Of all of my favorite gaming franchises Final Fantasy has always been somewhere near the top for me. I feel in recent years the series has continued its steady decline, but I still can’t help buying and playing every title.
What follows is a list sure to be contentious among every fan, as every person has games they connect with more than others, but it is a list subjective to my tastes alone. Thus it is inherently flawed from anyone else’s point of view, but I’d love to discuss it in the comments below either way.
Every numbered Final Fantasy has been considered here, including the sequels to the numbered games. The spin-offs have their own place and will be featured in a future article, but for now let us break down what I think is the best and worst of the series.
17.) Final Fantasy VIII
I’ll probably get a lot of heat for ranking this as the worst in the series, but I utterly despised the game when it came out and only forced myself through it out of a weird sense of loyalty to the franchise. I’ve tried to revisit it multiple times, but have never been able to play through it in its entirety again.
This was the first time that Final Fantasy had departed so much from what I had loved before. It took place in a far more futuristic setting and the draw system was terrible. In its best moments it was boring grinding spells from monsters, but even if you removed that you would have to play an inferior card game to get your magic. The battle system itself is ridiculously unbalanced and if you junction wrong you can make the game borderline unplayable.
In addition to that every character was basically a cookie cutter version of the other, even more so than Final Fantasy VII. None of your party members have exclusive abilities to themselves due to the nature of the system, and the limit breaks didn’t much set them apart either. Squall is one of the worst characters in the series because of his swap between Cloud like feigned disinterest and incessant whining, and I can barely name the others as they all seemed horribly generic. The plot is also a convoluted mess of time travel elements and a romance, and for that it earns my bottom spot.
16.) Final Fantasy II
I didn’t get to play this title until it’s U.S. release, so I had played some fantastic releases in the series before touching it. Going back in time left a bad imprint on me, as I don’t think anyone can argue that the game doesn’t hold up to play today. In addition the series removed the experience based leveling system I loved, and replaced it with an odd system that is dependent on actions taken.
What this made necessary was hours of sitting in a fight looping cure spells on a monster with whatever ability you wanted to level, making grinding mind numbingly boring. While I like that we get more actual characters rather than the blank slates from the first game, I just couldn’t connect with this game in any meaningful way. Even though it gave us series firsts like the Chocobo and Cid, I can’t give it a pass for that alone.
15.) Final Fantasy I
As much as I love this game, as fond as my memories are, considering it was a game that inspired me to read Fantasy novels, and the fact that it began my Final Fantasy love affair, I simply can’t rate it higher if you consider it stacked against some of these other titles.
Choosing what class combination is still fun to this day, but the lack of individual characters hurts the story when compared to some of the other entries in the franchise. Considering the limitations of the time they simply couldn’t give any of these characters much personality, and while the story in its simplicity is fine for the time, it just can’t compare to future titles.
This combined with limitations of the console itself, and design choices of the time that are downright archaic now, make this title a nostalgia only play. My son attempted to play it recently, and because of some character deaths near the beginning couldn’t pay to revive his characters, but also couldn’t earn any money with the one character he had left, forcing him to restart the game entirely. Needless to say he moved on rather quickly, the game of my past unable to hold sway with him.
I’ve replayed it recently and while the nostalgia and fond memories are strong with this one, it simply can’t hold up against newer titles.
14.) Final Fantasy III
I remember pouring over Nintendo Power magazine when it came in the mail, and there were a few of them that had screenshots of this game that utterly intrigued me. Knowing it wasn’t coming out in the US was torture, because the pixel art was amazing and the idea of having all those different classes was intoxicating to a younger me.
I had never played through the original game via emulators, so my first introduction to this game was through the DS remake. While I loved the class system, the rest of the game was bland in its portrayal, if not significantly better than the original outing. The remake adds in character personalities rather than the blank slates of the original, but they were almost as uninteresting, and by the end of the game I found myself powering through just to complete the experience.
The characters were so uninteresting that none of them make an appearance in games like Dissidia, they just show off the original class of the characters from the NES version: the Onion Knight.
13.) Final Fantasy XIII
You know you have a problem right off the bat when someone tells you that if you play a game for thirty hours then it really starts to get good. So it was with the incredibly linear Final Fantasy XIII, with characters that are almost as uninteresting as those from Final Fantasy VIII (which I thought impossible).
