Ranking The Final Fantasy Series pt 2
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).
You can read part one here.
10) Final Fantasy V
The spiritual successor to the spiritual successor - V is basically the ultimate version of what III tried to be. The fifth installment has a similar plot to the third; save the crystals that hold the world together from an evil Warlock, Ex-Death, and get new classes from each crystal to help you on the way. V refines the job system even more; giving players the chance to permanently learn abilities and then equip them to different classes. Meaning you can learn all the black magic, change over to a Dragoon and be able to equip that character with the black magic you’ve just learnt. The end game being to learn three abilities for each character and equip them to the Freelance job, creating your ultimate characters. This lends the game to having so many possibilities and encourages you to play through many times just to play around with one of the best class systems of the series.
V also introduces us the lovable Burtz/Bartz, and the recurring villain Gilgamesh. Teaming up with princess Lenna, the pirate Faris and old man Galuf, the light warriors must save the crystals and stop Ex-Death from turning all of creation into nothingness.
While the characters are enjoyable and lovable, the plot isn’t really that memorable. Maybe the job system over-shadows the story somewhat. My main focus being on getting to the next crystal to see what classes I can acquire next, rather than to save the world or defeat the bad guys, the plot going large stretches forgotten. V also suffers from the same problem as III; the villain is largely absent, isn’t really memorable at all and mainly just the dude you have to defeat to complete the game. Thankfully, the fun of the job system and the cast make up for these flaws and encourage you to keep playing.
Oddly it took Square a very long time to release this game to the international public, finally being released internationally for the PlayStation in 2002. It’s like Square are ashamed of their crystal based class system or something.
9) Final Fantasy XII
Final Fantasy XII had a few development problems. The biggest was the lead director, Yasumi Matsuno, leaving the project. The mastermind behind such games as Tactics Ogre,
Vagrant Story and the extremely popular Final Fantasy Tactics; this was a massive loss. He was replaced by two directors and the original vision for the project possibly left with Matsuno.
XII suffers from a criminally thin plot. While “critics” branded the game as being “the most mature” and “most political” Final Fantasy to date, this turned out to be complete bollocks. Instead of mature and political what we got was absent and dull. Trying to dress itself up in Shakespearean garb, the political thriller is no more than an empire (yes, another one) takes over their neighbouring countries, then the Emperor is killed by someone close to him. Those of us who’ve played the Final Fantasy series will recognise the trope that this plot truly is, having been implemented significantly better in a number of the previous Fantasy's. This isn’t helped by having a group of two-dimensional characters. There’s potential in this cast, but obvious problems with the making of XII has meant there’s not enough time spent on developing them into fully fleshed out, engaging and lovable heroes.
Thankfully, XII did have a decent battle system. Saying goodbye to random battles and allowing you to see the enemies on the map, and no longer having to wait for the swishy screen before you can fight. It also has some amazing places to explore and many chances to do so, as the game expects you to go back and explore every nook and beautiful cranny. Helped by the hunt system that has you backtracking through areas, encountering new and interesting bosses, encouraging you to see every part of their brilliantly made maps.
With the remake the west was also given the Zodiark Leveling system; gone is the homogeneity of the original Licence board, giving us a much more polished way to gain abilities, spells and stat boosts. One that makes you think about the build of your characters, consider where you’re spending your licence points and giving the game a lot of replayability.
8) Final Fantasy XV
I admit; if XV had followed a better Final Fantasy, it probably wouldn’t be as high as it is on this list. Final Fantasy XV had a low bar to hurdle over, set by the last single player Final Fantasy; XIII. It didn’t need to be a stellar example of JRPG greatness, it just needed to be competent and enjoyable. Thankfully, it accomplished this and as such I do, truly, like this installment, one that is perhaps just as divisive in the community as XIII was.
XV had a rough time. In development for over 10 years, it was originally supposed to be Final Fantasy VS XIII, but after the backlash against XIII’s linearity, Square decided to make VS XIII an open world game to compensate for it. Looking at old gameplay trailers for VS XIII, the original game looked to be a much more linear affair, going through streets and buildings, with limited exploration. With the complaints ringing in their ears, Square promised us towns, airships and exploration. This meant they had to pretty much dismantle what they had and rebuild, in the process turning VS XIII into a main series Final Fantasy and being re-tooled to be on current-gen consoles, instead of the PS3 exclusive it was originally promised to be. With these troubles, it was obvious to anyone paying attention that the game would suffer.
Following Prince Noctis and his three friends, you travel Eos in the pursuit of destroying the Empire (yes, another one) that has taken control of their home kingdom of Lucis (yes, again). Noctis must also save his bride to be, Lunafreya, acquire the service of the Astrals (summons) and collect the weapons of his dead ancestors.
The plot is the main thing that suffered from XV’s reworking as an open world game. The ‘evil’ Empire is never developed in any way. Their motivations are never explored and the Emperor himself is in like … two cutscenes? In his stead, we get the mysterious Ardyn as our antagonist. While suave in a kind of Jeremy Irons villain way, there’s little else to him. I think he was trying to acquire the power of the Lucis kings? Maybe? It’s all very vague.
