After completing the main quest and indulging in a few side quests, The Rising Tide feels like the true end to Clive’s journey, which is sad in a way because it does a pretty good job with its plot. It presents such a compelling standalone tale wrapped in real twists and turns, backed by well-written new characters and excellent boss fights, weaving them into the overall lore that it’s a shame further stories like this aren’t in the works. At least, not presently.

"Unlike the dreary and blight-ridden regions of Valisthea, Mysidia is lush and vibrant, with extensive forestation and clear blue skies."

Available just before the final story mission, The Rising Tide sees Clive and friends receiving a request from an unknown individual to save Leviathan’s Dominant, despite not hearing about them for nearly 100 years (earning it the name “Leviathan the Lost”). Their interest piqued, they venture to Northreach and rendezvous with the new character Shula, whose clan also went missing around the same time, and venture together to Mysidia.

The overall pacing of the main quest is great, and while it may feel somewhat short, I’ll take well-executed emotional beats and genuine surprises over something with too much padding. Furthermore, it ties back to the base game in some unexpected ways. Perhaps the only real shortcoming is that one of Clive’s companions doesn’t do anything in the story or have that much involvement. No spoilers, but you can probably guess who based on screenshots released thus far.

I also didn’t think the characters needed to try and “justify” the DLC’s existence. It comes about naturally and ties into another key occurrence during the main quest, so it makes sense for the cast to at least touch on it. However, by that point, it felt like the story stood out enough based on everything else. Though a minor quibble that doesn’t detract from the experience one iota, it still stood out for me.

Unlike the dreary and blight-ridden regions of Valisthea, Mysidia is lush and vibrant, with extensive forestation and clear blue skies. The sweeping waterfalls and cliffs make you want to stop and admire the environment when you’re not fighting for your life. The art and graphics teams have flexed their talents throughout development, but the brighter color palette feels like a revelation for Final Fantasy 16.

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"Another great thing about Mysidia is how the characters approach Clive. There’s a curiosity and wonder, especially since he is their first outsider in years, and it influences the different side quests."

Some sights – like the Surge, an enormous, seemingly frozen tidal wave – are awe-inspiring, but even Haven, the quaint village where the Motes of Light reside, is gorgeous. The atmosphere and calm as various NPCs go about their business is a refreshing departure from everything happening back on the mainland. Performance is also pretty decent – obviously, there are still frame drops on Performance Mode, so if not having a consistent 60 FPS annoys you, then be warned.

Another great thing about Mysidia is how the characters approach Clive. There’s a curiosity and wonder, especially since he is their first outsider in years, and it influences the different side quests. Though you shouldn’t expect anything out of the ordinary with the latter – go here and there to collect something or slay some monsters – the writing and voice acting in these are good.

They introduce you to all the different NPCs, weave some pretty taut and enjoyable tales (which aren’t afraid to get a little silly) and expand on Haven’s lore. One such side quest showcased the treatment of Bearers versus their state in Valisthea without beating you over the head with it. Some more unique mechanics to the side quests or at least a new mini-game would have been nice, though how extensive it could get, given the overall size of the region, is questionable. Then again, while a card game or something similar wouldn’t have worked in the base game, Haven’s general vibe could have made it work.

As for other characters, Shula is a notable addition to the crew, mixing deadpan delivery with dry wit. The evolution of her behavior is also well done, going from guarded and skeptical of Clive (especially given his outlaw status) to slowly opening up and showing her soft side when discussing Leviathan’s Dominant. The subtle shifts in tone with the voice acting, from being taciturn to more snarky but friendly, are stellar in this regard and make her come across more naturally.

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"Some enemies, like wolves and spiders, are still easily dispatchable fodder, but the elites and bosses, particularly the story ones, are no joke."

For all its focus on story-telling and setting, The Rising Tide is still very combat-centric. Things kick up a notch once Clive gains Leviathan’s abilities, and they’re unlike anything else in the game. Leviathan is more of a projectile-focused Eikon – Clive’s left arm transforms into a mini-serpent that can fire a shotgun-like spread of water bullets or a stream that explodes on impact.

The former is ideal for building Stagger on bigger foes, but the latter can take out weaker crowds very quickly (leading to amusing instances where you’re just constantly juggling groups of enemies with exploding streams). However, you can’t just fire shots continuously – Leviathan has ammo management and an active reload button. Time the reload properly, and you get infinite ammo for a period, though you can gain some back by perfect dodging at the right time. Furthermore, you get two dodges in a row, with the ability to fire mid-dodge. Surely that extended dodge distance won’t come in handy later.

The Eikonic skills include a machine gun-esque spray, which is, once again, great for building stun and summoning two columns of water orbs to push enemies together before exploding, dealing extensive damage. The latter is once again ideal for slaying hordes but chips away at an enemy’s Stagger gauge pretty well. While the slower movement speed with Leviathan can take some getting used to, dodging twice for greater distance and having more ranged Eikon damage is great.

