As long as I can remember, Final Fantasy has been a huge part of my life; both as a child and as an adult. The very first FF was met with awe, as I experienced my first every health system consisting of only numbers. I loved the ability to choose which four characters I wanted and how I could name them anything I wanted, even after the Ninja Turtles. In my early teens, the generic “save the world” story transformed into a more in depth drama about love, tragedy, and yet more customization. By high school, I had become a jaded Final Fantasy gamer critiquing every single aspect of the last three games with single digit titles.
When you pick apart this iconic series and dissect the characters, you tend to think “Whoa, he’s pretty damn cool” or “I know your a hero, but I really want you to die.” We all have characters we love because of their attacks, catchphrases, or even just the way they look. They really make us want to be them to the point where we are fantasizing that we are them while we’re playing; I’m saving the planet from Shinra. Through the looking glass, however, there are characters that really just annoy you to a point where you’re pounding the “O” button during their dialogue because they just can’t shut up fast enough. But who is the best and who is the worst?
There are several characters in the Final Fantasy universes that are playable, but only temporarily. Such characters that come to mind are the likes of Aerith, Shadow, and even a vast array of moogles in FFVI (or III, if I may). However, none of these are quite as profound as Larsa in the MMO-like adventure, FFXII. Larsa of House Solidor is like a pompous figure from Game of Thrones with the strategic military mind of Lord of the Ring’s Aragorn. “Lamont’s” intentions are questionable in your first meeting, thanks to his false identity and continuous disagreements with Balthier, but you have to love any twelve-year-old that can swoon the sultry Princess Ashe. He makes multiple experiences, each more shocking and badass than the last, but his calling down the imperial fleet, finally commanding Gabranth, and becoming the new emperor really is the coolest; all before he even kissed a girl.
When I first played the Final Fantasy franchise as a child, I never thought I’d see a video game hero I didn’t like. As I grew older and games became more in depth and thought provoking, I discovered characters I didn’t like or even wished ill will upon. A great example, our first example in fact, is FF’s version of a surfer dude in the thirteenth installment; Snow. I’d even go far enough to call Mr. Villiers a douche, thanks to his beanie and trendy trench-coat. Upon first being able to control “Mr. Cool,” I sincerely hoped he would pull out some incredibly large weapon from under that terrible jacket, but alas, only gloved fists as a weapon. The thing that really cemented my hatred for this punk is that he clashes with our heroine, claiming his girlfriend is more important than her sister; it’s the same person!
Final Fantasy X started similarly to its three predecessors; in some sort of a haze. This installment began in a huge pile of cheesiness, but after a sharp left turn thanks to planet-like blob SIN, we are introduced to a seamless transition from field to battle, leaving you with an added sense of danger. As we get to know our main character, Tidus, we discover he’s just a kid that loves Blitzball, wants the pretty girl, and has to save the planet from destruction (typical teenager stuff). The cool thing about Tidus is that we basically get to see him grow up before our eyes, as he transforms from a goofy kid teaching Yuna to laugh into a man consoling her and sharing a first kiss. For me, Tidus was cool before I touched the game, as I thought he was cool when I saw a poster of his wavy blonde hair and sword complete with watery blade.
After the appearance of Mog in Final Fantasy VI, did you ever think that you’d “hate” a moogle? Well, it happened a short time later in Final Fantasy VII, thanks to a puppetmaster feline named Cait Sith. Upon first appearance, it doesn’t look anything like any moogle you’ve ever seen, but more like Kirby’s dad. As far as the story goes, Cait Sith is utterly worthless, since he’s a traitor that doesn’t hurt you, but instead just slows your journey. Eventually he redeems himself, giving his own life for the greater good of the forces that fight Shinra. However, his death is short lived when another bloated moogle captained by the smarmy cat takes its place. It is an absolute tragedy that this kitty has made more than one appearance. In battle, he acts more as comic relief than as a force, as he slaps dragons and marlboros with a megaphone; how lame.
In the video game world, we rarely get to see a character jump from the origin episode to the ninth installment, but it happened in Final Fantasy IX. There is some dispute as to whether they are the same character, as fans wonder if Vivi is a clone, but the similarity can’t be denied. Vivi may be tiny, but he has awesome powers that help him destroy evil. Vivi hates violence, but we get to see his coming of age story, even though he's only nine years old and the ending eludes to his demise, but that’s debatable based on who you talk to. Vivi is short, faceless, and one of the shyest dudes in the series, but his black magic definitely makes him one of the coolest.
Blue magic has always been a double edged sword in the franchise because it is incredibly intriguing to be able use the enemy’s attacks against them, but that novelty tends to lose its charm rather quickly. In Final Fantasy VI, we meet a Lord of the Flies reject by the name of Gau that you meet on the Veldt with a little help from some dried meat. Halfway through your adventure, you are separated from your four-legged, wildling friend and must regain his trust the same way it began. This is all good fun until you realize it’ll take hours upon hours for Gau to gain the attacks of all of his foes, especially when the same soldiers show up nine times in a row. Eye-burning aggravation and boredom is truly what makes Gau incredibly lame.
In 1987, at the age of five, I played my first RPG by the name of Final Fantasy. At first, I was dumbfounded by the fact that my character's’ health was not represented by hearts or a red meter, but by numbers. Most kids would see this as math homework, but I embraced the new style and began frantically trying to decide which four characters I would use; fighters or mages? One of the possible PCs is known simply as B. Belt, a crooked eyed dude with a headband and bulging muscles. Though he has no story, much like every other character in this game, he is by far the most unique once you know how to utilize him. At first, he seems utterly worthless as he doesn’t utilize magic and carry the best weapon or armor, but the surprise comes at level eight when you “accidentally” discover the fist is mightier than the sword. Eight hits for 400 damage definitely makes the Black Belt one of the coolest unarmed badasses in the series.
