“Final Fantasy” is a juggernaut of the video game industry. This critically acclaimed Japanese role-playing game [JRPG] series franchise began in 1987 with the Japanese release of the original game “Final Fantasy.” Taking inspiration from the adventures and game structure of pen and paper RPG, “Dungeons & Dragons,” the game takes a group of adventurers across numerous combat encounters, allowing them to level up and evolve into more powerful incarnations of themselves on their way to face off against a powerful end boss. Since its initial release, the title has grown into one of the greatest video game franchises of all time. Our list of the top five best “Final Fantasy” games are must-play titles for fans of JRPGs.
By the early ‘80s, there were several titles in the growing genre of RPG video games. A major leap in quality would occur in 1986 with the Japanese release of “Dragon Quest.” This classic game brought together elements of story, character growth, music, and graphics in a way that had not been fully realized prior. One year later, history would be made with the publication of “Final Fantasy” for the Family Computer [Famicom] video game console.
Video game developer Hironobu Sakaguchi worked at Square and put his all into the creation of “Final Fantasy.” Purported to be his final effort in the video game industry, Sakaguchi claimed that he would leave the industry if the game failed. Far from it, “Final Fantasy” was a major success selling over half a million copies and earning a reported ¥3 billion or roughly $21 million USD. The first game in the series was focused on combat and leveling-up in order to become powerful enough to slay boss monsters that become stronger as the game progresses, culminating in a battle with a winged monstrosity aptly named Chaos. This game allowed players to continuously battle random encounters to accumulate experience in a process that is frequently referred to as “grinding.”
Following the original, the “Final Fantasy” video game franchise includes 16 titles in the mainline series, but over 30 games in total including spin-offs and sub-series. With only a few exceptions [1993, 1995, 1996, 1998], there has been a “Final Fantasy” related video game title released every year since 1987. Of those games, several were highly lauded as some of the best RPG gaming available.
Is it ironic that “Final Fantasy” has become an never-ending media franchise? The most recent mainline title of the not-so-final series “Final Fantasy XVI” was released in June 2023 and has already sold over three million copies as a Sony PlayStation exclusive. We turned to expert sources to sort through the numerous titles in the franchise to find the top five best “Final Fantasy” games. Let us know your favorites in the comments below!
The List: Best Final Fantasy Video Games, According to Fans
The sixth mainline entry in the series is widely praised as the greatest of all. This title features an engrossing story, a steampunk setting with magical technology, and addictive game play. Den of Geek raves, “A great story will always be the most important thing in an RPG, and the story here is simply the best in the series… Final Fantasy VI remains the most emotional and compelling tale in the franchise and did it all without HD graphics or lengthy CGI cinematics. It’s an absolute master class in storytelling, and a must-play for any RPG fan.”
Final Fantasy VI first released on this day in 1994. In the West it of course initially released as Final Fantasy III, but later re-releases corrected the numbering. It is widely considered one of the best RPGs in its series, and of all time. pic.twitter.com/QlxsHM2YYY
— RPG Site (@RPGSite) April 2, 2021
“With so many great games to choose from, trying to decide which is the best ‘Final Fantasy’ game is no easy task. However, ‘Final Fantasy VI’ arguably does just enough to edge out the competition, with the 1994 classic building upon the solid foundations laid out by its predecessors to provide players with what many consider to be the quintessential 2D JRPG experience,” gushes GameRant.
NPR also offers great praise: “In addition to its memorable protagonists, ‘Final Fantasy VI’ also includes the series’ most compelling villain — the brutal, psychopathic Kefka. His insatiable desire for violence results in one of the most shocking twists in video game history — he actually accomplishes his goal of destroying the world. The resulting World of Ruin sequence is powerful, beautiful, and haunting as you wander the landscape of destruction and rebuild your team to end his reign of terror.”
“Final Fantasy VII” is a beloved entry in the series due in part to its place in video game history. Released in 1997 on the Sony PlayStation, the game was so big that it required three game discs. No game had ever created the amount of depth, freedom to explore, and unforeseen character ability options as “FFVII.” Kotaku acclaims, “‘Final Fantasy VII’ is a game of rare generosity, packed with minigames and side activities that keep your journey lively and surprising. The developers took an adventurous approach here, one where I’d argue that even the rough edges make the game better. That snowboarding minigame may not be great on its own terms, but the fact that it exists, that it’s part of your journey, lends that journey more character.”
“The game that made ‘Final Fantasy’ the juggernaut property that it is today, ‘Final Fantasy VII’ is still the most popular and most revered installment in Square’s series… it’s a classic RPG that’s still fit to burst with charm and quality. Its battle and materia systems are timeless, and its cast of characters is outstanding. There’s a reason why Square Enix is still milking ‘Final Fantasy VII’ nearly 25 years after its original release,” posits Push Square.
