Final Fantasy is a juggernaut of a franchise. Created by Japanese developers Square Enix, it’s been going since the late Eighties, and has given us iconic characters, soundtracks, weapons… the list goes on.
Though every game is different, the basic premise is the same: Final Fantasy games are generally turn-based RPGs set in a fantasy-inspired universe, featuring a group of heroes battling an evil big bad (or indeed, several).
With Final Fantasy VII Rebirth on the horizon, now is the perfect time to revisit some of those classics – and rank them, once and for all.
Which have stood the test of time, and which deserve to be sliced to bits with a Buster sword? Here are our top ten picks, in descending order.
Final Fantasy I (1987)
The game that started it all still deserves playing for the inventive gameplay and nostalgia value. Way back in 1987, Square released FFI to compete with Enix’s Dragon Quest (how times have changed). With colourful monsters, a massive world and an iconic soundtrack, FFI was an instant hit – and also introduced the concept of party classes at the start of the game, allowing players to navigate it as everything from a ninja to a Black Belt. Still indecently fun.
Final Fantasy XII (2006)
One of Square Enix’s most contentious releases, XII is nevertheless a strong entry in the series that (with the benefit of hindsight) really does shine. This was the franchise’s attempt to return to its roots (again) with a large open world stuffed with detail and things to do. The world of Ivalice is a recurring one from the series, but the characters are new: Vaan, an orphan, joins forces with the princess Ashe, who sets up a resistance movement to the invading empire of Archadia. Plus, the game’s tactical battle system makes for some very smart combat.
Final Fantasy VII Remake (2020)
The remake that started it all. Square Enix’s ongoing project to reinvent its beloved title started in 2020 with this game released for PlayStation 4. As in the original game, it follows Cloud, a soldier who joins eco-terrorist group Avalanche in an attempt to stop the evil Shinra corporation from destroying the world. The upgraded graphics and battle system are a joy to experience… if only it didn’t stop a third of the way through the original game’s plot. Plus, those side quests really do become repetitive after a while.
Final Fantasy XVI (2023)
After years of struggling to make a mark, Final Fantasy XVI felt like the moment that Square Enix finally hit its stride again. Set in the twin continents of Valisthea, which are cursed by a magical drought called the Blight, the game follows Clive Rosfield, who becomes involved in the war that follows. The setting nods to older FF games, but the gorgeous graphics, grand scope of the narrative and reimagined combat all stand out, even if some of the dialogue feels a bit stilted.
Final Fantasy IV (1991)
Has a 16-bit game ever looked so good? IV was the first game to consolidate all the things that FF games are famous for: great stories, loveable characters, boundary-pushing graphics and (of course) an epic score. Following the Dark Knight Cecil as he tries to redeem himself by preventing the end of the world, IV did have all of the above, but its true masterstroke was the Active Time Battle System, which timed how long enemies and allies could take to execute a turn. No wonder the game (and the Active Battle mechanic) has been remade time and again.
Final Fantasy VIII (1999)
Arguably the most bonkers entry on this list, but don’t let that spoil your enjoyment. VIII is one of Square Enix’s most ambitious games ever, pushing the boundaries of Nineties software with a huge story (a group of mercenaries, led by the excellently-named Squall Leonhart, who set out to battle a dictator-sorceress named Edea Kramer) and more timey-wimey shenanigans than you can shake a pocketwatch at. Plus, who could argue with the Gunblade as everybody’s favourite weapon of choice?
Final Fantasy X (2001)
Yes, the voice acting is a bit silly, but look beyond this (if you can) and there’s a solid game here. Launched around the same time as the PS2, X boasted some truly jaw-dropping graphics for the time – enough to singlehandedly make the business case for buying one. Plus, it serves an important role in the franchise as a whole, finally getting rid of the series’ top-down world map and introducing the new Sphere Grid. With solid combat mechanics and a nice love story (the game tells the story of a group of adventurers on a quest to defeat the evil monster Sin), it’s still enjoyable to play.
Final Fantasy IX (2000)
Final Fantasy, but make it medieval. After years of veering into sci fi, IX marked the franchise’s attempt to get back to its roots, and if the world of Alexandria wasn’t quite as well fleshed-out as its predecessors, well, at least the soundtrack was great (among the series’ best) and the visual design unique. Plus, the characters are really some of FF’s best: Zidane and the rest of the bandit theatre troupe Tantalus are a joy to spend time with.
Final Fantasy VII (1997)
Before the remake comes out, savour the original. In the space of a mere three years, Square Enix managed to introduce 3D graphics, and though they don’t look like much now, in 1997 they were on the cutting edge. VII is also the game that broke the franchise (and JRPGs in general) through into the mainstream, after years of snobbery. With its epic plot, equally epic soundtrack and huge moments like Aerith’s death, suddenly, Final Fantasy was popular with a huge audience.
And the winner is... Final Fantasy VI (1994)
Was it ever in doubt? Though the graphics look decidedly shonky these days (give it a break, though, it came out in 1994), it’s the strength of the storytelling that makes Final Fantasy VI stand out. This is regularly acclaimed as one of the best games of all time, and for good reason: the gameplay is complex, the characters some of the franchise’s most memorable and the combat set the standard for turn-based RPGs. A true classic.