With Final Fantasy XV still on the way, someday, there’s no time like the present to talk about the most divisive video game franchise on the planet. One might even call it controversial, not because of anything actually bad, but because every Final Fantasy fan has their own list of which games in the series are great, and which ones are terrible. With that in mind, we’ve assembled what we consider the definitive (only not really, for reasons we just discussed) list of the 10 best Final Fantasy games in the series’ long history. We’re almost certain someone will disagree with us, but that’s the chance you have to take when you do something like this.
10. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
With rhythm games rising in popularity, it was really only a matter of time before we got one from the series containing some of the best and most memorable music in gaming history. Theatrhythm (and its sequel, Curtain Call) was released for the Nintendo 3DS and was so well-received that it actually caused shortages, as Square Enix had not produced enough cartridges to meet the unexpected demand (the game is also the only Final Fantasy game released for Nintendo platforms that is not available on the e-Shop, which exacerbated the problem). The game combined the incredible music library of the series up to that point with characters and video from the games, along with a mild leveling mechanic allowing higher difficulties and extra characters and songs to be unlocked, and created an excellent rhythm game that should be high on any Final Fantasy fan’s playlist.
9. Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy
The second try at a fighting game using Final Fantasy characters, Dissidia 012 (properly pronounced as “Dissidia Duodecim” because hey, why not) was at the same time a sequel, a prequel, and a remake of the original, as it included the story of the first game, and built an additional story based on events which occurred prior to the original, as well as some side stories. It also featured additional characters and some tweaks to the combat, and was considered one of the best games ever released for the Playstation Portable system (admittedly, that’s a small list, but it’s on there). The unique battle system and deep story, combined with spectacular graphics (especially for a handheld game), make it a well-deserved entry into the Final Fantasy series, albeit one that has become increasingly hard to find, due to almost nobody buying the PSP or its successor, the Vita. If you have either device, however, the game is still available on the PSN Store.
8. Final Fantasy V
For the longest time, this was the forgotten entry in the Final Fantasy series. While the games around it, IV and VI, both were localized and released in North America (due to only the original game being released in America up to that point, they were distributed as Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III, respectively), the fifth entry in the main series did not make it out of Japan until it was included as part of an anthology collection for the Playstation, seven years after its initial release (although a localized version did exist, for those who knew how to find it). The game has an excellent story told through a relatively small cast of heroes (unlike the larger groups of other Final Fantasy games, this one featured only five playable characters), and also refined and expanded on the “Job” system that was introduced in the Japan-only Final Fantasy III, into the one that is now most recognizable in the critically acclaimed Final Fantasy Tactics (and also formed the basis for character classes in the two Final Fantasy MMOs).
7. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
After a fairly successful first attempt at creating a subscription-based MMORPG with Final Fantasy XI (which was released for both PC and Playstation 2, and necessitated the creation of the PS2 hard drive to store all the necessary data), Square Enix took a second shot with the fourteenth entry in the series. Unfortunately, the game was terrible, received incredibly poor reviews, and threatened to become a massive financial loss for the company. However, in a shocking move, Square Enix completely rebuilt the game from the ground up (even writing the destruction of the old game’s world into the lore of the new one), and the result was one of the best MMO’s ever created. In fact, it is one of only a handful of MMO’s that has been able to remain a subscription-based service, due to its overwhelming success. The graphics, story, and active battle system make this game one well worth looking at, if you’re interested in an MMO.
6. Final Fantasy X
The very first Final Fantasy game to include voice acting, and the first to be released on the Playstation 2 console (the previous three had all come out for the original Playstation), Final Fantasy X continued to display the incredible graphics that the series was known for, taking them to an even higher level thanks to the increased power of the next generation console. The game took criticism for forcing players along a more linear path, as opposed to the nearly completely open worlds of previous entries, but still allowed enough back-tracking and side quests that it wasn’t as much of an issue as it would become in later games (we’re looking at you, Final Fantasy XIII). Also, the voice acting wasn’t always great, due to the entire concept of having voices in video games still being early in development. This game also made significant changes to the trademark Active Time Battle system, replacing it with the ability (and in boss fights, occasionally the necessity) to swap out party members on the fly during fights to allow access to unique abilities. It also was the first Final Fantasy game to eschew a traditional leveling system, debuting the Sphere Grid, which had both supporters and detractors. In the end, the game is fun, the story is intriguing, and it still holds up today, thanks to High Definition re-releases which were released for both the Playstation 3 and 4.