Game Informer chimes in with additional praise: “Where would ‘Final Fantasy’ be without its monumental seventh entry? The first game in the series to employ FMV [full motion video] and 3D graphics, ‘VII’ ushered in a new era for emotional storytelling and immersive world-building. Memorable character designs – from Sephiroth’s silver hair and impossibly long masamune [sword] to Barret’s bulky build and arm cannon – helped solidify Cloud and co. as the poster children for the entire franchise.”
“Final Fantasy X” originally released on the PlayStation 2, was the entry point to the series for many gamers. This exciting title offers all the depth of story and gameplay that fans expect from the storied series. Dual Shockers relates, “In terms of storytelling, ‘Final Fantasy X’ has probably the best outward appeal of any ‘Final Fantasy’ game on paper. While the world of Spira is still one of fantasy and technology, the cast of main characters is so down-to-earth and relatable in the real world that it is impossible for most people not to get sucked in.”
Video Games highlights the game play mechanics that were a departure from previous entries in the series, “[‘Final Fantasy X’ is] The first PS2 ‘Final Fantasy’ game, and one of the biggest overhauls the series had seen in quite some time. Gone is the Active Time Battle (ATB) system, replaced with the Conditional Turn-Based (CTB) system in battles, changing up how combat flows. Summons have had a massive overhaul too, with the ‘Aeons’ replacing your party in battle entirely, fighting on your behalf. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reasons fans love ‘FFX,’ and it’s worth finding out for yourself.”
GameRant offers that, “There’s a strong argument to be made for ‘Final Fantasy X’ being the best ‘Final Fantasy’ game of all time. For starters, it boasts one of the very best soundtracks in gaming history, as well as an incredible narrative that tackles a wide range of complex and relatable themes, and one of the best main parties in the series’ long and illustrious history.”
“Final Fantasy IX” saw the series return to a more traditional fantasy setting after the previous games explored steampunk and sci-fi settings. Many players laud this entry as a tribute to the earlier games in the series. The Gamer fondly states, “‘Final Fantasy IX’ is a timeless love letter to its past. Its cast is almost absurdly charming, and its spirited tale is frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious yet knows precisely when to rein it in and go hard and heavy. And there’s so much to do outside the story, a veritable smorgasbord of side content that never feels remotely rote.”
Final Fantasy IX first released in North America on this day in the year 2000. You know. The best one. pic.twitter.com/moqU3N3ts3
— RPG Site (@RPGSite) November 13, 2022
Video Games rates “FFIX” as the best-in-series, “‘Final Fantasy IX’ is the very last ‘traditional’ ‘Final Fantasy’ game. It’s steeped in medieval fantasy, with knights, mages, princesses, and a few goofy characters to boot. This came just after ‘Final Fantasy’ had been diving deeper into sci-fi and steampunk tropes for several games. It felt incredibly refreshing, with a deep story that took fans back to the roots of the series. It’s often considered the best ‘Final Fantasy’ game by fans, though there’s plenty of room for debate. For this list, we’re saying ‘Final Fantasy IX’ is the all-time best.”
“Many a ‘Final Fantasy’ fan would tell you that Square’s series peaked with ‘Final Fantasy IX.’ An indisputable PlayStation classic… A masterfully crafted world is inhabited by excellent characters, and it’s all placed alongside more traditional RPG mechanics, refined to near perfection. With superb story pacing that whisks you from one gripping scenario to the next, it’s still incredibly hard to fault ‘Final Fantasy IX,'” adds Push Square.
The original release of massive multiplayer online role-playing game [mmorpg] “FF XIV” was a resounding failure that was heavily criticized for bugs and a lousy game play experience. Square Enix took action and did a major overhaul of the game that resulted in one of the most popular and successful MMORPGs of all time. Rock Paper Shotgun explains, ‘“Final Fantasy XIV’ is one of the greatest comeback stories in the history of video games. After a disastrous initial launch in 2010, its revamped ‘A Realm Reborn’ incarnation has since risen to become one of the best MMORPGs in recent memory, and it’s all down to Square Enix wunderman Naoki Yoshida… this online behemoth should not be missed.”
Final Fantasy XIV first released on this day in 2010. A deeply flawed release that was savaged by both critics and fans – but over the course of the next several years, the project would be rescued. pic.twitter.com/IcEJUzUKtJ
— RPG Site (@RPGSite) September 30, 2019
Den of Geek also claims, “If I was only considering the original release of ‘Final Fantasy XIV,’ the game would easily be at the bottom of this list. It was just that bad, and Square Enix was right to completely scrap that version. But ‘Final Fantasy XIV’ has mounted one of the most impressive comebacks in gaming history, with many lauding it as the best MMO you can play right now.”
“A lot of people seem to overlook ‘Final Fantasy XIV’ when they’re discussing the best ‘Final Fantasy’ games of all time, perhaps due to it being an MMORPG rather than a single-player experience. However, to ignore this fantastic title would be doing both the game and its creators a massive disservice, as it is one of the most content-rich and well-put-together titles that the genre has to offer,” according to GameRant.
You might also be interested in:
- Den of Geek
- Push Square
- Game Informer
- Dual Shockers
- Video Games
- Rock Paper Shotgun
- The Gamer
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