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The 25 best Final Fantasy games

5. Final Fantasy 4

This beloved Super Nintendo game marked Final Fantasy’s shift from a focus on character building to operatic storytelling. Rather than feeling awkward and stilted in the transition, Final Fantasy 4 feels like a series finally finding its true voice. The tale is a perfect mix of hoary tropes and real weirdness. An imperial soldier questions the cruelty of his leaders and gathers a band of worldly warriors to take on a hidden evil; pretty normal, right? Eventually your crew travels from an ephemeral spirit world of summonable monsters where time works differently to the moon on a whale-shaped spaceship. Couple that with challenging dungeon design and a diverse cast of well-defined characters with unique skills, and you have a 1991 RPG that endures to this day. The 3D remake for Nintendo DS is a high quality game that is one of the best hard JRPGs around, but the Game Boy Advance remake is the best mix of the SNES original and new content thanks to its new dungeons for each individual character.

4. Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions

Final Fantasy Tactics is, hard as this may be to believe, the most self-serious, convoluted Final Fantasy ever made. The tale of two soldiers raised together, embroiled in brutal regional conflicts, uncover a plot that makes villains out of a thinly-veiled version of the Catholic church and reveal that the messiah was a supernatural warlord but also demonic and bent on enslaving humanity. Sunny stuff! But the heavy handed politics of Tactics is a perfect fit for its grueling, addictive battles. Slowly building an army over years in the game world, leveling individuals in distinct warrior disciplines and executing a flawless strategy, is unforgettable. It boils down Final Fantasy to its raw elements - character drama and battles - and comes out like tempered steel. War of the Lions, the remake that first appeared on PSP, is definitive thanks to its lush animated scenes and the inclusion of Balthier from Final Fantasy 12.

3. Final Fantasy 7

Overexposure to Final Fantasy 7’s iconography - the spiky hair, the big swords, the maudlin love story that comprises only a small part of the larger story - has unfairly turned some fans against this game over the decades. Play it today, start to finish, and its ambition is gobsmacking. Squaresoft, series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, and director Yoshinori Kitase attempted to make a Final Fantasy about the very nature of life, fitting every possible thing they could think of into a single game. Ecological activism blends with gender bending slapstick and sentient wolf lions and alien invaders and cowboy hat wearing kung fu bartenders and Frankenstein monster goth gunslingers and talking cat stuffed animals that summon building-sized dragons from thin air to battle angry motorcycles. That’s just disc two out of the three. At its lowest moments, Final Fantasy 7 is an over rich mess that loses potential drama in its abundance.  But those low points are so shockingly infrequent, so buried beneath strange artistry, that it’s almost impossible to remember them after the fact. The Final Fantasy 7 Remake may physically recreate the original for the HD age, but the mad spirit of the original is impossible to bottle again. 

2. Final Fantasy 12

Star Wars’ influence on Final Fantasy is hard to overstate. From ancillary characters named Biggs and Wedge to overarching themes like a conflict between spiritual pacifism and technological aggression, there’s a lot of George Lucas in Hironobu Sakaguchi’s story. While Final Fantasy 2 flirted with elements of the original Star Wars’ plot, Final Fantasy 12 is practically a beat for beat remake of the 1977 film. An evil empire takes a young princess with a magical lineage captive. An idealistic, naive young man teams up with a profit obsessed, utterly charming thief with a heart of gold and his very tall alien partner. The militaristic evil government is actually backed by a supernatural evil force and the good guys must topple its super weapon at the end. There are super cool bad guys in radical helmets carrying totally sweet swords. Much in the way that Star Wars borrowed the basics of Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortresss and married them to an instantly pleasurable sci-fi milieu, Final Fantasy 12 does so by pouring on thick gobs of its unique aesthetic. Tying all of this together is a wholly reimagined RPG combat system wherein you map out your characters’ behavior rather than their individual actions. Divisive on release, Final Fantasy 12 continues to find new fans, luring them in using Star Wars’ basics but seducing them with alien style.

1. Final Fantasy 6

“I supposed that action games, for example, relied on sense and instinct while RPGs appealed more to reason and logic,” director Yoshinori Kitase told Edge Magazine, reflecting on the creation of Final Fantasy 6. “What made the Final Fantasy series so innovative was the emotion realised from drama within the game in addition to those other elements. I believe this innovation was more apparent than ever before in the sixth game. This game really brought that creative goal into full bloom.” More than 20 years on from its release, the last Super Nintendo Final Fantasy remains the only entry in the series to not only include every disparate element of the series in one game but to also feel flawlessly executed as a result. The playable cast is enormous, with 14 characters (some of which are hidden), and all of them distinct from one another. The operatic story and leitmotif-infused score shifts between them, weaving a story about a mad fop breaking the very nature of reality and what it takes to finally fix it. The tiny sprite characters are equally cute and expressive, realizing complex scenes of human drama using simple tools. With the exception of an excellent Game Boy Advance port that changed almost nothing and a brutally ugly mobile/PC version, it is also the least exploited Final Fantasy. There are no sequels, no 3D remakes. It isn’t surprising; there’s no improving on perfection.

A series of finals

There you have it: the top 25 best Final Fantasy games of all time. The comments section below awaits your boasts and frothing rage. 

Anthony John Agnello
I've been playing games since I turned four in 1986, been writing about them since 1987, and writing about them professionally since 2008. My wife and I live in New York City. Chrono Trigger is my favorite game ever made, Hum's Downward is Heavenward is my favorite album, and I regularly find myself singing "You Won't See Me" by The Beatles in awkward situations.