*Cracks knuckles* Time to stir the Final Fantasy pot. Nobody will disagree I’m sure. We here at VGU.tv have gotten a kick out of the Little Engine That Could – […]
*Cracks knuckles* Time to stir the Final Fantasy pot. Nobody will disagree I’m sure.
We here at VGU.tv have gotten a kick out of the Little Engine That Could – Graydon Webb’s ranking of Telltale games. Ever since he published that article in early 2020, it has received people viewing it…pretty much daily. So in an effort to replicate that success, I decided to do one as well using a franchise ripe with disagreements – Final Fantasy. As any Final Fantasy fan knows, it doesn’t matter what your top game is, there is ABSOLUTELY going to be a sect of those fans who think you’re the dumbest person imaginable for putting it there. This will be no different. In fact, it’ll probably be worse.
Now, I haven’t played all of the games. The MMOs in Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV will not be included on this list. Same with Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy XII, and a plethora of offshoots such as Final Fantasy Type-O, Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII, and many more. Some of these I look forward to playing in the future (I have Final Fantasy XII staring me in the face on Xbox Game Pass) and some I hope to make a return with general improvements or remasters (such as the rumored Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII re-release).
So while this isn’t a definitive list as it’s leaving a lot off of the table, let me be clear – this is the DEFINITIVE *wink* list of Final Fantasy games (that I’ve played). Let’s just have some fun with this, shall we? This list will go from worst to best. Starting with…
Final Fantasy (NES, 1987)
The game that started it all. So let’s start the list off with this game too, shall we? While I do believe this game deserves a lot of praise and admiration for what it did back in 1987, it’s important to note one thing. It’s not 1987 anymore. Games have progressed, and have progressed quite far. Many of the systems have vastly improved over the years. For instance, the random battles in this game are obnoxiously common. My first experience with Final Fantasy involved me turning it off halfway into the first cave. Why? Because I was tired of running into a random battle every two steps. Not hyperbole. Quite literally every few steps I was dragged into a random battle.
Other systems such as having to buy items one at a time instead of a quantity at once are dated. The battle system relies on you plugging in all character commands at the beginning instead of each individually as the turn comes up was thankfully updated. There are just so many things that shine a light on the fact that this game is the first. An interesting first given the time, but looking back at it now, it’s hard to rank it higher than the games that improved on the formula over the years.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy (Nintendo 3DS, 2012)
Despite having Final Fantasy in the title, it’s the game that’s the furthest from Final Fantasy on the list. Rhythm games aren’t typically something I enjoy. I find myself too engaged with what notes I need to hit which results in me missing everything else going on. Sadly, the things going on correlating with the timely button presses are typically the things I WANT to see. To a point, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is no different. Fortunately, this game isn’t relying on a deep narrative (apparently there is a story though – I don’t recall, which shows how impactful it was on me).
Instead, the game is a love letter to music in the Final Fantasy series. The series is ripe with some of the best music that gaming has to offer, and having it as a rhythm game was a smart move on Square Enix’s part. A Final Fantasy fan would find this game worth playing just because of the music alone. How much you’ll enjoy it outside of that though is purely dependent on your love of rhythm games.
World of Final Fantasy (PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, 2016)
Final Fantasy mixed with Pokemon? Two of my favorite things in video games ever? The fact it took me as long as it did to play it was more surprising than anything for me. I finally did though and I’m…unsure of how I feel about it for the most part. There is definitely a charm to the game and a level of humor that I greatly appreciated in the game and plenty of fan service for long-time fans. The capture mechanic and many of the systems worked well enough, but too often the game…dragged. I gave up before finishing the game because I found a lot of it just kind of boring.
The chibi design of the world was also not something I was fond of, exploration felt bland, and I never particularly liked the stacking mechanic of the monsters for battles. It definitely feels like one of those games you just have to tough out more often than not. Maybe I’ll revisit it one day in hopes to finish it, but looking back at my time with it, I’m not eager to do it either.
Final Fantasy XIII (PlayStation 3/Xbox 360, 2009)
There’s a lot of hate in the world for Final Fantasy XIII. I understand the criticisms. It’s incredibly linear. I hate the fact that the battle relies solely on a particular character surviving, otherwise the battle ends even when your teammates are still up. The plot is an overly convoluted mess. Yada, yada, yada. However, I think there’s plenty of great things to shine on the game. I think the music is spectacular. The battle system is the best that it had been up to that point with a sped-up tempo that kept players on their toes. I really dig some of the designs and the game looks incredibly beautiful.
