Yes, we know we like XII more than you.
By IGN’s Final Fantasy Aficionados
Few video game franchises have remained as consistently incredible as Final Fantasy. For nearly 30 years, each new Final Fantasy game from Square (and later Square-Enix) has been a major cultural event. But which games in this beloved franchise are the best, and which were a little too experimental for their own good?
IGN’s resident FF addicts decided to put our heads together to decide on definitive our personal rankings for the best Final Fantasy games. Although Final Fantasy XI and XIV are fantastic MMOs, we chose to focus on only on the single-player, mainline entries in the franchise.
These are our rankings for best and worst mainline Final Fantasy Games.
Final Fantasy II is a bold experiment gone wrong. Rather than embrace a standard RPG experience-point system, director Hironobo Sakaguchi and designer Akitoshi Kawazu decided to base progression on how often a particular character performed an activity. Players who cast a lot of spells got stronger with spells, while those who were hit often in combat toughened and gained HP. The system resulted in a strange exploit where players attacked and healed their own party members repeatedly to artificially enhance their abilities. It was a workable system, but it wasn’t a lot of fun. Despite a fascinating storytelling opening and some other interesting narrative ideas, Final Fantasy II just never quite comes together. The systemic weirdness mires the pacing, and the whole game now feels more like a historical curio than anything you’d actually want to play. But Final Fantasy II also gave us Cid and Chocobos. Those count for a lot. – Jared Petty
Final Fantasy VIII had a very tough act to follow, so it’s often looked upon as a black sheep in the series. What starts as a simple love story quickly evolves into a tale of conflict, rivalry, and the fate of the world. The game falters in a few areas. specifically in its Draw and Junction systems, which treat magic powers like items and skill modifiers. Meanwhile, its story completely falls apart in the third act with the introduction of an underwhelming villain, multiple timelines, and a nonsensical amnesia subplot. Despite these missteps, Final Fantasy VIII is best remembered for its moments of brilliance and technical prowess. The breathtaking opening sequence, the failed assassination plot on Sorceress Edea, and the battle between the Balamb and Galbadia Gardens are some of the most exciting and cinematic moments in all of Final Fantasy. It may be ranked low, but like every entry on this list, there’s still something to love about Final Fantasy VIII. – Zach Ryan
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Final Fantasy XIII marked the franchise’s much-anticipated PlayStation 3-era debut, but many fans felt it couldn’t quite live up to the hype. While it was the most graphically impressive entry in the series to date, XIII was considered by many to be too linear with a convoluted story. Despite that, XIII did go on to spawn two direct sequels and tons of cameo appearances by protagonist Lightning in spin-off titles. And while plenty of fans ultimately considered the game a disappointment, XIII is undeniably gorgeous, and does eventually allow open exploration, even if it takes its sweet time getting there. Love her or hate her, Lightning is among the most iconic Final Fantasy protagonists, and the Paradigm system was a smart new take on classes that allowed for fast-paced changes during battle. While it wasn’t perfect, staggering enemies during battle was also a smart new mechanic for Final Fantasy and led to some incredibly tense close calls. Final Fantasy XIII has plenty of flaws, but does mark a notable modern shift in the series for its only main entry of the console generation. – Andrew Goldfarb
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Even before Final Fantasy IX was released back in 2000, screenshots of Final Fantasy X began to surface in the media. The photo-realistic picture of a shaggy-haired blitzball player holding an aquatic sword and covered in finely rendered drops of saltwater dropped jaws across the globe. The screenshot was evidence that Final Fantasy X – the first Final Fantasy for the Playstation 2 – was the next level in graphical achievement. The game also broke ground by getting rid of the series’ traditional top-down world map and introducing continuous areas that felt real and immersive. In addition, the Sphere Grid allowed players to fully customize characters in contrast to their pre-determined battle roles without having to swap out abilities like in Final Fantasy’s traditional Job system. Despite a charming love story and memorable soundtrack, Final Fantasy X’s linear path, ease of combat, and questionable voice work left some fans disappointed. Still, there’s no doubt its graphical advancements and solid combat mechanics were a milestone for the series. – Meghan Sullivan
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For American fans, Final Fantasy III was long the missing link between the comparatively simple NES original and the subsequently spectacular Super Nintendo games. Released on the Japanese Famicom in 1990, the third Final Fantasy chapter didn’t reach the US until 2006, and it was only then that most Western players discovered the extraordinarily important mechanical evolution it inaugurated. While the turn-based battle system remains in place, it’s both streamlined and augmented. Physical attacks against destroyed enemies no longer result in an “ineffective” miss, and new class-based commands expand your arsenal of options in combat. Final Fantasy III also brought the first iconic summons to the series, and most importantly, introduced the Job system, the heavily-customizable party-crafting innovation that would become the backbone of the series’ greatest installments. – Jared Petty
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The US had Pac-Man Fever in the 80s, but Japan had Dragon Quest Mania. When Enix’s turn-based RPG caused a national hubbub, Square struck back with Final Fantasy. It cribbed a lot from Dragon Quest, like an overworld map, random battles, and stats (these were new concepts to many players at the time), but Final Fantasy expanded on the newly realized JRPG formula in a big way. It had colorful, detailed depictions of fantasy monsters, a huge world with different ways to get around (canoe!), a soundtrack that has been revisited in nearly every Final Fantasy game to date, and, perhaps most importantly, character creation. You could choose your party classes and name your characters. If you chose lame classes (Thief) the payoff was that they could become amazing (Ninja) at a bizarre mid-game graduation ceremony. Contemporary players might balk at Final Fantasy’s lack of Chocobos, Moogles, or Cid, but fear not: you still get an airship. – Sam Claiborn