Where to Start: Final Fantasy
There are few franchises with as many entries as the Final Fantasy series. With 15 in the main line-up alone, and nearly 33 years of continuous releases, finding a place to start can be a difficult task. To make matters worse for would-be beginners, the series is defined by a marked lack of interconnectedness. Except for the occasional Easter egg that ties them together, each game should be considered as a stand alone.
So, when faced with such a surplus of choices, where do you begin?
Well, Square Enix’s official answer is “anywhere,” which isn’t particularly useful. That would be a reasonable solution if we worked under the assumption that all of the titles in the series were of equal quality. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. If you were blindfolded and threw a dart at a board containing all possible options, you could land on one of the best games ever made, or a middling, forgettable RPG. With that in mind, let us guide you by suggesting a couple of worthwhile entry points:
Final Fantasy VII (1997)
Google “Final Fantasy VII,” and you’ll undoubtedly find that this game ranks consistently on lists of the greatest games of all time. It was a true departure from the earlier entries in the series, not only for its grim, futuristic setting, but also because it was the first Final Fantasy game with 3D character models. While the recent remake has been well received, it only covers about a third of the original game. As such, we suggest the original. After all, you’re playing this one for the story, not the graphics.
Final Fantasy IX (2000)
Not three years later, Final Fantasy IX was released and brought players back to the series’ fantasy roots. It’s all here: traditional magic, light-hearted interactions, and a beautiful score that fans still enjoy today. The true beauty of Final Fantasy IX is that it feels like a final visit from a lifelong friend. It was Square’s last injection of nostalgia before waving farewell to their old ways for good. For newcomers, this significance won’t feel very relevant, but the game is still a deliberate culmination of all the titles that came before it. You can feel the effort the studio put in here. It’s pure quality.
Final Fantasy VI (1994)
It’s not as if the dark setting of Final Fantasy VII came out of nowhere. Final Fantasy VI began the move away from high fantasy with a more dystopian, decidedly steampunk setting. This one oozes drama. It is possibly the most epic entry in a catalogue of games that is defined by grandiose stories. By and large, Final Fantasy never struggled to introduce a cast of memorable protagonists, but with the introduction of Kefka, Final Fantasy VI developed a villain that fans would not soon forget. Along with the lifelike characters, comes a narrative that helped establish Final Fantasy as a game series where story comes first and foremost. For those looking to enter the franchise during the 2D era, I can think of no better entry than Final Fantasy VI.
There you have it, three exceptional entry points to a franchise with a veritable treasure trove of titles to explore. Square Enix was not entirely wrong when it suggested that fans simply dive in. I actually agree to some extent; no matter where you begin, you won’t be playing a terrible game. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t better choices to start with. If you start with any of these, it’s almost a sure thing that you’ll be hooked for life.