Why every Final Fantasy game is the best AND worst in the series

If there’s one thing nerds love to do, it’s argue about our favorite things and which one is better. SNES or Genesis? Batman or Superman? Mike or Joel? Amongst the myriad of geeky topics than can spur internet flamewars, there’s a particularly contentious one: which Final Fantasy game is the best?

Anyone who has attempted to engage in such a debate has discovered something: your favorite FF game is somebody else’s least favorite FF game – and oftentimes for the very same exact reasons that you love it. With that in mind, we’ve set out to settle the debate once and for all. We’ve taken a long, hard look at all the mainline, numbered FF games – no spinoffs, no direct sequels ala X-2 – and have decided to end all arguments once and for all by describing why each and every one is simultaneously both the best and the worst Final Fantasy game ever. In the face of such irrefutable evidence, all arguments are certain to cease now and forevermore… right?

Why it’s the best FF ever: Every saga has a beginning, and this is where the root of one of the most legendary game franchises of all time took hold. Final Fantasy I is a classic that hews closer to the classic pen-and-paper RPGs that inspired the genre than any game to follow. By assembling a party of your own choosing (out of classes that would become standard in sequels to follow), you decide for yourself how you will tackle the story – much like assembling a group of buddies for an AD&D campaign. There are countless ways to challenge yourself – how about trying to complete the adventure with an all-mage party? And by challenge, I do mean challenge – Final Fantasy has some very tough dungeons, and even the regular enemies pose a series threat to the party, unlike the pushover monsters in the games to follow. And when you do get to the end, prepare for a story twist that’s surprisingly sophisticated for its time.

Why it’s the worst FF ever: FF1 is nearly 25 years old, and it shows in the game’s sloppy construction. The story and the way it’s presented is lame: the game rarely spells out where you need to go next, leaving you wandering aimlessly quite often – this results in hundreds of unwanted, frequently lethal random encounters. These regular enemy groups are incredibly tough, while bosses are a relative pushover. And did we mention how incredibly buggy and imbalanced the game is in the magic department? Half the spells don’t work as advertised, and since the intelligence stat is completely worthless, mages are woefully underpowered at endgame. Sure, you can play Dawn of Souls on GBA for a lot of bugfixes and a revised MP system… if you like Wii-style Baby Mode difficulty.

Personal Take: Final Fantasy I is certainly a relic, and whether its oldness is charming or obtuse depends wildly from person to person. I found that if people didn’t really understand – or particularly like - the way old-fashioned RPGs were made, then they couldn’t enjoy FF1 very much. You’ll still find plenty of people who enjoy FF1, though it’s rare to see anyone hold it up as a de facto favorite. You can create multiple party variations so it’s got a surprising amount of replay value and offers a lot of ways for players to challenge themselves, so it’s not as impossible to love as some might think.

Why it’s the best FF ever: The original Final Fantasy may have set the ball rolling, but Final Fantasy II is where traditions for games to come were set in stone. Final Fantasy II introduces elements like Cid, the much-beloved Chocobos and a host of familiar monsters that would make constant reappearances throughout the series. It was also the first game in the series to deliver individual, well-defined characters with their own distinct personalities and dialogue. You’ll meet several of them throughout the story as it takes numerous twists and turns that were uncommon for RPGs of its day. It’s also a wildly experimental game; the shift away from the standard “leveling” system and the unique conversation system show that even in this day and age, the Final Fantasy development team wasn’t afraid to take chances and introduce new, interesting elements to the series.

Why it’s the worst FF ever: Surely every gamer knows how “level” systems work – beating enemies earns experience points, which raise your level and boost your stats. It’s a mechanic ubiquitous to gaming… and it isn’t part of Final Fantasy II. Instead, you’ve got a hilariously broken stat-building system that you basically have to grind to proceed. Example: want to gain attack power? Use “Attack” a lot to build strength. Want to gain hit points? You have to be hit a lot - the game’s subtitle should be “attack your own party for fun and profit.” Oh, and there’s a whole word-learning and conversation system that’s awfully implemented. It sure is fun trying to find some NPC with a keyword I need to remember and pick from a list later in order to proceed! Wait, no it’s not. And stop me if you’ve heard this story before: a bunch of rebels organized by a princess works to fight against an evil Emperor. Hmm!

