Final Fantasy has been around for 30 years now, dominating the JRPG market with compelling stories, engaging gameplay and pushing the boundaries of the systems they released on. With 15 main numbered releases, several sequels and spin-offs including side franchises that share the name, there are bound to be a couple horribly designed dungeons here and there. From the hallways and backtracking of 13, labyrinthine floors and doors from 1-3 and difficult hunts and bosses guarding them all.
As the years have passed, the difficulty curve has never stayed the same, from starting dungeons being what players stop playing over due to the amount of deaths or complexity of their design. Earlier entries into the franchise had hidden walls that were otherwise impossible to notice, against newer releases where “hidden” just means there is a crack in the wall or an orb to touch.
Whether you are a fan or not, there will be at least one dungeon on this list you recognise and have that feeling of worry if you had saved before entering. Get your save crystals ready, potions stocked up to 99 and several saves before entering and after as we delve deep into these 15 of the worst dungeons in the Final Fantasy Franchise.
There are plenty of games that start you off in prisons or you might find yourself thrown into them during the course of the game, FFVIII is no different. Continuing after the ending cutscene of Disk 1, our party awaken within a prison situated in the middle of a desert, our gear taken away, magic nullified by a magical barrier and having to rely on Zell, the bare-knuckle boxer of this game, to protect us.
Dropping a party of three to just one can be a heavy handicap, especially if you’ve not followed the Junction system of VIII. My first playthrough of VIII had me dying at the prison over and over again as I did not foresee this dungeon. You eventually meet back up with your main man Squall, get your gear back and escape, but being confined to the prison can make the grind for magic and AP a hard task.
One of the very first labyrinths players will find in the series, FFVII being one of the most popular, The Temple of the Ancients dungeon will have our party jump into and seemingly trapped within something that may have been considered for the film Labyrinth. Harder enemies, few save points with little to no rest in sight, The Temple of the Ancients brings with it a difficulty spike that many were not expecting.
Besides its design being somewhat confusing, The Temple has plenty of chests hidden around that you will want to collect, forcing more random battles on you, which include Toxic Frogs and surprise battles with ancient dragons. If you haven’t been grinding along the way or improving your equipment, then The Temple can be what drives you to stop playing. The bosses Red Dragon and Demons Gate are also infamous for their strength in battle at this part in the game.
Many people weren't pleased with Final Fantasy XIII and its linearity, when in fact a lot of previous games had linear segments. However, the linearity does help to cut down on the complexity and annoyances found within its earlier dungeon designs and missable items. This is thrown out the window when you hit Gran Pulse, however, with large landscapes, backtracking and hidden items galore.
The worst dungeon that I played through in this area goes to Taejin’s Tower, as not only does it have 10 different areas to explore, but each is filled with enemies to fight through and refight due to backtracking. There are also several statues within the tower which give the party quests, mostly to kill monsters, that will allow the party to climb higher up the tower, but due to its design, you will be doing a lot of backtracking and wasting your time.
Final Fantasy X is praised by many as the best in the series, while others wince at its mention, with memories of the “laughing scene.” Combining with its new levelling system of the Sphere Grid, FFX included more “puzzles” and “trials” in the form of Cloister of Trials, a set of rooms that challenge the party through battles and puzzles/riddles. Slowing down gameplay with rather dumb conundrums.
The majority of the puzzles involve you picking up an orb and proceeding to place it into a wall or pedestal, then moving the pedestal around until it slots into place. It doesn’t take a genius to figure these out, but the difficulty, rather annoyance, amplifies tenfold when you reach Bevelle. In Bevelle’s trials, you are given a multi-tiered dungeon, moving platforms, Cross and T-junctions to decide your direction and, to top it off, tons of backtracking. It wouldn’t be so bad if you could carry more than one orb at a time, but no, you have to wait as the slow moving platforms cart you to your desired destination.
Game design only starts to feel lazy when you have to redo an action or fight a boss with higher stats, and Final Fantasy I got hella lazy at the end. Returning to the first ever dungeon in the game, you will travel back in time to stop the chaos from ever beginning, but the past is full of difficulty enemies and long dungeons.
