This year marks the 30th anniversary for the Final Fantasy series. The first game debuted in Japan on December 18th, 1987 for Nintendo’s Famicom. North America wouldn’t receive it until 1990 and from there our history with releases have been sporadic. Because of the first’s late release, Square Enix, then Square, decided to instead put out Final Fantasy IV for the Super Nintendo, the new system at the time, and renamed it Final Fantasy II in 1991 for North America. They skipped Final Fantasy V and gave us Final Fantasy VI as Final Fantasy III in 1994. Fortunately, that's where the confusion stops as Final Fantasy VII launched in 1997. Since then they’ve all made it over here in one form or another and I’ve played every adventure.
The entire franchise has to encompass almost a hundred games by this point, including the fifteen main titles, spinoffs, sequels, remakes, collections, and more. It’d be a daunting task to order every single game, so instead I’m going to focus on ranking Final Fantasy I through Final Fantasy XV. Admittedly there’s never going to be a definitive list every fan can agree on, as nostalgia and personal preferences have a lot to say on the matter and we’re all different. Ordering my top five was easy, as I generally think about those titles on a semi-regular basis. Numbers six through fifteen were a little harder to narrow down, but I’m ultimately happy where everything stacks up. Let’s get to it kupo!
15 Final Fantasy XI
I was crushed when I found out the next game in the series was going to be online only and subscription based. Naming it as a numbered game has never sat right with me, so placing it at fifteen is sort of a personal vendetta. It’s not like it’s a bad game. I have friends very dedicated to it still, but it’s not exactly the most easy MMORPG to pick up and play, even though it is better then the initial launch. I first played Final Fantasy XI in 2013 after I found a cheap copy of the Xbox 360 version with a fifteen-day free trial. Graphics and clunky interface aside, I enjoyed my brief couple weeks with it. I definitely saw the appeal, but never enough to pay that monthly fee. As a Final Fantasy fan experiencing, it was only good enough.
14 Final Fantasy II
The 2003 PS1 collection of Final Fantasy I and II was the first time I played either game. Overall, Final Fantasy II is an odd duckling in the franchise. Every battle system is unique, but there’s been nothing quite like it since (well, in Final Fantasy at least). These mechanics were passed down into the SaGa series. Anyway it’s turn-based, but your warriors do not gain experience points. Instead stats are increased depending on your actions in battle. For example, if you get hit a lot, your HP and Defense are likely to increase. The same goes for magic, weapons, and so forth. Cheesing the system is easy, like attacking your allies and then healing them or through other glitches. As broken as it is. admittedly I enjoyed becoming an all-powerful God right from the start of the game.
13 Final Fantasy III
Final Fantasy III missed its heyday in the West, as it wasn’t released here until 2006 as a remake for the DS, sixteen years after its original 1990 debut. Technically Final Fantasy I introduced a class system, but you couldn’t change them after the start. Final Fantasy III initialized a job system where characters could swap in and out of classes throughout the adventure, making battles more engaging. Of course before we got this, we had Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy Tactics, and even Final Fantasy X-2, so the majesty of discovering jobs was lost on me, although I do applaud it for creating one of the best mechanics in the franchise, but it’s certainly not the best game to do it. Having played through it only once, the rest of the game is a blur.
12 Final Fantasy XIII
I didn’t love Final Fantasy XIII, but I liked it enough and was not one of the loud haters out there. Linearity was one of the biggest complaints, but that never was a huge bother for me. Its launch was actually a good memory for me, as it was my first time at a midnight launch. Thankfully ,I didn’t have class the next day, so I stayed up late, playing it for hours while keeping my sugar intake up with delicious Oreos. The last time I played it was the same year it launched, 2009, so I restarted a new file along with opening an old save in order to refresh my memory. The graphics and music are as good as I remember and the combat is pretty great too, but those long drawn out melodramatic cutscenes are horrible. Also if I were to make a top fifteen of the worst Final Fantasy members, a third of the cast would probably make it on there.
