Ranking the Best Final Fantasy Games
Final Fantasy is one of the most financially successful video game franchises of all time, and perhaps the most important Japanese role-playing game series of all time, next to Dragon Quest. While it was initially supposed to be the last game ever released by Squaresoft in general, and one Hironobu Sakaguchi in particular, there turns out to be nothing final about this fantasy, as the official 15th game in the series is set for release later this month. That’s not even taking into account the spawn of a couple of movies, and the numerous spin-offs, like the Mana and Kingdom Hearts series, the latter of which has become a grand legend in its own right. Now it is time to do the near-impossible: ranking the best amongst this storied franchise. Here are the top seven Final Fantasy games of all time. Why seven? Because everyone does a top ten!
Note: There’s no rule about this list that doesn’t include any spin-offs or direct sequels, but it just turned out that way… except for one entry.
7) Final Fantasy X
Breaking the mold of fantasy by utilizing Eastern architecture and influences as opposed to Western, and with a thought-provoking story and a revolutionary new battle system that’s still exclusive to this title, Final Fantasy X is the closest thing to a modern masterpiece that Square Enix has made so far. While not perfect (the voice-acting is hit-and-miss across the board, it’s surprisingly linear, and it could have done without the daddy issues subplot), it’s worth checking out either in its original PS2 release or its HD variant on PS3 and PS4.
6) Final Fantasy VIII
Granted, this one is a personal choice but is still warranted a spot on the list with easily one of the best love stories ever told in the medium, along with its bold gameplay idea. Adopting a more modern palette to stand out amongst its contemporaries, even within its own series, and standing as the first Final Fantasy to use realistic proportions for its character models, VIII marks the moment where Final Fantasy began to push the boundaries of what fantasy actually is. Expanding on the materia system of Final Fantasy VII, VIII’s Junction system makes for one of the easiest game in the franchise so far, utilizing spells to boost stats. And the ballad of Squall and Rinoa is so relatable, it’s a wonder how this game is often in the series’ dog house. It’s available on Steam and the PS Store and is definitely worth a second look.
5) Final Fantasy VII
Hold the phone; why is Final Fantasy VII, the title that practically put Final Fantasy on the map, only ranked #5? Basically because, despite its strong moments that have lived on, through infamy or otherwise (Aerith’s death, the discovery of who Cloud really is, the omnipresent meteor drawing ever closer to planet Gaia, Knights of the Round), the technical selling point of the game doesn’t hold up as well as its other Playstation counterparts, especially it’s blocky character model. That said, VII stills rock in its own right. It’s rather under-appreciated narrative touches on environmentalist issues, as well as new age spiritualism that would be inspired by the game’s conception (along with the death of producer Hironobu Sakaguchi’s mother). And it’s materia system makes managing spells less of a chore. On a technical level, the Playstation Final Fantasy entries would only get better, but there’s a reason why the first one still resonates with many people.
4) Final Fantasy Tactics
Taking cues from Square’s Ogre Battle series, Final Fantasy Tactics shattered the mold by taking the series’ board game inspire battle system to its logical extreme. There are classes aplenty to keep dedicated players busy, with 20 classes in all (22 in the PSP version), to say nothing of a number of secrets to find throughout the game, including one main series that won’t be spoiled here. Combine that with one of the most complex stories in the series, Final Fantasy Tactics is one spin-off that every fan of the series should check out.
3) Final Fantasy IV
Considered to be the true starting point of the series, Final Fantasy IV is a precursor of the medium’s capabilities of storytelling, with its narrative rooted in revenge and redemption. It’s the first and only game in the series to have a party of five doing battle against evil, and the first game to introduce the Active-Time Battle system, which would become a series staple. The SNES is a hotbed for high-quality JRPGs, and Final Fantasy IV is one of its first, as well as one of its best.
2) Final Fantasy IX
Often erroneously remembered as a “return to form” of sorts, largely due to its art design, Final Fantasy IX is a masterpiece that stands well enough on its own. At once one of the most lighthearted and darkest stories ever told, focusing mainly on the struggles of identity (struggles that every central character has to grapple with on a certain level), all of its callback are just surface dressing masking a far deeper core underneath. That said, it does hearken back to the SNES days with its increased party count and returning the series back to medieval fantasy roots after the last two games journeyed to the future, and VI to the industrial revolution. Even characters like Garland and the antlion return to heighten the game’s nostalgia factor. One of the most challenging games in the series, Final Fantasy IX is also the best game in the series not to premiere on a cartridge.
1) Final Fantasy VI
This may seem obvious, although others may make the case for VII. While Final Fantasy VII did revolutionize the series and take it to heights once unimagined on a graphical level, Final Fantasy VI is notable for being a damn near perfect version of exactly what it wants to be. With an easy-to-use (and abuse) magic leveling system, a well-told story about rebellion and self-acceptance, with an undertone commentary on racism, an aesthetic that mixes futuristic steampunk with the industrial revolution of the 19th century, and the most likable cast of character in the series so far, with unquestionably the greatest villain in the series in Kefka Palazzo, Final Fantasy VI remains one of Square Enix’s masterworks.
And that’s our list. Feel free to list your own favorite Final Fantasy games in the comment section.