Final Fantasy is the most popular role-playing game (RPG) franchise in the world. Even if you’ve never played the games, you must’ve at least heard of them. The reputation of Final Fantasy is only equaled by the likes of Mario, Sonic, and Zelda. So, a natural question is, which is the best Final Fantasy? With thirteen to choose from (I am including Final Fantasy X-2 but not Mystic Quest, Tactics, or the Final Fantasy XI expansions), it can be a pretty tough choice. (By the way, each new game in the series introduces a new world, a new set of characters, and a completely different storyline.) But really, most hardcore fans know it’s narrowed down to two: VI or VII.
A Brief History of Final Fantasy
Before Final Fantasy VII was released on the original PlayStation and revolutionized role-playing games worldwide, only three Final Fantasy titles saw US shores. The titles were, naturally, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II, and Final Fantasy III, but they were actually the first, fourth, and sixth parts in the series, none of which are connected by storyline, of course. Because RPGs were not the phenomenon that they are today, Squaresoft (the now Square Enix) decided not to import all the Final Fantasy titles.
In spite of that, thanks to the release of Final Fantasy Anthology (which includes Final Fantasy V and VI) Final FantasyChronicles (which includes Chrono Trigger, not a Final Fantasy title, and Final Fantasy IV), and Final Fantasy Origins (which includes the first two titles in the series) for the PlayStation and a re-mastered Final Fantasy III for the Nintendo DS, US fans have had the opportunity to play all Final Fantasy titles without having to pay those import fees and coaxing a friend who can read Japanese into sitting beside them while they play.
Why the Eleven Other Final Fantasy Titles Are Not the Best
Here are a few reasons the eleven other Final Fantasy titles simply do not make it into the final round. First off, it would be pretty sad if Squaresoft never made a better RPG after the first one, but storyline has become a trademark of Final Fantasy, and that didn’t really start until FFIV, which had many problems that were later resolved: having to heal your party after practically every battle, inability to customize your characters or your party (characters join and leave your party as the story progresses), a battle system that needed refinement, crummy graphics, unorchestrated music, and a storyline that was a little less than epic.
FFV was way too hard. Further, it never had a broad enough audience to create a solid fanbase. FFVIII was basically a disappointment compared to the expectations gamers and fans worldwide had for it after the legendary FFVII. FFIX is pretty much the forgotten FF, as it is mostly regarded as the filler between FFVIII and FFX, which is a shame, since shoulder-to-shoulder, FFIX probably stacks higher than FFVII or FFVIII, but it just does not have that place in gamers’ hearts.
FFX was technically as revolutionary as FFVII and it was also the first FF to spawn a sequel, but gamers just really do not like Tidus, the protagonist. Plus, FFX came at a time when FF got so big that it all attracted all types of fanboys who thought it would be cool to play FF games. Final Fantasy became trendy, which has only served to spread the fame of the most famous and best RPG franchise in the world (sorry, Dragon Quest fans), but this complicates FFX‘s place in the hall of fame. FFX-2 is barely an RPG in the traditional sense, with its mission-based gameplay. More than that, having Yuna in daisy dukes is sheer fanfare. Most importantly, this sequel ruins the original FFX storyline.
Final Fantasy has always been about taking RPGs into new realms, but FFXI went a little too far by venturing online. Many fans cried out that it wasn’t a real FF. It felt more like EverQuest. Final Fantasy XII has earned the title as the only videogame to ever receive a perfect score from the famed Japanese videogame magazine Famitsu, but it’s still too early to tell.
Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VII
FFVI and FFVII had none of the problems that plagued FFIV. They’re not nearly as hard as FFV. They set the standard for everything that followed. The battle systems since these two games have never really been strictly refined, just developed in a different direction. The graphics have obviously improved since then (when graphics didn’t matter quite as much), but the original soundtracks for these two games are probably still the best of any Final Fantasy. The storyline of every subsequent FF is compared to these two.
Although the now classic Final Fantasy theme is modeled after the version from FFIV (the theme always sounds just a little different from installment to installment), FFVI and FFVII introduced musical scores that are the most loved from any Final Fantasy, including “Terra’s Theme,” “Celes’s Theme,” the opera theme from FFVI, “Aeris’s Theme,” and “One-Winged Angel,” which is played as the finale for practically every Final Fantasy concert, in Japan or America.
Squall from FFVIII and Tidus from FFX are too emo for many players, who prefer the more badass Cloud from FFVII and the multitude of characters with varying personalities from FFVI.
FFVII also spawned a DVD movie, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, as well as several spin-offs, like the Vincent Valentine-centered Dirge of Cerberus. FFVII may be the most beloved FF of all time. If you’ve played the game, you should know why. If you haven’t, I don’t want to spoil anything for you. FFVI may not be quite as popular among the newer crowds, but fans of the older generation know when Final Fantasy peaked.
Most importantly, both games came at a time when Final Fantasy was simply Final Fantasy, not yet the best RPG series in the world. The developers were only focused on making the best games they could, not the best games in the world.
FFVI marked the end of the 2-D RPG era, and FFVII marked the beginning of the 3-D RPG era. Both were milestones in a series in which every installment is already a milestone.
Every few years, a new generation of videogame consoles is unveiled to the world. Each set of three Final Fantasys has coincided with each generation. The first trilogy was on the original Nintendo, the second on the Super Nintendo, the third on the PlayStation, and the fourth on the PlayStation 2. With the release of the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s XBox 360, a new console war has started, and Square Enix’s Final Fantasy will have a big say in it.