The Chaos Shrine has you fight: Lich, Marilith, Kraken, Tiamat and Chaos. Each boss comes from the separate shrines and appear in much stronger forms, except for Chaos. To top it off, there are eight floors full of enemies, chests to find and no place to rest. While it does allow you to exit if need be, the dungeon will wipe out a lot of supplies just getting to the final floor to fight the end boss, which requires all the resources possible.
The Job System; how it is loved by many and hated by few, as allowing any player to be anything at any time sounds great... until you have to grind out their Job Level to be of any use. Final Fantasy III was the first true FF to have the job system and as such had many flaws, one being the need for certain Job specific spells to even enter dungeons. The worst of all of these is the need for the spell Mini, which shrinks one or all of your party to diminutive sizes, along with their defence and offence.
Besides having a dedicated White Magic user to even cast the spell, you will be wasting at least two spell slots to cast it, more if you didn’t know the rest of the party needed to be mini too. The Nepto Temple is the worst of all, as it forces you to be Mini for the majority of it, including fighting a “Giant Rat.” When Mini, you will deal pretty much one damage for your melee team, along with them taking major damage from melee attacks, forcing you to rely on magic users, and if you haven’t levelled up all characters in a spell casting Job, then they will pretty much be useless cannon fodder.
Magic is always powerful in Final Fantasy Games, only outclassed by Ultimate weapons and unarmed attackers in earlier releases. So when a dungeon is presented to you that disallows magic use, well there goes your main damage if you’ve designed your team in that way. At some point in Final Fantasy IX, you are asked to divide up your party to go to both Oeilvert and Desert Palace. Oeilvert has an Anti-magic barrier, stopping White/Black/Blue/Sword Magic and summoning, forcing you to pick Zidane, Steiner, Freya and Amarant as the “best party.”
While the game does supply non-magic users, a lot of players become item hoarders or rely on magic intensely for buffing spells and healing. Taking that away will leave the party feeling weaker, elongating battles and generally taking away from the customisation that players put into their team set-ups. Not to mention that players will always have favourites among the party, meaning other characters might be under-equipped with lesser weapons or fewer abilities. Oeilvert does contain a Moogle shop, but it doesn’t fill the void of the shops you’ve passed up till now.
The random battle, a lovely system that allows players to grind XP and Gil to their hearts content. Often bypassed by running away, riding chocobos or items, random battles can be avoided. However, when you’re in a dungeon and every step is a random battle, it becomes a nightmare. There are five floors to this dungeons with optional paths and rooms for chests, however some contain extremely high spawn rates on random battles, including Hill Gigas and Lizards.
Being one of the first releases in the Final Fantasy series, this game was never really designed to be easy, forcing the player to grind for many of its bosses and dungeons or feel the wrath of the foes within. The Cavern of Earth looks unassuming, but many players have flashbacks to all the Gigas they faced within its depths. If the danger rooms weren’t enough, just walking around the dungeon will cause countless battles, both slowing down progression and annoying players.
With the evolution of technology, 3D worlds and better save systems, the maps and dungeons of Final Fantasy have become larger, more complex and labyrinthine. Thankfully after IX, the games had some form of map for its interior locations, along with world maps. What happens when a map is more of a concept piece with no real information… The Great Crystal.
The Great Crystal dungeon is full of several levels, paths and locked passages, unlocked through the use of stones dotted around the map. The downside to this puzzle is that once touched, the player has a time limit to go through and remove the gate itself. Add in battles and the map being confusing to start, and The Great Crystal will become quite annoying for fans with no real way to know where they are travelling. Included in these timed passageways are hidden enemies and a super boss, adding to the confusion on direction.
Whilst an optional dungeon, Via Infinito is required for 100% completion in Final Fantasy X-2. In this dungeon, you need to fight through 100 floors filled with stronger enemies and five bosses, including a super boss. You can leave at every floor, save your progress and return from the deepest part you’ve traversed, which does take away from some of the pain.
Random dungeon designs, Tonberries and increasing difficulty will put off quite a few players to even getting past floor 40 of Via Infinito. Besides the time required to complete the dungeon in its fullest, the varied strategies required for the bosses will either force players to learn all the different dress spheres or stick to a boring overpowered one. Enemies swarm the dungeon with no way of avoidance, besides the wandering fiends. The worst part is you don’t need to 100% the dungeon to gain 100% completion in the game, you just need to fight the bosses, making the trudge through the floors to get to these feel pointless.