5. Final Fantasy Tactics
One of the first attempts to expand the Final Fantasy franchise beyond the traditional JRPG, this was the first (and best) attempt at a turn-based strategy game using characters based on the Job system. With an overarching story about a bloody war of succession that purports to expose the “real” story behind a character who history has claimed was a traitor, Final Fantasy Tactics offers a surprisingly complex and interesting narration that combines well with unique maps and a complex (but not complicated) battle system that makes full use of the wide variety of potential Jobs that can be equipped by your units. In addition, it was the first taste we would get of what would become a years-long attempt by Square (the original company behind Final Fantasy, who would eventually become the Square Enix we know today) to continue to milk the success of Final Fantasy VII by including the ability to unlock Cloud Strife as a playable character (although he’s actually a terrible addition to your team by the time you can get him). This is also a fairly difficult game, which the player can make even harder by level grinding, as the random battle maps that can appear at any time as you traverse the world will level up to match your party. Also, it introduced us to the world of Ivalice, which would be revisited down the line as the setting for Final Fantasy XII.
4. Final Fantasy IX
Possibly the most under-rated game in the entire series, Final Fantasy IX was a clear attempt by Square Enix to quiet some of the vitriol that erupted during the divisive Final Fantasy VIII, dialing back the hyper-realistic graphics and modern, more sci-fi setting in exchange for a more cartoonish look that was set in an almost purely fantastical world. This game hearkens back to the original Final Fantasy games, with each character having unique classes and abilities, all the classic Final Fantasy reference points (with moogles, chocobos, and black mages running rampant), and a return to the old combat system after the confusing (and broken) Draw system of the previous game. Unfortunately, much of the negativity directed towards VIII probably carried over into this game, as it barely registered when it was released, although those who played it often compared it favorably to older entries in the franchise. It may be the one Final Fantasy game that many people have never played, and it’s well worth your time to find a way to check it out.
3. Final Fantasy IV
Frankly, there are legitimate arguments for any of the top three on this list to take the #1 spot, and the mitigating factor is usually personal preference. There’s no arguing that Final Fantasy IV introduced or refined many of the concepts that would become associated with the franchise for most of its existence. It was the first Final Fantasy to make use of the Active Time Battle system, where a bar which filled over time determined when characters could act. It was also the first Final Fantasy game released in North America after the original (which is why it was known for the longest time as Final Fantasy II outside of Japan), skipping over the second and third games (neither game would ever be released in their original form outside of Japan, although complete remakes eventually made their way overseas), and was the first one that came out for the Super Nintendo, leading to a leap forward in game size and complexity, graphics, and sound, introducing us to the complex music that the Final Fantasy series would come to be known for. The story of this game is held up as one of the best in the series, with a large cast of unique and memorable characters, and it remains one of the most popular Final Fantasy games ever made.
2. Final Fantasy VII
The game which is given credit for exposing the Final Fantasy franchise to the mainstream, it was one of the best-selling games for the original Playstation, and was a cornerstone of the console’s early success. It was also the first Final Fantasy that was not released for a Nintendo console, after an acrimonious split between Square and the gaming giant, allegedly over Nintendo’s consoles not having the capabilities Square required for a game of Final Fantasy VII‘s size. The game was a tour de force for the franchise, using the full power of the Playstation to showcase breathtaking graphics and music, surrounding a game which spanned a massive open world, with an engaging story full of characters that remain among the most popular in the series today. This was the first Final Fantasy game which would see spin-offs set in the same world, including a feature-length movie. It has also been announced that there will be a complete current generation remake for modern consoles at E3 2015, due to unending demands from the fan base to be able to play their favorite Final Fantasy with even better graphical capabilities.
1. Final Fantasy VI
The second and last game to be released in North America for the Super Nintendo (as Final Fantasy III), this game and Final Fantasy VII are often used as a demarcation line between Final Fantasy fans. That is to say, if you were playing Final Fantasy games before the Playstation brought the franchise to the masses, this was probably your favorite one. Featuring cutting-edge graphics (for the time), an expansive and detailed open world (actually, two of them…but we’ve really said too much), and some of the best music in the series’ long history, along with an incredible 14 distinct and unique characters, all with their own background, motivations, and stories, this was Square’s most ambitious Final Fantasy game to date, and it came out perfectly. The overarching story is fantastic, with the greatest villain of the entire franchise, and a solid cast of supporting characters that really flesh out the player characters’ motivations. And really, in what other game can you watch the apocalypse destroy the entire world, and still only be halfway through the story?