Square Enix have been busy porting some of the biggest entries in the Final Fantasy franchise to every platform going as of late (Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster JUST came out on Switch and Xbox One), making it the best time for new fans to jump on board this JRPG behemoth.
Each mainline entry (separated by their Roman numerals) is set in its own universe, meaning you can begin anywhere, which is great. But with so many titles, it can be hard to know where to begin. That’s where we come in.
Ignoring direct sequels, spin-offs and the online multiplayer games XI and XIV, Digital Spy are here to tell which Final Fantasy games are the best, and which are the worst…
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13. Final Fantasy II
When it first came out in 1988, FFII introduced many series firsts: Chocobos, an ally named Cid, defined playable characters and an actual story as opposed to blank slate avatars on a ‘save the world’ plot. It wasn’t a groundbreaking narrative, but it was good for the day. Plus, that overworld theme is lovely.
Unfortunately, this entry was the first to wildly experiment with the JRPG mechanics, and not in a good way. Having to spend battle after battle attacking yourself to raise max HP? Not fun. Combine that with horrendous dungeon design and tough bosses and we can see why this didn’t come to the West for ages.
12. Final Fantasy I
The game that started a legend and saved a company from going under… isn’t that great to play nowadays. While the designs are iconic and the music is excellent, the original FF is quite barebones in terms of combat, growth and narrative.
Having said that, recent re-releases have some fan-service filled extra dungeons, while some people like to self-impose challenges like an All White Mage Run, so there can be some fun to be found.
11. Final Fantasy VIII
Originally released on: PSone. Buy it on: PC.
The first really divisive game in the series, and no doubt the one we are going to get the most stick for. VIII took an inventive approach to its systems, making players ‘draw’ magic from monsters and equipping them to boost stats. Some loved being able to experiment and destroy any sense of difficulty. We did not.
Beyond that, there’s a compelling story told in a bizarre way with characters who aren’t particularly likeable, a cool sci-fi aesthetic, and some fantastic music. Don’t get us wrong, we’d play a PS4 or Switch port in a heartbeat, but maybe not to 100%…
10. Final Fantasy III
Imagine the first FF, but on steroids. That’s Final Fantasy III.
Okay, there’s a bit more than that. Not only were more jobs added, but you could swap between at any time outside of battle. Summoning giant monsters, a series staple, also began here. Worth playing now if you want an old-school but still fun challenge. That final dungeon is the stuff of nightmares though.
9. Final Fantasy XV
The latest entry in the franchise that arrived in 2016 after an arduous development and an insane amount of hype, FFXV came with all the modern trappings: an open world, lots of DLC and lots of ship-teasing for the Tumblr crowd.
An admirable attempt to rescue an ambitious yet failing project, XV‘s story is messy and its battle system is flashy but dull. The four lads are really the heart of it all though, and we can’t deny just how enjoyable is to drive around with them and watch them banter while listening to classic FF tunes in the car. As the second divisive entry on this list, we expect some of you to disagree.
8. Final Fantasy XIII
The final part of the hugely divisive trifecta, and the first offline main game in the series in HD. FFXIII pared back a lot of what fans expect in a JRPG, with many claiming it went way too far. We didn’t mind the linearity in terms of exploration too much, but it does take too long to unlock the full capabilities of the excellent battle system.
Beyond that, there’s a compelling story told in a bizarre way with characters who aren’t particularly likeable, a cool sci-fi aesthetic, and some fantastic music. Don’t get us wrong, we’d play a PS4 or Switch port in a heartbeat, but maybe not to 10- wait, haven’t we said this before?
7. Final Fantasy V
Possibly the most overlooked entry in the series, V is a really good time. Improving on FFIII the way that game improved on FFI, this entry lets you carry over the abilities from one job while you are using another. White Magic casting Archer, a Samurai using the Ninja’s Dual-Wield skill… There are so many possibilities.
And you’re going to need them, since this game is one tough cookie. While the bosses may have you pulling your hair out, the cliché-ridden story is hilariously farcical and the villains are gloriously hammy. The art style on the new versions leaves a lot to be desired but don’t let that put you off.
6. Final Fantasy IV
A big turning point for the franchise, and not just because it took a leap in graphical quality. FFIV is the first entry in the series with a really solid story, even if it borrows liberally from Star Wars and just loves to throw mind control and fake-out deaths at you.
IV also invented the Active Time Battle system, which was so good it stuck around until X. Being on the clock when it comes to decision-making really added a sense of urgency and tension, while each character got unique abilities that complimented their personality.
5. Final Fantasy XII
We’ve been talking about updated re-releases a lot in this list, and no game benefits from that more than FFXII with the high-def The Zodiac Age version. The beautiful world of Ivalice was full of wonders to explore and the intricate story was told through eloquent Shakespearean dialogue, but things were lacking.
An open progression system and poor balancing meant it was too easy to make every character the same, while the sheer amount of enemies made getting from A to B a slog. But now, the additions of a job system and speed-up features turn those negatives into positives, making FFXII: TZA an easy recommendation.
4. Final Fantasy VI
The pinnacle of the 16-bit FF games (although once more mishandled in HD), FFVI is many people’s favourite and for good reason. This entry has a greater emphasis on story than any FF before it, balancing a huge cast of characters that have satisfying and emotional arcs. Also, there’s a yeti and a mime.
Gameplay wise, VI gives characters unique abilities and lets them learn from a shared pool of magic spells, and gives you more than enough tools to smash the difficulty. But the real best thing about playing is exploring the world in the game’s second half and seeing who or what you come across. And kicking Kefka’s arse, of course.
3. Final Fantasy VII
Oh, we went there. The game that skyrocketed the franchise to new heights, made everyone want a PlayStation and made Nintendo kick themselves for choosing to go with cartridges over CDs, FFVII really is worth the hype.
The soundtrack is the best in the series, the story is excellently paced with plot twist and set pieces aplenty, the Materia system is fun to mess with, and there is just so much to do. Honestly, the top three are so close in our opinion, but the LEGO-esque models and iffy translation date it just a tad too much.
2. Final Fantasy IX
A combination of the emotional and twisty stories of VI and VII with the medieval look of the earlier entries, all smothered in a helping of charm. Final Fantasy IX sums up everything the series has achieved up to that point perfectly.
Across your journey you will meet lovable heroes and hateable villains, get married by some heavily-accented Dwarves, get confused by the rules of the card game and spend way too long digging for treasure. IX may not be the best at any one thing, but it never fails to make you smile.
1. Final Fantasy X
Another huge evolution for the franchise, bringing in 3D backgrounds, a more tactical battle system, expressive character models and, of course, voice acting. But like with all the best FFs, it’s the characters, story, world and the heart that truly elevate this one to greatness.
The way the story is told connects you to Spira and the protagonists more closely than any other entry, so when those emotional gut punches hit, they hurt. If you can learn to deal with the dodgy mini-games and sometimes awkward line delivery, you’ll find yourself never wanting to put FFX down.