Alongside Mario, Metal Gear, and Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy is one of the oldest and most respected names in the video game industry. The first game released in 1987 and became a smash hit, turning small developer Square into a powerhouse in the RPG business. In the nearly 30 years since the original title, the Final Fantasy brand has expanded to include dozens of sequels, remakes, spinoffs, and even movies.
One of the biggest strengths of Final Fantasy is that each main entry in the series is set in a whole new universe, completely divorced from previous installments. Instead, the series is held together by recurring elements like Crystals and Warriors of Light, as well as creatures like Chocobos, Moogles, and Cactuars. For this list, we’re going to take a look at the fourteen already-released numbered entries, as well as one particularly special spin-off which we just couldn’t stand to ignore. With the long-awaited release of Final Fantasy XV right around the corner, let’s take a look at Every Main Final Fantasy Game, Ranked.
15. Final Fantasy II
It’s a testament to Final Fantasy’s high standard of quality that its weakest entry still has a fiercely loyal fanbase. After the original Final Fantasy became an unexpected hit, the developers decided that the sequel should try to embrace new ideas. This philosophy, of not resting on laurels and always striving for innovation, has always been one of Final Fantasy’s biggest strengths, but also an occasional weakness.
Final Fantasy II completely scraps the traditional XP and level-up system of the first game, opting instead for a game mechanic in which statistics would be advanced based on their use in battle. For example, characters who utilized physical attacks would become more powerful, and magic-casters would increase their magic stat. Unfortunately, the system didn’t work particularly well, and players often found that the best way to increase their defense was to beat each other up during battles, instead of fighting enemies. On the other hand, the story was a noticeable improvement over the original, with more characters, dialogue, and unique situations outside of travelling strictly from dungeon to dungeon.
FFII first launched in Japan in 1988, but wouldn’t see an American release until it was bundled with the original game in 2003’s Final Fantasy Origins for the Playstation. To those picking up the game today, we recommend the PSP version, which features beautifully clean sprites, as well as a bonus dungeon, Soul of Rebirth, which acts as an epilogue to the game’s story.
14. Final Fantasy XIII
Final Fantasy games have always been aware of the line between sandbox-style exploration and more linear storytelling. Titles like the original FF and XII embraced the more wide-open nature of their worlds, while games like VII and X were more tightly focused and narrative-driven. X, in particular, didn’t truly open its world to the player until the very end. Final Fantasy XIII, however, took this rigid linearity to an extreme, one which many fans still have yet to forgive.
FFXIII is a game which holds the player’s hand way too tightly for the vast majority of the experience, imposing arbitrary level caps and keeping the player from choosing their own party much of the time. It tried to make up for it with an intelligent battle system, gorgeous graphics, and an interesting story, packed with momentum and exciting moments, but fan reception was decidedly cooler than Square Enix had expected.
While most gamers would have been happy to move on to a new setting after XIII’s mixed reception, Square Enix saw fit to make two direct sequels to this polarizing entry in the series. XIII-2 was bogged down by nonsensical story and a distinct lack of challenge in its battle system. Lightning Returns brought back some of the magic with a new combat engine and a compelling narrative, but by then, the damage was done, and most fans were ready to put the whole XIII saga behind them.
13. Final Fantasy III
After Final Fantasy II’s mixed reception, III served as something of a return to form for the series. XP and level-ups returned, as did the story structure of four Warriors of Light being chosen by the Crystal to defeat evil. The new twist to the formula was the introduction of Jobs, a class-system which changes the characters’ abilities, as well as their sprites. It’s fairly bare-bones, but it would later be elaborated upon in titles like FFV and Final Fantasy Tactics.
Unfortunately, the original NES version of the game never came out in the United States. North American gamers didn’t get to play FFIII until it was rebuilt, from the ground up, for the Nintendo DS. This version featured 3D graphics and a host of new features, including characterization and names for the leads; in the original NES version, they were blank slates like in the first FF, but here, they all have unique designs and character traits. Overall, while it would be nice to play the original 2D version, the art style of the DS edition works well, and the new character beats are fun additions to the tried-and-true narrative.
12. Final Fantasy XI
Final Fantasy XI was Square’s first attempt at a Massively Multiplayer Online RPG, and it proved to be a tremendous success for the company. The game first went live in 2002, and only just shut down its console servers in March 2016 (The PC game is still alive and kicking). Even when the XIII trilogy failed to impress a sizable portion of the fandom, players who were also MMO fans still had more than enough content to explore in XI. Over the course of its fourteen-year reign across PC, PS2, and Xbox 360, there were five expansions released for the game, as well as a number of smaller pieces of add-on content. Needless to say, the world of Vana’diel provided FF fanatics with hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of gameplay over its lifespan.
