Ranking Final Fantasy

When stuck for inspiration, lists are usually a good place to go. I don’t do them a whole lot but they can be a lot of fun for both the writer and the reader. Recently RetroChi on Twitter posted her TierMaker list of her favourite Final Fantasy games:

This inspired me to make this post. You see Final Fantasy, and I have an odd relationship, as you’ll see as I talk about specific titles, but its a series I constantly return to, and you all already know how much I love playing Final Fantasy XIV. I’ve decided to set myself some rules:

  • A maximum of three games per rank
  • Expansions and sequels are treated differently
  • I may not have completed them all, but the games I’ve played a significant portion of I’ll give a rank to but will note where I haven’t finished them, if there’s no note, then you can assume I’ve finished it, even if it was a long, long time ago. Some of them I have started over the years, but I’ve just not made enough progress to form an opinion on them.

Before I go ahead then, remember, these are my opinions, they’re not fact, they’re not RIGHT, they’re just me trying to make sense of how this wonderful series has impacted me and how I feel about each of them. Also, there isn’t a strict ranking with each ranking, except for IX they’re all equal within their own categories.

S: Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward, Final Fantasy VIII

Straight in with the controversy! There’s no Final Fantasy VII!? I’ll come to that further down the page (or you can skip straight there if you’re feeling impatient), but I’ve included both of the other PlayStation releases.

Well, Final Fantasy IX is my favourite of all time, its the one that finally got me into the series, I felt a fondness for its characters straight away and I distinctly remember being genuinely upset on my first playthrough when Garnet loses her voice due to the stress she’s been put under. Throughout the game I felt pretty much every character grows and has interesting arcs, even characters that are otherwise ignored by fans, such as Beatrix, Freya and Amarant become genuinely interesting and have their moments as the story progresses.

If IX is my favourite for its story, then VIII was my favourite for its gameplay. The Junctioning System gets a hard time, partially because it’s not the Materia system, but there was something about the way you could use it to utterly break the combat systems and put yourself at such a strong advantage, something I later loved with Nippon Ichi’s Disgaea series. Sure, Squall is the ultimate mood, more so than Cloud ever was, and the characters as a whole aren’t half as interesting as they are in IX, but the journey and events the game takes you on more than made up for that in my opinion.

The Heavensward expansion was where FFXIV finally got really, really good and remains my favourite. I love being in Ishgard, I really loved the war between the dragons and the Ishgardians and how characters like Estinien really became a focal point, but most of all, it felt like an entire expansion dedicated to my main job in the game: Dragoon. I felt like the stakes were higher because of Estinien’s actions leading into and throughout the expansion, like my character had a point to prove in both bringing him down and awakening him to what was really going on and for that Heavensward pips both Stormblood and Shadowbringers to being the best FFXIV has to offer.

A: Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood, Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers

Final Fantasy X was an odd one for me, I watched all the trailers and footage before its release, bought it on PS2 as soon as I was able to do so, sunk a lot of time into it, but got sidetracked and it never really left an impression on me. That was until it was re-released as an HD collection with its sequel on PS3 and Vita, I got it on Vita and finally played it through to completion and was genuinely moved by its story. I wasn’t as emotionally involved in it as I was Daggers tale in IX, I didn’t feel the same level of concern for the cast as I did that game but I grew to love its battle system, switching people in and out and really taking advantage of their strengths and weaknesses. I didn’t get to do any of the side content or the stronger summons like I did with VIII, but I really enjoyed the ride.

Both the remaining Final Fantasy XIV expansions take up the remaining slots in Rank A. Stormblood gets derided a little, it’s not held in as high regard as Heavensward and Shadowbringers and though I rushed through the MSQ (Main Scenario Quests) and ignored the side content until I’d finished Shadowbringers, its attention on its characters was a high point that led us to Shadowbringers. In Stormblood we get to see how much the liberation of Ala Mhigo actually means to its people, most notably Lyse and Raubahn, it also gave one of my favourite games writers a chance to create some content for a game that they were a fan of, which created a nice little moment where development comes full circle. That man is Yasumi Matsuno, creator of Tactics Ogre and Vagrant Story whose output was partially responsible for FFXIV’s producer, Naoki Yoshida, to get involved in creating games and then working for Square-Enix.

As for Shadowbringers, well, it’s just fantastic and it only places this far down the list because despite it taking place outside of Eorzea, it needs everything that came before it for its story beats and main villain to really have the impact they have on the story. But what an impact they have, particularly Emet Selch, who has to be one of the finest villains in what I’ve played of the series, no other villain (from my experience anyway) handles both being an ally and the main villain to the core heroes of the game like Emet Selch does and whilst his actions are obviously that of an evil, twisted individual, you somehow develop some sympathy for him, as do the cast who question their actions, their beliefs and their alignments and lead to a really special piece of storytelling.

