From the original game’s release in 1987, Final Fantasy has become a staple video game series for a variety of reasons. No doubt, one element of its staying power has been the continued additions of versions that have kept the series relevant for nearly thirty years now. That’s right— thirty years.
Other details that make the Final Fantasy series one of prolonged popularity are the epic story lines of fantastic adventures and otherworldly scenarios, which are still somehow relatable on fundamental levels, such as the struggle between good and evil.
Throughout the games, players are in first-hand control of navigating through these good-versus-evil dangers to save worlds with mystic and awe-inspiring elements highlighting their journeys toward victory. It’s a remarkable, vivid combination.
Better still, devoted fans have gotten to navigate those good-versus-evil dangers through the perspectives of multiple protagonists, creating change that wouldn’t have come if the franchise only focused on one character.
This broader list of protagonists, in fact, has provided another method of keeping the games intriguing and fresh by giving fans so many characters to explore. When there’s something new so often on the horizon, after all, why not stick around to see what will happen next?
Sadly, though, not all of these varied characters have been completely successful since their quality ranges from mind-numbingly bland to unbelievably awesome.
To get an idea of how varied the quality can be, keep reading to find out Every Final Fantasy Protagonist, Ranked Worst To Best.
15 WARRIORS OF LIGHT
Characters can be weak, ridiculous, or annoying, but one of the worst things they can be is boring. Whether the presentation is in a movie, book, or game, if an audience doesn’t care about a character, they’re less inclined to care what happens to that character no matter how vibrant the plot is.
Unfortunately, for these protagonists of the original game, boring has to be connected to their descriptions.
This claim doesn’t mean that the game is boring or that the protagonists are actually bad. Truth be told, these little heroes might have the hardest story to fight through, since they appeared in the very first of the Final Fantasy role-playing games.
Regardless, no matter how difficult the game is or how capable these characters are at battling their foes, they aren’t even really characters. They’re just jobs that you can assign a name to.
This hiccup in character development makes sense for a first game in the series, but there’s little to no way that such unimaginative characters can rank any higher than the last spot on this list.
Ranking just above the generic archetype characters of the original Final Fantasy is Luneth, the not-so-interesting protagonist of FFIII. There’s little that stands out about this character-- in either a good or a bad way-- since he hangs out in the middle ground of temperament and rationale.
In truth, out of all of the characters on this list, this one is definitely the Mary Sue of the bunch. He’s good— the hero— but he's not much else.
Granted, it’s an improvement to not have to say “Onion Knights” for the game, but more depth to the character—or even a more interesting look—would have been a nice gesture to build a protagonist worth remembering, rather than the bland, blanket-goodness of Luneth.
The bottom line is that he only tops the original Warriors of Light because he has an actual name. If you only outdo nameless, job-title characters for this tiny detail, then you're probably an extremely forgettable character.
Still lingering in boring territory, let’s turn our focus toward Vaan from FFXII. While he has an interesting backstory of a disadvantaged childhood, all of the appealing elements in his story seem to be primarily contained in the time leading up to the game. Once he’s a part of the narrative, he becomes so unexciting that he isn’t even that important to the overall narrative.
It’s completely fine to have a character who’s not overly integral to the plot, but it’s not okay for this character to be the main protagonist.
Instead of being an active and leading detail in the plot’s advancement, Vaan more or less is the eyes you watch the story happen through, which might be the most boring concept you could expect from a protagonist. Why bother watching as one character if you could play as someone who, you know, matters to the story?
Still, at least Vaan has the interesting backstory that gives him some potential, and he does look more interesting than Luneth.
Once again, we’ve come to a character with little to offer in regard to personality. Firion, the protagonist of FFII, suffers from this same boring quality, though he ranks a bit higher than the previous boring characters since he is the first Final Fantasy protagonist who’s developed enough to have a story and a name— which is progress.
Still, the defining attributes of his character are limited to the most basic details. He’s a good guy who loses his family and becomes a hero, which feels like the default story for a hero, and his personality really doesn’t offer much to appreciate about him.
Essentially, he’s two-dimensional and kind of obvious from start to finish, and those aspects are hard to overlook.
With a backstory that could’ve used more thought and a character who could’ve used more depth, Firion just doesn’t demand that much attention. Simply put, there’s nothing about him that stands out beyond the obvious hero profile, so he’s not likely to be the most memorable or appreciated protagonist in the game’s history.
11 BARTZ KLAUSER
Still on the boring train, Bartz of FFV is, once again, everything you’d expect from a hero— and not much more.
