In honor of Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns release I thought it’d be fun to take a look back at all the main Final Fantasy games minus the spinoffs and online entries. I’ve broken down all the games into three categories the essential, the great but not revolutionary, and the under appreciated. First up is the essential and what I mean by that is these are the titles that best symbolize what makes Final Fantasy so special and are a good starting point for newcomers. Here are my five recommendations for those new to the franchise.
Final Fantasy IV
A turning point for the franchise where Final Fantasy surpassed other RPG series like Dragon Quest and Phantasy Star. The simple plots of the first three games expanded into an epic storyline with a diverse range of memorable characters along with the introduction of the active time battle system used in many of the sequels. Like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, this Final Fantasy game set the template for future titles and the quality gamers expected from JRPGS going forward. Also, with multiple versions readily available it’s easy to find a copy. My personal preference is the Sony PSP version and if you enjoyed it play the Nintendo DS version too for a different perspective.
Final Fantasy V
Final Fantasy III laid the groundwork for the fan favorite job system, but FFV refined it even further until Final Fantasy Tactics perfected it. FFV is an essential title because it shows you all the different gameplay and character customization possibilities found in the best JRPGS. In fact, besides Final Fantasy X-2 this is the most replayable game in the series. Although, the story’s forgettable the combat is so quick and varied that it’s still enjoyable now. Just be sure to play the Nintendo GameBoy Advance version because the PlayStation version has slow loading times and nasty save glitches.
Final Fantasy VI
Considered by many to be the greatest JRPG ever and the best Final Fantasy game. While not my favorite of the series, this game is full of memorable moments like the opera scene, the phantom train, Kefka’s evil laugh, and many more. The cast of characters is equally impressive with each of them playing a bit differently, so no party member overshadows the other. Even more amazing is that FFVI still looks great 20 years later and how many role playing games have a villain that actually succeeds in destroying the world you’re trying to save. FFVI is the pinnacle of the 2D Final Fantasy formula making it essential to play if you’re a fan of the series.
Final Fantasy VII
This game is almost every fan’s favorite because it was their introduction to the series like Ocarina Time was to Zelda fans. FFVII is revolutionary for bringing in millions of fans alienated by JRPGS because of their dated presentation and complex gameplay mechanics. This game fixed many of those issues and made me pay attention to the genre for the first time in my life. FFVII has a memorable story with great characters, an excellent villain, tons of fun distractions like the Gold Saucer, and an enjoyable materia battle system all wrapped up in breathtaking 3D graphics with stunning music.
Final Fantasy X
The game that brought voice acting into the series allowing you to become even closer to your party members than ever before and the first title in the series that really felt like an interactive film. Also, it’s noteworthy for its varied combat system that forces you to use everyone in your party to survive. The story is pretty memorable too, and the only missteps are the complexity of blitzball( an underwater sport) and the overall linear structure that many people would grow to hate in Final Fantasy XIII. A good entry point for newcomers and even easier to play now with the upcoming HD remaster.
THE GREAT, BUT NOT REVOLUTIONARY
What I mean by this is that these games are solid but not as essential to the series as the previous entries. There great games, but some of the mechanics and storylines are better replicated in other titles so they wouldn’t be my first choice when recommending to someone’s what’s so great about Final Fantasy.
The game that started it all is still surprisingly playable today. I played the PSP version and immediately got hooked by the simple, addictive gameplay and amazing music. It’s not essential, but the first Final Fantasy is a great starting point for newcomers because of its short commitment(under 15 hours) and overall fun factor. Just be sure to use a guide or online map, so you don’t get lost.
Final Fantasy III
A DS game that took its sweet time making it over to US shores is brutally hard at first and with no save points in dungeons it can be an extremely frustrating experience.. Still, I have no qualms recommending this game, and once you get a taste of the job system, you’ll be hooked. Protip: When first entering dungeons collect all the items first and then teleport outside to save before fighting the boss to minimize frustration.
