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If there’s one series that has really been playing fast and loose with its title, it’s Final Fantasy. It’s a series that has been going since 1987 and hasn’t really taken any major breaks in the intervening years. While not every single game and spin-off have been top-notch, there are still a huge number of absolutely stellar games in the series that are worth spending your time on.
Trying to cull any games from one of the best RPG franchises ever conceived is no easy task, but we feel like we’re up to it. So, of the 40+ games in the series, which ones are the best? We’re about to find out.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
Final Fantasy has had a lot of spin-offs over the years, from snowboarding games (yes seriously) to tactical strategy games. Final Fantasy Tactics was a PS1 strategy game released in 1998 that tried its best to take one of the world’s biggest RPGs into a more tactical territory with relative success. It had great graphics and music, some solid gameplay, and a difficulty curve that looked more like a rollercoaster.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance came along and completely fixed any problems the original had. Despite being on a portable system, it still had great graphics and sound, but the difficulty curve actually resembles a curve rather than a chiropractor’s worst nightmare. It also had a great storyline filled with more traditionally down-to-earth characters than you normally find at the center of a fantasy plotline.
The main draw of Tactics Advance is how easy it is to pick up and play, yet how deep and interesting the gameplay can get if you really choose to get involved. Each battle takes place on an isometric, grid-based battlefield, and you and your opponent take it in turns to move around the battlefield trading blows until you meet the win or loss conditions. There are various different aspects that can affect the flow of battle too, from your different attacks and abilities having ranges and effects, to positioning yourself in the right place to attack specific enemies.
Plenty of games since Tactics Ogre have used the turn-based isometric system as a basis for some great gameplay experiences, but none since Final Fantasy Tactics Advance have managed to pull it off with such style and polish. From start to finish the game is clear about what you need to do, and despite how intricate some of the systems can be, you’re never left wondering what the hell you’re supposed to be doing. It’s no wonder this game ended up being named one of the best games of all time by numerous different people. Now, just release it on PC and everyone’s happy.
Final Fantasy X
When it comes to groundbreaking Final Fantasy titles, it’s hard to ignore Final Fantasy X. Not only was X the first game in the series on a new, more powerful system, but it was also the first in the series to feature full voice-acting. It’s also hard not to think about the beautiful cutscenes, something which the PS1 had struggled with. From FFX onwards, the series became known for having some of the best graphics that any game could manage on any given system, and a lot of these pre-rendered scenes from the game still hold up to this day.
Final Fantasy X is very traditional in many ways, even more traditional than the previous 3 titles in the series. Rather than the pseudo-action ATB system used in FF7-9, Final Fantasy X was fully turn-based. The game even gives you a visual indicator as to the turn order, meaning that not only can you take your time with your tactics, but you also know exactly who is going to go when, so you can plan your moves around when the enemies get to go.
Another stellar part of the game, depending on who you ask, is the leveling system. The sphere grid can be pretty incomprehensible if you’re introduced to it suddenly, but once introduced properly through the game’s pacing, it’s a really deep system that allows you to alter the predetermined roles that many of the characters are supposed to take. For example, while Wakka is mainly about accuracy and ranged attacks, you can totally deviate and take him into parts of the grid to learn black magic as a backup for your main spellcasters.
The story of FFX gets a lot of flack at times, and it’s easy to see where this comes from. There’s a lot of stuff to do with dreams and prayers in here that sounds incredibly dumb, then you combine that with a slightly whiny protagonist and a meme-ified scene of said character laughing awkwardly and some people look back on FFX with less than a fond eye. If you look past those issues, you’ll find a game brimming with charm and atmosphere, with a great soundtrack and visuals, and filled with some truly memorable and interesting characters. Plus, the PC version lets you run the game at 2 times speed, so if you’ve already sunk 200 hours into the original, you won’t have to wait as long to get to the good bits in the HD remake.
Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy
If you’ve never heard of this spin-off series, then you’re in for a treat. Final Fantasy Dissidia was a PSP exclusive 3D fighting game featuring heroes and villains from the Final Fantasy series. It was quite a popular game all told and was also a very unique experience, with its damage building/damage unleashing attack system and fully explorable environments. Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy is the sequel that builds on the original in every possible sense of the word, with the possible exception of the storyline.
Not only did this version include more characters to play as and more villains to beat up, but it also added an actual overworld to explore for the story mode, rather than the linear sequence of battles that the original had. Sure the overworld wasn’t the most visually interesting thing ever designed, but just being able to run around the world and interact with characters verbally, rather than with your fists, made it all the better.
