Even though the series has struggled in the last decade or so to remain the unanimously-beloved franchise it once was, Final Fantasy is still one of the most popular and enduring brands in video game history. Unless you just have an unshakable hatred for JRPGs, there is a pretty good chance that you've played a Final Fantasy game if you are looking at a video game website. While fans have debated for years which installment is the best, whether Final Fantasy VII was a breakthrough entry or a step in the wrong direction, and so on, it's only because there is such a strong overall affection for the series that these discussions and more rage on to this day.
One of the biggest reasons why Final Fantasy has been capturing the hearts of gamers for nearly four decades now is its characters, some standing proudly next to the likes of Pac-Man, Mario, and Lara Croft in the pantheon of gaming's most iconic characters. From the generic class archetypes of the first FF game on which the player was required to provide names and personalities, to the road tripping crew of 2016's Final Fantasy XV, we've explored with, befriended, and done battle against dozens of characters throughout FF's storied history.
We all may have our favorites—and the ones we most love to hate—but it's the entire roster of FF characters taken as a whole that have helped to define the series for six video game generations and counting. And here we have some of the most interesting re-imagined versions of those characters, by some of FF's biggest fans.
25 The Legend Of Tifa
Everyone loves a mash-up, few more so than fan artists. There is a ton of fan art out there of characters that combine elements of two (or more) separate fandoms into one single work, and Final Fantasy is no exception. In fact, we could've very easily focused this entire list on mash-ups of FF characters and some other game, movie, book, etc.
Here, artist Peach-Cobbler takes FFVII's Cloud and Tifa and morphs them together with Mako and Korra from The Legend of Korra, resulting in characters that would be at home in either franchise.
Art by Peach-Cobbler.
24 Street Fantasy
Here is another Final Fantasy mash-up, this time with another video game franchise—one of the few that is even bigger than FF. This time, we have FFXII's Fran mixed together with Cammy from the Street Fighter franchise, most specifically the latter's SFIV look.
It's obvious what specific physical trait Fran and Cammy have in common, and it's one we had to crop out of this picture as it slightly exceeded our content guidelines. But it doesn't take too much effort to imagine what this Fran/Cammy hybrid looks like below the waist, so we'll leave that up to you.
Art by Tirnanogindustries.
23 Zell Finally Mans Up
Final Fantasy VIII never stood a chance. It was following up one of the biggest games of all time for one part of FF's fan base, and its most disappointing entry to another. And neither side was going to unanimously consider FFVII's follow-up a success no matter what the game was like.
But even FFVIII supporters are often rightfully critical of its cast, not one of the stronger batches of characters in the franchise's history. However, this artist proves that even an annoying try-hard like Zell is capable of doing a 180 in the coolness department with the right visual makeover.
Art by Tuliominaki.
22 Classical Terra
One of the biggest debates between Final Fantasy fans over the years is over which of the franchise's two main character artists—Yoshitaka Amano and Tetsuya Nomura—have done better work for the series.
Amano goes for a more fantasy anime feel, while Nomura has a more punky, futuristic aesthetic.
And because so much of Amano's work primarily exists in 8- and 16-bit sprites, it's largely been up to fans to imagine what the characters would look like in greater detail. Here, we see tragic heroine Terra Branford envisioned as a beautiful piece of feudal Japanese art.
Art by Lauramw.
21 Final (Fantasy) Fight
Some artists have taken on the task of re-imagining Final Fantasy characters in different styles of game, even if they aren't necessarily using a particular game as inspiration. That is the case with this gorgeous piece by artist kaigetsudo, who takes the cast of FFI and puts in what looks like a poster that would be plastered across the side of a 90s beat-em-up.
It's definitely fun to imagine familiar FF characters being dropped into an old-school, Final Fight- or Golden Axe-style brawler. It would most certainly be better than The Bouncer turned out to be.
Art by Kaigetsudo.
20 Sephiroth Takes On Dragon Quest
Mario vs Sonic. Street Fighter vs Mortal Kombat. These are some of the greatest rivalries in video game history. But perhaps none were as heated and longer-lasting than Final Fantasy vs Dragon Quest.
In Japan, it was never much of a competition—Dragon Quest was the early favorite and remains one of the most popular franchises in Japanese gaming history. And of course, that rivalry turned friendly when Square merged with Enix. But it's still a fun debate to have, and even more fun when artists combine the franchises, as this DQ-style take on FFVII's Sephiroth so masterfully does.
Art by GTS.
19 Lulu Noir
The Final Fantasy series has always had characters that are very much in that "femme fatale" mode, but perhaps none have filled that role as well as FFX's dark, beautiful enchantress Lulu.