It was also the first time in a Final Fantasy game (that I’ve played) where the sense of scale with enemies felt genuine and less…comical I guess? Though I would argue that’s based on the style of the games too. Final Fantasy XIII gets more of a bad rap than it deserves. I hope that the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy does make a return because I would be curious where my views stand on this game all of these years later.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation Portable, 2007)
I wasn’t really sure where to place this game on my list, but I’m thinking it would fall about here. The problem is…this is one of the games that I haven’t played in the longest amount of time. So my recollection of this game as a whole is somewhat blurry. I remember being fearful of the action RPG elements added into a Final Fantasy game, mainly because I’m awful with action games. However, it worked totally fine for me. I think there were parts of the combat that I had difficulty wrapping my head around, but I finished the game, so it wasn’t a deal-breaker obviously.
The main thing I remember loving about this game was not only seeing the backstory to Zack but in particular, that ending. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII may be the first game I was visibly emotional in playing. This may seem blasphemous, but the ending had a more emotional impact for me than a certain character’s death in the original Final Fantasy VII game. That alone earns it a soft spot in my heart, and I hope to god we’ll see a remastered re-release of this game on new consoles.
Final Fantasy X (PlayStation 2, 2001)
I’m going to be honest. I think my feelings on Final Fantasy X are what people have towards Final Fantasy XIII. The linearity of this game bothered me to a fault when it released, and it never really let up. Yes, you can fly back to previous areas later in the game, but that doesn’t change the fact that each area is a linear corridor of sorts with occasional branching paths funneling you back to the same destination in the least interesting ways possible.
Taking that bias out though, there’s a lot about Final Fantasy X that I love. Tidus and Yuna have the best relationship in the series in my opinion. The combat system improved dramatically with this game. It has some of the most beautiful locations in the series as well. Plus, I think Auron is a bad ass who more than makes up for my hate with a character like Wakka. So maybe it isn’t as bad as I think about it when it first pops in my mind. Maybe this article helps reinforce that though too. Though my thoughts on Blitzball remain unchanged – it sucks.
Final Fantasy XV (PS4/Xbox One, 2016)
It’s a real shame about Final Fantasy XV. Clearly, there were problems behind the scenes considering it started out as Final Fantasy XIII Versus. That’s made evident by the butchered story that resulted in the awful film that released in Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV and the five-episode series Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV (which I didn’t see). However, I still found Final Fantasy XV to be fun and was one of my favorite games of 2016. The battle system was a continued evolution of what came before it and it turned out great, though the methods to summon were obtuse though jaw-dropping when done.
Most impressively for me was the open world that they created. I think this was always one of the biggest mysteries as to how Square Enix would go about implementing a true open world in the series, and they did it with Final Fantasy XV. It’s not perfect by any means. The world is mostly barren and it can be pretty tiresome in terms of what’s happening in the world. However, I think turning it into a road ship with brothers/friends was an interesting choice. Overall, I feel like Final Fantasy XV is the “experiment” before Final Fantasy XVI, though that will remain to be seen.
Final Fantasy V (Super Nintendo, 1992)
First off – play the Game Boy Advance version. Not the Final Fantasy Anthology version on the PlayStation. If you do, then you get to bypass some of the problems that the latter version had such as an awful translation while also receiving additional perks that it didn’t have. With that out of the way, Final Fantasy V is a solid entry in the series. I don’t find myself attached to the story or the characters whatsoever, but the thing worth mentioning in this game is the job system introduced.
Not only was it a monumental change to the series, but it was the starting point to some of my favorite aspects of the battle system in later games too. This expands and deepens the battle system to new heights not previously seen in the series and leads to so much experimentation with the player. I think your mileage may vary with how it’s implemented (constant battling to improve abilities for instance), but it’s impossible to ignore how important this game was for what the series would become.
Final Fantasy IX (PlayStation, 2000)
I think Final Fantasy IX is the last car in my Final Fantasy nostalgia train. It hits a lot of the similar notes of the previous two predecessors while reverting back to the more medieval approach in what I believe was meant as a reflective nod to the older games in the series. The characters were more misses than hits for me though (especially the main villain), and the combat felt plodding even with an additional party member at the helm. The music did less for me here than in other titles and even something as small as the card game Tetra Master was nowhere on par with Final Fantasy VIII‘s Triple Triad.
