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Final Fantasy XVI’s accessibility features come at an unfortunate cost

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With Final Fantasy XVI’s new, action-focused combat scheme comes a new suite of tools that assist with making that combat easier. These tools were billed as the game’s accessibility features but weren’t tied to a menu setting; rather, they were special rings you could equip that were already in your inventory at the game’s start. When equipped, each of the five rings assisted with one facet of the game’s combat.

I loved this approach to Final Fantasy’s combat. Though the series hasn’t featured turn-based combat since Final Fantasy X, a lot of players — myself included — have been slow to adjust to the series’ action-RPG pivot. These rings, then, feel like not only an assistive tool to help players with different levels of abilities but also a way to ease in folks who want to play Final Fantasy but can’t quite manage the breakneck pace of the game’s combat.

However, while the rings are undoubtedly a step in the right direction, they are no substitute for making a game with real accessibility features. And the rings themselves present a different kind of problem as they punish players who use them.

There are five “accessibility rings” in total that are in your inventory when you start the game. The Ring of Timely Strikes simplifies Clive’s wealth of attack combos into a single button press, and the Ring of Timely Assistance automatically issues commands for Clive’s pet companion, Torgal. The Ring of Timely Focus slows down time right before Clive will be hit with an attack, giving the player a bigger window to execute a dodge, while the Ring of Timely Evasion automatically executes the dodge for you, and finally, the Ring of Timely Healing will automatically use health potions when Clive’s health gets dangerously low.

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The Ring of Timely Focus was a combat lifesaver.
Image: Square Enix

For me, the timely focus ring was a lifesaver — literally and figuratively. Throughout the game, timing a dodge manually felt like playing a slot machine. Sometimes I’d hit; other times, I’d simply get hit. Combat is so fast and flashy that it’s sometimes hard to parse what’s happening on screen fast enough to hit the dodge button on time. Having time slow down, with a big red circle on screen counting down how much time I had to dodge before I got hit, allowed me to fluidly execute the combos that made FFXVI’s combat so ridiculously enjoyable.

Also, contrary to what folks might think, the ring doesn’t make combat trivial. It doesn’t prevent you from getting hit all the time every time, nor does it stop you from executing a perfect dodge on your own without the ring activating. It is, as it is billed, an assistive tool. You won’t need it all the time, but it’s there, ready to activate, in case you do.

But my problem with the rings comes with how they’re actually used in the game. Rings are equipped in your accessories slot, and you get three slots total. So, if you want to equip one or more of the assistive rings for whatever reason, you have to give up an accessory slot to do so. (One decent feature of the rings, though, is that some rings’ powers automatically overlap with others. So even though there are five rings and only three slots, equipping three of the rings — Timely Strikes, Timely Evasion, and Timely Healing — will give you access to all the assistance powers.)

However, in addition to the rings, there are numerous other accessories in the game that will buff Clive’s power. So if you need or want the help the rings provide, you have to sacrifice potential power to receive it.

There shouldn’t be drawbacks or tradeoffs for accessing help. That’s not a good feeling and runs counter to the idea that these rings were designed with accessibility in mind. Accessibility is not a punishment — it is an accommodation. A truly accommodating system would allow the rings to be activated without the need for equipping them, leaving accessory slots free for the many other rings you’ll find, like the one that increases Clive’s attack power or, my favorite, a ring that gives you a short burst of limit break power every time you execute a perfect dodge.

Beyond combat, the way the game handles other accessibility issues is rather nonexistent. In the settings, there is one feature — increase text size — and it only works for the game’s subtitles. Meanwhile, the game’s font in its menus and UI are atrociously tiny.

Sit more than a few inches from your screen, and this text is next to impossible to read.
Image: Square Enix

I changed my gaming setup to be with my dog in his final days, moving to play outside with him in our sunroom. Though I was grateful I got to be closer to him, I could barely read necessary text while playing. It was more upsetting than I’d like to admit.

There are no other accessibility features to speak of, which is unfortunate since Final Fantasy XIV — the game from which I suspect a lot of the new-to-mainline-FinalFantasy players will come — has so many excellent assistance features.

That Final Fantasy XVI excludes so many necessary accessibility features while also being a PlayStation 5 exclusive is similarly odd, considering that a big portion of marketing for other big-time Sony exclusives included their robust suite of accessibility features.

I thoroughly enjoyed Final Fantasy XVI. It’s a game I recommend not just to Final Fantasy fans but to anyone curious to finally jump into a franchise that’s been around for 35 years. The game’s “accessibility” features regarding combat are a wonderful step in the right direction — I just wish the developers took a little more care in making this game truly for everyone.

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