FFXI successfully combined Final Fantasy elements with MMO gameplay and aesthetics, creating a game which appealed to fans of both. In 2012, it was stated that Final Fantasy XI was the most profitable FF title yet. Time will tell if its successor, Final Fantasy XIV, will be able to match XI’s impressive longevity.
11. Final Fantasy XII
In Japan, the twelfth mainline Final Fantasy title released in March of 2006. In North America, however, the title didn’t hit shelves until October 31st, mere weeks before the launch of the Playstation 3. Perhaps this is the reason why the game is often overlooked by many casual fans. It’s a shame, too, because FFXII is an incredible game, and a testament to the impressive power of the PS2 hardware.
Set in the world of Ivalice (which also featured in titles like FF Tactics and Vagrant Story), XII features a massive world to explore. Ivalice is among the rare videogame settings which doesn’t just feel like a sandbox to play around in, but a fully-realized location which truly makes the player feel tiny in comparison. This sense of scale persists into gameplay and storytelling; XII broke away from Final Fantasy’s tradition of random battles, with all encounters taking place on the “field map,” without changing screens to a “battle map.” Likewise, the story is larger than the characters themselves, and events are generally outside of the control of the player’s team, echoing the similar approach taken years earlier, by FFVIII.
XII may be the underappreciated black sheep of the Final Fantasy family, but it will offer a shot at redemption to those poor souls who missed out on playing it the first time; Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is currently on track for a March 2017 release date. This game will be a PS4 remaster of the Japanese re-release of the original game, including lots of extra content, similar to Square Enix’s previous re-releases of FFX and the Kingdom Hearts games.
10. Final Fantasy XIV
Square Enix’s second attempt at the MMO genre is currently beloved by Final Fantasy fans… but it certainly didn’t start out that way. Announced for PC and PS3, XIV’s original incarnation only saw release on home computers, and was immediately met with derision and disgust from players. Compared to XI, this new game was borderline unplayable, rife with bugs and burdened by an uncooperative user interface. Part of the problem was that adapting XIII’s Crystal Tools engine for an MMO was an exercise in futility. The game was doomed from the start, but was released anyway, in an obviously unfinished state. XIII is an unlucky number, indeed.
The Final Fantasy brand is strong, and capable of bouncing back and recovering from crippling blows. XIV’s original incarnation was ended in dramatic fashion, with Bahamut literally destroying the world. The servers were shut down in November 2012, just two years after they had first gone live. One year after this, in 2013 (2014 for PS4 players), the game was relaunched as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. The game had been rebuilt from the ground up with a new graphics engine, and was essentially a whole new beast from the broken original. A Realm Reborn is what XIV should have been from the start, and its positive critical reception went a long way towards undoing the damage which had been done to Final Fantasy’s good name. The 2015 expansion pack, Heavensward, was met with praise from fans and critics, and a second expansion, Stormblood, is poised to launch in 2017. At last, XIV has proven to be a worthy heir to the legacy of XI, and even superior to that legendary title in many respects.
9. Final Fantasy IV
During their initial lifespan, Final Fantasy II and III never came out in the United States. When IV was developed as the first FF for the Super Nintendo, it was released in America as Final Fantasy II, with numerous changes to its difficulty and script. In the Japanese version, Edward is never called a “Spoony Bard,” among so many other differences.
Final Fantasy IV is legendary for adding a strong focus on storytelling to the series, telling a unique tale of redemption, with protagonist Cecil developing from a Dark Knight to a holy Paladin. The rest of the cast are colorful and quirky, from the dour dragoon, Kain, to the quirky twins, Porom and Palom. By today’s standards, the story is admittedly predictable and rife with cliches, but at the time, it was far beyond what most games of 1991 were willing to explore.
On the gameplay end of the spectrum, FFIV was the first title to use the Active Time Battle system. This battle system would be used in every Final Fantasy title until X, as well as fellow iconic Square RPG Chrono Trigger. IV was ported to numerous systems in the decades since its release, including the Nintendo DS. Unlike the port of III, we find that the chibi art-style of the DS version isn’t a great fit for the aesthetic of IV, so we’d instead recommend picking up the PSP version instead, which includes the episodic sequel, The After Years, as well as a brand new chapter, Interlude, which bridges the two eras of Final Fantasy IV.
8. Final Fantasy
The legend goes that Square was facing bankruptcy, and had only one shot to remain in the videogame business. As a reference to their predicament, they morbidly titled their new IP Final Fantasy, expecting it to be the last game the company would ever make. Fortunately for them, it became a hit, reversing the company’s misfortunes.
