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.


  • bamtan - May 4, 2011 8:14 p.m.

    quite the impressive article. FFIV will always have a special place in my heart as the favorite of the series though.
  • Nap1400 - May 4, 2011 8:22 p.m.

    FFXIV made me laugh hard. I haven't played any FF games, so this is a good way to see which one I'd want to play. (Obviously not XIV)
  • mgpeacewalker - May 4, 2011 8:27 p.m.

    Im hoping you guys do this to different series like mario and zelda great article
  • MattCrinos - May 4, 2011 8:32 p.m.

    My favourite is IX, it was the game that defined my childhood, I used to bring the strategy guide to school to read stories about where my characters are up to, to my jealous friends who didn't buy it on release day! XIII was interesting for me - I was super hyped, played it for a week, and my PS3 got the YLOD. I've since had it fixed, but have no drive to play it anymore - maybe someday I'll dust it off from my shelf and continue.
  • rabidpotatochip - May 4, 2011 8:36 p.m.

    Excellent article. I'm old school so my love goes to FF1. Love it or hate it, that game is the only reason we still have Square (Enix) today.
  • Austin_SJ - May 4, 2011 8:36 p.m.

    Fantastic article, it's nice to see some straight up personal opinions alongside the more balanced arguements for and against each game.
  • BeatDown - May 4, 2011 8:40 p.m.

    Gotta love FF. keep it old school cause its real cool! also be sure to check out CHUPACABRA the game is free.
  • JPorFavor - May 4, 2011 8:46 p.m.

    Nice and lengthy. Excellent.
  • TheMole - May 4, 2011 8:52 p.m.

    Great article!
  • brockst4r - May 4, 2011 8:56 p.m.

    The answer is Mike. Mike is better.
  • hellodesdemona - May 4, 2011 8:59 p.m.

    IX and XII are my personal favorites. Despite this article saying it is a negative, games that can weave in an interesting political debate is fantastically fun and enlightening. A lot of people think the XII plot is too much like Star Wars; however, I think XII gives the Star Wars plot line the middle finger, in terms of its resolution. (Spoilers) Ashe at the end decides that taking revenge and destroying Arcadia is NOT the answer, unlike Luke Skywalker who blew up the death star and probably killed millions of innocents. Speaking of politics in games, I LOVED LOVED LOVED giving the finger (symbolically) to the council in Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. More games like that, please.
  • Kage_No_Shi - May 4, 2011 9:03 p.m.

    I'm guilty of being part of the group that completely forgets Kimahri exists >_> When I first played the game I tried to use him a bit. Not really an effective character, if I remember correctly. Later on I picked up the game again and except when he appeared for cutscenes, I forgot he existed >_> I'm part of the "Love It" crowd as far as VIII is concerned. I liked it a lot more than VII, and it certainly aged a heck of a lot better than VII, that's for sure. VII and X have aged really well IMO. ReCaptcha: magespol the first Produced a long line of heirs or something?
  • tomasfr89 - May 4, 2011 9:09 p.m.

    I agree with MattCrinos, FFIX is my favorite, mostly for it's fairy-tale book style, it's beatiful music and memorable characters. As for the others, FFVI was really good but I didn't reach far, I'm kinda sick and tired of FFVII, and FFX and FFXII can burn in hell. While being molested by Bombs.
  • Decabo - May 4, 2011 9:09 p.m.

    Final Fantasy XIII was terrible. I don't find walking in a straight line and hitting auto-attack fun, especially when the characters were all annoying. I quit after about 11 hours. Maybe it gets better, but at that point, I don't care. I have FUN games to play.
  • SheperdherenoShepard - May 4, 2011 9:11 p.m.

    I am not so sure of Final III being that hard, it was my first one and I managed to finish it actually with a Bard, Knight, Dragoon and a Changing Refia, except in the final part when I needed a lot of Magic and at least 20 replays, Saying that Final IV it's taking a little more of me thought to be fair is not that hard either. Also this is my first comment around, and I need to say you guys rule making interesting and fun articles.
  • DrFred79 - May 4, 2011 9:28 p.m.

    QUOTE : Final Fantasy V is my favorite FF game That's what I call a good point :)
  • oddprophet - May 4, 2011 9:31 p.m.

    ...But...I liked 14...
  • Redeater - May 4, 2011 9:41 p.m.

    THIS IS COMPLETELY ABSURD. Everyone knows Mike is the way to go. He was with them writing since the shows creation! Though I do have a soft spot for Joel. Wait....what was this article about?
  • Yaro - May 4, 2011 9:41 p.m.

    FF VIII is my all time favorite, probably because that was the first FF I played...and I really enjoyed XIII too....weird huh...
  • boonattack - May 4, 2011 9:47 p.m.

    7 was my first FF game, and i considered it my fav game of all time until mass effect came along. However, i liked them all. Apart from 11 12 and 14. f*** mmo's and their boring **** gameplay. =D

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