Best Final Fantasy spin-offs

Who needs numbers?

Final Fantasy is one of those rare constants in the gaming world, with every year seeing another release for the RPG standard bearer. And while the numbered entries in the series get increasingly experimental, it's the Final Fantasy spin-offs that often allow Square Enix to really flex its creative muscle. From Final Fantasy Legend all the way up to Final Fantasy: Type-0, spin-offs are where FF gets experimental, with varying results that simply beg to be ranked.

At the outset, we disqualified possible entries like Chrono Trigger and Bravely Default, because true spin-offs must contain actual FF elements, be it characters, settings, or monsters. From there, our catalog included genres as diverse as fighters, kart racers, and rhythm games, all connected by a devotion to Moogles and Chocobos. All have now been ranked for all time (until we update it again), so read on to see where your favorite side quest ended up...

15. Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest

Looking back on its mid-90s release, perhaps fans were a little too harsh on Mystic Quest. Released on the SNES in place of the more challenging Final Fantasy 5, Mystic Quest is meant for western gamers might be unfamiliar with the basic concepts of role-playing games. All these years later, when Mystic Quest isnt standing in FF5s shadow, this modest adventure isn't so bad.

From a design team led by veterans of the SaGa series, Mystic Quest is undeniably stripped down to the RPG basics, but it gets those basics right. If Final Fantasys massive exposure in the west hadnt made it redundant, it would still function as a fine primer for the series, and RPGs in general. Meanwhile, the soundtrack remains essential, and is arguably the most underrated in FF history. Should you never pick up the game, at least give the music a listen.

14. Ehrgeiz

3D brawlers like Tekken and Virtua Fighter were in vogue in the 32-bit era, so even RPG publishers like Square did their best to cash-in. FF's owner started a partnership with developer Dream Factory to helm the imperfect Tobal series, and the teams were looking for a fresh start with Ehrgeiz. The wild fighter has a weird cast of characters and some projectile combat to make it stand out, but its enhanced PlayStation port has a secret ingredient: Most of Final Fantasy 7's cast is playable.

In the late 90s, few games were bigger than Final Fantasy 7, but Square steadfastly avoided exploiting its popularity with FF crossovers. Bringing Cloud, Sephiroth, Yuffie, Tifa, Zack, and Vincent into the wacky arenas of Ehrgeiz was certainly unexpected. Ehrgeiz hasn't aged the best, but there's a charm to its manic, unbalanced combat, and said charm extends to its dungeon-crawling/brawling hybrid Quest mode. If you can forgive its dated looks, it's a fine distraction for FF completionists.

13. Chocobo Racing

No series has truly 'made it' in terms of spin-offs until it has a kart racer. Chocobo Racing finally made Final Fantasys karting wishes come true in 1999 by having the series signature chubby bird head to the raceway. The yellow fowl competes against other beasts like Mog, Bahamut, and Cactuar, with FF8's Squall and Parasite Eve's Aya sneaking in as unlockable kart enthusiasts to fill out the roster.

Square does an admirable job channeling Mario Kart 64 and Crash Team Racing, even adding some signature Final Fantasy locations, spells, and abilities to shake things up. However, using sprite character models that clash with its polygonal world means Chocobo Racing isn't all that modern. Enjoying it now makes you wish Square Enix hadn't cancelled a 3DS sequel. Still, blasting around in the Chocobo's rocket boots and hitting competitors with Firaga will always be a little fun, so the classic is worth searching out.

12. Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon

Another of FF's cutesy side games, this time the doll-sized Chocobo goes underground to search out his fortune in an expansive series of random caves. The iconic bird is accompanied by a brand new Cid, a young man out to collect treasure so he can build - you guessed it - an airship. There's also a ton of amnesia, just to check off another Final Fantasy trope. Made in the famously hardcore mystery dungeon style, each step the Chocobo takes is matched by the unseen enemies, which adds a lot of planning to the action-strategy mix.