Final Fantasy featured four nameless Warriors of Light, in any player-controlled combination of 6 classes: White Mage, Black Mage, Red Mage, Thief, Black Belt, and Fighter. These characters travel from town to town, righting wrongs, fighting the Four Fiends, and taking down the final boss, Chaos. There’s not much to the storyline, but the game features a large world map to explore, and the sparse narrative and lack of hand-holding imbues the game with a unique sense of discovery when story beats do happen.
Final Fantasy has been re-released on pretty much every console imaginable. We recommend either the PSP 20th Anniversary edition, or any of the mobile ports of that version. The battle system is smoother and more balanced than the NES original, and the sprites practically pop off of the screen with stunning clarity, while still remaining true to the intent of the original art. Not like the iOS versions of V and VI… but we’ll get to those soon enough.
7. Final Fantasy VIII
Final Fantasy VII may have been the title which brought the series to 3D, but it was held back by extremely low quality character models and a distinct lack of animation. For the sequel, Square made sure to pull out all the stops to make VIII take full advantage of the Playstation hardware. Final Fantasy VIII, unlike its predecessor, used the same character models in battles as on the field screen, and they were of a much higher quality than those in VII. In addition, the FMV cutscenes were way beyond what VII was capable of, with detailed characters and more complex animations.
VIII’s battle system was a bit esoteric, but hugely rewarding for those who cared to study its intricacies; characters could “draw” magic from their enemies, and “junction” those spells to their stats, boosting performance to gloriously game-breaking levels. However, VIII was the first entry in the series where enemies would scale to the player’s level, meaning they would need every advantage to stay ahead of the curve. Simple level grinding wouldn’t cut it this time.
The story was unique for a Final Fantasy game. The heroes are in charge of protecting the world and taking down universe-ending maniacs, but that’s just background dressing for the real core of the narrative, the love story between Squall and Rinoa. Anyone who says they didn’t tear up during the Eyes On Me sequence aboard the Ragnarok is a bold-faced liar.
6. Final Fantasy IX
Just as XII was the swan song for the PS2, Final Fantasy IX came out on the Playstation in November 2000, several weeks after the PS2 had already launched in North America. Likewise, its Japanese release was in July, months after the PS2 had launched in that country. Despite being overshadowed by powerful new hardware, FFIX still managed to sell over five million copies by 2003. Not as many as VII or VIII, but an impressive number, regardless.
Unlike the increasingly science fiction settings of VII and VIII, Final Fantasy IX was more of a throwback to the early days of Final Fantasy, complete with less realistic character designs and an aesthetic more in line with the older titles. From a gameplay perspective, the battle system retains the ATB method of the previous five games, and embraces its roots by adopting the rigid class system of entries like IV, where characters are locked into their roles from the start. Instead of just leveling up, however, characters can be grown by equipping certain pieces of equipment and gaining enough Ability Points. Unlike most RPGs where armor is constantly being switched as soon as a better piece is discovered, FFIX encourages players to hold on to obsolete equipment which can give characters special abilities.
Final Fantasy IX was recently re-released on Steam. Unlike the hideous ports of V and VI, FFIX looks identical to the PS1 original, with all of the original graphics intact. To those who wish to play the game in its completely original form, however, it is available to download on the Playstation Store, as a “PS One Classic.”
5. Final Fantasy X
Just as FFVII screamed next gen with its then-impressive use of pre-rendered cinematics and 3D character models, FFX proved just as revolutionary for the Playstation 2, with its impressive facial animation and cinematic camera angles, made possible by the shift away from 2D backgrounds in favor of fully 3D environments.
The old ATB system was swapped for the more tactical Count Time Battle system, which was fully turn-based, and also introduced the ability to use any character during every battle, though the field was still limited to three slots at a time. FFX also did away with traditional level-ups, replacing them with the Sphere Grid. While players could develop their characters along a pre-determined track, they could also, with a little ingenuity and planning, customize the party to their own liking. The “HD Edition” re-release included a revamped and rearranged Sphere Grid, allowing for even greater potential for deeper manipulation of the party’s stats.
The story of FFX is one of the best in the series, about the struggle of maintaining individuality in the face of a cynical world and oppressive institutions. Some of the voice acting is a bit rough around the edges compared to today’s standards, but FFX remains an all-time classic in every sense of the word. X was followed-up by the first immediately direct sequel in the franchise’s history, the strangely-titled Final Fantasy X-2. This sequel swapped the nihilism of the first game with a more upbeat and jolly story, complete with numerous pop song interludes and wacky storylines.