Gone is the overworld map, and gone is the exploration, which doesn’t open up till nearly the end of the game. Even at that point it is much more confined and linear than any of the experiences before it. All of that could be forgiven though if the battle system didn’t make me want to chunk the game out the window.
Instead of actually giving commands to your characters you set them on very general roles (which anybody can do making the characters basically palette swaps), and then they just automatically follow through with commands. You can give them the most basic of guidance, but there is no strategy on the system besides what the lead character brings. Outside of that you could quite literally leave the game alone on a boss fight and come back to find it dead, or lose the same fight because one character did something stupid over and over.
On top of that the characters are boring and one note, with Snow being one of the absolutely worst offenders and the most basic of bros. It continues with Lightning being basically just a gender swap Cloud, Fang is the cardboard cutout badass with an odd accent, and Hope is the annoying kid. Sazh pretty much saves the game though, as he is one of my favorite characters in all of Final Fantasy. First off, he isn’t a moody teen with amnesia, instead fighting for his child; which as a father myself makes him very relatable and gives him more stock in the plot than the other characters. Does he have a cool factor? Not at all, but as an everyman who is also the heart of the team I adore him.
Sazh is the only reason the game doesn’t score lower. We need a Sazh spin off, STAT. Like Captain Crunches infamous mix up at the cereal factory, we need our very own” Oops, All Sazh.”
12.) Final Fantasy XIII-2
Ok,so the time travel plot was all over the place, there are plot holes big enough to drive a truck through, and the entire premise is strange, but Noel and Sarah are cool and I liked following them through the story. Sure, they can come off as a little one note, but they have more development during the game than the entire cast of the original combined.
Though the combat itself was a strange Pokemon-ish amalgamation of classic Final Fantasy, seeing some classic villains return as your allies was very cool. The game started falling apart though with the utterly jaw dropping amount of nickle and dime DLC available, to the point that it ruined the game for me. There is so much cool stuff locked away outside of the game, including costumes that could have been simple unlockables, that I find myself unable to rank this any higher; and that is saying something considering the main playable character is a cool samurai looking guy whose dual swords transform into a spear.
11.) Final Fantasy XI
I’ve spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours in this game and love it to pieces while simultaneously hating its guts; which pretty much seems to be the go to for this game for a lot of people. Moving into a massively multiplayer online RPG for the first time in the series, the idea of fighting alongside my friends in epic Final Fantasy fashion was intoxicating enough for me to buy the harddrive for the PS2 and deal with the unwieldy online. Overall the game did a really good job of having a story more engaging than most of its peers at the time and the Final Fantasy nostalgia was there in the form of seeing Chocobos and Moogles running around as well as the various classes.
As a person who could never decide what class to play I loved the ability to swap at my discretion, subbing in classes to make the equivalent of your own custom class throughout the game. It was a clever system still being used in the game’s much better sequel, but the harsh realities of this game drug it down. It was almost impossible to get a good party going and wiping was punished with losing levels. I’ll never forget the time that I took over an hour waiting in a desert to get together a party to hunt down the one item I needed for my Chocobo, only to wipe over and over, losing a crucial level. In addition I had sold my old gear like an idiot, so I was wholly unable to continue without grinding out money to re-buy gear that could at least allow me to fight.
10.) Final Fantasy XV
I really struggled with where to put the newest iteration in this long running franchise. When I first purchased the game I didn’t finish it, the load times alone pushed me away. I felt like I was spending more time either watching a car drive or fast traveling to a location than I was playing the game, especially once you get to the mid portion and the smaller quests start to feel like chores.
However, there were parts I really enjoyed of the game. While I miss old school JRPG combat inputs in the Final Fantasy franchise, I thought the action of the game was very well done. There was something immensely satisfying with warping to a monster and flashing about it while changing from a sword, to a spear, then to a pair of knives. It was bombastic, visually impressive, and over the top while allowing your buddies to contribute in often meaningful ways that didn’t get in the way of combat.
The story of the game is very poorly told in general and I found myself consistently lost or disinterested, and this is coming from a man that watched all the anime, as well as the borderline required Kingsglaive movie. Interesting characters come and go without ever being delved into, the Chancellor being one of the most interesting and relatable bad guys of the franchise gets almost no real screen time. Though I’m aware some of this is expanded upon in the DLC, I can only judge the game by the merits of the main campaign as I haven’t played them, and if you need to have DLC to make your story not seem a disconnected mess, that isn’t a good thing.
