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

Why it’s the best FF ever: Everything people love about the golden age of retro-RPGs is wrapped up here in one wonderful little package. FFIII was the first game in the series to allow characters to gain and swap new abilities at a whim with its clever job system. Need an extra magic user? Just convert your sword-wielding fighter into a mage! A whole mess of now-standard FF classes made their debut here – what would FF be without Summoners to bring forth our favorite destructive monsters? It’s a visually endearing game, too: the Famicom original features exceptionally lovable sprite visuals, while the DS 3D remake boasts some wonderfully cute designs that capture that squashed, 8-bit feel perfectly.

The music of the Famicom original is some of the best on the platform, showing how memorable the 8-bit chiptune sound really can be. And tough? Oh hell yes, this game is wonderfully, brutally hard in a way few modern RPGs are. Every battle can be your last if you’re underprepared; strategy and using your job abilities to the fullest aren’t just encouraged but required, and some of the dungeons feature absolutely devious gimmicks that will make you feel like a true warrior once you’ve overcome them.

Why it’s the worst FF ever: You thought FF1 had nonexistent characterization? FFIII’s cast are literally blank-faced kids with no personality to speak of. They did get some semblance of identity in the DS remake, but they still have no distinguishing traits in combat, making them all just different-looking clones of each other. Some of these jobs are utterly worthless, too – hope you didn’t expect the Bard to be useful!

The story is all over the place, with bizarre plot elements pulled seemingly out of nowhere. And did we mention this game is stupidly hard? FFIII is probably the most unrelentingly difficult entry in the series, with dungeons designed to make you miserable (Run around as defenseless midgets! Fight monsters with certain weapons or they will multiply each turn!) and which have no save points whatsoever.

Personal Take: I have a strange soft spot for Final Fantasy III. Like FFII, it’s one of the least-played installments outside of Japan, so a lot of people haven’t experienced it enough to develop strong feelings about it. For me, it represents the best of things I love about 8-bit RPGs: a simple but distinct charm to both the story and presentation, and a difficulty that truly tests you. The job system is surprisingly complex for a game of its era, and it’s a lot of fun to play with, even if several classes aren’t worth sinking time into. I think FFIII is definitely worth a look if you haven’t played it – just know what you’re getting into first.


Why it’s the best FF ever: Final Fantasy is a series known for its sweeping stories, and Final Fantasy IV took the series to new heights. It features a real character arc – main hero Cecil falls from grace, questions himself, hits rock bottom and then achieves ultimate redemption on numerous levels. The constantly changing cast that accompanies Cecil brings a lot of uniqueness to the table, as every character is distinct in their own way. Their individual fates are always in question too;  characters can be swept away, betray you or perform heroic sacrifices at a moment’s notice, keeping you enthralled and eager to see what will happen next.

On the tech side, FFIV not only took advantage of the vastly upgraded SNES hardware with its impressive use of Mode 7 visuals, it also introduced the FF-standard Active Time Battle system, which added an element of urgency to the decision-making process. Enemies would keep on attacking as you made critical choices, and certain skills had a “charge time” associated with them, making battle far more intense than ever before. Plus, it got rid of that awful “limited number of uses” magic system from the earlier games in favor of a traditional MP pool. Thank goodness!

Why it’s the worst FF ever: You call this an epic story? It’s like a constant stream of out-of-nowhere betrayals, revelations and deus ex machinas arranged into something that somewhat resembles a coherent story. Half the characters don’t stick around or get killed off too fast for you to form any sort of attachment to them. And the big bad villain… isn’t a big bad villain at all, he’s controlled by a bigger, badder villain you don’t learn about until the ass end of the game! How’s that for awesome plotting?

At least back on the SNES you had the excuse of a bad translation to cover all of the gaping plot holes, but once the game was “properly” presented… it turns out it’s just as dumb! Plus, it’s clear Square didn’t really test the whole Active Time Battle thing out like they should have. Sure, I can see why powerful spells take longer to cast… but they’re totally worthless if I can deal just as much – if not more – damage with regular attacks before the spells finish chanting. Speaking of worthless, how about that Edward, eh? He’s possibly the worst meat shield to ever grace a Final Fantasy game – except he doesn’t even function as that. Go ahead and hide some more, sissy-boy.

Personal Take: Considering how many re-releases and editions this game has seen, I was surprised to see how many people I surveyed just didn’t care for it at all. Maybe the appeal has been lost to time for some – but the people who really, really love FFIV often hail it as their favorite in the series. It’s definitely a high point for me as well, even though I might not list it among my top picks. The cast is great – even though a lot of them don’t get nearly enough screentime – the story is simple but effectively told, and there’s a lot of fun hidden stuff and extras to seek out. The spoony bard can rot for all I care, though.


Why it’s the best FF ever: In terms of sheer gameplay depth, it’s hard to top Final Fantasy V. The job system from FFIII returns, and it’s more complex and engaging than ever before. Instead of swapping jobs in and out when needed, you gain Job Points alongside EXP in battle, allowing your job levels to increase separately. As your jobs skills increase, you can actually retain the skills from each job and carry them over into other jobs, resulting in a myriad of potentially awesome skill combinations that puts your imagination and strategic planning to the test.

The story forgoes much of the constant melodrama of FFIV, delivering a more straightforward tale that still has a good deal of memorable moments, surprises and characters. (Who doesn’t love tomboyish pirate captain Faris?) We also get to meet one of Final Fantasy’s most lovable returning faces, the eternally inept Gilgamesh and his classic battle song.


Above: So good!

Why it’s the worst FF ever: After Final Fantasy IV’s epic saga of betrayal and redemption, that took us and a constantly changing lineup of heroes from the underground all the way into space, we get a followup with… some boring stuff about meteors, flying dragons and parallel worlds with a small gang of nondescript heroes. And they really are nondescript – these guys are basically empty shells with no distinctive abilities of their own. You can certainly craft them into whatever you want with the job system… through hours upon hours of grinding to master all of the good skills, which don’t come easy. Oh yes, and the main bad guy… is an evil tree.

Personal Take: Make no mistake about it: Final Fantasy V is my favorite FF game. The story might be weak compared to other installments in the series – and that’s why some fans don’t care for it as much – but the gameplay is absolutely meaty. There’s a lot of complexity to the job system that begs to be explored and tested, and while it’s entirely possible to find some game-breaking exploits, it still requires significant effort and strategy to do so. It might be tough to get past the slow-moving intro and the relatively weak soundtrack, but there’s a rich creamy center underneath that I just can’t get enough of.

130 comments

  • 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.

    http://ccshoper.com/ Fashion Female attire spring, personality Men's clothing + Shoes, Travel bag that grabs an eye coat + Chao packet Free transport

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