Final Fantasy at its very best
If you want to explore the classic Final Fantasy games, but aren't sure where to begin, we can hardly blame you. In the almost three decades since its initial release, the original Final Fantasy alone has accumulated 17 ports, remakes, and rereleases. And many have certain advantages (or disadvantages) over the others, which makes finding the "best" a challenge. Thankfully, we've done the homework for you, and selected the best possible way to experience Final Fantasy's 8- and 16-bit eras.
If you're new to this legendary JRPG series and what to know the best place to start you won't find the answer on this list. Instead, the best entry point into Final Fantasy is definitely one of its more recent releases. If you want to see the origins of Final Fantasy - or are simply pining for some classic, JRPG goodness - then you've come to the right place. This list focuses mainly on the FF remakes (rather than the various ports and rereleases) to see which one offers the best experience in both performance and added content. Of course, new versions of these games are being released all the time, so be sure to leave your thoughts and feedback in the comments below.
The definitive version: Final Fantasy Origins (PSX) It's the perfect blend of classic difficulty and modern presentation. Unlike other remakes, Origins remains faithful to its namesake by retaining FF's unique spell system and difficulty curve. Should you find the game too tough, there's also the option for easy mode (which is made mandatory in later remakes). Origins also has redrawn sprites, a remixed soundtrack, a revised script, and some bug fixes that together make it a clear upgrade to the NES classic. And, because Origins was released on PSN in 2011, the game is very easy to find.
What about the rest? Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls (GBA) and Final Fantasy (PSP) are both solid remakes with all the updates found in the PSX version plus some new dungeons and other extras. But they also replace FF's spell system with an MP-based magic system, and reduce the difficulty across the board. Considering the original FF is already light on plot and characterization, challenging combat should be the game's main attraction. Plus, neither of these remakes have been released on other platforms, making them difficult to enjoy on modern hardware.
Final Fantasy 2
The definitive version: Final Fantasy 2 Anniversary Edition (PSP) As Final Fantasy 2 is widely considered the worst in the series (or maybe it's the best), I have selected the version furthest from its source material. This remake takes the best from the previous two remakes - improved visuals and remixed soundtrack from Origins; bonus quests and dungeons from Dawn of Souls - and combines them with even more new content. And while Anniversary Edition is a bit easier than its originator, here it works in the game's favor as FF2's battle system is notoriously tedious and frustrating.
What about the rest? Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls (GBA) and Final Fantasy Origins (PSX) are both perfectly acceptable remakes as well. As I mentioned before, the GBA remake doesn't have all the bells and whistles of the PSP version, but it still has more content and is slightly easier than Origins which closely resembles the original game.
Final Fantasy 3
The definitive version: Final Fantasy 3 (DS) As this is the only official English version of the game available in the West, it's the winner by default. Thankfully, it's also an excellent remake. The original game has been completely rebuilt using vibrant, 3D graphics along with a freshly remixed soundtrack. The basics remain intact - plot, dungeons, bone-crushing difficulty - along with some minor tweaks that help smooth out some of the original's rough edges: such as making more character classes viable during the end game. This remake is also available on PSN, Steam, and more, making it widely accessible.
What about the rest? Well, the only other version of Final Fantasy 3 is the original, released on the Famicom in 1990 and available exclusively in Japan. And I have no idea how you might acquire a copy, so I won't even speculate. But if you did, you would find FF3 holds up surprisingly well. Sure the characters have zero personality and the plot is kinda all over the place, but it is fun learning (and exploiting) the quirks of this game, such as which jobs are horribly overpowered, and which are completely useless.
Final Fantasy 4
The definitive version: Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection (PSP) FF4 has a TON of different versions, and no two are exactly alike. The Complete Collection wins out by combining a fabulous remake of the original FF4, the lengthy post-game epilogue The After Years, and Interlude: an all-new tale that ties the previous two together. The game itself features updated visuals reminiscent of the original art style and an updated score. It also addresses the myriad of issues plaguing FF4's original Western release, including missing spells, abilities, and censorship of certain images.
What about the rest? Like FF3, this game also received a complete overhaul on DS simply called Final Fantasy 4. Cutesy 3D visuals, voice acting, and the divisive Augments mechanic give this remake a very different feel from the original game. Also worth mentioning are Final Fantasy IV Advance (GBA) and Final Fantasy Chronicles (PSX). Advance brings new content, updated visuals, and allows for party compositions that weren't previously available towards the end of the game; however, the North American release has bugs that were later fixed in the European version. Finally, Chronicles is a straight upgrade to the SNES release of FF4, with a fixed translation and restored difficulty (the SNES version was easier than its Japanese counterpart).
Final Fantasy 5
The definitive version: Final Fantasy V Advance (GBA) This is where the well of remakes and rereleases dries up. You only get two options when it comes to FF5, and the choice is obvious. Advance stays true to the style and spirit of the original, while sporting a revised script and new content. But most important are the four new Job classes - Gladiator, Cannoneer, Oracle, and Necromancer - which further enhance the game's already stellar class-switching mechanic. This version includes everything that was great about the original, plus a little extra.
What about the rest? The other version of FF5 available in the West is Final Fantasy Anthology on PSX, where it is bundled with Final Fantasy 6. Unfortunately, minor-but-annoying load times and awkward translation make this version inferior in almost every regard save music, which sounds richer on PlayStation hardware. Also worth mentioning is the mobile release of FF5, which has a redrawn (and bizarrely out-of-place) art style that would later pollute FF6. Otherwise, the mobile version plays just like the GBA version and is available on Steam.
Final Fantasy 6
The definitive version: Final Fantasy 3 (SNES) If you've never played FF6 (which was released as FF3 on the SNES), start with the original. There's some '90s-era censorship goofiness in the game's translation and sprites - such as 'Holy' becoming 'Pearl' - but it's ultimately the most enjoyable version overall. As the SNES is pretty rare (and expensive), a better alternative might be the Wii Virtual Console. As for FF6's three remakes, each introduces some sort of problem not found in this version that spoil the game in their own unique ways.
What about the rest? Despite being the best Final Fantasy game in existence, Final Fantasy 6 has yet to receive the definitive remake it deserves. Final Fantasy VI Advance is the best attempt so far, with an updated translation as well as new dungeons and summons. However, a reduced screen resolution and poor audio compression hurt its overall presentation. By all means, stay away from the Final Fantasy Anthology (PSX) and any mobile versions of the game. Anthology introduces load times and slowdown during battles - which is inexcusable given this is a SNES game. Not to be outdone, the mobile remake is a Frankenstein's monster of artistic styles.