B: Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, Final Fantasy XII, Final Fantasy VII

We’re nearly at my feelings on VII folks, stick with me a bit longer.

I’ve listed Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions as also being Final Fantasy Tactics, this is purely because the PlayStation version of Tactics wasn’t released in the UK and thus I never got to try it until The War of the Lions was released on PSP. I came into this having enjoyed Disgaea and despite them being very similar, they’re also very, very different. I enjoyed how Tactics took elements that the series was famous for and have them a completely different wrapping, though I also found it incredibly punishing but didn’t get very far. It did lead me onto one of my favourite SRPG’s though, which I’ve already mentioned in passing once and will expand on a bit more further down: Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together.

Interestingly Final Fantasy XII shares a similar setting to Tactics, both are part of the Ivalice Alliance series of games, whilst Yasumi Matsuno was one of its creators. What I particularly liked about XII, and I think is one of the reasons some people struggle with it, is the character you have the most control of, Vaan, is only really a witness to the events of the game. In the series’ previous releases you played the main protagonist, but here Vaan is dragged along through all of the political and war based plot, he doesn’t have an impact on many of the characters actions and is there as the inexperienced but willing adventurer that the player enters the game as. I instead we follow the likes of Balthier, Ashe and Basche as they attempt to liberate Ivalice from Archadian rule. It also shares a common trait with Final Fantasy VIII in that its combat system is there to be gamed and exploited, it’s easy to lose a lot of time to just setting the Gambit system up and not only making your entire party ridiculously powerful but also let the game essentially play itself.

Nows the moment, why on Earth is Final Fantasy VII in Rank B? Let me tell you a story.

I first got Final Fantasy VII around the time of its Platinum release, I’d not really paid it much attention, none of my friends had. It just wasn’t on my radar. Anyway, one day, my Mum came home from work with two PlayStation games. One was Final Fantasy VII, I don’t recall what the other was. I booted it up, played through the first Reactor but hit a hurdle at the Scorpion boss. Now, this was well before I had access to the internet and as I’d missed the games initial release no magazines were doing walkthroughs or anything any more, I didn’t have the money to go and buy the Official Strategy Guide and couldn’t flick through a copy as the shops that stocked them would seal them in shrink wrap. VII was the first Final Fantasy to be released in PAL territories and its also well known its original translation was particularly poor, I’m sure to this day that during the fight with the Guard Scorpion Barret originally told the player to attack when its tail was raised. Even if he didn’t turn-based games were totally new to me, so I never progressed past that point. I sold that copy to a friend at school who loved it, another friend picked up on their enthusiasm and they’d spend entire lessons talking about it after he bought the PC version (which, amusingly, was sped up on his PC) and I couldn’t be a part of that conversation. They were both then excited for VIII and once they were playing that and I wasn’t in a position to buy my own copy, I borrowed that copy of VII that was originally mine and got to the end of Disc 1 but didn’t progress any further as said friend wanted it back to continue trying to do all the sid-content as VIII didn’t click with him. It wasn’t until I played through IX then bought copies of VIII and VII that I returned to it.

However, I just still have never clicked with it as well as the other PlayStation releases. I can see why people like it but I think it’s also placed so highly on a pedestal now. I’ll point out that I have finished it, and I’m not saying it’s a bad game, not at all, I just think that the series and storytelling grew exponentially after its release. I’m thankful that it was so popular, but I also feel like its popularity is a little overblown. I was hoping that the remake would help me with those feelings, but I’m still playing through that so I’ll refrain from commenting for now.

C: Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XV, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Despite only being C-Rank titles, in my opinion, I feel both XIII and XV are given a hard time by fans.

The biggest criticism aimed at XIII is often that its linear, I should point out at this point I’ve not finished it, I’ll come to why. Anyway, linearity, yeah, sure, you spend about 30 hours following a set path, there’s not much avenue for getting powerful enough to walk through boss fights, etc etc, but look at what came before, VII through to X were also very linear for really long stretches, but the PlayStation era mastered the art of smoke and mirrors in creating their worlds, they showed you just enough of the bigger picture to make the player feel like they were a part of it but didn’t bog you down in exposition and cut-scenes. They also drip-fed you characters and key moments at just the right pace and didn’t give you a map of each location that presented you with a linear path through it, you had the chance to explore that little nook and find a Potion, X stepped away from that a little and XIII took it even further, dragging things out and then suddenly giving you a big lush overworld (I’ve never gotten beyond this point). But XIII’s biggest crime was the sheer amount of exposition and its lengthy cut-scenes. which I frequently found myself struggling to stay awake through, and for me, it marks a point in Square-Enix’s development of the series where they let its creators tell you the story rather than allowing you to experience it.

