Before I get started, and before you shoot me for not saying Final Fantasy 7 is the best, there are a few things you need to know about me. I’m a huge Final Fantasy fan. The kind of fan that has given up several pieces of furniture to an ever expanding collection of giant plushes and books. The kind of fan that probably won’t have many friends left if she keeps bringing the series up in casual conversation. I love every entry for very different reasons, and know the series inside and out.
We’ve discussed which game is the best in the series at great length within the team before, and while the likes of FF6, 7 and 10 are indeed excellent, I’ve come to the conclusion that 14 is actually the best Final Fantasy game of them all.
Yep, the online game that was a complete and utter shambles back in 2010 is now the best of an iconic series of grand adventures, memorable companions and gut-wrenching emotional twists. Why? Because Final Fantasy 14 takes all of the best bits from previous entries and crams them all into one single, beautifully realised world.
Set on the continent of Eorzea, you start life as a simple adventurer in a new city, learning your trade by taking on quests, alongside thousands of other players doing the same. As you prove your prowess you’ll start uncovering darker forces are at work as you’re slowly pulled into a world of political posturing, war and giant Primal beasts blighting the countryside, all in that beautiful Final Fantasy style.
I’m not just talking about the ever present Moogles, Chocobos and airships either. The Crystal Tower raid is a huge, glittering homage to Final Fantasy 3; Costa Del Sol and the Gold Saucer are love letters to FF7; you can pilot the Magitek armour of FF6 while listening to Terra’s theme; and even the fact that you are ‘the warrior of light’ is a throwback to the origins of the series.
All of these things make for fantastic moments of nostalgia for any fan. You’ll weave impressive fire spells as a classic Black Mage, then hop on the back of your chocobo to tear across forests teeming with familiar faces such as the poison-spewing Malboro. Or team up with your Paladin and White Mage friends before emptying a dungeon of a giant Tonberry plagued by murderous Rancor. When the adventuring gets a bit too much you can challenge comrades and foes alike to a match of Triple Triad - that wondrously fiendish card game made famous in FF8.
But that’s not what makes it great. What makes it so special is how it’s recaptured that spirit of setting off on a fantastical adventure that made the series so famous in the first place. While the likes of FF10 and 13 have focused on intense storylines set in exotic locations, Final Fantasy 14 takes you back to the days of intrepidly setting out from your first town in the likes of FF6-9, the whole world ahead of you. Every item, location and event is dripping in classic Final Fantasy iconography from the series’ ‘golden-era’. It’s a continent full of possibilities and peculiar residents that feel as though they actually live there, and is constantly growing with every new patch. It takes the essence of what it means to be a Final Fantasy game, and then bathes every possible detail in it.
The characters you meet along the way are often strong-willed and filled with purpose, and the story guides you through the epic highs and emotional lows that you come to expect from such an illustrious series. It even has that spark of silliness that lets the fate of the world sit side by side with pirate gags and plenty of innuendo. People often forget how goofy the series can be, mistakenly believing that it’s nothing but angsty melodrama, but FF14 rekindles that fun streak. The epic Hildibrand questline, that sees you help a quirky detective, feels a bit like those bizarre FF moments where you find yourself doing squats to win a wig, or watching a tiny Black Mage doll getting married to a giant frog-eating blob thing in FF9.
Ok, so the one part where FF14 does fall down is the pace of how it weaves its tale. Whereas the traditional single-player experiences of 7 and 10 enjoy tight stories that dictate just when you should experience certain twists, the world of 14 is so sprawling that you sometimes lose that sense of urgency to unveil evil plots and save cities. And being an MMO, you’ll sometimes find yourself having to wait in dungeon queues like a common adventurer rather than a hero of Light.
But while being an MMO limits Final Fantasy 14 in some ways, it’s also its greatest strength. Not only do you get to run around what is essentially the world’s greatest FF theme park, but you get to do so with thousands of like-minded fans. It’s the one Final Fantasy game where you get to share in all of those epic boss fights, laugh together over unexpected penis jokes, and understand the tears of others when the story takes a dark turn.
It’s taken me from being a fan who recounts the stories of other heroes, of Cloud, Tidus and Zidane, to telling ones of my own. I took down Ifrit and prevented disaster, I uncovered the real history of a 1,000-year-long war, and I earned my first Chocobo companion. Final Fantasy is my favourite gaming series because it lets me indulge in so many treasured adventures, but with FF14 I get to do them all for myself. And that’s what makes it the best game in the series.
What do you think? Pick your favourite Final Fantasy game in the poll below (*cough* there were only 10 spots in the poll, sorry FF1-5! *cough*).