Screen Critics ranks the major Final Fantasy outings, ranking the entire series from best to worst. Which game do we rate the highest?
Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy is one of gaming’s more treasured franchises. Forever changing and moving forward – the series has amassed a huge fan base thanks to the high quality on offer. But some are better than others. Everyone has an opinion and so we decided to go ahead and try to rank all the main Final Fantasy games worst to best. We won’t be including the MMO entries as we felt the ongoing nature of those made it hard to compare them to the rest of the franchise.
20. Final Fantasy II – The decision to eject the experience leveling system was highly divisive – and something the series has all but forgotten about since this game touched down. Luckily it also feels more like a Final Fantasy game than its predecessor – with more story focus and a new ideas that would go on to become series tropes (Chocobos anyone?). How much enjoyment you find from this game largely depends on how willing you are to accept the games weird action-based development system (That can very easily be abused).
19. Final Fantasy I – Every series has to start somewhere and with Final Fantasy that somewhere was here. Some might decry this going rock bottom but the reality is that this game is exceptionally bare bones compared to everything that follows. The overworld lacks intrigue while a number of the games features have aged like bread. What it does get right however is establish the sense of scale – delivering the gamer a world which can be explored and traversed at the gamers pleasure. It also established the turn based fun that the series would (largely) remain loyal too going forward. Honestly if you’re looking to experience this game, hit up one of the many remakes.
18. Final Fantasy IXV (Original) – The scale of the mess Square managed to wander into with the original Final Fantasy 14 shouldn’t be underestimated. Their attempt to take on Blizzard’s World of Warcraft resulted in one hell of a pileup – with an MMO that was utterly dull to slog through. The game’s engine was notably unsuitable, with shadows always following the sun (even indoors) while a number of the worlds locales reused assets with wild abandon. There’s a heap of issues with this game – which this video gratefully recounts.. It was an embarrassment – so much so that Square nuked the entire thing from orbit and started over. We’ll get to that game in a bit….
17. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII – Square’s obsession with Lightning reached overdrive in this second spin-off from Final Fantasy XIII. While it brought a decent combat system and wardrobe system – the entire game ends up feeling like padding. Pointless quests, overstuffed with cut scenes and a limited scope for exploration underlined why this final spin-off really didn’t need to happen.
16. Final Fantasy V – Final Fantasy V marked the point at which most of the series classes and archetypes were brought into existence. The game features an incredibly extensive job system and manages to look great to boot – its just a shame that the game was largely overlooked by fans at large who felt it didn’t push on enough from its predecessors. That and the plot is a huge damp squib – with all the momentum of a casual Sunday stroll.
15. Final Fantasy XI – This one’s more a personal gripe, but I found Final Fantasy XI hard as nails to get into. Square’s first FF MMO wasn’t a failure by any means – but you’d better be willing to invest the time in to get the most out of it. The worlds were big and the quests were epic though – something a lot of MMO’s struggle with. You certainly never would mix this game up with World of Warcraft. The game was also a monumental success for Square – still running on PC to this day. It even managed to breach Xbox Live’s cross-platform policy with PlayStation (PS2 users could also play) – the only game to do so to this day. It’s a really cool footnote in the series, probably best left to the hardcore.
14. Final Fantasy XIII – While the 2D Final Fantasy’s can be forgiven for foregoing some of the series much-loved features – Final Fantasy XIII doesn’t get the same kind of pass. Ejecting towns, exploration and the world map in favor of a linear experience was a horribly thought out idea and one that robs the experience of feeling truly exciting. The story is rich and the characters varied but the game doesn’t offer you much intrigue in sticking with the story – a shame as about 25 hours in the experience shifts to a more traditional offering. The battle system is also hugely exciting and modernises the experience in fun ways. But truthfully speaking – the first high-definition entry in the series was arguably the least Final Fantasy feeling game in recent memory.
13. Final Fantasy X-2 – The first direct sequel to a Final Fantasy game led to a so-so outing for this female focused sequel. The games focus on Yuna, Rikku and Paine allowed for more focus but limited the customization that many enjoyed in Final Fantasy X. The costume system was a novel idea but the shift in focus to a more pop-female edge robs the game of its deeper themes and plays out like a fanfic gone wrong. It was a silly idea but still hugely entertaining if you can buy into the concept.
12. Final Fantasy XIII-2 – The sequel to Final Fantasy XIII managed to get more right than its predecessor; extending the excellent combat system and giving gamers more choice in exploration. In a way this felt like the game FFXIII should have been – a fact that’s slightly ruined by the decision to force focus on Lightning – even though she barely features throughout. Certainly worth a look if Final Fantasy XIII didn’t float your boat.
11. Final Fantasy VIII – Your mileage may vary with FF8 – a game that had the unenviable task of following up the widely adored Final Fantasy 7. It’s most weird decisions however seem to have been drawn from all the changes it made to distance itself from that game. Magic is no longer learned but drawn as a resource – a decision that split opinion among fans. The melodrama of the story is equally fan splitting with the blooming romance at the centre proving a huge turn-off for many. Even the battle system and use of GM’s makes the game feel awkwardly distant from its more popular sibling. Yet the improved graphics, excellent soundtrack and brilliant Triple Triad side game offer enough variety to rise above the more harsh complaints.
