I am writing this while the internet is down in my house, so this will be probably be short and contain factual errors. I apologize in advance.
Final Fantasy is one of those cultural touchstones for people my age (mid-twenties males). So many of us experienced the series at one point or another, often spreading the gospel to friends once we became followers. Whether it was on SNES (FF2 and 3 — aka FF4 and 6; it’s confusing), Playstation (FF7–9 and Tactics), PS2 (FF10 or 12), or some other console, the series definitely has struck a chord with a large number of people.
The games are all RPGs, offering you the chance to develop your characters from gentle peasants to massacre machines, usually in an attempt to save the world. The stories and characters are sometimes strange, but almost always great.
I had the series lower on the list at first – despite FF7 being the first console game I ever really loved – but then I figured I could group the Tactics games in here, at which point the series jumped up several spots.
So, here goes: My five favorite Final Fantasy games.
This has gone down as the black sheep among the Playstation FF games, which is a shame, because it was one of the best games I ever played on the console. I never beat the whole thing – which I suppose could disqualify it from this list; judging a FF game without its ending is like judging wine by smelling it.
But I had fun while I played FF8, even if I don’t remember the specifics of the story. I think you start at a battle academy? Sounds right to me.
What I do remember are a) gunblades, b) a kickass trading card minigame that I probably played more than the game itself, and c) incredible presentation – definitely a step up from FF7. FF8 is a worthy entry in the series.
The gameplay in the FF Tactics games is beyond addicting. Not only is the combat itself loads of fun – great, strategic turn-based battling with reasonably short battles – but the character development system is one of the most fun ever. You assign characters different “jobs” – basically RPG classes like warrior or mage – and, depending on the weapon they have equipped, they learn different skills within that job.
As characters become proficient in each job, new jobs open up, meaning new skills and new ways to play. It’s a nonstop cycle of experimentation and payoff that allows you to design a party exactly as you like it. You craft a strategy and build your gameplay around that. So fun.
A2 is the latest game in the series, and its biggest twist on the formula (beyond even more jobs) is the ability to craft weapons from materials you gather in the game. It’s a satisfying wrinkle that makes it even more fun to unlock new jobs and skills.
This was one of the first RPGs I loved – which is something that about 80% of video game fans my age can say, I think. This is about as iconic and famous a game there is. For me personally, it was an eye-opening moment on how engaging and emotional a game story could be.
The gameplay is solid and fun, with “limit breaks” and “materia” as interesting twists on top of the reliable Active Time Battle system. There are lots of cool design choices, like the fact that you have to play through about a quarter of the game to escape the opening city, Midgar, making it feel like the prison it’s supposed to be.
The story’s a little bananas, but the characters are fantastic and the presentation is good in spite of the blocky graphics. Sephiroth has gone down as an all-time classic villain, and his murder of main character Aeris is his shining moment.
All in all, it’s a game that’s occasionally funky in retrospect but is rightfully an all-time classic. One of my top 25 or so games, for sure.
I’ve played this game so, so much. If you counted up all the time I’ve spent playing video games ever and broke it down by game, there would probably games that I’ve played more… but I honestly wouldn’t be too surprised if there weren’t. Tactics Advance just sucks me in every time.
I like that the story is lighter and easier to follow than some other FF games. Comparing Advance to the original Tactics (which didn’t make this list primarily because I’ve never really played it enough) is like night and day. The original was a huge political epic that basically required you to check your in-game encyclopedia every ten minutes to remember which country and character were which. Advance is intentionally small and whimsical: it’s a tale about a kid who gets sucked into a story book world, only to realize how it parallels his own world (Wizard of Oz style).
The story is nice and refreshing, but mostly, I love the gameplay. This was the original Tactics game I played, and it pulled me in, hook, line, and sinker. It still does whenever I play it. The job system, slowly empowering you characters, perfecting your strategy, refining your battle lineup… it’s gaming bliss.
This is the last 2D FF game in the main series, and one of the most epic and engaging adventures I’ve played. It stands up fantastically despite the fact that its 20th anniversary is only three months away. In fact, I’d put it right up there with other SNES crown jewels Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Chrono Trigger, and Link to the Past in terms of games that still feel fresh and perfect no matter how old they get. In fact, I’ll go one step further… FF3/6 is probably the best SNES game (though SMW will always be tops in my heart).
First, a quick note on the numbering: Final Fantasy 1 was released in the US for NES, but not 2 or 3, so when they released Final Fantasy 4 for SNES, they decided to renumber it back to 2. Then, they skipped FF5, so FF6 was the third FF game in the US. Hence, they renamed it FF3. They gave up on the renumbering after that, so FF7 for PS1 came next, giving us a weird gap from 3 to 7. Most people just use the Japanese names at this point, so I usually stick with calling this one Final Fantasy VI.
The reason that FFVI is my favorite Final Fantasy game is that it just sucks me in and tells a gripping story. The plot is more coherent than some others’ in the FF series, with a ragtag bunch of reluctant mercenaries tasked with stopping a crazed maniac from causing the apocalypse. And the characters are as well-realized as any novel or movie.
(The best part of the story? [spoilers] The main characters don’t succeed in preventing the apocalypse. You think you’re about to win, then BAM, armageddon. It’s such a great twist, one of my favorite moments in any game story. A gut punch. Just when you thought you’d be done, a quarter of the game is left.)
But it’s the stunning presentation that really steals the show. FFVI pushes the SNES to its limits, with a thrilling, (comparatively) hi-fi score and tremendous visuals. It’s about as immersive as any game I’ve played – no small feat considering its hardware.
It all adds up to an epic quest that isn’t quite as famous as its successor, but is ultimately even a bit higher up the gaming pinnacle in my opinion.