11 Final Fantasy VIII
Slightly above Final Fantasy II we have this little gem, which is just as systematically convoluted in myriad of ways. First of all, it’s easy to game the system as characters level up at 1000 EXP. Magic can be sucked out from enemies in order to use it right back at them or it can be equipped to your party members to increase stats. However, if you use a Fire spell, it’ll not only deplete your magic supply, but the stat it’s equipped to will drop as well. I love Final Fantasy’s willingness to explore new mechanics, but it’s more complex then it needs to be and every time I jump in for a new playthrough, I get annoyed all over again. That and Squall is a pouty hero and the story is even more insane than Cloud’s past. Centering a story on rivaling military schools is a cool idea though.
10 Final Fantasy I
Not putting the original game on the top ten would be sacrilegious. I appreciate it for establishing the series, plus it’s still very easy to pick and play, as there’s very little story to invest in. I’ve actually replayed Final Fantasy I almost as many times as Final Fantasy VII. Immersing yourself in gameplay and trying new class combinations is always fun. I’ve never been so bold as to make a party of four white or black mages, but it is possible given the patience. Even from the beginning, Final Fantasy was all about experimentation. Don’t play the original NES version because that would be a cruel recommendation inducing chronic rage. Instead I suggest the PSP or GBA remakes if you’ve somehow never played it.
9 Final Fantasy XIV
Call me a hypocrite since this is also a numbered game that’s only online, but I have more of a history with it than Final Fantasy XI. When it relaunched as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn in 2013, I jumped right in on PS3, but just for a trial period again. Even though I only played it for around thirty hours in the span of a month, I loved it. It was more streamlined than Final Fantasy XI and better because of it. Unlike that game, I constantly think about restarting Final Fantasy XIV on PS4, but that darn monthly subscription keeps me away as good as it is. I already pay enough monthly and yearly subscriptions that adding a specific game onto that seems criminal, but that’s just a personal preference. I do really think it’s one of the best game.
8 Final Fantasy V
Final Fantasy III may have started the Job system, but Final Fantasy V perfected the formula, for the main series at least. Constantly swapping out classes in order to maximize your group’s potential made battles more engaging. Reverting back to a four-group party compared to the rapid switching of Final Fantasy IV was also a thoughtful move at the time, not just in terms of gameplay, but for the story as well. It’s a great game a lot of people forget about in the vast majority of the franchise seeing as it debuted on a subpar port on the PS1 in 1999, just a few weeks after Final Fantasy VIII arrived, which was a terrible time to do so as people want the new thing, not the old one as good as it may be. Thankfully Final Fantasy V got another chance with a better port on GBA in 2006.
7 Final Fantasy IV
Here we have what some may call the best Final Fantasy, which I believe accounts for exposure. It was the second game in North America, so there’s a good chance it became one’s first RPG, plus it’s been remade and ported to nearly every system since including the SNES, PS1, GBA, PSP, DS, and mobile devices, so there’s really no excuse for anyone to not have played it even more so than the first. Aside from exposure there’s a lot to like and or be thankful for. It progressed not only the graphics and music at the time, but the storytelling as well, including more than four party members that swap out during the course of the plot, which made the adventure feel more realistic and dangerous. That said, on a gameplay level, it was frustrating to lose teammates you’d built up or get stuck with ones that weren’t great like Edward. Minor grievances like that keep it from ranking any higher on despite my admiration for what it accomplished for the franchise, of the fact that you can go to the moon on an airship that looks like a whale.
6 Final Fantasy XV
Whether it’s because Final Fantasy XV is the most recent game I played, or because the quality is that good, this came very close to entering the top five, but I do have to dock my overwhelming love for it due to the latter third, where things start to fall apart. Who knows where my opinion may stand a year from now, once Square Enix has released DLC and more patches, but as of now, it’s a solid number six thanks to its gorgeous art design, phenomenal music, and addictive combat that evolved the traditional turn-based system in accordance with a more modern audience. I’m still going back every now and again to finish up quests and to just immerse myself in that world again.
