In this three-part series, I will only be rating the main numbered series. This means there are no direct sequels - like X-2 or Lightning Returns - nor any side games like Final Fantasy Tactics. Just the fifteen numbered games, ranked from 15 (the worse) to 1(the best).
15) Final Fantasy XIII
Final Fantasy XIII has become the black sheep of the family. Initially praised and hailed as the greatest RPG ever made, time has not been kind to the thirteenth installment. First reviews were glowing, but after experiencing the game ourselves many realised the dazzling design and beautiful vistas hid a rotten core.
The biggest gripe many have is the linearity, the world being a collection of interconnecting corridors, beautifully wallpapered but lacking anything in any substance. Linearity isn’t necessarily a bad thing, not if there’s a good plot to be following or interesting characters to learn about or even an interesting levelling system to get involved in, the linearity could be excused.However, XIII doesn’t have any of this. A plot that is very uninspiring, mainly being told through reading a data log, the antagonist is the least compelling of the Final Fantasy series and characters that are either stereotypes, uninteresting or unlikable. There is very little to get invested in here. Oh, and the levelling system is just the Sphere grid boiled down to "Press A/X until XP runs out". No thought needed, just follow the levelling corridor.
While the story and characters are the weakest links, the battle system doesn’t do the game any favours either. Very much a game of watching bars, there's not much involvement from the player. Simply press A/X to initiate actions that the computer will choose for you, the only true user involvement is in changing paradigms. But this just boils down to having an attacking paradigm, wait till your hp goes down then change to a defensive paradigm. Sometimes you can mix it up and have some buff and debuff paradigms. Oooooh, whacky! But, if you play the game as Square demands you to there is no challenge, no requirements for any strategy, nor any need for you to ever think about anything. Just stare at the screen, lifelessly, as the game joyfully plays itself.
XIII is all flash and no substance. A bore to play and lacks any true interest or enjoyment. Hopefully the lowest the series will ever sink!
14) Final Fantasy XI
I love Final Fantasy XI. There’s just something about this game that kept me playing beyond the point when I knew this wasn’t a good game and I knew I wasn’t having fun. There’s just something magical about the world of Vana'diel that kept me enchanted for years.
XI does a lot of things right for an MMO, things that I’ve never seen in other online games that makes others pale in comparison. The biggest accomplishment was creating a living, breathing world that makes you feel like a citizen, not merely a player. Shops had opening and closing times, airships had a schedule. If you missed one you’ll have to wait for the next one to come along, these features made the cities feel so vibrant and alive.
Unfortunately what XI failed miserably at was the battle system. To get decent experience you first have to search for a party of six people. This could leave you waiting for HOURS! I would literally play other games while playing XI because I had to wait for so long. Thankfully when I first played I had three other friends with me so it didn’t take long, but when you are on your own it could take forever. You could not just log on, play for an hour or two then log off, you had to dedicate a lot of time to XI.
Once you did get a party the battles would go as such; one person goes out and lures a creature back to your party, your party would wail on the beast for about five minutes. Beast dead you would heal up, then you’d pull another mob. Rinse. Repeat. This did not create exciting, thrilling battles. Tragically the battle system was an important part of progressing in XI, so the terrible wait times and terribly dull battles pretty much killed this game.
Alongside long, boring battles was the extraordinarily harsh punishment for death. Whenever you died you a percentage of your experience points were taken away. This could cause you to delevel, so if you’re wearing level 30 armour then you’ll be waking up naked. Meaning you’d have to solo some low-level enemies, re-level then go back to waiting a couple of hours for a new group. This harsh penalty meant there was little room for error, any mistakes that led to a party wipe could lead to you being blacklisted by the community, leaving you alone, isolated; a pariah in online society.
13) Final Fantasy
The first of the series and the natural standard for those that followed. Final Fantasy was a trailblazer in its day, taking the formula of RPG’s and shaking them up. Final Fantasy was slimline compared to other RPGs, having amazing graphics for the time and giving the player a variety of vehicles to traverse the huge world.
