Anyone that knows me knows I love a good RPG, and since Final Fantasy just turned 30 I might as well throw out my opinions out there via ranking them. Let’s just jump into it.
Before we start just know that I’ve never played the two MMO Final Fantasy games, 11 and 14, so I won’t be ranking them. Also I’m excluding sequels and spin-offs like 13-2, 13-3, 10-2 and Dirge of Cerberus to name a few. Also I will avoid going into much detail about storylines as much as I can. No point in spoiling it.
13. Final Fantasy II
While never originally released in the U.S., we got it eventually. Was it worth the wait? No. For some reason the NES had a voodoo curse on sequels. Super Mario Bros. 2, Zelda 2, Castlevania 2; all were weird and disconnected from the original games they followed up, and FF 2 was no different. Basically the only thing they kept was the basic idea of a four person party. Sadly though the pick-a-class-build-a-team system from FF 1 was replaced with a static cast of four named characters, and some rotating tag-alongs. The now famous experience system was replaced by stat bumps based on what you did in combat. The mana pool was also replaced by a tiered spelled system that was also based around the rules as stat increases.
12. Final Fantasy I
Next up, the granddaddy of them all: Final Fantasy I. While being a classic, this game is also terribly dated. You can tell that Square was drawing influence from pen-and-paper RPGs of the time, namely Dungeons and Dragons. It had a pretty sweet plot involving time travel, which was pretty ahead of its time for an NES game. The UI in the shops are not very friendly. That is unless you like buying your 100 potions one at a time. Some of the bugs and glitches stop some items and stats from working, but it’s nothing game breaking. Remakes of this game have fixed those problems, but it can’t fix that fact that deep down inside this feels like a bare bones RPG to me.
11. Final Fantasy XIII
Ahh Final Fantasy 13. What a strange time for Square Enix. The gaming industry has moved onto the high definition age of gaming by this point, and they just didn’t know how to handle it. While the game itself is very beautiful it feels like that’s what most of its development cycle was devoted to. Not much of the story is actual told through the narrative. Instead NPCs and notes left in the world are your biggest source of information. The game itself feels very constricting with side quests being almost nonexistent. The combat is both a good and bad thing. The good things are you can pick a party formation, and basically set it and forget it. The computer will take care of itself. The bad part is you don’t have control over the whole party in case shit goes sideways.
10. Final Fantasy VII
In short, I just don’t get the hype. I know why everyone thinks this is THE best Final Fantasy game, but I can’t agree with it. The cutting edge technology that made it so mind blowing back in the day just looks dated now. Back then Square used the technology they had to blend together pre-rendered backgrounds and computer-generated cut scenes. Today this just looks and feels so clumsy to me. The monster summons TAKE FOREVER!! You ever summon Knights of the Round? I could go make dinner and eat it before I could summon them. The story is above average, but the cast is largely forgettable save for Vincent, Cloud, Yuffie, and the sweet looking bad guy Sephiroth. I’m very curious to see how they handle the episodic remake. Maybe that will bump it up on the list.
9. Final Fantasy X
The first entry of the series on PS2, Final Fantasy X threw away the pre-rendered backgrounds of old and replaced them with real-time environments. Hell, characters were fully voice acted which was a big step for the series. It loses me a bit with its need to make progressing dungeons as important as beating bosses though. This installment also marks the first time the series stepped away from its active-time combat for a full-on turn-based system which gave you an advantage in planning out you next few moves. The biggest downfall of this game, much like FF 13, is that the story is just one big linear path. The good news is FFX has enough secrets that it can keep you busy for a little bit. Shoutout to Blitzball. Easily one of the best parts of this game.
8. Final Fantasy III
Unlike I and II, this game felt like what I was used to in a Final Fantasy game. It introduced the Job System that let you change your characters to fit the situation as long as you’re out of battle. Having trouble with a boss that can 1-shot you? Turn the party into Dragon Knights that are capable of leaping off the screen and avoiding damage. The world around you is vast and mysterious and also changes as you progress the story and interact with NPCs. The end boss, in true Final Fantasy fashion, never really fully explains their motives. The downside to this game is some parts of the adventure just feeling very grueling. For example: the final dungeon is a huge labyrinth filled to the brim with high-level monsters, multiple bosses and ZERO SAVE POINTS. You die you go back to the start. This game takes some grinding.
7. Final Fantasy VIII
This was one of the first Final Fantasy games I played. After the success that was FF7, Square wouldn’t have been blamed if they got lazy and put out an almost carbon copy. Instead they took the ballsy approach which gave us the most fearless game in the series. Final Fantasy VIII throws out almost everything you took for granted in the earlier installments. Casting spells no longer takes mana. Instead they take certain resources that are also used for upgrading weapons, and can also be used as items themselves. Grinding for experience not only levels you up, but also levels the enemies up right along with you making the game more difficult. Your team are from a military academy meaning you don’t buy weapons, you just reforge them into stronger weapons. The upside to this is you have a lot of spare cash. Not that it means much since there isn’t much to spend it on. The best part about this game is there’s so many workarounds and unconventional systems to what they try to push on you as required tactics.