Final Fantasy XV has similar problems with its storytelling, but it does it in a completely different way. The four key characters, Noctis, Prompto, Gladiolus and Ignis, are all fairly decent guys, but overall they’re not particularly interesting, the one that stood out the most as someone I’d want to spend time with was Ignis, and that was purely down to his love of food, so for the player to then be forced on a road-trip-cum-stag-do with some charming but fairly bland characters, well that was always going to be problematic. Even so, it was the relationships they developed that made the overall experience actually enjoyable, they may have been dull individually but as a unit they were just cool to be around, driving along interstates, stopping off to kill some monsters before setting up camp for the night and having Ignis cook for them, it was a gameplay cycle that felt warm and like you were invited to be a part of that. But it also made the overall story unimportant, something that the player had to get through, not helped by Square-Enix turning XV into a “multi-media event” with an introductory CGI movie and an anime spin-off providing you with more depth to the core characters. If they’d have somehow included all of that into the game itself whilst not falling into XIII’s trappings of telling you the story, then XV would have been an entirely different experience.

Last on the rankings is Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. It’d funny it’s so low down the list in comparison to its expansions, but it’s own fault really. Whilst I loved being part of its world that’s also its biggest problem, A Realm Reborn was trying to build upon the ashes of the failed Final Fantasy XIV: Online and thus had to explain to new players events of that game that ultimately lead to where things are at the start of A Realm Reborn and allow the player to become a part of the rebuilding process whilst also developing Eorzea and its varying factions. Don’t get me wrong, it has its moments, and the patch content between ARR and Heavensward has some really good stuff, including one of my favourite characters, but it’s a bit of a grind to get through, so much so in fact that Square-Enix spent a good chunk of a recent patch streamlining it to allow players taking advantage of its incredibly generous trial (which lets you play through all of A Realm Reborn and Heavensward) and not be perturbed by the bloated nature of the game.

Currently Playing: Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VII Remake

I’ve already mentioned that I’m playing through FFVII Remake and my feelings on it are mixed, having not long gotten through Wall Market, I believe I’m about halfway through and I know the good stuff from the Midgar section of the original game is to come.

I also really recently begun playing Final Fantasy IV. This was started after I saw people tweeting references to the game they’d spotted in the trailer for Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalkers. I’ve wanted to play the Classic Final Fantasy’s for a while but never gotten around to it, and playing IV in the build-up to Endwalkers arriving later this year seemed like an opportunity not to be missed. I think I’m still fairly early in, though I know this era of games aren’t as long as later ones and am enjoying it immensely.

Special mentions – Tactics Ogre, Vagrant Story and Kingdom Hearts.

I wanted to give a special mention and some opinion on a few games that aren’t Final Fantasy releases but have played a big part in their evolution.

Firstly Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, probably my favourite SRPG and the moment I started to look into games developed by Yasumi Matsuno, my Dragoon glamour in FFXIV is loosely based upon the Valkyrie class from this game. It shares a lot of similarities to Final Fantasy Tactics and could easily be taken to be a part of that series even though its roots go further back than its better-known sibling.

Vagrant Story was also created by Yasumi Matsuno, though I didn’t know this when I originally played it. I’ve never finished it, I think its a pretty hard game personally, but it does have some really cool and interesting mechanics, its a shame it never really got much attention and hasn’t received further releases, it really deserves it.

I’m also gonna give a mention to Kingdom Hearts. Personally, I’m not a fan, I find I really struggle with Tetsuya Nomura’s writing style and I think that its gameplay leaves a lot to be desired, particularly in combat. The mixture of releases across a variety of competing formats has made it inaccessible until the HD Remix releases on PS3 and PS4, but whilst its a series my partner really likes, she finds the plot totally incomprehensible and having watched her playing them, I share those frustrations.

Haven’t played:
Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy VI, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus, Final Fantasy X-2, Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy XI: Rise of Zilart, Final Fantasy XI: Chains of Promathia, Final Fantasy XI: Treasures of Aht Urghan, Final Fantasy XI: Wings of the Goddess, Final Fantasy XI: Seekers of Adoulin, Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, Final Fantasy XIII-2, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIV: Online, A Kings Tale: Final Fantasy XV, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Final Fantasy Type-0, Dissidia: Final Fantasy, Dissidia 012: Final Fantasy, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT.


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