Tuesday Top Five: Best Final Fantasy Games

Original Publication Date: 8/30/2016

By:  Andrew Lister

Welcome to another installment of Tuesday Top Five! Each week I’ll be coming up with a Top 5 spanning a number of geeky topics. This week, I’m going to rank my favorite video games from the Final Fantasy series.

Out of all my NES games, the one I treasured the most was my copy of Final Fantasy. This JRPG from Square was published in 1987 and was supposed to be the very last video game for the failing company.

I am a child of the Nintendo era. Growing up, I owned the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES for short), and I would lose myself in its many worlds, such as The Mushroom Kingdom and Hyrule. The games had simple graphics, but many of them were insanely difficult to play and master.

That being said, it turned out to be a massive hit, and as most people know, it spawned a number of other games in the series. Most of these games are not sequels, but many of them had similar themes and mechanics that evolved alongside the hardware of new consoles.

Trying to rank my Top 5 this week was extremely difficult, and I’m sure those of you out there may disagree with my list.  If you do, leave your own list in the comments below. We may read your comments on a future episode of the Tooning Japanese Podcast!

#5 – Final Fantasy Tactics (PS1)

Final Fantasy is best known for the numbered games in it’s series, which will soon span all the way to 15. However, there were also a number of games that weren’t given the honor of being part of the official series.

Of the non-enumerated games, the very best is Final Fantasy Tactics.  First appearing in January 1998 in North America, this was one of the earlier games to hit the brand new Playstation 1.

The biggest draw to Tactics was the change they made to the original turn-based mechanics. Instead of two teams facing off against one another on either side of a screen, battles occur on a large map consisting of squares. Think of it like a tabletop like Dungeons and Dragons. Players not only have stats for their attacks and defenses, but they also have movement and jump speeds. The entire combat is still turn-based, but you move your team around the board in order to attack. This adds a whole new level of strategy beyond simply choosing to attack, defend, use magic or items, or run away.

Another draw to this game was the deep class system. The class system is not new to the Final Fantasy franchise, starting with the very first game. However, it feels like an advanced version of Final Fantasy V in that there’s not only more classes but many more skills and abilities to learn. The game itself is fairly balanced, and you’ll find that you have to do a bit of experimenting during certain combats to find the best strategy for the enemies as well as the layout.

For example, thieves have an ability to steal the heart of an opposite gender, in effect bringing them to your team temporarily. Aside from my frustrations that it’s not taking into account people who prefer the same gender, if I’m up against a large number of male spell casters, I may attempt to bring in a couple female thieves to effectively add a few more members to my party.

Will you be my Valentine, please?

There were also a few extra features that really never made it into other games in the series, including quests where you send out a group of 3 characters for a certain number of days. When they return, depending on if you chose the right classes for the task, they earn a certain amount of skill points.  Also, certain towns have fur shops where you could poach the baddies and sell their pelts.

While those are both cool aspects to the game, my favorite addition has to be in combat. When a character (bad guy or your own) stays dead on the field for a certain number of turns, their body disappears and is replaced by a crystal.  Yes, your characters can actually DIE in this Final Fantasy game. The crystals are an addictive part of the game: when you move into the same square as one of these crystals, you can either regain your lost HP/MP, or sometimes you can also learn an ability that the bad guy knew. This usually leads me to kill all the human NPCs and keep one alive long enough to hoard as many new abilities as I can.

The game’s only drawback may be in its confusing story. There are a lot of characters, and some of them really lack the depth that you’d find in other Final Fantasy games. If you like political intrigue and backstabbing (Game of Thrones, anyone?), this is the game for you. If not, you might be a bit bored or get lost in all the names and factions.

Despite that issue, it’s a really fun and in-depth game that everyone should experience at least once.

#4 – Final Fantasy I (NES)

You can’t go wrong with the game that started the entirety of the series. As I mentioned earlier, I spent far too much time playing this game, and it was really my first exposure to the RPG genre. It’s a game that I still revisit from time to time due to its surprising replay value.

The premise of the game is fairly simplistic, and it’s a formula that future games in the series would follow. A group of destined heroes come together to defeat ancient evils and light elemental crystals. The crystal motif would continue into FF 2, 4, and even 9.

Sure, the story seems simple, but the real fun comes with creating your team of 4 Light Warriors. If you’re playing for the first time, it’s probably best to create a balanced team of a Fighter, Thief (or Black Belt), and a White & Black Mage. However, once you get the hang of the game, you may want to challenge yourself. For example, a few months back I played with 2 Thieves and 2 Black Belts, a feat that led to many deaths early on in the game. Or what about a team entirely of spell casters? Sure, they can deal damage, but they can’t take a hit to (literally) save their lives.

Above all else, this is the game that started it all. It was a truly revolutionary game for its time with its creation of the turn based combat, its fairly robust magic system, and its epic storytelling. If you’re a fan of other Final Fantasies but have never played the original, do yourself a favor and do so. Also, play the original NES version because it’s the most difficult and unrelenting.

#3 – Final Fantasy IV (SNES)

The best thing about Final Fantasy IV was the great storytelling and colorful cast of characters. Like Final Fantasy 1, this story involves heroes and magical crystals. What this story has over the original is a real sense of character depth and development.