The system used in Dissidia had you using two types of attacks, bravery attacks, and HP attacks. Each time you successfully landed a bravery attack, you would steal bravery from your opponent, eventually leading them to a ‘break’ status that made them unable to do damage for a short time. Then, you can launch an HP attack that does damage to your enemy that is based on your bravery number. Not only was this system pretty unique in many ways, but it also gave the player many options in terms of playstyle. You could build up your bravery and break your opponent before launching a single devastating attack, or you could steal little bits of bravery and chip away at your opponent’s health.
You also had to be careful, as when you launch a health attack, it uses up all your bravery and makes it much easier for you to become staggered by the ‘break’ status. There’s a lot to love about these games, especially if you’re a fan of Final Fantasy who enjoys more dynamic combat than the games usually have, especially back in the days when this series was released. If you want to play these games these days then your only options are to buy a PSP, use emulation, or alternatively you can actually buy Dissidia NT, the latest game in the series, on PC via Steam, although it can’t hold a candle to the originals.
World of Final Fantasy
It’s always interesting to see a series break with tradition, and even more exciting when the series in question breaks tradition by aping gameplay from another popular franchise. This brings us to World of Final Fantasy, a game which combines a traditional FF RPG with elements of Pokemon to create quite the incredible experience, at least for anyone who is already a fan of the series as a whole.
World of Final Fantasy has an interesting enough storyline, but realistically it’s the tone and the fan service that make it an interesting game. Not only do various characters from the Final Fantasy universe make an appearance, but the game is actually set in a world made up of various locations from the series. If you’ve played your fair share of Final Fantasy games already, then you’re going to have the time of your life with this one.
On top of the heaps of fan service, the game could also be described as ‘cute as hell’. It features a very cutesy art style in general, but also the human characters can be turned into a ‘chibi’ form that gives them giant heads, tiny bodies, and huge eyes. The best way to describe the general tone of the game and world would probably be charming, considering the adorable interpretation of the monsters and chibi characters found within.
In terms of gameplay, there’s a fair bit to enjoy here, but it’s also nothing particularly groundbreaking. It uses the ATB gauge you’ll find in a huge number of other FInal Fantasy games, and the gameplay can get a little bit tired after the 30th hour according to some players, but all-in-all this is a unique Final Fantasy adventure that seems like it was tailor-made for hardcore fans who also enjoy training and battling monsters.
Final Fantasy VII
Come on now, if you didn’t know this game was going to appear on the list then you clearly know nothing about the fanbase behind Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy VII was the first game in the series to appear on a disc-based console, and because of that, it was easily one of the most grandiose-feeling games of its era, firmly lodging itself into the hearts and minds of those who played it and turning the series into the juggernaut that it is today. No matter how you personally feel about the game, you have to admit it must have done something right to get the sort of legacy that this game has.
Final Fantasy VII may have featured the same ATB-gauge combat that had been with the series since Final Fantasy IV, but it’s honestly mostly in the story and character departments that the game shines. It’s not that the gameplay is bad, far from it, but it doesn’t do much to really swap up the formula. In fact, the job systems used in previous FF titles were removed completely, making the game much simpler to get into for many players, which is possibly part of the reason that it ended up being so successful.
The major reason for Final Fantasy VII being such a success is the emotional and engrossing storyline. You’re taken on a journey with these characters, and from start, to finish they really do feel like they’re completely different people in many cases. The story has themes of environmentalism, ecoterrorism, and anti-corporate messaging, stuff that wasn’t really covered by games up until that point, at least not in a very deep and meaningful way. Combine that with the classic Final Fantasy gameplay and it’s easy to see why this is the game that still defines the series and genre for many people.
Side Note: Final Fantasy VII Remake
We wanted to avoid giving both the original and the remake their own entries, but we couldn’t really put them together either because they’re very different games in terms of both storyline and gameplay. When it comes down to choosing one or the other for this list, it has to be the original as that is the one that is a complete experience. The remake is excellent and deserves a spot on the ‘best FF games’ list all to itself, but it’s also the only ⅓ of the overall story so it loses out to the original when it comes to a fight for space on the list.
The Final Word
It was incredibly tough to whittle down the Final Fantasy series to just a handful of top titles, and there are plenty of titles that probably deserved a place on this list, such as Final Fantasy IV and VI. Are there any titles from the series that you think we should have found space for? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
For as long as he can remember, Charlie has always been interested in computers and gaming. It all started with the Sega Mega Drive and then evolved into PC gaming in his early teens. CS 1.6 was his first go at competitive gaming which soon evolved into CS:Source and now CS:GO - a game that he still plays (almost exclusively) today. Throughout that period he has also been a keen PC builder and enthusiast - dedicating a large portion of his time to the craft. My current rig is an ASUS 5700XT with AMD's Ryzen 3600X.