All right, this is it. The authoritative list of the best Final Fantasy titles. This one is bound to cause some discussion, especially among people who think VI is a good game. I’ve looked at dozens of other people’s lists across the boards, and needless to say, my opinions are not popular. But here they are: the best and worst of the main Final Fantasy Titles. (I say main because, of course, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest would be #1 otherwise.)
12. Final Fantasy III
The problems with Final Fantasy III aren’t necessarily numerous, but they are certainly glaring. The biggest problem I have is with the characters, or the fact that there aren’t any. It’s the quest of four people nobody knows anything about and how they try to save the world. The story for all the early Final Fantasies (basically up until 6) aren’t exactly very diverse. It involves good guys trying to round up crystals to beat bad guys. So when you already have a flimsy plotline, and no interesting characters to back it up, you’re going to have a game that simply isn’t enjoyable. Add to that the music (even ignoring its very limited NES capabilities) is downright annoying. While there are glimmers of interesting developments (the job system is introduced, even though it is fairly useless at this point, as well as summon magic), the game isn’t worth playing if you want an enjoyable experience.
11. Final Fantasy II
Truthfully, this game is sorta interchangeable with FFIII in terms of likability. It’s interesting to note – when US developers were deciding which FF title to bring to the states after FFI, they had two real options – go with the actual FFII or go with FFIV, which had just come out in Japan. They picked IV, not because it was a better game, but just because it was more recent. I think that was probably the best decision the franchise made in its history. II is okay, but it has its share of issues as well. It is telling that the method of leveling up – the more you do something, the stronger at it you become – was never used in subsequent games. It’s a weak way to level up that requires lots of mindless battles. Also, magic in this game is totally utterly useless. The strongest spell in the game, Ultima 9, does about 1/4 of the damage of a normal attack. The story isn’t developed enough to note improvements over FFI, although you do see seeds of some of the later titles and the stories (notably FFIV). The one “improvement” of having to learn and recite key phrases could have been done away with. Pretty forgettable overall.
10. Final Fantasy X-2
I might be unnecessarily harsh on FFX-2. It is a pretty enjoyable game to play on face value. The battle system, although animated in a way that makes it very difficult to follow, isn’t laborious and I found myself enjoying the fights. The idea of oversouling is great. The game even contains one of the most awesome, challenging locations in the entire series (The Via Infinito). My problems with the game, though, are immense, mainly because I am not a young teenage bisexual girl, which I am firmly convinced is the demographic they were targeting. They essentially eliminated all that was good about FFX (interesting diverse characters, a bad guy I could understand wanting to destroy, blitzball, the music) and substituted it with costumes and hand-holding. It is markedly dumbed down, even more than American FFII. There isn’t even anything fresh to enjoy, as the world and nearly all the characters are rehashed from FFX. It strikes me as they had a couple of ideas that didn’t make it into FFX, and rather than let it go, they made an entirely new game out of it that simply does not stand on its own, and it follows X very poorly. The best thing they did was getting rid of those abhorrent Cloister of Trials.
9. Final Fantasy VI
That’s right, the golden boy of the series, FFVI, sitting here just barely beating out FFX-2. How did that happen? I’ll tell you. First off, the entire game is just shrouded in a deep depression. There is very little uplifting in the entire game, from the characters conflicts to the music to the towns. Then there are the characters, which are way too many in number. If they all served a use, then fine. But a good 1/3 of them are useless and, aside from giving “options” to the player, they more or less sit in the background, unused. The first half of the game is an endless series of my least-favorite-sequences of the series. The actual events they have you go through are annoying and simply not fun. Finally, I already made my opinions of Kefka known; many fans love him, but I don’t. In wrestling terms, he’s like X-Pac: people jeer him not because he’s good at making people hate him, but because he’s so annoying and ludicrous that you just want him off your television screen. The game is not totally bad, though. This was the first real departure in storyline for the franchise, and it was, if nothing else, a noble effort. The game’s scope is also very ambitious. Having a truly shocking change halfway through the game (which literally changes the landscape for the rest of the game) is a great idea, and it breaks up the monotony of the storyline which many FF titles fall into. When all is said and done, though, this is simply an overrated game that I don’t actually enjoy playing.