While a lot of Lulu fan art tends to exaggerate a certain, distinctive part of her anatomy, this one actually downplays that a bit and instead decided to re-imagine her as a character out of a spy noir comic book or something to that effect. The results are stunning, and make us wish for a FFX animated movie in this style.
Art by Edmoffatt.
18 Final Fantasy XV: Girl Band Edition
The Final Fantasy series has a long history of strong female representation, with each game either having a prominent women right at the side of the primary antagonist or having a woman be the actual main character.
So when FFXV went with an all-male party for its core lineup, it went against one of the franchise's best traditions.
It also doesn't help that the most prominent female you deal with in the game is basically wearing a bikini top. But all that aside, it's fun to imagine if not just one, but all of FFXV's protagonists swapped genders.
Art by Fartnoisesbpth.
17 Vivi's Human Side
After two entries heavy on Tetsuya Nomura's tall, lanky, heavily-buckled character designs, Square decided to pay tribute to old-school Final Fantasy fans again with FFIX, once again returning to Yoshitaka Amano's classic art style that dominated FFI-VI.
And with that, FFI's black mage was reinvented as a unique character with a name and an established personality.
Vivi quickly became FFIX's breakout character, and the fan art soon followed. This cool piece envisions Vivi in human form—maybe not how most of us would prefer him, but still intriguing to consider nonetheless.
Art by Aquawaters.
16 FF Meets QT
Final Fantasy fans who still argue that the SNES era was the best for the series generally debate among themselves whether FFIV or FFVI are the best entry in the franchise. And those who fall on the side of FFVI often do so because of the game's awesomely deranged villain, Kefka.
That said, you can't discount primary protagonist Terra Branford's role in people's love for FFVI and in her battle against Kefka. And what better representation for that showdown than to imagine it in the style of Quentin Tarantino's brilliant female-led revenge epic, Kill Bill.
Art by Alaisiaga.
15 Final Fantasy VII: Anime Children
Though Final Fantasy's character designs have an obvious anime influence, most of the actual art used within the games doesn't actually look like traditional anime, especially not the games where Tetsuya Nomura is at the visual helm.
Maybe the anime influence is more ingrained than it seems, which explains why pieces like this make so much sense.
Seeing Cloud in the style of manga/anime greats like Kazuto Nakazawa and Takashi Okazaki feels at once a big stretch and also a natural evolution, as his design feels both completely different than his original look but also right at home with it.
Art by novatazuna.
14 What's The Sitch, Vaan?
Here's another fun mash-up, this time taking FFXII's Vaan and Fran—as well as a Chocobo—and re-imagining them as Ron Stoppable and Kim Possible, respectively, from Kim Possible.
FFXII's serious tone may seem to clash with the more lighthearted Kim Possible, but from an aesthetic standpoint, artist drakkenfan makes it work. It's also just nice to see Fran fan art that isn't all about accentuating Sir Mix-A-Lot's favorite body part. Readers under 25, go ask your parents to explain that reference to you.
Art by Drakkenfan.
13 Steampunk Lightning
Steampunk has become something of a punchline for overused cosplay and fan art aesthetics—and perhaps rightfully so—but that doesn't mean that it isn't still really cool to see a well-done steampunk version of an existing character.
For as much grief as FFXIII gets, most people agree that main protagonist Lightning is a really great character.
And among the many ways that fans have re-imagined the pink-haired heroine, this anime-flavored steampunk artwork is one of the more interesting that we have seen.
Art by Jewlecho.
12 Sad Bride
It's ironic that, for as much as Tifa was the object of desire for millions of games in the 90s (and beyond), the person that she wanted most was too busy pining after the ghost of a departed woman to truly return her affections during their original video game appearance.
Beyond just being something of a traditional gothic re-imagining of a FF character, this "sad bride" version of Tifa is actually fitting for the character, a woman who is forever destined to love a man who will never love her as much as he loves another.
Art by Dark6nika.
11 Yu-Gi-Oh Fantasy
As we mentioned before, the plus side to the original Final Fantasy having only blank character templates rather than actual, fully-formed characters is that it gives artists plenty of room to re-imagine them any way they see fit.
When it comes to blank slate characters, there really is no "wrong" way to re-envision them.
So artist slifertheskydragon's choice to re-cast the FFI protagonists as Yu-Gi-Oh characters is as valid as any. It's also just nice when one of the franchises that have been overshadowed by Pokémon gets a little fan art love.
10 Tidus Of Locksley
In this fun art commission, FFX hero Tidus gets re-imagined as a classic-looking Robin Hood-style character, completely with bow and arrow as his primary weapon.