5 Final Fantasy XII
It boggles my mind how anyone can hate this game, but I have friends that think Final Fantasy XII is one of the worst. Blasphemous I say! Even without the HD Remaster that’s coming out this year, it still looks stupendous on PS2. Square Enix really pushed every ounce of power the console had. Understandably I do see how one could be upset as it takes after Final Fantasy XI’s more MMO style of auto-combat. I didn’t think I’d like it either, given my diastase for Final Fantasy XI and MMOs in general, but I quickly warmed up to it. The inclusion of the Gambit system and the License Board make experimenting with every minute detail fun, plus the world is wonderfully vast and unlike anything the series has seen since. The story is a weak point though, in that everyone seems to be along for the political ride of the century without much character development.
4 Final Fantasy X
Alongside Jak and Daxter, I bought Final Fantasy X when I got my PS2. Moving onto Final Fantasy X after Final Fantasy IX was mind blowing and not just graphically, but specifically with the voice acting. All the subtle changes to combat including swapping party members in during battle and being able to fight alongside Summons were fantastic. Changing EXP into AP with the addition of the Sphere Grid was hard to swallow at first, but unlocking every secret within became an obsession. It was linear to a degree that diminishes arguments against Final Fantasy XIII, but on the other hand it is more. Plus it was the first mini game, Blitzball, that I got extremely addicted it to, almost putting in as much time into it as I did the main campaign. Replaying the HD Remaster on PS Vita back in 2014 made me realize how well most of Final Fantasy X holds up.
3 Final Fantasy IX
Reviving the classic fantasy setting of the series is what sold me initially on Final Fantasy IX, but its strongest feature is its cast. Everyone, even side characters, are given near equal amounts of time to shine and grow, fleshing out the narrative’s more cliché’ plot points. Even though I said switching to Final Fantasy X from this was mesmerizing, that doesn’t mean it looks bad by any means. Like Final Fantasy XII, Square Enix put a lot of time designing the world to make it stand the test of time. It wasn’t afraid to branch out either just like Final Fantasy VI, with different parties experiencing altering adventures at the same time. I truly hope Final Fantasy XVI, if it ever happens, mirrors this rebirth, but with the combat of Final Fantasy XV. Again, as good as Final Fantasy XV was, Final Fantasy IX is a good reminder that dialing back one’s roots can be a smart move.
2 Final Fantasy VI
Chrono Trigger and this are the best two RPGs on the SNES and I go back and forth between which is better. Neither feel dated thanks to outstanding music, excellent 16-Bit graphics, and well crafted moments I can recall at the drop of a hat, no matter how many years it’s been in-between play sessions. Specifically on Final Fantasy VI, the opera and end of the world scenes are some of the best in the franchise. Notably it’s the largest cast in any game, although regrettably not everyone is given their time of day. However, as I mentioned with Final Fantasy IX, it was the first introduction of splitting up parties simultaneously, so at least groups got individual moments. Summarizing the game in one word: ambitious. And it was Final Fantasy VI’s ambitious foundation that made Final Fantasy VII what it is today.
1 Final Fantasy VII
My first Final Fantasy introduced me not only to the series, but RPGs overall. How could Final Fantasy VII not be my number one choice? I’ve played it all the way through at least five or six times by now and we’re talking complete, near eighty-hour sessions here. I continually learn from every new time I begin my quest into Midgar. Each game, as I’ve explained, have their strengths and weakness, and while some things have lost their luster, overall Final Fantasy VII is the complete package. A mature story with plenty of twists and turns, incorporating fantasy with technology, side quests galore, making Chocobos even more integral with gameplay, CG cutscenes, and so much more. Cloud’s journey is my journey and I’ll never forget it.