The development team promised more challenging content with The Rising Tide and wasn’t kidding. Some enemies, like wolves and spiders, are still easily dispatchable fodder, but the elites and bosses, particularly the story ones, are no joke. Hreidmar may feel like a carbon copy of Fafnir, but it covers the arena in degen zones and can potentially take you out if you’re not paying attention. Then there’s the Timekeeper, which you should experience for yourself. Not only does it bring a particular Punishing: Gray Raven boss (or bosses) to mind with one of its mechanics, but tests your ability to precisely dodge at key moments. Also, it looks amazing, which is always a plus.

"Still, it’s a great battle and probably the best Eikon fight yet in terms of gameplay, with its minimal reliance on QTEs and a plethora of mechanics that push players to the brink."

There are other bosses to face, some optional, and in terms of sheer quantity, it’s a step up from Echoes of the Fallen. Granted, more than one Elite Mark would have been ideal, but at least the other bosses make up for it. Also, shout out to the creepy-looking Tonberries and new foes like the Ice Bomb for mixing up certain encounters.

The highlight of all the bosses is undoubtedly the Eikon battle against Leviathan. The fight is visually stunning from start to finish, but also challenging, almost overwhelming you with each subsequent phase. It can get a little ridiculous, especially since Leviathan has not one but two massive area-of-effect attacks involving circles (one seemingly impossible to dodge if you don’t know what to do) and a damage check.

The latter is funny because while I can understand the intent, it’ll probably lead to failure once or twice (which triggers an instant game-over). Still, it’s a great battle and probably the best Eikon fight yet in terms of gameplay, with its minimal reliance on QTEs and a plethora of mechanics that push players to the brink.

Once you’ve cleared The Rising Tide, a new end-game activity opens up – Kairos Gate. It’s a run-based sequence of 20 stages (known as circles) with a major boss encounter on every fifth stage, though you can fight some elites and bosses in the others. The regular stages usually toss three waves of enemies, and you’re scored based on Eikonic abilities, damage taken, dodges, counters, combos, and more. Each offers rewards, from new accessories and weapons to materials, and you recover some HP before tackling the next.

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"Overall, Kairos Gate is a solid addition to the game that tests your knowledge of different enemies and how best to maximize Eikonic Skills for the highest score."

The twist is that none of your regular gear or weapons is usable – you get a default set with no accessories. Instead, you’re tested based on your Eikonic ability usage, which you can freely change between stages. This is where the new Skill Sets for creating and swapping between Eikonic Skill loadouts come into play.

Clearing each stage gives you Enhancement Points to spend on stat increases for Clive’s damage, defense, health and whatnot, but it’s the Boons where things get interesting. Boon Points allow purchasing buffs like decreased damage taken when below a certain HP percentage, HP regain on precision dodge, increased potency for Limit Breaks and stronger counters (which applies to Eikonic abilities that counter as well, like Garuda and Titan). Certain Boons are ideal for increasing the score bonus or different actions, essential for higher scores and achieving that coveted S rank.

However, all Boons only last for a limited number of Circles, so planning accordingly and knowing when to spend your Boon Points is important. If you’re confident, then you can forgo upgrading Clive’s other stats and go for Boon Potency and Duration instead, maximizing those gains.

If you die, the run ends, and it’s right back to the beginning, with all Enhancements reset. Free Boons with functions similar to the Timely Accessories are available for those who want to see what the stages offer. However, they result in lower overall scores and aren’t eligible for leaderboard placement.

Overall, Kairos Gate is a solid addition to the game that tests your knowledge of different enemies and how best to maximize Eikonic Skills for the highest score. While I would have preferred some randomness to enemies or even modifiers during the battles, this is more of a skill-based challenge, which is fine. There’s one more element to DLC, unlocked after completing its main quest and the base game’s story. While it’s worth discovering yourself, it’s a fun surprise to allow further experimentation with one’s combat abilities. Of course, above all else, it also looks stylish.

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"Though it stands firmly on its own, that feeling of one final adventure still resonates throughout, from the callbacks to base game events to referencing other Eikon battles."

Final Fantasy 16: The Rising Tide doesn’t deviate from the base game much in terms of overall design. The main quest still offers plenty of walking through mostly linear areas, battling groups of enemies, then traversing forward and repeating the process. The “dungeons”, as they are, lack any puzzle mechanics or intriguing secrets to uncover, though they look and feel as appropriately epic as possible. As stunning as the visuals and art direction are, the music is especially noteworthy.

One theme has this aura of calm and mystery yet maintains a fast-paced and steady tempo which steadily builds throughout. Then you have Leviathan’s boss theme, another level of epic orchestration with parts of previous themes alongside its unique hooks. Suffice it to say that this is yet another top-tier soundtrack and complements the base game exceptionally well.

Those craving more variety and something wildly different may not gel entirely with The Rising Tide. However, for everyone else who appreciates an action-packed adventure that ties neatly into all the lore while presenting some fun side quests, challenging bosses and fun new abilities to play with, it is everything that I wanted from Echoes of the Fallen and then some.

Though it stands firmly on its own, that feeling of one final adventure still resonates throughout, from the callbacks to base game events to referencing other Eikon battles. Combine all this with the presentation, and The Rising Tide is a fitting send-off to Clive and his friends and fans who stuck with the title.

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.


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