6. Final Fantasy XV
Sadly another victim of HD graphics, FF15 was announced more than a decade ago as “Final Fantasy Versus 13.” Even with that against it, the game turned out pretty well. It has its issues, like all games. Mostly the story just doesn’t make any sense unless you pay very good attention, or watch a lot of videos about it. For all its issues, though, it makes up for them. This game boasts the most ambitious setting in the franchise’s history in a vast open world that is mostly open to be explored from the very beginning. The party is made up of four very close friends trying to set things right for the groups’ leader, Prince Noctis. Honestly the best moments in this game are the small ones like the group hanging out at campgrounds, taking selfies during battle, and being able to listen to sweet, sweet, classic Final Fantasy music during the game.
5. Final Fantasy IV
With this game I feel like Final Fantasy transcended its early days of well-intended chaos trying to set itself apart from Dragon Quest. All the silliness and melodrama that you’ve come to expect in Final Fantasy stems from FF4. The job system has been reworked into a more narrative version, meaning that only certain characters are certain jobs. The story involves major badass Cecil embarking on a quest to discover his true self. While on this quest party members drop in and out, often leaving the way of a noble self-sacrifice. The drawback of this game though is it feels like it ends just as its getting good. Other than that it could of easily been higher on my list.
4. Final Fantasy XII
Final Fantasy 12 was ahead of its time. Its Gambit system lets you basically program the AI to act how you want. Want them to throw a potion at someone when they’re less than 50% health? No problem. Want them to revive a teammate when they get killed? They can do it. However, many at the time felt it was a game design crutch that surrendered your ability to pick actions for the whole party. Now, however, it is commonplace to have AI-controlled party members. Nothing has matched the flexibility of the Gambit system though. Very few open world RPGs have managed balancing free-form questing and a structured story as well as FF12 did. The game allows you to go wherever you want right off the bat, even if that means you end up wandering into high level areas, but if you know what you’re doing you can make interesting breaks from the “proper” order of events.
3. Final Fantasy V
The devs of this game took the job system from FF 4 and used the raw form of it to make a story-driven quest of a game. Final Fantasy 5 basically gave the finger to narrative, and is easily the most silly game in the entire series. This game might be the most replayable in the entire series, though. In fact, thousands of people revisit it each summer in a charity run called “Final Fantasy 5 Four Job Fiesta.” The job system is vastly expanded on with more jobs to choose from while also allowing players to mix and match skills from different jobs. The game’s difficulty level feels perfectly balanced from start to finish as there is no scenario that can’t be overcome with the right party setup. You most likely won’t remember the characters or story once the credits roll. The real appeal comes from the flexibility of the job system. It has a “one more time” appeal to me. I often find myself asking “what if I played it with this class setup?” The customization isn’t unlimited, but it damn sure feels like it.
2. Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VI sits right in that sweet spot of vintage games in all their sprite graphics glory, and the more modern take on the series full of sci-fi futurism and narrative-driven storytelling. Despite it’s steampunk inspired world being drawn on old-school bitmap graphics, those 16-bit visuals make the setting feel every bit as gritty and modernized as FF7’s (at the time). The story is great in a crazy way, and doesn’t end where you think it would, in a good way though. The story can be broken apart into two halves. The first half is linear and very story-driven. The second half gives you the freedom to tackle it in any order you would like. The game rewards you for taking time out and checking everything. As for the cast of party members there could be over a dozen of them depending on how you play, and most of them have their own personality making them interesting, distinct and sympathetic. Final Fantasy VI does everything right, but this next game is just far more enjoyable for me.
1. Final Fantasy IX
Final Fantasy IX is the last hurrah for the series on PS1. It feels like a celebration of RPGs from the older generations in the best way possible. Surprisingly, like Final Fantasy 15, this game started off as a spin-off, but there’s just so much pure Final Fantasy feel that it’s definitely earned its number. Unlike the sci-fi filled worlds of VI, VII, and VIII, this game takes place in a world filled with mages, castles, and cobblestone streets. The main character, named Zidane, is a roguish character who has some surprises up his sleeve later on. There’s also a pretty sweet tribute to the original Final Fantasy with the return of Garland and his Four Fiends. Don’t get me wrong, this game is far from perfect. The story veers wildly in some places between comedy and melodrama. On the technical side this game pushes the Playstation beyonds its limits at times that results in some slow downs in some spots where the Playstation wheezes to keep up. The characters are all great and lovable in their own way, from the large clumsy knight Steiner to my favorite Final Fantasy character, the childlike innocent black mage Vivi. This game is a heartwarming tribute to the vintage games in the series before 10 pushed it into the modern era we all know now.
Well that about does it for me guys. Let me know what you think of my rankings and how you’d rank them. I’ll see you guys next time!