Personal Take: Final Fantasy II is a very odd beast. It’s usually on the bottom of peoples’ rankings of FF games… provided they’ve actually played it. It’s not hard to see why, either: the simple acts of building your stats and NPC conversation are changed in weird and frustrating ways. One interesting bit of trivia is that FFII was at one point slated for a North American release – in fact, a very early translated version exists. It would be interesting to imagine how peoples’ nostalgia (or lack thereof) for this title would have been affected had it actually received a proper release back in the day.

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  • thelegendaryX - March 13, 2014 6:54 a.m.

    Hey man, I LIKED the chocobo side quest and mini-game in FF9! I wish they would've kept the card game from 8, though. Other than that, it was a pretty good read. My personal faves are FF6, 7, 8, 9, and 12. Least favorites are FF10 and 13, due to the linearity (in one more than just one aspect of the gameplay) and annoying characters.
  • yacine-abdelwahed - July 12, 2014 8:39 p.m.

    hi i need some advices i really loved final fantasy but i finished all ( most of them ) 7 and 8 and 9 and 10 can you give me recmandation for rpgs that have similar stories to them thank you i would really appreciate it !
  • thelegendaryX - July 13, 2014 6:09 a.m.

    All I know, RPG-wise, is Final Fantasy, to be honest with you. FF12 is a great game. All the FFs have somewhat similar stories, but FF12 has no love interest (no romantic tale) between any of the main characters at all. FF6 is before they went 3D but if you don't mind old-school games, it's a great one. Story is rather good for that era in gaming, and I loved the gameplay in both (probably enjoyed the gameplay a little bit more in 12; it plays like an MMORPG but isn't online). FF13 is pretty cool, too. I'd say it's the closest to having a familiar STORY to the ones you mentioned. There is a romantic ELEMENT to some of the story (it's not a huge part of it), and the gameplay is interesting, not especially bad or good. But of course the graphics are great!
  • mari8 - November 20, 2013 10:31 p.m.

    i never played VIII so its the only one i have no opinion on, but i really feel like after IX the series lost its spunk. Before X, final fantasy was never afraid to be silly. like does anyone remember when cloud got all drag on us in VII? or FF VI's Ultros? A walking talking Octopus? why not! does he belong anywhere in the plot? does it matter? it was fun and spunky, and so it didnt matter. and thats a lost beauty of final fantasy. everything didnt have to be all that plot driven generic fantasy bullshit. there used to be some really powerful moments in the series, like for example Celes's Opera scene in VI ( possibly a reflection of her own lonliness, but whatever, it was FRESH and maybe the most creative scene in any Final Fantasy) Cloud and Tifas childhood friendship in VII or Eiko's dinner in IX and her school girl crush on monkey it seems like Square has really lost its roots with the new generation. on the other hand i do like XII a lot. its an EPIC experience, and it really scores big time with its new active dimension battle system. i mean seriously who else ever felt like breaking their consoles over yet...another....random battle encounter?? well it took Sqaure a decade to discover game technology has outgrown that, and this time they got it right. also XII graphically excels over all its predecessors but it doesnt have any of Final Fantasy's old charms. Im still looking forward to XV but i doubt it will bring back the Final Fantasy most of us grew up with.
  • roosevelto - November 18, 2013 5:25 a.m.

    Lets say another thing. One thing is compare One FF game with all the FF series (which is already an unfear match), but another thing is compare it with any other game (not FF). I read many times: "this game is the worst ever. I played it 60 hours and...". Well, my worst games ever didn't last 1 hour.
  • roosevelto - November 18, 2013 5:17 a.m.

    I played until X. To me they're all beautiful and unique in their way. But to me, when i used to play FF, that was the premise, i never questioned parts of the games, or played them with a critical view; even the glitches were beautiful and a good challenge. The only thing i could say, "this is not a FF title" were the online games. I love single player, being alone with the music.
  • Squall88 - October 9, 2012 2:57 p.m.

    My favorite will always be VIII. Some people like 6 the most and some like 9 the most. It's all opinions really because one person can hate a game and another will love it.
  • Falstad007 - July 18, 2012 12:43 a.m.

    Even after playing Final Fantasy VI through XIII, my favorite is definitely still VIII. It really took it's sweet time setting in, but once it did I found it to be the most memorable and interesting out of all the FFs that I've played. My opinion.
  • hardcorelogo - June 5, 2012 5:27 a.m.