The greatness of this game lies in its writing. Remember, folks, this was back in the day when there was no voice acting in video games. Without having a voice, each character feels completely unique. There’s Cecil, the angsty main character that undergoes a moral and class change from an evil dark knight to a paladin. Then you have the stalwart dragoon Kain, who is corrupted and used by the bad guys. The summoner of the party is a young girl whose family is killed by the main characters. The mage of the party is a confused old man, and there’s even a bard!

A bard! With a harp and everything!

C’mon. You know we had to include this.

The story jumps around quite a bit, and your cast of characters come and go. Sometimes your party gets separated, and you pick up new members; other times your beloved characters suffer a terrible fate and can no longer fight by your side. Either way, it was a whole new level of storytelling that many video games did not attempt.

The game was so popular that it even spawned a series of smaller sequel games that can be purchased on Steam. I’ve played them a bit, and even though the sequels aren’t great, the nostalgia factor made it worth trying.

This game will take you to the moon and back, both figuratively and literally. Go download it now or go dust off your old SNES!

#2 – Final Fantasy X (PS2)

When the Playstation 2 came out, all I could think about was when we would get our first Final Fantasy game. Once Final Fantasy X was announced, I was extremely jazzed. The graphical possibilities of the PS2 were outstanding, and knowing Square-Enix, this game would more than likel be gorgeous.

The game did not disappoint, and the first few cinematic videos absolutely blew me away! My jaw was left standing open as I watched Tidus playing Blitzball only to have a massive monster appear and destroy the city. They had accomplished something completely beyond what we had already seen in the series.

Another big change to the game was the inclusion of voice actors. Sure, the dubbing looked a little off most times and the dialogue wasn’t always delivered with the best emotion, but giving each character a voice made the game feel extremely unique and gave the world a real sense of life, even if that meant I couldn’t name all of the cast.

Like any good Final Fantasy game, I fell in love with the diverse cast of characters and was completely swept away with the world of Spira. The locations were interesting and absolutely gorgeous. Some of my favorite areas include the Farplane, a place where the dead spirits killed by Sin reside; Macalania Woods, a forest that looks like it’s made out of diamonds; and The Thunder Plains, a barren land where a storm forever rages and poses an actual threat of your characters being struck by lightning.

The combat is fast and strategic; you can swap out a character at any point during a battle rather than always having a set number in your party. This leads to a lot of tough choices and each character feeling important. The leveling system consists of a giant grid filled with abilities, spells, and stat boosts. It’s one of the most unique takes on leveling up and allows players to truly customize each of their characters by choosing one path over another.

Even though there isn’t as much replay value as other games in the series, there’s a lot of side quests and seemingly impossible tasks in this one that will keep you playing. That reminds me…I need to try and dodge 200 lightning bolts on a row once I finish this article.

I know some of you are looking at my article and are freaking out about Final Fantasy VI not making my list. It’s not a bad game, but it’s one that I honestly never got as into as some of the others. It’s also one of the few that I’ve never actually beaten.

I also know that some of you may be rolling your eyes at my choice of Final Fantasy VII as my number one Final Fantasy game. For some reason the game has been on the receiving end of some hate. I’ve heard the arguments that it’s overrated, the graphics aren’t that great, and the story is completely incomprehensible.

I’ve got several arguments for why Final Fantasy VII will always be my all time favorite game in the series. First of all, it may have something to do with the fact that it was the first FF game to make it onto the Playstation. The jump from the SNES/Genesis to the Playstation/N64 era was huge for gaming. The ability to render environments and characters in three dimensions changed the way that we view and play games. While this game does not hold up to later games in the series, it significantly raised the bar with regards to other RPGs.

Final Fantasy VII has some of my favorite characters, environments, and moments in all of gaming. Who didn’t enjoy running around the Golden Saucer playing all sorts of mini games or racing chocobos? Was I really the only one who obsessed with actually obtaining a gold chocobo? Well, I had three of them on my main play through, but that’s besides the point.

Whoa, indeed!

Even though Cloud’s story is a little convoluted, he’s still an interesting character. Also, consider the crazy characters that he surrounds himself with: an offensive renegade with a gun for an arm, a giant red cat with human intelligence, a massive mechanical moogle suit piloted by one of the villains, a grumpy old airship pilot, and a bubbly ninja girl. What more could you want?

Do I even have to mention the scene where Aerith dies? Sephiroth’s sword didn’t just kill our favorite flower girl; it killed my innocence.

The Materia system may be my favorite use of magic in any Final Fantasy game, and there were plenty of spells to keep the game interesting and add lots of strategy. Well, except for Knights of the Round. That took far too long to summon and felt like an “Easy” button. I’m so thankful that Final Fantasy X allowed you to cut the summon animations down.

Yes, analyzing Final Fantasy VII’s story causes headaches, but just enjoy it for the exciting RPG that it is! Whenever I need a JRPG fix, this will be one that I go back to time and time again.

Come back next week for our next installment of Tuesday Top 5 article!  Let us know what you think about my rankings in the comments below and sound off with your own Top 5!

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