It’s no surprise to anybody that gratuitous sex appeal is one of the cornerstones of Japanese gaming and animation, so it was only a matter of time before Final Fantasy implemented this. It all started with Tifa in part seven, with her cute face and Lara Croft-like body, and eventually graduated to massive cleavage in Final Fantasy X with the gothic chick, Lulu. Lulu was a nerd’s fantasy in the most stereotypical of ways: huge rack, stone-faced, tall stature, and holding a stuffed anime character. As a character, every single one of Lulu’s lines of dialogue involved a scoff and an argument to the contrary. In battle, the dark woman’s black magic is unsurpassed, until Yuna reaches her full potential and trumps Lulu in every possible way.
Captain Basch fon Ronsenberg first made his appearance in the prologue of Final Fantasy XII, as both a mentor to a deceased soldier and the treasonous murderer of a king. FFXII is quite popular with fans because of its customizable nature which lets any character use just about any weapon, armor, and accessories so aside. For me, OCD prevents me from giving Basch anything but a bow, thanks to the incredible opening FMV where he’s sniping bad guys from atop a galloping Chocobo. As far as storyline goes, they don’t get any cooler than a mid-thirties badass who’s good, then a prisoner, then a body guard, and finally the royal headguard of none other than Larsa. The only thing that could possibly make the captain cooler is if he kept his bushy beard.
Final Fantasy has had a character of just about every gender or race: human, cat, bear, blacksmith, thief, and even a pirate. Final Fantasy V introduced us to our first pirate character, but that was only the beginning, as we eventually discovered what not even the ship’s crew knew; she was a woman. Unfortunately, the blissful surprises end there, thanks to a cliche female character filled with “oh my’s,” but at least she has a ship, right? Her one redeeming quality is that this is where female cliches in the franchise ended. Without the failure of Faris, we wouldn't have the rebellious Rinoa or a suicidal soul such as Yuna. But, even with all this, Faris is still a lame character.
Final Fantasy has made appearances on over twenty consoles over the years and up until their thirteenth installment, a man was the main protagonist for the most part. Anytime a woman has “appeared” as a main character, she has had to share the spotlight with a man that continuously out-shined her. In Final Fantasy XIII, we got the chance to meet a strong, independent female warrior by the name of Claire Farron, known more appropriately as Lightning. Lightning has a heart wrenching story involving death, war, and moogle throwing. The most unique aspect of her personality is her standoffishness, which is normally not found in female FF characters; they’re typically over the top or borderline background decor. It’s not the pink hair, multiple appearances, or the superb swordsmanship that makes her cool, it's the vast confidence of a leader and rebel that does it for me.
You can't have a Final Fantasy list without having at least one character from the eighth game. Sadly, its place is on a list of negatives that’ll leave you saying “Who? Oh yeah, her!” I’m talking about the nunchaku wielding schoolgirl, Selphie Tilmitt. In the beginning, she plays a pivotal role as one of three SeeD members meant to liberate the small town of Dollet. If you’re like most people, then you replaced Selphie with a different playable character the second you could, which was regrettable when you find yourself in a Laguna dream without any drawn magic. The saddest part of Selphie is that she has a terrible limit break and a boring weapon. She might be a more favorable character in a game that has less awesome ones, but that is her fate here, lameness.
A fan favorite? Of course. It just wouldn’t be a “top” anything list without including the amnesic Soldier, Cloud Strife. Cloud just epitomizes coolness in Final Fantasy VII, even though Barrett tries his hardest to steal that with his expletives and gnarly gun-arm. Some would argue that Sephiroth is way cooler than the whiney, prettyboy Cloud. However, it takes more than a comically large sword and silver, flowing hair to be cool. After all, Sephiroth only got a cameo in Advent Children while Cloud got top billing. It’s the ex-soldier’s twisted past, Tifa-snubbing, mad max bike-riding attitude that truly makes him the coolest character in the first 3D Final Fantasy, as well as the first installment to get a full on reboot.
Right now, you’re probably thinking that I’m referring to a character in a game you’ve never played. No, I’m not mentioning Final Fantasy Legends II, but in fact FFIX. Amarant is a large blue-skinned, crimson-haired brute that is attained only after defeating him in a non-optional battle. His biggest downfall as a fighter is the fault of his programmers, because of the simple fact that his main ability is the “throw” command; why would a muscular dude throw stuff like a damned fool? He doesn’t speak often, but when he does it’s with arrogance which would be charming if it happened more often, but quiet confidence is a bit of a oxymoron. Near the end, he becomes a real burden when Zidane is forced to backtrack and save him making him one of the most forgettable and lamest character of them all.
In most games, of any genre or franchise, merchants aren’t much of focus and you really barely notice anything about them. You could run into Beedle on the street and probably not even notice unless he said “Thaaaaaank you!” However, in Final Fantasy IX, we meet a pink-furred, bandana wearing moogle by the name of Stiltzkin. We first meet the fluttering entrepreneur while controlling Vivi about the town of Alexandria, where he makes a great first impression by commenting on another moogle’s fur; what a nice guy. Throughout the game, we keep running into the traveling salesman fortuitously before boss fights, selling his wares, though only available as pricey bundles. He may not be playable at any point, but there’s no doubting that he makes an impression. It’s not much, but what makes Stiltzkin cool is that when you see that leopard hood, you scream “Stiltzkin!”