Since the first game back in 1987, the Final Fantasy franchise has arguably become the face of all RPG games. With fifteen main titles under the series belt, and even more spin-off titles and sequels, the series has rightfully earned itself as one of the most beloved titles in all of gaming. As each title focuses on a different world and a different set of characters, the franchise has created dozens of fan favorites over the years.
With that said, some of the most popular characters in the series are generally not the main protagonist. While Cloud Strife of VII is an obvious exception to the rule, for every popular protagonist like him there are several more forgettable ones. So to honor all the leads of the franchise, this list will countdown all the main characters in the main series. This list will exclude XI and XIV, since they are massive multiplayer online role-playing games and have no unique protagonist. In their place the protagonists of X-2 and XIII-2 will be included to make it a perfect fifteen.
XV. Warriors of Light – Final Fantasy
The heroes that started it out, the original set of playable characters have nothing going for them. The player gets to choose their name and what job class they should be, though none of that contributes to the plot of the story. The entire game itself had very little story and character in it, with the main antagonist, Garland, being the only character that remotely appears to have a personality. The crossover fighting game, Dissidia Final Fantasy, tries to give the warrior class character a separate personality; however he stills ends up being bland outside being super loyal. The Warriors of Light represent the bygone era of games, where things like character or plot weren’t necessary to make a compelling game. They still stand out as being particularly unmemorable and deserve to be the bottom of the list.
XIV. Firion – Final Fantasy II
The first direct sequel of the series attempts to add more to the story, giving the narrative a very Star Wars-like vibe. The story details a bunch of rebels, the Wild Rose, trying to fight against an evil Empire ruled by a nameless Emperor. It was certainly a more entertaining story than the previous entry, however the main character still falls very flat. Though many of the playable characters are fairly bland, Firion feels particularly less remarkable. It may have to do with him being labeled as the main character; nonetheless there was nothing distinct about him. Similar to the Warrior class, Dissidia attempts to give him more of a personality. Sadly, he still comes off as plain; especially when compared to the more well-rounded protagonists. He deserves a spot for simply being the first named protagonist, although other than that he isn’t special.
XIII. Onion Knights/Luneth – Final Fantasy III
One, Two, Three. The very early Final Fantasy games really lack the engaging storylines and endearing characters that the later titles are known for. III pretty much takes the same approach as the original game, where the player takes control of four Onion Knights. The Knights have no personality, just like the original Warriors of Light. When III was remade on the DS, the Onion Knights were replaced by four orphaned teenagers. The only main difference is that now the four characters have names. No personalities were given and the story doesn’t change. The character Luneth is the designated lead, even though he has nothing interesting about him that differentiates him from the other characters. In a lot of ways he is a more frustratingly lead than Firion, as the developers of the game were more conscious to give the game more characters. Despite that, the moments that hint of a real personality are often hidden in the remake, which is why he is higher than Firion.
XII. Bartz Klauser – Final Fantasy V
In a lot ways, Bartz Klauser of V suffers from the same issues as Firion and Luneth. The only real thing that differentiates him from the nameless protagonists of the first game is the fact that he actually does have a name. He isn’t given much besides that, he doesn’t have much of a personality and contributes very little to the actual plot of the game. Nevertheless, Final Fantasy V is a far more charming game than the first three games in the series. With goofy sprite work and an engaging class system, V gives so much charm to it’s story and characters. As mentioned, Bartz isn’t really that interesting. However, the game adds in scenes that makes him more endearing than Firion or Luneth. For example, when he gets embarrassed in front of his female co-stars or when he is disallowed to ride a dragon. Add to the fact that Dissidia gives him a more laid-back and fun loving personality, which helps differentiate him from more stoic protagonists in the series, Bartz rightfully deserves to be placed higher than the leads of the first three games.