He comes from modest beginnings and grows into a somewhat reluctant hero, and while some might criticize that history as a reason why he doesn’t fit in the game, the argument could be made that his seemingly accidental involvement with the plot makes for a more relatable experience.
Let’s remember, after all, that Luke Skywalker didn’t go looking for the Empire, but the droids found him. This concept of getting irrevocably sucked into a world of chaos, when done correctly, can create a brilliant story and a stand-out protagonist.
The problem here is that the story isn’t done correctly, since one primary detail— the main character— isn’t someone interesting enough to make you actually care about what happens to him. He’s just good—good senses, good outlook, good battle skills—and that’s pretty much it.
In the end, it was a close race to see who would top this series of boring characters, and Bartz just barely wins the round.
The time has come to step away from the mind-numbingly boring characters to dive into another flaw that shows up in the series— characters who are just plain annoying.
Under this umbrella is the sister of Lightning and protagonist of FFXIII-2 Serah.
From her introduction in FFXIII, Serah feels like she’s just a bonus on someone else’s character, whether it’s because she so strongly resembles her sister or because of her arguable dependency on her fiancée, Snow. Since she’s barely an adult and isn’t the main protagonist of FFXIII, these things are initially excusable.
Despite the passage of time and becoming the main character in FFXIII-2, though, she still doesn’t seem like an adult, as is evidenced by the childish whimpers she gives when in turmoil.
What could have been a strong female protagonist is a grown-up child who doesn’t quite succeed in embodying the level of strength, wit, or character that would be preferable from a protagonist.
Instead, she comes across as childish, innocent, and so-adorable-you-could-die, and that’s a giant misstep when trying to create a strong female character— or any character.
One of the most notoriously annoying characters of Final Fantasy is Tidus from FFX, though to his credit, he has a reason for his annoying habits. He’s displaced from his own world, so it makes sense that he needs time and opportunity to get his bearings.
This doesn’t mean that his infamous laugh scene is any less cringe-worthy, though, but grading him on a curve negates some of the frustration that his personality causes. Just some of the frustration, mind you.
One thing that’s worth appreciating about this character, however, is the amount of maturing he does, becoming a hero and facing heartache from his own past in the process. Even if you can’t bring yourself to like him, there’s still room to respect him in that regard.
Beyond that development, he’s a change of pace compared to some of the more stoic, serious series characters. He has an upbeat quality that’s carefree, despite his past trauma, but he still manages to save the day and has a strong connection with Yuna.
Basically, he’s a complex character— even if he could’ve been toned down a little more.
A number of the characters on this list could spark disagreement over their placement and the reasons why they’re praised or insulted.
Lightning might be the tip of the iceberg for this aspect of contention since she’s been criticized not only for her place in one of the lesser-liked Final Fantasy games (specifically, FFXIII), but also for sharing similarities with fellow Final Fantasy character Cloud.
There’s reason to compare her to Cloud given her look and disposition, and the similarity is so strong that it earns her a lower spot on this list. If you already have one character in a franchise, after all, you might as well construct a brand new one for your next character rather than rebuild the same one and give it a new name.
Still, it isn’t like she’s a carbon-copy of Cloud, so there’s room to look past the similarities to explore her character further— like her strength as a fighter and as a family member, and her no-nonsense attitude that puts her kid sister Serah to shame.
Overall, she’s one of the best female protagonists that Final Fantasy has offered its audience— ever.
While on the subject of strong female characters, Yuna most certainly qualifies, though not necessarily in the traditional sense.
By appearances, she looks like the type of person you might see selling fruit at a local market in a role-playing game, and she has a reserved and tranquil quality that isn’t automatically synonymous with strength and power.
Regardless, Yuna is one of the strongest characters of Final Fantasy because of the rivers of inner strength that she possesses.
This strength of her character, as well as her resolve, push her to be willing to sacrifice herself for the greater good, and enable her to feel such peace during any kind of crisis that she can prepare Tidus for her demise without telling him upfront that she’s dying.
To think of others— the world and her companions— during such a time shows strength that earns her a lot of credit among her Final Fantasy peers, even before her stance as the protagonist in FFX-2.
6 NOCTIS LUCIS CAELUM
One of the most interesting characters on this list is Noctis, the protagonist from FFXV. Noctis proves that, while the series took some time to get their protagonists right— remember the Warriors of Light and Firion?— they did, in fact, manage to accomplish some truly stand-out characters.
Noctis is royalty, though his inheritance and title don’t overshadow his other traits or the members of his company, as he journeys through his quest. Rather, he feels relatable, and he grows into a prince that any civilization would be proud of.