And even with all of that said…I still really enjoyed the game. I loved the world, the animations, the use of pre-rendered backgrounds, the cutscenes, and so much more. To me though, it felt like a step back from the previous two that I adored to no end. Which probably makes this suffer a lot more in my favorite Final Fantasy games list than it deserves.
Final Fantasy VI (Super Nintendo, 1994)
And here it is. If you haven’t already dropped out with my poor list, this is where it would happen more than likely. So let me just say – I don’t love Final Fantasy VI. In fact, part of me thinks it should be further down on my list of favorites. I’ve never gotten far in the game of the 5 or so times I’ve played it because it bores me to death. There. I said it. So why is it here exactly? Well, for numerous reasons. For one, I know the big twist. At this point everyone does I believe. What they did plot-wise was unfathomable at the time and I think they deserve praise for what they chose to do.
The look and feel of that game, especially at the time, was unlike anything else at the time. The characters feel fleshed out and their abilities make each one stand out from one another. In fact, without Sabin and his Blitz ability, one of my favorite games in Legend of Legaia probably wouldn’t exist. Hell, some of the moments (suplexing a ghost train, the opera, etc) are incredible. Just, for whatever reason, it doesn’t speak to me as it does to others. At the very least, I understand why it’s held in such high regard. It just…wasn’t for me apparently.
Final Fantasy Tactics (PlayStation, 1997)
This one is surprising to me. Much like rhythm games, I’m not a tactic RPG fan either. However, it had Final Fantasy in the name, so I gave it a try. Despite never having finished it, the fact I put as much time and effort into this game speaks wonders to me and makes me want to revisit it. Final Fantasy Tactics is considered one of, if not the best, strategy RPGs of all time. It’s well deserved. Not only does the story hold its own, but it’s accessible enough for newbies (like myself) while being engaging and one of the best-looking games at the time (and still looks great today in my opinion). I remember running into obvious problems with spikes in difficulty, as one does with many types of RPGs, but for the most part, I kept chugging along.
I think the thing that ultimately stopped me was a battle I just couldn’t seem to win. At that point, I felt satisfied with how far I made it into the game and put it aside. Because Final Fantasy Tactics sunk its teeth into me as hard as it did, despite not liking the genre, I feel it’s worth this place on my list versus further down along with Theatrhythm Final Fantasy.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, 2013)
Not the best of the trilogy, but certainly not the worst either. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII takes the hub world idea from the second game while focusing on the main protagonist from the first. All the while, callbacks to the previous two games are plenty and make playing the first two more rewarding. As a running trend with this series, the combat is still superb even if I had my worries about only having ONE character in battle. However, the class system to switch on the fly feels like an evolution of the next game on the list while not feeling restrictive with the use of only having Lightning.
It was an interesting chance to take with the series, but thankfully it worked out pretty well. If the story had panned out more coherently, the quests were less dull, and the time limit felt more urgent (in balance with the lackluster quests); it’s very possible this game would have been better received and higher on my list.
Final Fantasy X-2 (PlayStation 2, 2003)
I will shout to the heavens that Final Fantasy X-2 deserves more love than anyone seems to think. As someone who wasn’t incredibly fond of Final Fantasy X, I fell in love with this game. Not only was the shift in tone something I desperately wanted, but it introduced me to J-pop which is something that took me by surprise. Yes, it’s not the typical soundtrack…and I think that’s why it stands out to me. The combat system is, as mentioned, really incredible and I loved the inclusion of the dress spheres.
Everything about this game feels so incredibly different than any other Final Fantasy game out there, and I love it for how unique it is. The plot is something I overall don’t really care about, but the characters and how bubbly the general feel of the game is a complete win for me. Maybe one day, people will appreciate this game as much as I do. Because I believe it deserves love.
Final Fantasy VII Remake (PlayStation 4, 2020)
To read my full thoughts on Final Fantasy VII Remake, feel free to check out my review. To try and sum it up – the game was everything and more that I wanted. It could have gone horribly wrong, and to some people, it did. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how pitch-perfect it turned out. They could have changed it completely, and while there will definitely be turns in the future, I think a lot will remain intact. That excites me. In my opinion, Final Fantasy VII Remake is THE Midgar experience to play.