Sure, you might not have been able to identify that this was supposed to be Tidus if you weren't specifically told so, but there's nothing wrong with that. Fan art re-imaginings are free to stray as far from the source material as they want. After all, isn't that sort of creative freedom half the fun of fan art in the first place?
9 Headin' On Down To Midgar...
It's no big secret that the guys behind South Park are huge gamers. And once they became more involved, video games based on Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and co. got much better and are among some of the funnest games of recent years.
It's safe to say that Trey and Matt would be honored to see such iconic video game characters as Cloud and Sephiroth done in the South Park art style.
In fact, this piece by burtfish is so well-done that it could easily pass for something that Try and Matt conceived of and drew themselves.
8 Lightning's Revengence
Lightning returns to our list, only this time, she takes a much more unique and intriguing direction in her artistic re-imagining.
Perhaps it's fitting that Lightning be mashed up with Raiden of the Metal Gear franchise, as both characters started out in divisive games and as divisive characters before proving themselves forces to be reckoned with in later appearances. Few video game characters in the last decade or so have been part of more opinion-shifting "revenge" games in their respective franchises than Lightning and Raiden.
7 It's Vivi, Yo!
One of the things that made people fall in love with Vivi and be one of FFIX's breakout characters is the mage's attitude and sense of humor.
It's not a huge leap to imagine Vivi as some wise-cracking, smart-alecky teenager in a high-school-set anime series.
This Vivi piece is also reminiscent—intentional or not—of the underrated Square-Enix RPG The World Ends With You, and it's easy to picture Vivi making a cameo in that game and him looking exactly like this when he does so.
6 Squall Is Coming
For a lot of people—even the most ardent supporters of the game—Squall was the worst part of Final Fantasy VIII. He seemed like he was designed to be the exact kind of JRPG hero that JRPG haters like to mock the genre for—overly dark, brooding, and emo, and way too eager to use "..." as a valid response to any conversational scenario.
Squall lovers have spent the last 20+ years trying to make Squall seem cooler, and one of the best examples of this is artist nat10730's gorgeous drawing of Squall as a menacing, Jon Snow-esque warrior.
5 Barret Lightens Up
Artist Nikolas Draper-Ivey took on the tricky task of re-imagining the cast of Final Fantasy VII if they were of a different race, making Cloud, Tifa, and Sephiroth black and Barret white. But what could've been a cheap attempt at being provocative turned out to be a fascinating meditation on how we view race and how it effects fictional characters.
We decided to use Draper-Ivey's Barret to represent the project partly because it was the most drastic change, and partly because Barret gets a lot of grief for being a black stereotype, making him a great candidate for such an artist experiment.
4 Young Turk
Much of this list has been about mash-ups of Final Fantasy characters with other IP in some fashion, but what makes this particular hybrid unique is that it brings together otherwise unconnected elements of two different FF installments.
Here, we see FFX's Yuna, the pure-hearted guardian, re-imagined as a tough, suit-wearing Turk from FFVII. In addition to giving Yuna an edge that she doesn't normally have, it is also a really fascinating way to bridge two otherwise completely separate FF entries.
3 Vincent E. Coyote
What's fun about this piece is that it takes what might be FFVII's darkest and most "serious" character—other than Sephiroth, of course—and makes him into one of the most bumbling buffoons in cartoon history.
It's also just neat to imagine that fictional characters are just as into cosplay as real-life folks.
But whether you take this piece as Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner dressing up as Vincent Valentine and a Chocobo, or a straight-up hybrid, we know you are wishing you had it on a t-shirt.
2 Riding Upon A Mighty Chocobo
There are a couple of elements that unite all of the Final Fantasy games, and it's easy to argue that the most noteworthy connective tissue are Chocobos, which thus far have appeared in every installment in some capacity.
And while Chocobos are typically seen as one of the lighter, funner elements of a given game, this beautiful illustration by artist randis envisions the creatures as a valiant, mighty steed rather than a cuddly bird-thing that makes goofy noises. It's unclear who the character riding him is supposed to be, but she's pretty awesome either way.
1 Why So Serious?
Name a more iconic crazy clown villain than Kefka. We'll wai—oh. You already thought of one. Right, yeah, the Joker. I guess he's pretty iconic too, huh?
Jokes aside, evil clowns are a well-worn trope in fiction—but few have more fans (and have caused more nightmares) than FF's Kefka and Batman's greatest adversary. Taking Kefka and retooling him to look like Heath Ledger's take on the Joker is a masterstroke, and we didn't have to think twice in putting this at #1 on this list.