Ranking Joe’s 5 Best ‘Final Fantasy’ Games

A short list of some of the best titles in one of the longest-running franchises on the planet, come and recount these Fantasies with ScreenCritics Joe.

As someone whose journey into JRPG’s started at the impressionable age of ten or so, with the PC release of Final Fantasy 7 – I had a lot to get used to. Turn based combat, random encounters, damage numbers…but also a more grand, sweeping story with a huge, often amazing soundtrack and interesting characters to accompany me on that journey. It was hell and a half to get the PC version working when it came out – but I loved every confusing moment of FF 7’s story . It’s been quite a long time since and new offerings have come to the table to inspire or perhaps amaze other players and young ones across the world – so here is a list of what I think are some of the best Final Fantasy games, from least to most impressive. Be warned that there are spoilers openly visible, so its best to avoid if you don’t want them!

5. Final Fantasy X

The great journey with Yuna and co has a strange start. The many problems and paradoxes you come across help to build a nice narrative however, set under a somber tone of sacrifice. As the first Playstation 2 title from the series, this is a tremendous improvement over anything that has come before. Featuring highly detailed 3D models and voice acting for the first time, a more emotional tale could be told .  The duty of one to travel the world and sacrifice themselves for a temporary, fragile peace from a recurring threat – the graceful resolve with which Yuna handled herself.

There is so much to love about this game – but my favorite was the journey, the very story itself. We had a strong, interesting female lead whose job wasn’t to constantly be captured and be a plot point. When she *was* captured, it turned out that she could help herself out of it, while taking a stand at the same time. A wonderful game full of emotions and a sizeable adventure, an easy recommendation for anyone and on of the best in the Final Fantasy series.


4. Final Fantasy : Crisis Core

Ah, the modest PSP. This overlooked gem first came to my attention in Canada, in 2008 when a friend let me try their PSP and this just so happened to be loaded into it. Combat is real-time with a mostly random encounter based formula – but now you were responsible for your own dodging and blocking, your attacks, magic and healing, in real-time. No menu sitting for you! The game featured Zack Fair , of Final Fantasy 7 fame, recounting numerous key events of the FF 7 lore – including part of the Wutai War – with Zack’s involvement.

The key point was Zack as a person and an expanded look at Sephiroth’s derangement . With great graphics for the PSP and a really good soundtrack, it was a fun game to play – despite the side missions being laden with repetition and later, fake-difficulty death-on-touch mechanics. The main story itself was full of emotion, and the absolute final battle is one of *the saddest* moments in the entire franchise for me, bar none. Beautifully done, the necessary and very tragic death of this great hero is what allows the FF 7 plot to kick off in the first place.


3. Final Fantasy XV

I knew. I knew when I saw footage and information, that I wanted – that I NEEDED this game. I was not disappointed with my Day 1 preorder. Cutting edge graphics with real-time combat and a diverse suite of tactical options – the story starts out almost lighthearted, with a road trip among friends and guardians. But the darkness soon creeps in and the tone turns more and more foul as you go along – and I mean in the good way. Some of what has been done in FF XV is literally genius-level masterpiece work. One particular boss fight in chapter 9 involves a humongous swirling whirlpool, with Leviathan inside of it, and you desperately warping around to dodge its attacks and deal the most pitiful amount of  chip damage possible in return.

It’s exhilarating. The blend of gameplay with the few quicktime events present was done well and in a forgiving manner – moreover, this is THE FIRST open world Final Fantasy title. I really, really love this game and appreciate what it did, and what it tried to do – it was a bold and technically dizzying accomplishment, one of sheer complexity and wonder. The first time a Summon aids me in battle is as gorgeous as the last. If you own a PlayStation 4, pick this up post-haste; but rumors are abound that it may come to PC soon…


2. Final Fantasy VII

But of course. The gatekeeper and start of my appreciation for not just the series, but JRPGs in general. Even though the numpad controls back in the day were awful and my English wasn’t up to par AND the story was confusing in places …it was a leap forward much like FF X and FF XV. Graphically, in terms of sound design and quality.  With the in-development remake, I am on the edge of my seat – to see what Midgar has become.

To how this story that shaped a key part of my young life would be  re-told. A story of births and capabilities, Final Fantasy VII explores many themes, from personal to corporate responsibility, the cost and outcome of one’s own actions, and much more. The faster-flowing, better-looking combat certainly helped, and of course One Winged Angel firing up at that familiar fight at the end was amazing to most of us back then. I have so much of little substance to say about this game – because it is massive, beautiful and wonderful. This is a must-play, an experience that is necessary for all that enjoy RPGs and JRPGs. With only one standing taller…


1. Final Fantasy IX

Yes indeed. The swan song of the first PlayStation console, this wonderful title came with a delightful art direction, very well written characters,  a near-literally perfect soundtrack and a story of thieves, royalty, adventure and personality. The transformation Steiner undergoes from the single-minded incompetent protector into the caring, thoughtful, loyal friend later on is one of the best story arcs I can think of in the series – and this is next to Vivi, for crying out loud!

The artificially created Black Mage war weapon who learns mid-way through the story that he is absolutely going to die. And that he may die at any given second. But despite this, for the most part, he does what he has to, what he needs to – in the face of certain and perhaps imminent mortality – how do you DO this?! But above all else, it was a love letter to fans and the franchise itself, this game. Our main character Zidane was like the thief class, with Steiner as our knight, Garnet our healer\summoner…it was turn-based, it was gripping and it was simply gorgeous!

This did not kickstart me on JRPGs like 7 did, but it offered to me an even more enchanting experience than 7 did. I don’t even know if I want a remake of this, it’ s too precious – too dear to me to even mentally risk it. I literally can not imagine this game re-made, and I don’t want to. For me, this is as close to pure perfection as a Final Fantasy game has come so far – where it didn’t innovate like FF XV, it instead managed to captivate, like a wonderful Fantasy. It was the final one on PlayStation 1 as well – so it’s quite fitting, really that I think it was the best of that generation.

Phew. So many thoughts and emotions race back at you when you look back ten plus years and allow your lowered guard to remind you why you enjoy these games. To me, these are some of the best mainline titles ever released in the Final Fantasy franchise, and almost all of them pull you in on the story front primarily – or where it counts, to feel for the characters the story is about. To make you feel anything is what makes video games ‘art’ – but to sympathise with relatable, and yet non-existent characters to such an extent is a true mark of excellence in my eyes. It certainly helped that the other parts of the game were outstanding in their own right, though! All of them make a good case for being the best

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