As the soon-to-be-classic RPG Bravely Default is out now on the Nintendo 3DS, myself and a lot of other RPG fans have been talking about the Final Fantasy series. It seems the one-time king of the JRPG has come a long way from the first game on the NES back in 1987: gone are the White Mages and Fighters from the early days, and in their place are MMORPGs and strangely named sequels like Final Fantasy XIII-2. But as Bravely Default has reminded us, there are a lot of great moments to hold on to and cherish in the Final Fantasy series. So, seeing as Final Fantasy is the topic of the time, I have been thinking a good deal about what my favorite FF games are. Having played most all of them, but notably not the newer games, I actually had a difficult time narrowing down the list to just ten.
10. Final Fantasy II
The sequel to the original Final Fantasy left a stale taste in many gamer’s mouths, but for me it was kept fresh. Mainly the game’s interesting approach to character levels (there weren’t any!) was stuck with me. As you used actions with each character their skills in that field would improve. So if you have someone only attack with swords, their sword ability would increase accordingly. The same was true with stats like HP and MP, meaning if someone took a beating a hell of a lot, they’d gain more HP than someone who didn’t get attacked as much. The story was just okay, but I think because it was more of the same awesomeness that was Final Fantasy, I enjoyed it quite a bit… but not enough to be higher on this list.
9. Final Fantasy XII
Admittedly, I have not finished this game. So perhaps it could be a lot better than a number 9 ranking, but as it stands Final Fantasy XII on the PS2 was just alright. I thought the protagonist Vaan wasn’t nearly as cool as Balthier, which I think many would agree was a much cooler character overall. His badassery surpassed most characters in the entire Final Fantasy universe, so why the game wasn’t all about him I’m not sure. The combat in this game was a bit too different for my tastes, but it wasn’t so horribly bad I wouldn’t want to go back and finish the game should I ever have the chance presented to me.
8. Final Fantasy
The game that started it all. The original Final Fantasy holds up incredibly well, assuming you can deal with incredibly primitive systems by today’s standards. Gaining new spells was a feat, each new level a reward, and the story holds up, even though it’s so basic. And man, this was one hard game. Very unforgiving dungeons followed up by equally challenging boss fights. If you haven’t played the original FF, it’s available on every possible console imaginable, and you owe it to yourself to experience the origin of the legendary series.
7. Final Fantasy XI
My time spent with Final Fantasy XI was shorter than I would have liked, but the MMO outcast of the series is deep, engaging, and has a thriving community of enthusiastic players! The way FF11 handles online communication/groups is wonderful, and the approach to character classes and changing them (which the whole series is known for, mind you) is unlike any other MMO I have played. This is the first time I’m mentioning this in this list, but FF11‘s music is wonderful. The series is known for excellent accompaniment and this game has probably flown under many fan’s radars simple by being online only. Those people have missed out.
6. Final Fantasy III
The Nintendo DS gave US gamers the first opportunity to play the originally FamiCom exclusive Final Fantasy sequel, complete with updated visuals and extra content. And man, it was worth the wait! Final Fantasy III is all about jobs: there are tons of jobs to master, including spellcasters like White Mages and Black Mages, as well as physical powerhouses like the dual-wielding Ninja. With a story as Final Fantasy as Final Fantasy can be, FF3 is a wonderful game only made better on the portable DS.
5. Final Fantasy VI
Touted by many as the pinnacle of the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy VI is by far the most ambitious FF game in the series to date. Multiple storylines, a huge, diverse cast of playable characters that are actually interesting, and one of the most maniacal villains in series history, FF6 is one of the most memorable 2D games ever made. And that music!! Terra’s theme (the overworld music) is one of my favorite songs in the series, as well as one of the best video game tunes ever created!
4. Final Fantasy VII
The game that launched the series into the mainstream, Final Fantasy VII is the first in the series not to be on a Nintendo console having released on the PS1, the first 3D Final Fantasy, and featured a futuristic-like world. While I don’t agree that FF7 is the best in the series (obviously), it is one of the most memorable in the franchise thanks to excellent gameplay and truly fantastic characters. Whenever a publication lists the greatest villains in games, FF7‘s antagonist Sephiroth is somewhere near the top. The game was so well received that Square decided to use it as a launching point for subsequent sequels, which weren’t nearly as good as the source material.
3. Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy’s leap onto the PlayStation 2 was excellent in nearly every respect. At the time, I hadn’t seen a game look as pretty as FFX, and honestly those pre-rendered cutscenes still look great to this day. The Sphere Grid, which let you level up your characters in any way you wanted, allowed you to essentially have everybody in your party be able to do everything, and I thought it was totally awesome. Kind of like a master job system where everyone wins in the end. Protagonist Tidus was a bit annoying, yeah, but don’t let his whining stop you from enjoying this love story. Oh, and Lulu attacked with teddy bears. And Wakka talked funny. And those graphics!! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha… Ha Ha Ha!
2. Final Fantasy IV
It doesn’t get any better than Final Fantasy IV when it comes to 2D FFs. The first on the Super Nintendo, the story of Cecil and Kain is so incredibly well done and enjoyable I played the game multiple times and loved every minute of it. Cecil’s reformation, Kain’s brainwashing, Rydia’s tragedy, and antagonist Golbez’s insane plot (kind of) to end mankind is just epic. This game also introduced the Active Time Battle (ATB) system, which allowed characters to act as their ATB meter filled, meaning if you just waited around and didn’t select anything while in battle your foes would continuously attack you. FF4 also has what I think are the most definitive versions of the jobs of each character: When I think of a Dragoon, I think of Kain. Summoners, Rydia. This game has received a few remakes and sequels, but nothing can compare to the original story.
1. Final Fantasy IX
I’m definitely in the minority by placing Final Fantasy IX at the top of this list, but in my RPG mind there is no better Final Fantasy than the last one to grace the original PlayStation. Final Fantasy IX is a throwback to everything that made the series so powerful and beloved by legions of fans. Gone are the futuristic settings of the previous few games, and back are swords, castles, kings, and deception. The love story isn’t the forerunner in FF9, but the dire state of the world and all its inhabitants takes the stage. Small nods to past games like Garnet/Dagger’s White Mage hood will make any fan of the series how has played all the past games smile in ecstasy. As if there wasn’t enough going for it already (the cast, the gameplay, the visuals), FF9 has one of the greatest soundtracks in the entire series, with dozens of fantastic tunes that will happily get stuck in your head for days. A truly unappreciated game, Final Fantasy IX is a collection of everything that made the series great up to this point, and takes the crown as the greatest Final Fantasy game.
So there you have it, my top ten Final Fantasy games.
Now… why am I wrong? Haha.
Which games *cough*FINALFANTASY8*cough* am I forgetting? Where would you place FF7 on your list? What would your favorite game be?
One more shout out to Bravely Default. The game is truly great, and a throwback to the Final Fantasy’s of old, which, if you couldn’t tell, I have a big spot for in my heart.
Here’s to another 25 years of RPG excellence!