10. Final Fantasy III – Arguably the point where Final Fantasy became the series fans knew and loved. The game introduced a number of series staples including its class system, airship travel and a huge open world that gamers could explore at their own leisure. The game earns extra points for featuring a strong plot that made playing through it a joy for gamers. The game was hugely ambitious for the time it was released – and is still widely adored to this day.
9. Final Fantasy IV – Taking the mold set down by Final Fantasy III, the fourth incarnation built on the framework and managed to step the series up a few gears in the process. Everything from the rich plot through to the memorable characters are perfectly realised in a package that screams quality. The Game Boy Advance re-release managed to make the game even better – adding in cut scenes and shaving out a number of translation issues that plagued the games SNES port.
8. Final Fantasy Tactics – Hugely flawed but oh so grin worthy to play. Final Fantasy Tactics has arguably one of the best stories, combat systems and job systems of any game in the series. It’s characters are hugely charming and the game has some of the most memorable music in the series and is just a joy to play. There are ways to break the game and make it impossibly easy – but this doesn’t take away from the well crafted beast that certainly deserves a lot of praise for being different.
7. Final Fantasy X – Final Fantasy X managed to make a huge impact on its release for the way it blended high-end cinematics with the overall experience. Unlike later games which would go too far in this – FFX feels logical, well put together and beautiful on the PlayStation 2. That being said the game does come packing a fair few bug bares which put off a number of fans. The main character Tidus is very hit-and-miss – while the sphere grid system pales in comparison to previous systems. Overall Final Fantasy X was a strong outing for the series and laid down the template (for better or worse) that later games would follow.
6. Final Fantasy XV – After over a decade in development, Final Fantasy XV had a lot to prove when it finally landed in 2016 – which it managed to do for the most part. It’s a vast departure from the series more traditional outings – featuring cars, joy rides and long sections of travelling. The game tries to marry this into the aesthetic – which works most of the time. The core band of characters are very likeable, while the battle mechanics are much improved over Final Fantasy XIII’s. That being said – the game suffers one hell of a dip when the second half. There the open-ended approach to the game is awkwardly ejected, replaced by a linear, more streamlined experience. Overall it’s a brilliant game, I just wish the pacing was more even across the whole thing.
5. Final Fantasy XIV (New Realm) – Oh so much better than its first incarnation, Final Fantasy 14 (Version 2) is easily the best MMO game in the series, and very deserving of its success. The game features a streamlined quest that feels more grand in scope – with more helpful hints to make playing exciting. No longer are you left to wander copy/paste zones – FF14 pushes you through a grand story with some brilliant side-quests. The mechanics are fun and the detail in this game can’t be understated. Square deserves praise for turning the ship around – FF14 is one of the best MMO’s in the market today – and a must for any Final Fantasy fan who wants to take their adventure online.
4. Final Fantasy XII – Often overlooked (the game released in the PlayStation 2’s twilight years) many frown upon Final Fantasy XII’s mediocre plot and characters. Look beyond this however and gamers were treated to arguably the series finest exploration and combat systems. Here the series tweaked these features to near perfection; delivering some of the most rewarding combat the series had delivered ever. On top of this the free-flowing camera and voice acting really place this game on another level. Overall a hugely underrated entry in the series and one that’s worth your time if you fancy something a bit different.
3. Final Fantasy IX – Final Fantasy IX took a step back from a number of FF8’s additions – focusing more on the core aspects of the series and returning to a number of features that had been ejected previously. On the whole these were much appreciated – fans adoring the return of a more classic experience, huge open world and plenty of side-quests to lose themselves in. Arguably the games weaker aspects (it’s characters and graphics) can be overlooked thanks to some of the series tightest mechanics – told in some great cut scenes.
2. Final Fantasy VII – Not many games get to have the kind of wider cultural appeal that Final Fantasy VII garnered. Released early in the PlayStation 1’s lifespan – the game blended grit, romance, comedy and a huge sense of melancholy in one of the most satisfying packages that the series had ever thrown up. The shift to 3D was flawless, adding depth to the world and allowing the game to express the bleak reality it was creating like never before. Cloud is a strong main character and the cast around him manages to bring together a package that all these years later still have gamers begging for more. There’s a reason Final Fantasy VII is considered one of the great video games of all time.
1. Final Fantasy VI – If we’re looking at what makes the perfect Final Fantasy experience – the blend of old and new that balances all those aspects so wonderfully – then it’s hard to look beyond FF6. The game comes packing some of the greatest video game narrative ever committed to cartridge – with a world that’s brimming with personality and characters that feel right. The mechanics are perfectly balanced, the game play is tight and a wonderful balance between battling and plot development means you’re never left hanging for too long. It’s the culmination of everything that makes Final Fantasy so great – the centre piece of a franchise that at it’s best – is one of the best RPG adventures out there.