Final Fantasy IX
Mixing the best of the old Final Fantasy games with best of the new ones FFIX is an incredibly fun lighthearted game that doesn’t feel dated like the other 3D entries in the series. After playing two heavy sci-fi titles on the original PlayStation, it was refreshing to see the fun brought back in Final Fantasy with a likable lead character like Zidane instead of another depressed emo- lead. Not essential because there’s nothing revolutionary here, but it is one of the funniest and most enjoyable games in the series.
Final Fantasy XIII-2
After the backlash from XIII Square-Enix made a sequel, that was the complete opposite of its predecessor. Gone was the linear structure in favor of an open playground with lots of side quests along with Mass Effect style dialogue choices. FFXIII-2 also borrowed from Crono Trigger with a time traveling element and multiple endings. What it did keep from FFXIII were the excellent battle system and gorgeous graphics. The story isn’t as strong as XIII, but this is an easier game to start with and much better paced.
THE UNDER APPRECIATED
By under appreciated I mean these games are wonderful for doing something new with the franchise, but were alienating to most fans because of their departure from tradition. All these games are worth playing, but it can take awhile for them to hook you.
Final Fantasy II
Considered the worst Final Fantasy game and although I agree it’s not bad for a JRPG. Also, notable for being the first title in the franchise to have a actual plot and for its broken gameplay system, which allowed players to build incredibly strong characters with mere hours of play. FFII’s battle system works by repetition the more you use a skill, the stronger you get so it’s easy to abuse the system. I played the PSP version that fixed most of the balancing issues making it the best version available. What makes FFII the least memorable to me is the story isn’t particularly interesting, and the original Final Fantasy is very similar and overall is just a better experience.
Final Fantasy VII
Most people were expecting Final Fantasy VII-2, so it came as a disappointment that FFVIII was radically different. I, on the other hand, love this game, and it’s one of my personal favorites of the series. Why is it unappreciated though? It mainly has to do with the main protagonist Squall Leonhart begin a jerk until the very end and the complex junction system that requires players to constantly draw magic from enemies to build their stats. It can get boring at times, but you don’t have to do it for every spell. This one’s worth playing for the incredible music, the strong story, and memorable cast of characters that rank among the best in the franchise
Final Fantasy X-2
The one game many people at first glance automatically dismiss because it looks so gay to them, and they don’t want to play as a trio of girls. Yes, the game is silly, and the dress sphere system is girly, but this game is fantastic. It has the most replay value of any Final Fantasy, and the combat is speedy, strategic, and intense. Give it a shot with the upcoming HD release and March and I’ll bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much you enjoy it.
Final Fantasy XII
I remember going to my second anime convention a few years ago and feeling sad that during the photo shoot for all the Final Fantasy games no one cosplayed from FFXII and the speakers didn’t even mention it. That’s a shame because this game is amazing and is one of the best Final Fantasy’s ever. Most people were upset that the combat felt like an offline MMORPG, and the story was more about the world than the characters. Get past the fact that it doesn’t resemble a traditional Final Fantasy and accept if for what it is and you’ll find one of the deepest and rewarding JRPG experiences in the last decade. The combat is a joy, and the gambit system is just brilliant. Being able to structure your commands, so your AI characters automatically heal themselves and switch tactics on the fly to adapt to new situations is a work of genius. Square-Enix, please make a HD version.
Final Fantasy XIII
Like the other games on this list, there’s a lot of hate for this game mostly due to its linearity. However, no other FF game has a stronger combat system. I enjoyed FFXIII, but the main criticism I have with it is beside the amazing battles theirs not much else to do outside the storyline. Also, being limited to two characters for the first half of the game is frustrating. Once you get all your party members and can customize your battle strategies to your preference the game becomes addicting and is hard to put down. I actually enjoyed it more then FFXIII- 2 because I wasn’t a fan of the monsters taking the role of your third character. FFXIII is definitely frustrating at first, but it’s still a great game.
There you have it my impressions of the all the main games in the series minus the online versions and spinoffs. I think all these games are worth playing and hope you give some of these games a shot. What are your favorite games from the series?