The age old saying of “Don’t split the party” is ever present in my mind, so when a dungeon forces you to split the party for prolonged times, I wince at the thought. Kefka’s Tower is the final dungeon of Final Fantasy VI and asks the player to split their team into three parties, sending them down three separate paths, facing off against normal enemies, bosses and puzzles. This can be a major pain to new players who pick favourites, not equipping or levelling all members of their team equally.
Containing over 20 different maps, or maps requiring several walkthroughs, Kefka’s Tower can feel like the longest dungeon ever. With eight bosses, sometimes requiring several battles, and a final boss with four forms, the tower will feel like it’s trying it’s hardest to deter you from completing it. Besides the bosses, the tower is filled with Behemoths for damage, Malboro’s status effects and Yojimbo’s instant kill attacks.
A new addition to the series, with high powered technology behind it and a vast amount of time to perfect, Final Fantasy XV cannot escape the poor design virus. The biggest put-off I found was in the early segments of the game, where it disallows travel outside of a part of its map. After meeting with Cor, you are told to delve into the dungeons dotted around the map to collect the weapons of Noctis’ ancestors to gain their power. Within this beginning area, you can access four dungeons, two of which are easy and two that are incredibly hard for Chapter 2.
The first tomb is just an entrance and a weapon as a prize, while the second a short dungeon. The Balouve Mines, however, are a different story, with unassuming signs telling of danger and a woman peering inside, you would just think this place was all bark and no bite like the last dungeons. Fighting through low level goblins, backtracking at least two times and running down hallways, you will come across a Samurai like warrior, knocking you down. Just an Anime trope right? Wrong, this dungeon has both a level 75 and level 52 enemy within and you’re level 10 or below. Now load your previous save after dying and losing 1-2 hours progress.
You better prepare Teleport and Warp spells or you'll have a ton of fun with this one. Pandaemonium from Final Fantasy II was one of my first experiences with a “Point of no return” dungeon, forcing you to either complete it or pray you had a save prior to entering. 10 Floors full of difficulty foes, instant death attacks and no rest stops, Pandaemonium has a difficulty curve that goes straight to 10 from a 5.
Final Fantasy II was a fan of side rooms and doors leading to separate areas of dungeons, so combine that with the length and difficulty of Pandaemonium and you’ve got a fan favourite to hate. Genji equipment and the Masamune are your prizes, which you’re going to want to pick up. While battling through the dungeon, you will gain a lot of Gil, but due to the levelling of FFII you might not get as much in the way of attribute gains. Without so much as a warning, this final dungeon had several players raging at the screen, myself included.
Like it’s alternative name of Magnetic Cave, this dungeon holds a strong magnetic field that stop those who use metallic equipment from moving… so say goodbye to a lot of your gear. Filled with lacklustre loot, Lodestone Cavern is home to two separate bosses, as well as strong ogres and paralyzing mind flayers.
Besides all the turmoil’s the cavern gives you, it is one of the more boring ones to explore. Staring at brown locales and linear design, you will just be walking long corridors or around chasms before you reach the next floor. It doesn’t help much when the sequel, The After Years, brings you back to this location, having to trudge through it once more. Cecil becomes obsolete due to his reliance on armor, sword and shield, while other characters will see their defence decrease as shields are not allowed and lower tier weapons are swapped in. Since this is kind of sprung on the player, you either have to return to a town and buy non-metallic gear or slowly make your way through it with unarmed attacks and magic.
Final Fantasy has quite a few timed segments in their games, from the reactor in FFVII to the timed puzzles of FFXII, but Karnak was one of the firsts to implement it and it wasn’t implemented in the best fashions. After the Fire Crystal is destroyed, along with the werewolf, the party is teleported into Karnak Castle, giving a 10 minute timer and told to escape.
Now this timer would be fine if you could easily run away, but no, you have to fight through random battles with Sergeants and the like, along with a boss at the end. Along with battles, the castle has loot like any other dungeon that you want to pick up. No matter what you are doing, the timer will continue to tick down, even in the boss fight. Since this all happens after completing another dungeon, you don’t really have much time to prepare or a previous save to return to, catching a lot of new players out and forcing them to redo it all over again.