What puts this one over the Chocobo's previous mystery dungeon game on DS? The colorful Wii graphics help, but it also separates itself from other Roguelikes by borrowing the core FF job system. Cid and Chocobo can switch up abilities, and the dungeons adapt to reflect that, adding to the dense game's replayability. Plus, there are few things cuter than seeing a Chocobo dressed as a Black Mage. The 2008 game is the last of the Fables sub-series, marking the end of an all too brief collection of all ages FF games.

11. Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales

This is one of the Chocobo's simplest titles, but that doesn't mean this FF spin-off should be overlooked. Arriving on the Nintendo DS when the touch controls still felt novel, Chocobo Tales follows the title character's quest for magical story books that expand into numerous minigames. Usually the bottom screen recreates some classic FF actions, from casting magic to steering in a Chocobo race.

There's also a card game mechanic that works almost as well as the touch controls, and the lovely child's book art design helps to cover the occasional misfires. Chocobo Tales also offers up multiplayer variations on some of its best minigames, making it a rare FF treat that can be shared with more than one person. If you're tired of the FF's dark and brooding side, Chocobo Tales satisfies like a potion in a boss battle.

10. Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light

FF gets more and more complicated with each entry, and while innovation is welcome, sometimes you're nostalgic for a more innocent time. You know, with less existential dread and more saving princesses and crystals. The 4 Heroes of Light is just such a throwback, drawing inspiration from the earliest FF titles, while streamlining many of the best parts and adding new facets to the combat.

There's the Crown system, a clever, hat-based approach to the standard FF job system, and the Boost mechanic to turn-based combat means fights take a bit more planning. The character design apes the spare style of FF's DS remakes to great effect, and the music is grand enough to fit its legacy. The only major negative to the game is that it's overshadowed by its spiritual successor, Bravely Default.

9. Final Fantasy: Type-0

One of the newest entries on the list, Type-0 is a game that seemed like it would never be available to English-speakers. Released late on the PSP, Sony's portable was dead by the time Type-0 came to the system in Japan, dooming it to stay unlocalized forever. But the HD port to PS4/Xbox One makes dreams come true, so consider it a gift even if the militaristic game isn't perfect.

In case you've yet to see our Final Fantasy: Type-0 review, the game's biggest issues are some obtrusive menus, finicky camera, and merely tolerable voice acting, but there are definitely some positives to be found. The tone is darker and bloodier than any FF before it, including an opening segment where a bleeding Chocobo is executed by soldiers. The grittier feel and intense circumstances win out most of the time, and it has a singular style many recent FF games lack.

8. Final Fantasy 12: Revenant Wings

Final Fantasy 12 is a very divisive title for the fanbase, offering a plot that's either compellingly complex when exploring a massive world, or annoyingly obtuse and lacking in a clear main character. Strange, then, that the late-era PS2 game would see a slimmed down spin-off on the DS of all systems. Stranger still that the side story is essentially a real time strategy game.

Taking place midway through FF12, Revenant Wings also has Vaan as the leading man, but with the decidedly less messy goal of being a successful airship captain. FF12's battle system is helpfully streamlined with RTS mechanics, allowing for armies of the signature beasts to be at your command. And the games chapter structure makes it easier to play on the go. Revenant Wings is just the type of light epilogue its heavy predecessor needs.

7. Dissidia [012]: Final Fantasy

This fighting game is officially pronounced Dissidia Duodecim, but don't hold that odd titling against it. This is a dream crossover for longtime fans, bringing together the beloved leads from almost every FF entry, from Cecil to Lightning and everyone in between. And the story does its best to service the fans who've always dreamed of seeing Cloud and Squall smash each other with their ridiculous swords. (Thats sounds dirtier than we mean.)

The action does its best to keep up with the premise, even when the gameplay gets more stat-based than a brawler like it requires. [012] is also both a remake and a prequel to the first Dissidia, making it the ultimate Final Fantasy fighting game, for now anyway. If you never checked out this celebration of everything FF, it's worth downloading to your Vita - or PSP, if you can find it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Henry moved from the suburbs of northern Florida to work at GR+, and hasn't looked back once in seven years. When not collecting Mario toys, you can find him constantly checking his Twitter.
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