All 15 Mainline Final Fantasy Games, Ranked

A timeless franchise evaluated, by the numbers.

by J.R. Waugh

Final-Fantasy-1

Final Fantasy is an undeniably important, storied franchise whose numbered entries, while not sharing the same worlds, do contain recurring characters, monsters, and archetypes.  Some titles in the series are certainly stronger installments than others, with some pushing FF to greater mainstream popularity, or even pushing JRPGs forward as a medium.  Beloved for their innovations on how RPGs are played, memorable music, and iconic characters, this series is truly one of the greatest.  Read on for our ranked list of all Final Fantasy Games, in ascending order.

All 15 Mainline Final Fantasy Games, Ranked

 

15. Final Fantasy XI

FFXI

While the Final Fantasy games aren’t wholly bad (for the most part) some entries feel like more of a test of how much you love the franchise.  Final Fantasy XI was one such entry, whose biggest flaw was originally an expectation of massive time commitment from players while giving them very few conveniences.  This can in part be explained by its status as one of the earlier popular MMORPG titles, but given that it was also tough as nails and much like other games at the time, needed a subscription to play, it didn’t age quite so well.  However, it’s an enjoyable title for those who stick to it and has transformed quite a bit since 20 years ago when it was released.

14. Final Fantasy II

Final-Fantasy-II

The sophomore numbered entry, Final Fantasy II demonstrated the commitment of the series to innovating itself as an RPG, but to a fault.  The leveling system in this game was bizarre yet made complete sense; if you attack, your attack stats go up, if you take damage, your HP maximum eventually increases, etc.

The problem was that if you played it like any other RPG, you wouldn’t reap many of those benefits.  It expected the players to be as eager to think outside the box as the developers.  Other issues included brutal difficulty spikes for random encounters if you wandered beyond the intended path, without warning.

13. Final Fantasy XIII

Final-Fantasy-XIII

Final Fantasy XIII had a lot of hype surrounding it before release, being the first true technical showcase on the PS3/Xbox 360 generation with wonderful graphics and distinctive characters.  The problem, however, was that despite creating gorgeous scenery and enemies, much of the game was spent on an extremely linear path, which felt fairly counter to how FF usually lets you explore at least a little bit.  The game has some fun companion releases (XIII-2 and Lightning Returns) and is certainly a good game in its own right, but it just falls short of what the series can be.

12. Final Fantasy VIII

Final-Fantasy-VIII

The second entry in the game-changing PS1 era for the franchise, this one had the unfortunate task of living up to the expectations set up by Final Fantasy VII, its predecessor.  The game featured higher-quality sprites, great visuals, and another strong soundtrack in its pros column, while the cons largely lie in the convoluted mechanics for battling, casting spells, and Junctions, a feature unique to the entry.  Squall’s romance with Rinoa is endearing and a good portrayal of the protagonist’s barriers being broken down by someone they just met, and the song “Eyes On Me” is utterly charming.

11. Final Fantasy I

FFI

The game that started it all.  Much like all other entries before and after this, no entry is truly not recommended to play, and this one brought a lot to the table. Despite the limited color palette and music capabilities on its native NES console upon initial release, the game pushed the limits on expectations for how RPGs could be played.  It required level grinding to proceed, and you had to choose your party carefully, but there was plenty to enjoy in this first release.

10. Final Fantasy III

Final-Fantasy-III

Final Fantasy III was a rather robust entry that took 16 years to reach the west.  It had plenty to enjoy from the franchise, including an increasingly free world to openly explore, and lots of secrets to find.  One of the strongest features that evolved the franchise was the use of the Job System which is seen in many other Square Enix titles to this day, a class progression system that lets you change from base chosen jobs to greater flesh out the roles of your party members.  Many iconic summons also debuted in this game, such as Ifrit and Shiva.  The game had a lot of firsts, and it’s great the players around the world got a chance to enjoy this title.

9. Final Fantasy XV

Final-Fantasy-XV-1

Final Fantasy XV had a troubled history, originally set to debut as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, a companion release to FFXIII.  It shifted development for over 6 years and released a full console generation later, but featured a visual aesthetic that felt more modern, heavily inspired by the real world but with naturally fantastical twists.  The game world is significantly more free to explore than XIII or practically any other game in the franchise.

The biggest issues pulling this game back from being higher on the list include a truly short story despite an otherwise huge amount of sidequests and playable content and a battle system that was more style than substance.

8. Final Fantasy IV

Final-Fantasy-IV

Final Fantasy IV was a special entry in the FF franchise, being the first release on the SNES.  For players who hadn’t played II as it had not reached the west, this was, for many, their first chance to play an FF title featuring distinctive characters and not just blank slates.  The game is a Japanese fan favorite, and served as a great step forward for the franchise, introducing the Active Time Battle system which changed how turn-based RPGs could be played.  This innovation, much like the Job System, would carry over into many other products and generations going forward for the developers.

7. Final Fantasy V

Final-Fantasy-V

Objectively a stronger entry than its immediate predecessor, Final Fantasy V served as a refinement in terms of graphics and gameplay.  The job system was greatly expanded for this title, and while it lacks the more serious tone of IV, this game is tons of swashbuckling fun.  The level grinding, a typical criticism of the franchise and JRPGs as a whole, feels more rewarding since it also results in growth toward job skills with each random encounter.