Lacking the series staples such as moogles and chocobos, Final Fantasy shows us what it truly means to be a Final Fantasy; sprawling storylines, quirky characters, a massive world to explore and always trying to push the genre to new heights.
The player takes control of the Light Warriors, a group of four voiceless heroes that the player chosen from a possible six; Fighter, White Mage, Black Belt, Black Mage, Thief and Red Mage. Each having their own niche, giving the player an immediate choice of how they play, along with replayability as you can run through with different teams. You can also do a playthrough as four White Mages. Don’t know why you would, but you totally can! You then take your heroes on the road to defeat Garland, Pirates, a dark elf and eventually Chaos himself. Throw in some time travel, class upgrades and the basis for every Final Fantasy to follow and you have yourself a trippy time.
While extremely basic compared to today's games, the confusing, muddling plot is still a fun ride to get onto. Introducing the now famous class system, crystal based stories and endlessly quotable lines, it isn’t hard to understand why the world (well Japan and America at least) fell in love with the Final Fantasy series. While you might not entirely follow the ploy, there’s still a lot of joy to be found in playing the first installment, leaving you wanting more!
12) Final Fantasy II
A lot of people have a problem with II. The main reason being the extremely broken battle system. Final Fantasy II had a good idea; the more you do something in battle the more certain stats will increase and the stronger you’ll become. Sounds good right? Well, people realised that if you spent 30 minutes just beating the shit out of your own playable characters you could level your team massively before the first dungeon. While some think this makes the game laughable, personally I like the system! As long as you don’t play to break it the system is very innovative and very fun to play with.
The plot is basically Star Wars: Final Fantasy, a group of rebels, led by a princess, must fight an evil Emperor and destroy the Death Star. Or the fantasy equivalent of the Death Star anyways. Unfortunately, there’s no R2 D2 or C-3PO. You have three main heroes that you’ll keep throughout the story; Firion, Mirian and Gus and while they have names and a backstory (village destroyed) there’s not much more than a name. The truly interesting characters are the guest characters that join your party. Through the story you pick up new teammates, but they’ll only last as long as it’ll take to play through their story arc and then leave you. Thankfully the Game Boy Advance version gives you an extra dungeon where you play as just the guest characters.
Final Fantasy II introduces a novel story system where you have to learn keywords words to use in different conversations, being used to advance the plot. If you haven’t spoken to the right people and got the right words you ain’t getting far! While finding and using the right phrase isn’t difficult it does add a decent level of interaction to the plot. For a game made in 1988 that’s pretty cool. Right? Though fun, the crutch of using the Star Wars plot means there is a lack of creativity or originality which does hurt it. But I enjoy it.
11) Final Fantasy III
The spiritual successor to the first Final Fantasy I, III is about four kids that stumble upon a crystal after an earthquake and get sucked into saving the world from the evil sorcerer Xande. Final Fantasy III develops the ideas of a class system, evolving the six classes from the original while introducing a shit ton of new classes! These include some of the series staples like Dragoon, Dark Knight, Bard and Summoner.
Taking a slight step back from Final Fantasy II, III goes back to Light Warrior heroes, only known as the Onion Knights. Four silent protagonists, they are merely dolls for you to dress up as the different classes.
The plot is enjoyable enough. You have to go to various shrines and talk to the crystals that will imbue you with new classes. You must then use these newfound powers to fight against the creeping darkness enveloping the world. The creeping darkness being the main villain of the piece and the final boss. This lack of a defined, overarching villain does hurt the game, but the world is fun to explore and the classes enjoyable to play with as you find your favourite four to use.
Final Fantasy III’s class system is very fun to play with and the beginning of the Final Fantasy series plots revolving around crystals and how these crystals are what hold the world together. III is a very important addition to the series, which makes it a little bit weird that it didn’t have an international release until the DS remake …
Continued in part 2.