8. Final Fantasy
It pains me just a little to rate this game only at 8th, since it was the one that started the entire ball rolling. The story of the creation of the game is pretty fascinating, as the company was on its last legs, so this was the final game it was creating, and they wanted it to be a fantasy game (hence the name.) That it became some widely successful is the sole reason Square even exists today. Ultimately, though, this game is ranked so low because the ones that came after it were so good. The game is rough, no doubt, but when you consider what came before it, it is revolutionary in so many ways. Sure, there are issues with plot (fairly contrived), characters (there really aren’t any), and annoying glitches (the phantom enemy swipes). They were ironing out the way the entire genre would work. It is a classic to this day and still enjoyable to play, and featured themes that Uematsu would incorporate into many of his later masterpieces.
7. Final Fantasy VIII
Final Fantasy 8 is probably the most polarizing game in the series (with the exception of maybe XII). While few would put it as the best in the series, most would put it as the very worst. The flip side is the people who would argue that it is a superior game to VII. For a very long time (up until this project), I was one of those people. I’ve softened my tone slightly, but still say that FFVIII is a solid game. The bad parts are, indeed, bad. The junctioning system is very complex and a hassle, having to draw magic to increase in strength is tedious, and the main character, as you’ll remember, ranks as the worst character in any FF game. That being said, there are a number of plusses. The simplest ones to see are the advances in technology – VIII really became the benchmark for CGI videos and their ability to enhance a story. Also, the fact that enemies level up with you is a very interesting take which I wouldn’t mind seeing make a comeback as it leads to interesting replay value. The card minigame is among the best diversions in the series, and the ending is also among the best. I think what ultimately hurt this game is there is no one standout positive feature, but I also think the negatives are not as bad as people make them out to be.
6. Final Fantasy V
I was a little surprised to see this game did so well on the list. Truthfully, it could probably swap with the next game on the list, and in fact it did at least once while I was trying to order them. I always felt that V was the “middle child” of the series, never really getting the attention it should. Among the games with class systems (III, V and X2), this one was clearly the best of the bunch. Admittedly, some of the jobs are useless, but they’re all fun to at least try once or twice. The storyline is nothing fantastic, and not even something we hadn’t seen in the prior game or two, but they seemed to trim the unnecessary parts (five people is a bit much to control at once, but they still retained the interesting characters and character progression.) If my memory serves me, this was the first time they had a main character die, although some of that novelty was lost when an exact replica character took his place. It’s a start, though. The game does frankly take a while to get going, but by the end, it is really a fun game. It’s major suffering would be that it was way too sylistically close to FFIV, and while I do love IV, there wasn’t much progress made between the two of them.
5. Final Fantasy VII
Many like FFVII best and I think it’s because, for the most part, it was their first exposure to the franchise, as it was the first one to come out on a system other than Nintendo. I’ve long speculated the same thing with the Evil Dead franchise – whichever you watch first will likely be your favorite (Evil Dead II for me). As a “purist” who had played the NES and SNES ones first, I had trouble rolling with the punches for this one. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate it for what it is, though I still stand by my assertion that it is an overrated game. However, it is incredibly ambitious, as not only were they designing for a new system with better capabilities, they also added countless extras and expanded the idea of an RPG tenfold with this game. Also in hindsight, I realize how lame those “awesome” graphics were. Even the movies seemed like cheap anime. But, there were a number of good things about this game: the death of a major character is definitely one of the biggest shocks of all games, not just this series. Sephiroth is everything that Kefka isn’t (read: actually interesting.) While the story is confusing, what FF title doesn’t have a convoluted plotline? 7 certainly has replay value, though not perhaps as much as some later titles.
