Welcome, fellow adventurers. Today we’ll be travelling through the myriad realms of Final Fantasy. We’ll be exploring some of the finest entries in this storied franchise and putting them in order. What is that order based on, you ask? No, it’s not the iconic heroes like Cloud or Squall; it’s not the wonderful worlds like Gaia or Spira; it’s the scintillating, sumptuous buffet of side content! Let’s dive in and look at the top seven Final Fantasy games, ranked wholly on their optional offerings.
#7 - Final Fantasy VIII
With its mixed bag of main characters and much-maligned combat system, Final Fantasy VIII is a divisive entry amongst fans of the franchise. But hey, it did give us the series’ first-ever trading card minigame, and if you head on down to Final Fantasy XIV’s Golden Saucer, you’ll see just how popular Triple Triad remains to this day.
Of course, it isn’t only trading cards that bag this entry a spot on the list. From a cheeky trip inside Diablos’ magic lamp to sprawling high-level dungeons like the Centra Ruins or the Deep Sea Research Facility, Final Fantasy VIII always has something optional to occupy you (and probably one-shot your whole party).
Seeking out all of the game’s Guardian Force summons or appraising your late-game builds in battle with superbosses like Omega Weapon is by no means easy, and it’s the diverse challenge present in Final Fantasy VIII’s side content that earns it the number seven spot.
#6 - Final Fantasy XIII-2
Another divisive release and a direct sequel to Final Fantasy XIII, a game many fans herald as the arbiter of doom for Square’s flagship franchise. A relatively unpopular sequel to a relatively unpopular game, sentiments around Final Fantasy XIII-2 are as all over the place as a Chocobo on roller skates.
Its side content stands out, however. In XIII-2, you’ll spend much of your spare time trawling the timeline for Fragments, which tasks you with exploring new areas, engaging extra-difficult foes, and learning more about the world of the game. Reexploring alternate dimensions and collecting Fragments will see you on your way to bagging a series of eight Paradox Endings, too; there are a wealth of things to see, and it’s all tied neatly into XIII-2’s world and narrative, a nice shift from the often non-scenario related dungeons of previous games in the series. If you do want a little escape from the doom and gloom, though, there’s always Serendipity — a spooky floating casino where you can race Chocobos and pump your hard-won gil into a load of slot machines.
#5 - Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VI set the stage for a whole generation of Final Fantasy games, and despite its immense popularity among fans, one might still call it underrated owing to its age and the manner in which its successor eclipsed it. We may have long since fallen to the allure of high-definition 3D visuals, but like a gravelly grandpa who swears he’s still got it, Final Fantasy VI insists that it is still a veritable treasure trove of varied and compelling activities — and it’s not wrong.
We’ve got legendary dragons, secret dungeons, hidden party members — all the staples are here, and they’re here in abundance. Whether you want to slay superbosses, track down optional espers, or get gobbled up by a monstie and uncover the mysteries of its stomach, Final Fantasy VI has you covered.
#4 - Final Fantasy VII
We all know that Final Fantasy VII has a voracious fanbase. It sits in the hearts of many as their first experience of cinematic storytelling in a game, with its memorable characters and eerily poignant narrative now fully backed up by the might of 3D graphics.
We’re almost certainly splitting hairs between this item, the previous item, and perhaps the next item on this list, too. They’re each quite similar in their side quest presentation but loathe as I am to admit it, nostalgia might just be the thing that tips Final Fantasy VII past its predecessor and into the number four spot. Who doesn’t nigh on weep when they recall the first time they haphazardly crashed their submarine into Emerald Weapon? Who doesn’t feel all warm and fuzzy when they think back on their time spent breeding multicoloured Chocobos? I certainly do.
#3 - Final Fantasy IX
Final Fantasy IX did the whole ‘back to our roots’ manoeuvre long before the likes of Resident Evil 7, Crash 4, and Doom made it cool. Shifting from the sci-fi angst of the previous three games in the series, FFIX returns to a vibrant mediaeval setting, like a jaded grown-up with a sudden and desperate urge to spend thirty-five hours at Disneyland.
Like I said already: we’re splitting hairs with this one. Final Fantasy IX’s optional outings have much in common with FFVI and FFVII, but it goes about it with more Chocobos, a new card game in the form of Tetra Master, and a supersized ball of angry gas to wipe the floor with your party. So it wins.
#2 - Final Fantasy XII
Depending on who you ask, Final Fantasy XII’s radical departure in combat mechanics is arguably its greatest strength. Its Gambit AI manipulation system is deeply strategic, highly customisable, and it’s damn good fun when it gets going.
The meat and bones of FFXII’s side content arrives in the form of Hunts, forty-five formidable foes that grow progressively more difficult, each giving you the perfect opportunity to stretch your gambit-setting skills to the max. Don’t you dare scoff! You know as well as I that a fifty-million hit-point megaboss that takes hours to subdue is the apex of optional content and a great way to put your party to the test.
Aside from hunts, Final Fantasy XII boasts a slew of hidden summons to gather, extensive fishing sidequests, racing minigames, a den for piling up collectable achievements; and that’s all without backing out to the menu and going up against its entirely separate hundred-stage trial mode! A shining example of both quality and quantity, Final Fantasy XII takes the number two spot.
#1 - Final Fantasy X
And finally, the mammoth itself: Final Fantasy X. The first one to feature voice acting. The last to feature purely turn-based combat. The only one to stick an extra nine on the damage limit. If that doesn’t convince you of this game’s enormity, nothing will.
You might want to start by hunting down each party member’s celestial weapon, then undertaking the various trials required (dodging 200 consecutive lightning bolts, anyone?) for allowing them to crack the glass ceiling on those damage numbers. After that, go crazy capturing creatures and combining them into superbosses. Get busy banishing the almighty Dark Aeons. Pop balloons on a Chocobo. There are so many meaningful activities to undertake in the franchise’s tenth entry that I could quite easily bloat another three articles in the process of explaining them.
With an expansive Sphere Grid to max out for each character, optional Aeons to recruit, and unforgiving endgame dungeons to conquer, you can be certain there will always be a heck of a lot to hit with your spruced-up weapons; enough to see you well past the hundred-hour mark.
And when you’re ready to retire your blade altogether, you can always head to Luca and play underwater football or learn a foreign language. It’s a truly eclectic bag, and it’s sure to keep fans entertained for a long, long time.
And so our journey comes to an end. I hope you enjoyed our supersonic sojourn through the wonderful worlds of Final Fantasy. Did I accidentally skip past your favourite endgame dungeon? Let me know in the comments below, and I’ll see you in my next whimsical listicle!