4. Final Fantasy Tactics
While Final Fantasy Tactics is not a main, numbered entry in the FF series, it is universally beloved as one of the greatest games to bear the name of Final Fantasy, and one of the best tactical RPGs of all time. Numerous series staples are present and accounted for, such as Chocobos and Summon magic. Likewise, the Job system (and many of the character classes therein) is based on the blueprint of III and V.
The story this time around focuses on Ramza Beoulve and Delita Heiral, and how their lives, and the whole kingdom of Ivalice, are changed by the War of the Lions. The plot itself is a bit too epic for its own good, but the themes resonate strongly and the characters are varied and vivid. The original Playstation release is still very much playable today, though the script is rife with translation errors. We prefer the PSP remake, Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions. This iteration of the game features a new and improved translation, which serves to tie-in more strongly to Final Fantasy XII, which is set in the same world. War of the Lions also contains new jobs to master, gorgeous new FMV cutscenes (complete with voice acting), new battles, and a couple of new playable characters, including Balthier from FFXII.
Tactics’s endearing popularity inspired a Game Boy Advance spin-off, the aptly titled Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, which, in turn, led to the Nintendo DS’s Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift.
3. Final Fantasy V
Even more than Final Fantasy XII, if there’s a sadly-overlooked game in the series, it’s V. Although first released in Japan in 1992, it wouldn’t hit American shores until it was bundled with VI in the 1999 Playstation collection, Final Fantasy Anthology. Unfortunately, this version was plagued with long load times and an uninspired translation. In 2006, however, the title was ported to the Game Boy Advance. This version remains the definitive edition of V, with a wonderfully peppy new translation, additional content, and pixel-perfect recreations of the sprites and artwork. The game was later ported to iOS and Steam with the GBA translation, but the graphics were completely replaced with gaudy sprites and awful textures in the backgrounds. The original gameplay is intact, but the visuals are an affront to the original art.
We can only truly recommend the Game Boy Advance version, but FFV is a game which truly needs to be played. The battle system is one of the deepest in the whole series, combining III’s job system with a multi-tiered leveling system, where characters could level up individual jobs. It’s essentially the same mechanics as would be applied to Final Fantasy Tactics years later, but used within the more conventional confines of a traditional Final Fantasy game. The story is full of shocking twists, and compelling characters give the game an aura of optimism and joy which is lacking in titles like VI and VII.
2. Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII was the first title in the series released for the Playstation, and it blew everybody away. VII earned unanimous critical praise and turned Final Fantasy into one of the most important franchises in pop culture. The 2D pre-rendered backgrounds were a revelation in their day, and the FMV sequences began the tradition of Square always being on the cutting edge of visual storytelling in videogames.
The story of Cloud Strife and his fight against Sephiroth and the Shinra corporation is one of the greatest stories ever told. VII broadened the horizons of the traditional fantasy setting, adding science fiction elements like space travel and industrialization, and cyberpunk tropes like evil mega-corporations and the morally dubious eco terrorists who fight against them.
The characters, perhaps owing to the low level of detail that the Playstation hardware was capable of in 1997, all had distinct appearances, courtesy of character designer Tetsuya Nomura; Cloud and Vincent, in particular, are still shockingly popular cosplay choices today, nearly two decades after its initial release. Final Fantasy VII may be the most popular title in the franchise, but it also has deep RPG gameplay to back up its flashy graphics and groundbreaking story; the Materia system is hugely addictive and ripe for extensive customization of the player’s party.
We don’t know how these elements will translate to PS4 when the Final Fantasy VII Remake comes out, but, even if it’s terrible, we can always go back to the original and play one of the greatest Role Playing Games ever made.
1. Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VI isn’t just our pick for the best FF title; it’s easily one of the greatest games of all time. The first half of the game has a linear progression and introduces the player to the world and its inhabitants. However, halfway through, everything changes in one of the biggest twists in videogame history. Following this, the party is scattered and the game’s structure takes on a much more open-world feel, more akin to The Elder Scrolls than Final Fantasy, but it still works magnificently. FFVI’s story is perfectly-paced, and the most unpredictable in the series, with an excellent mix of sadness, comedy, melodrama, and excitement. The cast is the largest in any FF, with fourteen playable characters, each with their own skills and stats which can be enhanced with magicite, summon stones which also alter the holder’s stat growth. Building a game-breaking party of invincible bruisers has never been more fun or rewarding than in FFVI.
Like V, the best way to enjoy VI is with the Game Boy Advance version, which boasts identical art to the original title, new content, and a fresh translation. Sadly, the iOS and Steam versions feature horrendous new graphics, rather than anything that remains remotely true to the original art.
What do you think? Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite Final Fantasy title? Have you played the Steam versions of V and VI? Aren’t they just ghastly? Sound off in the comments below!
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