4. Final Fantasy XII
Another game that surprised me when I saw how well it did. Since this game is freshest in my mind, I think I tend to remember the aggravating bits more than I should. Also, it should be noted that I played the majority of the game with no walkthroughs (unlike every other title except IX), so there was an element of aggravation in having to do things twice or trying things that didn’t work. The experiments they made with the game were largely successful: the new battle system, while I wouldn’t want it permanently, was quite nice. The gambit system was definitely interesting (once you acquire good enough gambits, at least.) I had no problem with the plot whatsoever, as far as two warring nations. My major beef was the total lack of interesting characters and character development, but I don’t know that that was their main impulse. They never even truly assigned a main character (Vaan, who is generally accepted as the main character, is probably only 4th or 5th most important in terms of plot.) Their concentration seemed to be on the creation of the world and the battle systems. But the joy of the game, aside from its amazing movies, was definitely its scope. It’s enormous. And very free. You can go almost anywhere off the bat, you can clearly get in over your head doing so, and it’s a pleasure trying to see what secrets you can unlock on your own. The hunt is a great idea, and the amount of optional stuff makes the replay value of this one very great (as long as you don’t particularly have anywhere important to go for a while.)
3. Final Fantasy IX
I once played this game for an hour and vowed never to play it again. I was so very wrong. FFIX for a while was listed at #2 on this list, and only very recently got switched back to where it is. I think having only played it once and not done “everything” bumped it up higher than it might have gotten otherwise, so I have moved it to the well-earned #3. It is heralded as a return to the “old style” FF game, and it is that and more. Characters that are very defined, not just in terms of personality, but ability (I got tired of anyone being able to do anything with the right equipment.) Here, your mages were mages and your fighters were fighters. Having a main character who was not an abomination helped. This game is simply fun with very few minuses. They got rid of the confusing junctioning system, didn’t try to throw a messy materia system, and nothing as complex as the later sphere grid. You got a weapon that also assists other attributes, try it. It seemed oddly strategy-based, especially considering it is the simplest method of leveling up in any game. While I could have done without the “active time mode” which replaced the “meanwhile” cut scenes from earlier games, and seen a different mini-game other than the card game which was in no way an improvement over VIIIs card game, there isn’t much else I’d change. Having one of the better endings of the games helped too. Just a truly fun game.
2. Final Fantasy X
Here was another difficult choice, between this one and Final Fantasy IX, and they are also primarily interchangeable. The Cloisters of Trials, one of the worst things ever, almost single-handedly knocked this down a peg. Aside from that, though, FFX offers almost everything else you could want. A very deep world with plenty to do. Characters that are vivid and diverse within the game. A bad guy (Sin) who truly seems unbeatable, and a bad guy (Seymour) who is evil all on his own. Hidden subquests. An awesome, time-sucking minigame (Blitzball). A very good score. Excellent movies. It’s hard not to like this game, though some say it’s too easy. There’s always ways to make games harder (try to beat it with only one character alive, for instance.) I do have a few issues with the game, which I touched on briefly in the worst-characters post (lookin’ at you, Tidus.) Additionally, the voice acting was okay at best, and painful at other times. It subsequently got better in newer games. Also, the game was incredibly limiting, not being able to access most of the world until the last 10% of the game. But these negatives don’t overcome the fun this game holds. Clearly deserving of the top 3.
1. Final Fantasy IV
This should surprise nobody who knows me at all. Long listed as my favorite game of all time, Final Fantasy IV is truly an epic game. On the SNES, we actually played this game so much that we wore out the memory capability of it. When we called Square, they said they knew it could happen with FFI (whose NES system had a very limited capability for memory) but that they’d never heard of it happened on the SNES. Why is it the best? Well, its strength lies in its story and characters. It’s got betrayal, it’s got moral dilemmas, it’s got a redemption story, it’s got tragic (yet meaningful) loss. The characters as a whole are the most fleshed out of any game – while others in the series may have a good character or two, IV has an entire roster of very detailed characters with fitting backstories. It is often overshadowed by VI for some reason, I’m guessing because there aren’t an awful lot of side-quests. But when the story is so good, why bog it down? The score is also, as already noted, the best of the series, with countless memorable melodies. The main negatives are that I always felt Golbez should have been the final end guy, and the actual ending (although I appreciate how it actually gives updates on the characters) is a bit bubble-gum happy for me (the twins should have stayed dead at the very least.)
Now that I’ve completed this completely asinine quest, I might play FFIV one more time, for old time’s sake. Or, you know, see my wife and kid.