Certainly, he has his flaws, such as his issues that stem from a lonely childhood, but instead of drowning in them, he pushes on. This detail alone makes him worth a high mention on this list.
In addition to these factors, he manages what could be an emo appearance without being overruled by a dank outlook, his eyes glow red, and he has the power of kings at his disposal. This is a stable foundation for a great character.
5 TERRA BRANFORD
Strictly speaking, there’s no main protagonist in FFVI. Across the board, though, Terra has come to be associated with the “main character” label for the game.
This association makes her a sensible contribution to this list, particularly since she’s the first female in the Final Fantasy series to earn main-character status. That means that the female protagonists who have been front-and-center throughout the series all stem from this one, since she opened the door of possibility for them.
Beyond that factor of breaking the mold, Terra has an interesting story to follow. With her memory problems and identity issues, watching her grow throughout the game is like watching a reluctant flower starting to bloom when spring comes around. The potential’s there, and time will bring it to the surface.
Like that flower, Terra develops into a character with a more grounded outlook, a better understanding of herself, and abilities to fight for what’s right. Overall, she a great character who initiated women into Final Fantasy’s main characters.
4 CECIL HARVEY
Plowing deeper into well-rounded and stand-out characters, Cecil Harvey from FFIV is among the most fascinating and defined examples of the series.
There are a number of factors that play into this equation, not the least of which is his story of redemption, since he used to be a Dark Knight. Honestly, who doesn’t love a story of evil turning good and finding victory?
Because of his inner struggles and determination to better himself, fans don’t just see his strength in his battle tactics and sword skills. In fact, what could be argued as his greatest strength is his inner endurance, as he decides to turn against the life he’s known for what he knows is right— to build a life for himself that he can be proud of.
Cecil is a character who’s nearly impossible to not root for, and he’s without question one of the best protagonists in Final Fantasy history, with a story that is incredibly compelling and inspiring. This is one protagonist which the series got very right.
3 ZIDANE TRIBAL
Remember earlier when Tidus was noted as being a positive but annoying character? In FFIX, Zidane manages to embrace a lighthearted nature without stepping into that same sinkhole that Tidus fell into with his dreadfully awkward laugh.
The irony, though, is that there’s a darkness about Zidane’s character, even if Zidane himself doesn’t know about it at first, and that darkness is due to him being the Angel of Death.
If you spend any significant time at all with the game, you’ll realize how out of character that notion is, and it creates a paradox of deepness that surrounds the jovial character. That deepness is something that Zidane himself has to fight through, and it gives him just enough of a roughened edge to not be overly two-dimensional.
Because of this intense backstory and the fun quality that Zidane brings to the game, he’s more than earned his spot in the top-three on this list.
2 SQUALL LEONHART
Some fans might call him emo, but it’s entirely possible that anyone labeling this FFVIII protagonist in such a way doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “introvert.”
Sure, Squall is a loner with a dark past, but he inarguably is the definition of a reluctant hero who is willing to help when help is needed. He’s anti-social, and he doesn’t seem all that happy at first glance.
Still, he steps into the role of leader and is willing to tend to his responsibilities—with his Gunblade, which is approximately six hundred awesome points in his favor— despite how uncomfortable the prospect makes him.
This willingness to step up to the plate is too selfless and heroic to make him “emo,” and his reluctance for social reaction slowly melting in favor of being surrounded by love and close friends is a part of his depth. He overcomes, and in the end, he’s a much more mature, grounded character.
If this isn’t good character building, what is?
1 CLOUD STRIFE
If any of the characters on this list have a dramatic backstory, it’s Cloud from FFVII with his confused identity.
By “confused identity,” we’re not talking about a midlife crisis. Rather, Cloud’s mind has been the victim of so many twists that his memories and thoughts can’t be trusted, and it takes severe effort for him to be victorious over that mental fog.
This struggle is vivid, showcasing so many elements of Cloud, and you could argue that a more in-depth look at his character is garnered through this struggle than fans ever had for any of the other protagonists— before or after him.
Those fans can see Cloud when he doesn’t know who he is and while he wrestles to overcome his mental battles. It is a personal and fascinating journey, and in the end, he’s victorious.
Since he’s going through this unique psychological battle while carrying the infamous Buster Sword and driving a motorcycle, he’s bound to be so iconic that no other character is capable of comparing to the level of awesomeness he delivers. With that in mind, who else would earn the label as the best protagonist in Final Fantasy history?
Do you disagree with the list? Who is your favorite Final Fantasy protagonist? Let us know in the comments!