6. Final Fantasy XII

Final-Fantasy-XII

Perhaps one of the most interesting Final Fantasy titles, gameplay-wise, this title has a lot to offer.  It’s well-written, has good voice acting, and features a streamlined battle system that is a significant departure from the typical turn-based action inputs.  The game allows you to put greater focus on the character you’re currently playing while the rest of your party carries out your actions, and you can tailor these presets in battle in the form of the game’s “Gambit” system.  While it lacks some of the more truly iconic characters of other entries, it’s still great and has aged very well.

5. Final Fantasy XIV

Final-Fantasy-XIV

This game had an initially disastrous launch, with critics panning it left and right for being largely unfinished despite showing such promise.  But the release with which most players are familiar at this point, A Realm Reborn, has become a mainstream hit and true contender as one of the finest modern MMOs on the market.

It’s optimized well with either mouse and keyboard, or gamepad, and helped bring greater accessibility to MMORPGs on consoles through this, as it is a genre typically focused on PC as its native market.  The game is also one of the finest modern homages to the charm and wonder of Final Fantasy as it is meant to be seen.

4. Final Fantasy VII

Final-Fantasy-VII

What hasn’t been saying about FFVII, perhaps the most iconic, popular Final Fantasy, or even JRPG, ever made?  The game has inspired a plethora of spin-offs, a feature film, and even a fantastic remake.  The game was the first to implement 3D graphics, Full Motion Video, and pushed a harsh, dystopian world teetering toward demise.  All of the party characters are memorable with backstory and emotional depth, while also serving as a fresh take on the typical FF group of heroes saving the world from destruction.

The only true downsides to this game were that the developers had yet to properly test the limits of the PS1 hardware and what this series could do on it, but this title is an undeniable classic, with countless series taking cues from it, even recent ones like the latest Yakuza game.

3. Final Fantasy X

Final-Fantasy-X

Final Fantasy X was the first mainline FF title to appear on the PlayStation 2, and in terms of graphics, gameplay, and newly-implemented voice acting, it was a quantum leap in terms of quality.  While some stuff remains an easy target for criticism (you can hear Tidus’ fake laughing too, right?) this title remains one of the most approachable entries, gameplay-wise, and features layered characters with a complex narrative.  Tidus’ character was different from the more aloof protagonists in previous entries, and his interpersonal connections are among the best in the series.

The music is stirring and powerful, with European Romantic-era influences, as well as choral arrangements, and heavy metal elements.  The music sounds different from previous entries largely due to longtime composer Nobuo Uematsu collaborating with Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano.

2. Final Fantasy IX

Final-Fantasy-IX

Perhaps the single greatest homage for fans who played the games since day 1, Final Fantasy IX was a great way to cap off the PS1 era’s numbered entries.  The game featured a more approachable learning curve in its battle system compared to VII and VIII and ditched the previous moody tones in favor of more charm and humor.  The game also refined the pre-rendered backgrounds from 3D FF titles to its greatest point yet, and the characters, while perhaps familiar in concept, were endearing to the point where you as the player felt truly invested in seeing their stories through.

The special part about this game is that, if you want to experience everything there is to love about the franchise in one title, this is the one to do it.  It’s fun, emotional, and as colorful and imaginative as any game bearing the word “fantasy” has any right to be.

1. Final Fantasy VI

Final-Fantasy-VI

If FFIX is a representation of everything there is to love about the series, Final Fantasy VI embodies the potential for when the series is refined to its greatest strengths.  Everything to love about the franchise is so strongly represented here, thanks to a powerful score by Nobuo Uematsu, gorgeous sprite and map design, and an enormous cast of 14 playable characters.  The protagonist, Terra, and her allies are united in mutual hardships inflicted by the Gestahl Empire, and the main villain, Kefka, is among the series’ most iconic.  This technically achieved his ambitions and achieved near-godhood by the end of the game before truly descending into madness is perhaps the most epic finales of the series.

The game is dark in tone but persistently hopeful throughout.  Even later on, in the face of insurmountable loss, the party unites, galvanized by a desire to rejuvenate the world and build a better future.  Even just from starting the game, initially released as Final Fantasy III in the west, you know you’re in for something special, when the opening credits crawl along with the screen, accompanied by an opening theme that can only be described as melancholy with a glint of hope.  This was the last mainline FF title before it transitioned to 3D, but serves as a reminder that bleeding-edge graphics aren’t necessary for a title to be gorgeous, or in this case, utterly timeless.

This concludes our ranked list of Final Fantasy games!  It’s important to note that any one of these will make for a delightful experience, and any RPG fan or any fan of good gameplay, music, story, or characters, can appreciate these offerings spanning over 3 decades.  Where would you have ranked your favorite Final Fantasy titles, if you were to make a list?

Everyone is entitled to their favorites, and the series is still going on, so be sure to check out its recent installments, as well as the upcoming Final Fantasy XVI!

- This article was updated on April 18th, 2022

Trending on AOTF