Between this and the original, this is superior in every way. The only reason it sits lower than Final Fantasy VII is simple – it’s not the complete experience. Who knows, 20 years from now when we have the complete edition sitting on our PlayStation 7’s and Xbox Infinity Two’s or whatever, it may dethrone the original. Or it could botch it. The fact I don’t know, the fact I get to experience my love for Final Fantasy VII for the first time again is a remarkable feat. It’s also one of the many reasons it sits where it does on my list.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, 2011)
Make no mistake – Final Fantasy XIII-2 is one of the best Final Fantasy games in the series. I don’t care that it’s attached to the XIII trilogy. After a tepid playthrough of the original, I wasn’t really sure what to expect with this game. It defied whatever expectations I did hold though. Not only did the game look great and break out of the linear experience, but it also added in a Pokemon capture mechanic! As I noted early…I’m a sucker for capturing them all.
I’m also a sucker for time-travel stories, which this definitely has even though it falls into the same problems most time travel stories seem to. At some point, it just gets….absurd. No different here. However, it was such a dramatic improvement from the original on all fronts and is the superior game in the XIII trilogy. Whether you loved or hated Final Fantasy XIII, I beg you to try the sequel. I will argue until I’m red in the face that this is one of the best Final Fantasy games out there and should definitely be played.
Final Fantasy IV (Super Nintendo, 1991)
Here it is. My FIRST Final Fantasy game. In fact…it may be the first RPG I ever played. Final Fantasy IV isn’t here only because of that nostalgia though, it’s here because it’s a damn good game. Right from the get-go, things go south for Cecil. You see a character who had qualms with where his kingdom was going get betrayed. Seeking out answers. Running across new world-threatening events.
It’s all done so incredibly well while still maintaining the fantastic Final Fantasy feel through and through. Difficulty spikes, especially in the late game, make it hard to see the ending and there are enough departures/returns of characters to make people roll their eyes…but that’s about it. That’s pretty much my biggest problem with the game. Considering the game is now 30 years old this year, that’s quite a feat in my eyes. It is the pinnacle of old-school Final Fantasy in my eyes, and hands down, one of the best in the series.
Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation, 1997)
Up until the last couple of years, this would have been my number one game. Even with all of the faults like the inconsistent character models and the horrid translation; Final Fantasy VII left a lasting impression on me. It’s one of the rare games I go back and play every couple of years. The plot, as confusing and obtuse as it is, is remarkably dark and has the backstory of John Carpenter’s The Thing in a way. So much of Final Fantasy VII probably live on my list from nostalgia.
Being my first 3D RPG (one of my first 3D games period) left an impact. The summons was stunning as too were the cutscenes. The new sci-fi approach to the world was jaw-dropping. The music is still to this day practically untouchable. The combat and seeing some of the size and scope of the monsters (such as the various Weapons) was unlike anything I had seen before. While I understand every criticism that can be thrown its way, none of it is enough to ruin my love for this game. That’s why it’s not only near the top of my favorite Final Fantasy list, but one of my favorite games of all time.
Final Fantasy VIII (PlayStation, 1999)
When the remaster released in 2019, I replayed through Final Fantasy VIII again. Something I do every few years anyway. It was then that I declared it my favorite game of all time. Nothing has changed since then. Despite the problems the game had with easily being broken using the Draw system or how nonsensical the story becomes after Squall is impaled; the game was something that pulls me in each and every time. Everything from Squall growing as a character and embracing his role as a leader to the card game of Triple Triad are things I’ll never get tired of revisiting.
I could continue to gush about this game, but that’s unnecessary due to the lack of space I’m giving myself. I linked to my previous article replaying the game at the beginning of this paragraph, so if you want a more in-depth view of that, please read through it. As it stands, Final Fantasy VIII is the DEFINITIVE Final Fantasy game in my eyes.
So you hate me yet? I figured you would. That’s okay. I understand my taste is different than some others. This article wasn’t meant as a slight to anyone else’s choices. Instead, it was a good way for me to collect my thoughts as a definitive list of sorts for myself. I’ve never taken the time to really put these in any sort of order in my head, but now it’s out there. I feel some could easily shift around on any given day, and I think that’s true for any list we as fans come up with.
If anything, it’s a good reminder of how amazing the Final Fantasy series is. How influential it is not only to the games in the series that they followed up with but also to video games as a whole. I know it’s easy to trash each other based on our favorite games in the series. Sometimes it’s just fun trash talk. In the end, we all love the series. We all have something with one or many of the games that have been released that we connect with. In turn, that connects us as fans. So let’s share that connection by loving the series while asking for improvements on future iterations. We may be 40 years into the series, but I’m hoping that 40 years from now, my children can still experience new Final Fantasy games as well and grow to love them the same way that I do.
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