(Originally written in 2012)
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the seminal Japanese role playing game franchise so what better time than now to rank my top 5 favourite entries in this massive series?
I originally wanted this to be a top 10 list but I also just wanted it to include mainline entries (no sequels or spin-offs) and that would mean only four entries wouldn’t make the list and they would, by default, be the ones I never played to completion (Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV funnily enough) meaning games that didn’t deserve to be on the list (like Final Fantasy XIV) would get a spot. I did have a preliminary list of 10 games including spin-offs (again, ones I had completed) that included Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Crisis Core and Dissidia but felt that the mixed list, containing a spin-off prequel Action-RPG, a spiritual successor to a different spin-off Tactical RPG and a cross over fighter took away from what this list was about, a series of mostly great JRPGs (yes, there is an MMO on my list but it’s one JRPG ass MMORPG).
So let’s get to the list. Obviously this goes without saying that this is a personal list on what I feel are my favourite Final Fantasy games and not a list working out which is the best.
I first played this game as part of the Final Fantasy Anthology re-release on the original Playstation but never really got into it because I somehow thought the opening was too similar to Final Fantasy IV (which I also didn’t play much of sadly). I first finished this game on the Gameboy Advance during the 2010 Final Fantasy V Four Job Fiesta on NeoGAF where forum members played through the game using only the four jobs assigned to them, one unlocked at each of the four elemental crystals, and I had a load of fun playing the game this way. I really liked the job system even though I didn’t really get to use it much apart from swapping the four jobs between party members to learn skills and I really liked how you had the same four characters though most of the game and really got connected to them.
The story was pretty cool taking you across three worlds and Galuf’s sacrifice was truly touching. Exdeath was also a pretty badass main antagonist and Gilgamesh was awesome as a recurring boss. I really ended up liking this Final Fantasy a lot more than I thought I would.
Final Fantasy IX is a really great Final Fantasy that really embraces the fantasy aspect and was the only one in the Playstation era to do so. Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII were both kind of futuristic and both had their fair share of angst (though this one does have some too but it’s at moments that really deserve it). Final Fantasy IX was a full on fantasy game like the early entries and was great because of it. The fantasy setting meant that they could get away with a run away princess, an evil queen, silly court jesters, knights and so on. Final Fantasy IX probably has the cast of characters with the saddest back stories like Vivi who finds out that he was created to be a weapon. The game also has a much more upbeat lead in Zidane than the previous two entries and was welcome change, especially because of how much I disliked Squall as a character.
Of course Final Fantasy VII would make this list. It was my first Final Fantasy and I hadn’t played a game like it before. I don’t think I had ever played a turn based RPG before I got this. My Dad picked it up along with Metal Gear Solid (both the Platinum versions) and I was overwhelmed. They were both my fist multi-disk console games and Final Fantasy VII had three disks! The game was so good too, the opening was really great with the train and plunging you right into the action and that first Scorpion Robot boss fight with Cloud and Barret is the most memorable first boss of any Final Fantasy to me. The game also had so much great music and I was blown away by the FMV sequences and summon animations (especially Knights of the Round!). I wasn’t really that much of a fan of the characters though, Cid is my favourite out of the lot and I did like the Turks but not much of the main group. They were alright though; I don’t dislike any of them or anything. Sephiroth was really cool though and I still like him even though he’s been overused as a cosplay target by many. This game also contains probably the most well known spoiler out of any video game (apart from the princess being in another castle) being that Sephiroth kills Aeris and that was genuinely a shock at the time, especially as she was my main healer and I didn’t expect them to kill off a playable character.
This and Final Fantasy VII are probably the ones that will top most peoples lists and it comes close to topping mine. I played this one not long after I finished Final Fantasy V even though I owned it on the Playstation (the included Final Fantasy X demo was a big part of why I bought it). Like all of the Final Fantasy rereleases I bought on the Playstation, I didn’t really play this much. I don’t know why either, I think I got stuck not far after the fight with Vargas if I remember right. This game is amazing though, easily one of, if not the best Final Fantasy games and probably one of the best JRPGs of all time. The villain, Kefka, also actually manages to succeed in his goal of world domination (and destruction), one of only a few JRPG villains to do so, and makes a truly fearsome final boss. Unlike with Final Fantasy VII I really like most of the playable characters in this game. They all have interesting stories and personalities. It was so touching reuniting with all the party members in the world of ruin and going after Kefka once and for all as a team. The game also features an amazing opera scene and let’s you suplex an evil ghost train. Not many games have awesome moments like that.
I think Final Fantasy XI easily takes my top spot for a few reasons. I’ve put more hours into this than any other Final Fantasy, I’ve got more fond memories of this game than any other Final Fantasy, I’ve gone back and reinstalled this game more than I’ve replayed any other Final Fantasy and I’ve met more great people playing this game than I have any other Final Fantasy. While some might not like it because it’s an MMO, or not like the game because of the need to group (at least during the days I played heavily), I love this game. The world of Vana’diel was so fleshed out and had a ton of effort put into it and there were so many well told stories in the storyline missions and the various advanced job unlock quests and artefact armour quests. I loved the main character, MY character. I loved that whenever you were bored of a job you could just pop into your house and change to one of the 19 other jobs (as of the most recent expansion). It was challenging for to get all of the Avatars for my summoner job but was so rewarding when I got each one, especially as I took on the solo fights for the main elemental ones. Yes, there was a lot of waiting around for Airships or end game group activities but it gave you time to chat with your friends. It really was such a shame that Final Fantasy XIV wasn’t as good as this game. That game might end up being fun in the eventual 2.0 patch though…
So there you have it, my five favourite Final Fantasy games in order. If I had to choose the best Final Fantasy it’d probably be Final Fantasy VI. It’s got a fantastic, varied cast of memorable characters, top notch music, a truly epic story, a great battle system and one of the craziest villains in the series. As much as I love Final Fantasy XI and it is my favourite for the reasons I listed I can see that it isn’t the best.