However, where XV does deliver for me is the gameplay. The battle system is fast-paced, exciting and fun. While the camera does have a habit of wandering off, giving you nice close-ups of trees, pillars and walls, when it does hold its attention the battles can be truly spectacular and a joy to play. On the flip side, there’s not really much challenge. The only times I died were when I was low levelled and didn’t heed the warnings to not drive at night. At the beginning of the game the demons you encounter in the dark will kick your ass! The rest of the time you get a decent amount of items to never really be in any true trouble. Except Prompto. Prompto is always in trouble.
While the open world has probably caused XV’s plot to be a damp squib, I can’t deny I enjoyed the game as a whole. For large stretches you get to drive around with your buddies, exploring Eos, defeating hunts, discovering new tombs, cooking new recipes and meeting interesting people. If you put the time into exploring there’s a lot of fun to be had, as well seeing the relationship between the 4 amigo’s grow. Though, the character building you discover exploring the world makes the jumps in tone during the main quest even more jarring and forced. This is a game where the plot actually takes you away from the fun of the game. Which is silly.
You can also play the soundtracks from previous Final Fantasy’s on the car radio. Sure, you can fast travel, but fuck that noise when I can cruise the countryside listening to One Winged Angel!
7) Final Fantasy VIII
I do not envy the team who had to make Final Fantasy VIII. Its predecessor, Final Fantasy VII, is still hailed to this day as one of the best games around, so making a game to follow that success could not have been easy. VIII isn’t a bad game. In fact, it’s actually pretty good; it just isn’t Final Fantasy VII. People going in expecting more of the same were let down and I think this hurt the perception of VIII in the gaming community. While it does have its flaws, VIII is one of the most underrated gems of the series.
Final Fantasy VIII follows the story of Squall, a gunblade student from Balamb Garden, a school that basically teaches kids how to fight in a war, as well as maths. Their main aim; defeating sorceresses. Powerful, magical beings with the ability to possess people and even compress time. Squall himself is a pretty … dire character. The dictionary definition of “teenage angst”, he takes all the sulk from Cloud, but doesn’t add any of his coolness. Sure he’s pretty bad ass with his gunblade, it’s just he doesn’t have much personality besides wielding his signature weapon. Thankfully, he’s held up by a cast of actually interesting characters, as well as having a compelling group of antagonists to keep you wanting to explore the games plot.
VIII’s biggest problem is its junctioning system, or rather how they’ve implemented it. Getting GF’s (Guardian Forces, the game's version of summons) you can assign magic to boost your stats, giving you the power needed to defeat your foes. This isn’t a bad idea, it’s pretty cool and means you have to make a choice; use your most powerful magics and become weaker or save the magic and potentially die. Unfortunately, the way you get magic is through the long, tedious chore of drawing magic from enemies. Doesn’t sound too bad on paper, but when you get between 0 and 8 spells per draw and you need 100 to fully power up your stats, it becomes pointless busy work very quickly. Plus the unskippable tutorials to explain the junction system is a real pain when you try to play the game again. I’ve literally stopped myself from doing a playthrough because I couldn’t be arsed with the tutorials.
On top of a decent story, VIII has some of the best Full Motion Video's (FMV's) and one of the best soundtracks of any Final Fantasy. Just the opening of the game, the sea lapping at the shore, then “Fithos. Lusec. Wecos. Vinosec”, the opening to Liberi Fatali, eerily cuts in, then the orchestra joins as we sweep across the sea … goosebumps every time.
6) Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
I admit; this is a slight cheat. SquarEnix’s second MMO, Final Fantasy XIV, was released in 2010, however, the reception was terrible. Slow combat, confusing navigation and a joyless grind caused XIV to be heavily criticised and received hella low scores. This led to Square’s higher-ups releasing an apology for the game during a news conference (Japanese apology bow included), followed by the games subscription fee scrapped/reduced during its three-year run. It was eventually re-tooled and re-launched as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, under a new development team. Technically XIV’s sequel, however, I didn’t play the original, so it’s the technical sequel that sits on my list.
Set in the world of Eorzea, A Realm Reborn is an MMORPG with a difference. Instead of picking a class and levelling it through the game, FFXIV has the Armoury system. While you do pick a starting class, that can be instantly changed by equipping a different weapon, which you can do on the fly. This means you’re not locked into one class from the outset, having to create a new character if you get bored of tanking and want to have a go at being a healer. Pretty class.
The general progression of XIV is, unfortunately, your general MMO affair. You take quests, mainly made up of killing X or collecting Y, to advance the plot and to level up your character. However, there is a twist. The main joy people get from MMO’s is getting together in a group and attacking dungeons for fat l00ts. Tragically, you don’t usually get to do this until the end game content, making you grind through 50+ levels until you can actually get to the point of an MMO. Not so in XIV. In A Realm Reborn you have dungeons that you need to group up and tackle as part of the main story quests, giving players the chance to experience content usually gated to end game, as early as level 16. For someone who usually gets beaten by the grind and bows out before getting to take part in these group dungeons, XIV has finally given me the ability to take part. Thanks, XIV.
The story itself isn’t the most memorable; groups of beasts are trying to awaken their gods (in the form of summons from previous Final Fantasy’s), an evil empire (yes, another one) is getting ready to invade the free cities of Eorzea and you’re also tasked with trying to solve the mysteries left by the great cataclysm (the end of the original Final Fantasy XIV). While nothing overly inspiring, it does its job as a vehicle to get you exploring the world, levelling up and experiencing the classes and dungeons. Overall, it’s an enjoyable experience, one I would totally still be apart of if I didn’t have a mountainous backlog of games I need to play.