XI. Vaan – Final Fantasy XII
Final Fantasy XII was a divisive entry among fans, though most will agree that Vaan was a weak lead. Due to XII’s tumultuous development, Vaan was added in as the main protagonist at the last second in order to make the game more appealing to teens. Yet the developers never truly incorporated him into the game’s plot properly, allowing him to contribute nothing to the story. His English voice actor is actually really good, especially for that time, never making him sound like a whiny teen. Vaan always being around is what makes him annoying to fans, as he does not deserve to be considered the lead when there are more interesting characters in the game, such as the princess Ashe or the pirate Balthier.
X. Serah and Noel – Final Fantasy XIII-2
The overall receptions of the XIII subseries are often conflict-ridden amongst fans, with the contrived story being one of many major issues that gamers had with the trilogy. The middle chapter of the trilogy tries to simplify the story somewhat by having a smaller cast of characters to focus on, with Serah and Noel being the only playable characters. Serah is the sister of Lightning, the protagonist of the first and last game of the XIII trilogy, while Noel is a new character created for the series. They are more emotive when compared to Lightning, though possibly too emotive. They ultimately feel similar to Vaan in the sense that they feel as if they were used in order to have a more teen perspective in the series. They are not really strong characters themselves though, often being overshadowed by the main antagonist and Lightning.
IX. Yuna, Rikku, and Paine – Final Fantasy X-2
Final Fantasy X was so loved that it was the first game in the series to have a direct sequel. Yuna, the female lead of X, naturally became the new lead of series along with the returning character Rikku. New character Pain rounded out the trinity, and the three would become the sole playable characters in the game. All three characters are fan favorites among certain circles of the fandom, although the premise of the game remains a highly controversial aspect when discussing it. With three female leads, the main story focuses on them dressing up in skimpy outfits and trying to find Yuna’s old flame. The outfits are meant to give them different abilities, but come off as too risqué and even offensive. The story is silly, especially compared to the original X, with childish dialogue to go along with it. Instead of empowering women, some fans feel as if it demeans them, while other fans do not have issues with it.
VIII. Terra Branford – Final Fantasy VI
Listing Terra as the protagonist of Final Fantasy VI is no doubt controversial in and of itself, mainly due to the fact that VI does not really have a main character. The game’s story was designed to give most of the characters equal attention, with no real lead being determined through the narrative of the game. Despite that, Terra is the most common character that most gamers think of as the lead; this is due to the fact that she is the first character that the player plays as. She was also a heavy focus during the promotion of game, appearing on the logo and the box art. Her theme song is also one of the most famous themes in the entire series. In addition, she served as VI’s representative in Dissidia, officially making her the first female protagonist in the series. Terra herself is actually really bland, having little personality throughout the game. However her iconic look, the red dress with green hair, and theme makes her one of the more famous leads in the series.
VII. Lightning – Final Fantasy XIII
Square Enix pushed the XIII series very hard as they were coming out, some would say too forcefully. Lightning herself was featured heavily in promotions, with Square clearly wanting to equal her popularity with Cloud from VII. The outcome is indecisive, with many fans claiming the XIII series as the low point of the franchise. Many criticisms stem from the story and characters, Lightning included. Regardless of that, Lightning isn’t a bad character. Although her stoic nature may turn off many gamers, her headstrong attitude is pretty refreshing when compared to other major female leads in the series. She undergoes some growth in the trilogy; the series ending with her in a new state of mind. She also has one of the strongest designs of any of the games, and love it or hate it, will probably remain one of the main faces of Square Enix for a while.
VI. Noctis Lucis Caelum – Final Fantasy XV
The newest protagonist on this list, Noctis is already one of the best in the series. His personality is somewhat similar to some of the other leads in the series past. He dresses in fashionably all black, and comes off as being a little stoic. As Final Fantasy XV progresses, his true personality comes out. The entire game is about the brotherhood between Noctis and his three friends that travel with him throughout the narrative. It is through his relationship with his friends that different shades of Noctis’ personality shine through. He asks the others advice about personal issues and the player witnesses him gradually changing. He is also one of the few protagonists to age by the end of the game’s main story, having become a more mature adult by the end. He may act too apathetic at times, especially during scenes where he should convey more than what is going on, yet his love for his friends is what makes him relatable and appealing.
