This isn’t going to just be a Top Ten fire and forget. I will break down what swayed my decisions and why these are my favorite FF games. Each will be rated as follows.
In any RPG, the story is one of the most important things you have. It is what sweeps you up and carries you along with the characters for multiple hours. Without a good story, the game is bland, tasteless, and pretty much a complete dud. It may be a pretty game with great music, but if the story sucks, it’s a fail.
One of, if not THE most important aspects of an RPG. Without great characters, the story is meaningless. You need them to connect you to the story on an emotional level so you are even interested in playing as their team for any period of time. If a game has lame and uninteresting characters, it’s worthless.
This includes music and the artistic style of the game. The NPC interaction and flow of the world can enhance or doom a story. If your characters don’t match the atmosphere, they seem out of place and it’s hard to connect with them. A compelling atmosphere makes a good game a great one.
The gameplay is pretty much the delivery mechanism for the story and the characters. The gameplay is what gets you from battle to battle and cut-scene to cut-scene. If the gameplay is horrible, the game loses its appeal.
1. Final Fantasy IV DS and Complete Editions
There is not much I can say about FF IV that hasn’t already been said. This is the pinnacle of Squaresoft RPGs, and by far the closest to a perfect game. To date it is the most celebrated and proclaimed FF game, having been re-released multiple times and remastered almost as many. It sports an epic story of discovery, heroism, love, and betrayal. The cast of characters are deep and well defined, boasting a wide range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Each character is needed in the party, fulfilling a role unique to him/her that offers a lot of strategy. The atmosphere offers a wide range of areas that never seem overused, and offer plenty of secrets to find. The musical score is memorable, adding to the tension and at times playfulness of the narrative. This game uses a turn based, random battle system with many options to vary the difficulty of each battle. Couple that with a variety of minigames depending on the version you are playing, and you have a game that defined a genre and still inspires people today. As a game from the time of the SNES, FF IV still holds up to the scrutiny of today’s standards. With two games continuing the story, it only brings this wonderful story full circle. If you have not played this game, you are sorely missing a masterpiece from the era of Squaresoft’s rich past.
2. Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions
The second in my top ten is Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions for the PSP. Yet another epic tale of betrayal and political maneuvering. FF Tactics WotL is still one of the best strategy RPGs to date, having originally been released on the PS1. What starts as a civil war for the crown ends in a battle to save all of mankind from destruction, but the darker tone never leaves. It really illustrates the bitterness of the lower class towards the nobles that ruined the country. The ability to make your own characters is pretty awesome. The only downfall is when the game hands you NPCs with super powers. The characters that do speak are well fleshed out, a pair of best friends on the opposite sides of a bitter war. The maps and music really lend to the theme. Some missions you’ll be in a burning building, others a ruined town, and still more an ancient castle. When the bad guys close in, it gets tense. With a huge range of options and customization, the only thing this game doesn’t have is a paladin.
3. Final Fantasy XII
Final Fantasy XII didn’t get the massive advertising campaign that the others had, but it is still one of the best. It has a wide range of excellent voice talent, and an original world that started with the GBA game Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced. The characters are a varied group, nearly all of them feel needed within the story, and would be less without them. Each has their time to shine that adds something wonderful to the character. The story is well written and engaging, offering resolution to the many threads it weaves. The graphics are still wonderful, and the music only makes the atmosphere more memorable. The gameplay is one of the most unique to the FF series. It sports a “gambit” system where you set up macros, basically allowing the game to play itself. With a wealth of extra content from bounty hunting to treasure finding, this game is definitely worth a look.
4. Final Fantasy XI
Final Fantasy XI was the first MMO by Squaresoft, and it was a great one. I personally poured hours into its soul crushing world. This well built, war-torn world was a wonder to explore. From the Sanctuary of Zi’Tah to the Shakhrami Maze, you will find wonders to screenshot and vicious monsters to overcome. You created your character and chose base jobs, which would evolve into advanced jobs through quests down the line. With a subjob added in, you could come up with many effective possibilities. The graphics were good for their time, and unlike WoW, stood up to the test of time. The story was centered around your character as you explored the war-torn past of the world, trying to prevent history from repeating itself. This was a huge feature to the gameplay, because it was your story. While the game was difficult, it was rewarding. FF XI brought a lot to the table, and it will be sorely missed.
5. Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VI was another epic from the SNES days. The story centers from time to time around the many different characters of the game, some having depth and life not seen since FF IV. It is a struggle against an evil, power hungry empire in a magic scarred world. Then it becomes a battle for survival in a destroyed one. This tends to blur the lines as to who is the main character, but the convoluted nature allows you to almost weave your own idea of who is the lead. The atmosphere is varied and well scored, but the dungeons tend to go on for way too long. FF VI sports a unique story element along with one of the series’ best villains, forming an unforgettable experience. The gameplay is much the same as FF IV, making for a well rounded and well crafted game. There are many moments when things seem to drag on, but if you are willing to give this game a chance, you won’t be disappointed.
6. Final Fantasy IX
The third of the FF games for the PS1, and the last made for the system. This game was a throwback to the SNES days, sporting a class based character design that offered the ability to choose your team. The story was varied at times, full of triumph and tragedy in equal measures. As FF games go, it carried a darker tone than some, but was not unwelcome. The cast was hit or miss most of the time, with some feeling out of place. This really let you know who the leads were, and when their time came, they shined brightly. The game offered a well laid out world with a great soundtrack, with unique ideas as the developers laid out their design. Gameplay was well done, bringing a smooth battle system with great team-up mechanics between certain characters. Despite the plot holes, this game is engaging, and worth a look.
7. Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy
While not a true RPG, this game is a 3D fighter at its core. It boasts a story based around the many villains and heroes of the previous Final Fantasy games. They are pitted against one another as they fight for either order or chaos, trying to vie for dominance. The gameplay offers a great set of maps with plenty of things to destroy as you throw down against your friends or the AI. Dissidia 012’s graphics and musical score are well crafted, with the music taken from the games of the past. This game’s story is the “behind the scenes” prequel to the original Dissidia, and it’s pretty epic. It offers a wealth of unlockables, from music to new character skins. You can even carry over character levels from the previous game if you still have your save. If you like epic battles between epic characters, then dust off your PSP and let the fight begin.
8. Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy X was the first FF game on the PS2, and was fully voice acted, sporting a polished set of CG cutscenes and game areas. The story lacked a lot in the believable department as it had its obvious flaws and holes. The voice acting was rigid at times, making the often annoying characters unbearable. You’re pulled into a world where Sin has devastated the land, and a summoner must defeat it at regular intervals so there are small times of peace. Throw in a disappointing ending and a laughable surprise final boss and you have FF X. It does have a lot going for it gameplay-wise. The characters had their own feel to them, add in the ability to swap them out to deal with different situations, and you have a fresh twist to an old formula. Throw in an addictive minigame called blitzball and you have an enjoyable time, as long as you can bear the eye gouging art direction and character designs.
9. Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII, the first PS1 FF game, and my least favorite of the top ten. I know people think this game was brought to us from on high, but it has its issues. With a story that isn’t really anything special, and a cast of characters born from popular anime tropes, the game is lacking. This game brought new gamers into the fold, and that is why it is a list-worthy title. While the atmosphere was well crafted as you ran through the post apocalyptic world, it seemed like it couldn’t decide on what it really wanted to be. FF VII was the beginning of dark times for Squaresoft. A time where the marketability of the characters was more important than the quality of the game. When putting faces on soda cans was more important than consistent story and quality characters. It was a good FF, just not a great one. I give it props because it was important, and to some it holds a soft spot in their hearts. This is a game that is worthy of a remaster. Maybe then it will get the justice it so rightfully deserves.
10. Sword of Mana (AKA the Remake of Final Fantasy Adventure)
Final Fantasy Adventure for the original GB was a great game. It was the beginning of a larger series of games that would later be called The Secret of Mana. Its rudimentary graphics and sound quality would later be remastered and be called Sword of Mana. This game allowed you to choose male or female leads, craft your own weapons and armor, and even create your own spells. You were a lone warrior fighting against the oppressive empire, not original, but fun. As the game progressed, you met familiar faces and filled in the plot holes of other mana titles. It was the beginning that started a wonderful and now under appreciated franchise. The atmosphere was well done, a lot of it looked like you were running through a water color painting. With a cleaned up translation and sharp graphics, this remake breathed life back into an often over-looked title. If you like Secret of Mana, give it a play through, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Final Fantasy and all pictures used are the property of Square-Enix.