    I stopped playing video games for 10 years simply because FFVIII was so terrible and I swore to myself at the time I would never waste 80 hours like that again. Final Fantasy games are true love/hate relationships and seem to have the ability to be really awesome and trite at the same time. Its funny, I remember games like Final Fantasy VI as clear as a bell even though I played it 20 years ago but there are games I played only two months ago that I cant remember a darn thing. Side note, I tried playing FFVII this week due to all the hype and gave up after ten hours because it has dated so badly.
  • Giltz - June 4, 2011 7:31 a.m.

    I remember watching my brothers play 7. It was the first video game I ever watched when it came out in '97, I was 6 at the time and it was so cool. I've always enjoyed the series as a whole with 7 and 6 closely behind as my favorites. I just got 13 and I didn't enjoy 12. The story was good, but the system just wasn't my cup of tea. I hope 13 is good, and hope that 7 is remade. I would buy a ps3 just for that
  • Robotron2084 - May 12, 2011 9:31 a.m.

    VII will always be my favorite gaming experience.
  • rynmls - May 10, 2011 12:17 p.m.

    nice article but I still love Final Fantasy VIII. now I'm finishing Final fantasy XIII
  • Bluefox - May 10, 2011 11:39 a.m.

    I like them all except FFXIII. If I wanted to be rewarded only after 20 hours I'd play an mmo (which I did - btw, I don't like FFXI either). I think since people has such high expectations of the FF-games, the developers are trying out new ideas when all the fans really want are more of the same (pre-FFX).
  • kluivertus - May 9, 2011 3:42 p.m.

    I haven't played all the FFs, but that said, I think XII gets a bad rap. Few of my friends (even the FF fans!) have played it, but I sunk over 120 hours into it and hadn't gotten sick of it yet (though I utterly bypassed the fishing minigames, and still need to beat the Hell Wyrm and the final hunt). It's got a unique plot, far more interesting than typical save the world crap, and I liked the bounty hunting. Also, FF X was the first one I beat, and I hated it by the end. Dialogue, side quests, mini games, all terrible. Tidus SUCKS.
  • darksongbird - May 9, 2011 3:24 p.m.

    I'm surprised that for FF9, they didnt' say one of the drawbacks was that it was TOO EASY. I beat like 2 discs in less than a week! And I doubt I was being obsessive with the game. It was just EASY!! I never actually got around to finishing the game because I lost interest, but I'm sure I could have.
  • Logan2911 - May 8, 2011 8:12 p.m.

    FFX was my first 3D FF game & my all time favorite FF game.
  • lovinmyps3 - May 8, 2011 2:57 a.m.

    Honestly I think XIII is my favorite. I really loved X though so that might explain it a little bit. XIV. LOL!
  • Relayer71 - May 8, 2011 2:46 a.m.

    But come on, lets stop kidding ourselves. The BEST FF game is Final Fantasy Tactics!
  • Relayer71 - May 8, 2011 2:44 a.m.

    Tough to pick a best game with so many great games in the series and of course as the article illustrates, with so many great yet flawed games. Still, I'd give it to Final Fantasy IV. It's got drama, challenging combat, great characters, and it moves a really nice pace unlike some of the other entries. And the DS remake is the one to play - it STILL holds up. After that I'd say Final Fantasy IX. This one is so underrated but I think it's more that it was underplayed. As pointed out, the DC and PS2 stole its thunder, not to mention that it was too "different" for those newbies that started the FF series with FFVII and FFVIII. Still, it was like FF7 and FF8 were practice for FF9: the cut scenes were even more amazing, the battle system was tight and fun, the music was phenomenal, pacing was perfect and unlike 7 and 8, it has aged well. FFVI is a close 3rd and I loved FF XII and FFX. Worst FFs? That's all too easy: FFVIII and FFXIII. Most underrated? FF V. Why does everyone mention the "weak" story with this one? It STILL has more story than most RPGs of its day. And honestly, the characters are great AND the game has a lot of humor in it. To top it off, it has some of the best gameplay of the series. Most overrated would have to be FF7, easily. At the time it was a revelation. But it is almost unplayable today with a convoluted and bloated story, painfully dull (easy) combat made worse by 2 minute summons animations, a weak combat/leveling system, and the design choice of 3D characters over pre-rendered backgrounds - pretty but not fun to navigate. Still, it had my favorite setting of all the FF games. Midgard was amazing.
  • gfhkj - May 8, 2011 1:38 a.m. Fashion Female attire spring, personality Men's clothing + Shoes, Travel bag that grabs an eye coat + Chao packet Free transport