Other than Noctis I like the characters, the prince is just slightly more tolerable than Squall for the entirety of the game, until the very end when I actually liked him and wanted to play him hours before the game was over. To make it more baffling the portion of the game you spend the least amount of time exploring narratively is also the most interesting part of the entire game, and you simply breeze through it.
I was a big fan of the ending of the game and it ultimately left me with a good taste in my mouth, for a game that was uneven from start to finish.
9.) Final Fantasy XII
This game has one of the most politically charged and in depth stories in the entire franchise, which makes sense as it is set in the same land as Final Fantasy Tactics, Ivalice. It has one of the most believable and likable casts in the franchise to boot, with Balthier being the coolest guy this side of Han Solo. However, I was not a fan of this change from tactical turn based combat to a full blown single player RPG, one with a world that felt nearly empty.
Since your allies were not controlled by you directly, and instead programmed with something called Gambits, you could get pretty close to getting them to do what you wanted, but through the entire game I felt like I never got a handle on the system and it ultimately hampered the entire experience for me. In addition I’d never played a game like this before that wasn’t a MMORPG, as they simply weren’t common at the time, and though I powered through the game I did so for the story and the characters, not for the boring and unfamiliar combat system.
I would be curious to play the newest remaster, if only to see if my thoughts have changed after playing and enjoying games that employ similar systems today.
8.) Final Fantasy X-2
That’s right, you read that correctly, I think that Final Fantasy X-2 is better than XII. Don’t at me.
Joking aside, I originally had a great disdain for Square Enix making this sequel to the original Final Fantasy X, if only because I felt the ending of the original was poignant and meaningful. Meanwhile if you manage to jump through the hoops to get the best ending of the game, it throws FFX’s ending away entirely. While the story was very much Charlie’s Angel in the Final Fantasy universe, and I wasn’t a fan of the theme, the combat is some of the best it has been since the 3D era of Final Fantasy.
The dress sphere system was the culmination of the job system from previous Final Fantasy games. Combat had a million different permutations and combinations because of the job, which could be swapped mid combat and it all was extremely fast and fluid. I hated having to basically follow a guide to keep from missing the smallest thing in order to get the real ending to the game, but I powered through the frustration with that and the plot because the combat system was just so damn good.
7.) Final Fantasy XIV Realm Reborn
Did you know the best Final Fantasy since Final Fantasy X came out was the MMORPG follow up to Final Fantasy XI?
Nobody could blame you if you didn’t, I certainly am not a fan of MMORPG games typically. In general I find them to be simply about the loot grind, the story being secondary to the point that you just click through the quests to get to the next monster you have to get pelts from. World of Warcraft has been making in roads on that, and a few others do it well, but in general I avoid the genre.
Final Fantasy XIV does such a great job of making you feel like the hero of the story, even when you know that fifteen other people are also the heroes of their story. For a Final Fantasy fan such as myself the nostalgic factor is absolutely everywhere, with multiple games mentioned directly and fantastic 8 bit throwback models even showing up of the classes in one of the new dungeon modes. From top to bottom the game absolutely is designed for the Final Fantasy fan and this is the only MMORPG I would say you have to play through for the story, because every new expansion and large patch adds to the mythos of that world.
Add to that the engaging and wonderful class system in which you can swap to any class you want at any time and you have an absolute winner. The only drawback is that it is indeed a MMORPG and you can’t experience the entire story solo as the major dungeons you will have to group up, but if you could play the entirety solo it would beat out even the next Final Fantasy on the list.
6.) Final Fantasy X
I remember first playing this game and being absolutely blown away by it, in every aspect. The voice acting was such a welcome touch, outside of a few iconic moments, and I fell in love with the world of Spira. Though the plot itself becomes horribly confusing and contrived by the end of the game, it felt like a far more personal Final Fantasy than we had ever gotten before. We knew from the start of Yuna’s journey that the ending was set to be sad, we were after all escorting her to be a sacrificial lamb, so the stories and connections that naturally pop up around that are incredibly satisfying.
The way the game focused on summoning as a plot device, instead of just a system in the game, was also something I very much enjoyed. Seeing these massive creatures come to life and being able to control them was nothing short of a joy. The game wasn’t perfect, but I still think it was the last truly magnificent Final Fantasy game in the traditional sense.