V. Tidus – Final Fantasy X
Tidus will probably always be remembered for the horribly awkward laugh he has in the middle of the game. In general, Tidus is not commonly remembered fondly by the fanbase, with many seeing him as annoying. This is because of the nature of X’s story, where he is a stranger in a new land, and trying to cope with it. He doesn’t complain or whine much, unless it has anything to do with his father, though his surfer attitude gets grating at times. Underneath it though is a compelling character; with him getting over his issues with his father through the course of the story and accepting his old man the way he is. He falls in love with Yuna, saves the world, and makes the ultimate sacrifice that is both heartbreaking and fitting. Though the expanded universe of X negates a lot from the final, the original game is still a well told one and done experience.
IV. Squall Leonhart – Final Fantasy VIII
If the ranking is a cool competition, Squall is miles ahead of most protagonists. His lone wolf persona, his black leather jacket, and his legendary gunblade make him one of the cooler looking heroes on this list. With that said, he comes off as being very one-note throughout most of the game. He constantly acts nonchalantly to his friends, trying often to not get involved with others. He acts the torturous hero, even though he never faced any major trauma that would suggest he should act the way he does. But then you see him do something cool, like improvise an assassination attempt via a hijacked car or save his love interest in space, and then suddenly you start thinking he’s cool again. Final Fantasy VIII has fairly forgettable playable characters, with some exceptions, yet Squall’s development from loner to someone with friends and loved ones is a fascinating thing to observe over the course of the story.
III. Cecil Harvey – Final Fantasy IV
Final Fantasy IV was Square’s real first attempt to give gamers unique and endearing characters, with all the playable characters coming off as distinct. Cecil Harvey as the dark knight turned paladin is one of more clear cut character developments in the series, and still one of the most engrossing to witness unfold while playing. Cecil was the first protagonist to have self-doubt, to question and regret his actions. He grew to dislike his position as a dark knight, a warrior of dark magic, and instead chose to reject his role and become a paladin instead, a warrior of light. To spectate a character from point A to B through natural narrative progression was a revolution when IV came out. Cecil’s character development, and his love story with Rosa, would be the seeds for many future protagonists in the series.
II. Zidane Tribal – Final Fantasy IX
Zidane is probably the most likable protagonist in the main series. Part of a theatre group that are secretly thieves, Zidane goes against the previous established mold of the stoic loner. He is instead a fun-loving, monkey-tailed flirt, always trying to either score a date or make friends. He pretty much gets along with everyone, including those that initially dislike him, and even earns the heart of a beautiful princess. While Final Fantasy IX touches many dark themes, particularly mortality and belonging, the game remains whimsical throughout. Zidane keeps the game from becoming too dark, and when he himself starts falling into darkness, it was up to his friends to lift him up. It’s an empowering message, made stronger by the final moments of the bittersweet finale, making the game one of the most successful narratively.
I. Cloud Strife – Final Fantasy VII
Was there going to be anyone else? Cloud Strife is the closest thing to a Mario that Square Enix has, his gravity defying hair and giant Buster Sword are some of the most iconic imagery in all of gaming. His journey from being a show off jerk, to a caring individual is genuinely enthralling to watch. Final Fantasy VII main theme of identity is perfectly presented within Cloud’s own weakness and state of mind. Believing himself to be someone he really wasn’t, Cloud was forced to look deep inside himself to recognize the person he truly was. Some of the best moments of the game come from major character beats that Cloud is going through. The most noticeable is Cloud’s battle with Sephiroth, a representation of the person Cloud wanted and could be. His victory feels earned, and gamers around the world felt what Cloud theoretically would feel. His character development is one of the most complete in the series. However, it is a shame that future installments of the VII compilation would undermine all that development to make Cloud more bland and one-note. The original classic still remains though, and here’s hoping they keep all of Cloud’s nuances and personality in the future remake.