5.) Final Fantasy VII
If Final Fantasy X blew me away with voice acting and beautiful graphics, Final Fantasy VII was revolutionary. We went from one console having 2D animated sprites to being full blown 3D polygonal characters with details you could truly make out on the character. To go back and play it now it looks pretty bad, but back then it was cutting edge graphics tied to my favorite franchise at the time.
I loved the blend of Steampunk and Fantasy that the game leaned into, though at the time I also turned up my nose at things like cars being in my much loved fantasy series. The game had me hooked from the beginning, with a cool looking character wielding a giant sword that would soon be known the world over as Cloud Strife. While the game took away a lot of the individuality of the characters due to being able to use any magic, they still had enough that you could justify one character over another gameplay wise. The plot twists and devices, even though I now know you could drive a mack truck through some of the plot holes, were something you just didn’t see in gaming at the time.
Playing back through it now the game has a lot of problems with both pacing as well as the constant introduction of irritating mini games that control poorly, but especially at the time it was a masterpiece of the genre and still holds up today as a great JRPG regardless of its flaws.
4.) Final Fantasy V
Because of the odd release schedule of these games in North America I didn’t get to play this game until it came out in a compilation on the PlayStation. It was like finding a lost classic from my beloved Super Nintendo, there in all its glory. The job system of three came fully intact and expanded on in every way, and I was absolutely hooked from the minute I started it. This took the story telling that had began to take root in the fourth game in the series and refined it in many ways, having legitimately jaw dropping reveals within the game.
Even if the characters aren’t quite as beloved as Cecil and crew, it still features a badass named Faris who has a pirate ship pulled along by a huge sea dragon. If that isn’t enough to make them one of the best characters in the series, then the reveal about them certainly does. I truly believe if I had played this game back during my childhood in the SNES era that I would have the same nostalgia and fondness I assign to the fourth and sixth of the series, it is simply that good.
3.) Final Fantasy IV
We didn’t get the second and third iterations of the original NES Final Fantasy games in the US, so imagine the jump one would experience going from Final Fantasy I to Final Fantasy IV. The story of Cecil and crew is still one of my favorite in the franchise as it follows a character who is working for the villians, has a crisis of conscious, and becomes the hero of the story. Characters grow and progress as the game goes on, especially Cecil, who even gets an entirely new sprite and abilities somewhere around midway through the game.
A great story, a traditional combat system with cool contextual abilities, and cool characters makes this one of my absolutely favorite Final Fantasy games.
2.) Final Fantasy IX
I loved Final Fantasy VII, but it never captured the magic I felt from the originals, and we all know how I feel about Final Fantasy VIII now. In a time I felt the franchise was leaving me behind I got exactly what I had been missing: the fantasy based hijinks of a lovable band of characters with nary a pouting spiky-haired youth in sight. Final Fantasy IX saw summons again took center stage, and seeing an entire city rise up and fight as one is one of my favorite memories in gaming.
Embracing the nostalgia of the previous iterations along with the technological advances of the new generation of consoles, and leveraging them in a fairytale like story with some of the most loved characters in the series is what makes the ninth entry into the franchise one of my absolute favorites.
1.) Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VI is not just the best Final Fantasy ever made, it is one of the finest RPGs ever made. I fell madly in love with it from the very first opening tones of the game, watching Mode 7 employed as armored suits powered through a snowfall. It was one of the coolest openings in video games, and it set the tone for what would be a magical experience.
The game runs on a huge ensemble cast of characters, insuring that no matter what you like you’ll find someone you love, and manages to also make them all unique and interesting. A ninja for hire with a shadowy past, a love child of an Esper and humans, the dashing sky gambler who flew an airship, the princely brothers as different as they can be; they all spoke to me in some way or aother.
That is without even mentioning the best villain in the franchise, somehow made absolutely iconic with a simple midi laugh. Kefka wasn’t a mustache twirling bad guy, he didn’t want to beat the good guys, he didn’t have an ulterior motive, like some of the best villains he just wanted to watch the world burn, and he did. That is right, the bad guys actually won for a change, and seeing the world change around you while having to round back up your powerful party at midgame is still an amazing piece of gaming to play through.
So there you have it, my list of the best Final Fantasy games ranked. Let me know how I’m completely wrong in the comments below!