While there are some challenges across the Final Fantasy franchise, the series is (for the most part) one of the more beginner-friendly collections of RPGs available. However, the original NES trilogy famously has some incredibly difficult moments, and many players inadvertently soft-lock themselves behind difficult encounters without proper preparation. That said, the series’ transition to 3D continues to result in easier and easier mainline entries. The most recent game in the franchise, Final Fantasy XVI, even goes so far as to include accessories that basically play the game for you if you’re not familiar with character action games. If you’re looking for a Final Fantasy for beginners, they’re certainly out there.
As the series has become more cinematic and the production values of each mainline entry rival that of the best content coming out of Hollywood, the games continually get more and more accessible, but that’s not to say that the earlier games aren’t beginner-friendly. Especially now with the benefit of the Pixel Remasters of the first 6 games and the new editions of Final Fantasy VII-IX, the franchise’s best years are more beginner-friendly than ever. If you’ve been an outside admirer of the franchise and have an interest in diving in, these are potentially the best starting points for any player wanting to enjoy the world of Final Fantasy.
10. Final Fantasy
Kicking things off is the original game in the series and the foundation upon which the franchise was built, 1987’s Final Fantasy. Regardless of which version players happen to pick up, the original Final Fantasy is one of the best crash courses in RPGs available. The premise is simple enough — create a party of four heroes, choose their class, and take them on an adventure where fighting monsters and leveling up gives way to greater challenges and rewards. The story is straightforward enough for anyone to follow but still has some complexity to it, and the gameplay mechanics are as foundational as it gets. If you’ve never played an RPG before, the original Final Fantasy is a great starting point. After all, it was where legions of lifelong series fans started decades ago.
9. Final Fantasy IV (SNES Version)
While players can confidently pick up and play just about any version of the original Final Fantasy and find it to be mostly beginner-friendly, the same cannot be said about Final Fantasy IV. For newcomers, the best recommendation is to try and get ahold of the version releasing in North America on the SNES — Final Fantasy II. Cross-cultural naming confusion aside, this version of Final Fantasy IV is a much easier affair than its Super Famicom counterpart, with the balancing of encounters more noticeably favoring the player. For many fans who cut their teeth on the original Final Fantasy in the US, Final Fantasy II on the SNES is a much more forgiving experience, and the fact that it holds up as one of the best games in the entire series is just the icing on the cake.
8. Final Fantasy IX
There are plenty of challenges that players can find within Final Fantasy IX if they go looking for it, especially considering that the game has quite possibly the hardest final boss and secret super bosses of any PlayStation-era game in the series. Outside those notable encounters, though, Final Fantasy IX is both incredibly rewarding and incredibly forgiving, and its medieval fantasy setting helps it to feel like a great jumping-on point for players new to the series. It has some of the series’ most approachable mechanics and magic system, and the story is easy enough to follow while also containing some great characters and interpersonal relationships. It’s the series swan song to what many consider to be its greatest era, and the visuals and audio cement it as an instant classic and great first Final Fantasy.
7. Final Fantasy XIII
The prevailing joke surrounding Final Fantasy XIII around the time of its release was that it was the series’ “hallway simulator” or “Final Fantasy on rails” since the game does away with the large and expansive worlds in previous games in favor of curating a tightly-paced experience. The end result is that Final Fantasy XIII plays more like a movie than a game, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Especially for new players who aren’t familiar with RPGs or the nuance of series mechanics and tradition, Final Fantasy XIII can be an enjoyable experience that allows players to slowly acclimate to role-playing games while focusing primarily on the game’s story. It also helps that Final Fantasy XIII‘s random battles are all the more exciting thanks to the title’s “Paradigm Shift” battle system.
6. Final Fantasy VI
Any version of Final Fantasy VI is a winner, as it’s arguably the absolute best game in the series, but it also happens to be a great jumping-on point for players new to the series. It features the most freedom and customization of any Final Fantasy thanks to the ability for any character to learn magic and the easy-to-understand Esper system. Aside from its mechanics being easy to pick up and understand, the title also features a slew of elements that make it a true Final Fantasy experience, such as an incredible score, beautiful pixel art, engaging characters, and the series’ absolute best villain. Playing the Pixel Remasters version of the title makes it even more beginner-friendly if players activate the boosts to EXP and AP gain, negating much of the time cost of grinding party members to level 99.
5. Final Fantasy XV
Much like Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XV is an incredibly cinematic experience. The combat in the game is somewhat of a mix between the series’ turn-based combat and something more live-action like Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts series. Except for the occasional enemy in areas where the party is substantially under-leveled, most encounters in Final Fantasy XV are a breeze, and the open-world nature of the game helps it to fall more in line with other AAA open-world titles than a traditional Final Fantasy. Party management and leveling up are streamlined and made easy to grasp for new players, and Final Fantasy XV‘s story is easy to follow without being too simplistic.
4. Final Fantasy VII
Of course, Final Fantasy VII is going to rank higher on a list of beginner-friendly Final Fantasy games, as it’s the title that helped endear the franchise to Western players and saw the series finally gain mainstream acceptance. Other Final Fantasy games might be better than VII, but no other game in the series’ history is as important. Playing the title makes it easy to see why. Much like Final Fantasy VI‘s Espers, Final Fantasy VII‘s Materia system is yet another approach to learning magic that levels the playing field and embodies the “easy to pick up, difficult to master” approach of other great games in the series. The addition of Limit Breaks can turn the tide of tense encounters, and outside the optional “super bosses” there are few encounters that new players will find themselves stuck at.
3. Final Fantasy VIII
Final Fantasy VIII might actually be the easiest game in the entire series, but the reasons for its simplicity lie behind understanding the game’s mechanics so well as to exploit them and “break” the game. That alone wouldn’t make Final Fantasy VIII beginner-friendly, but even if one were to go in and play the game naturally without using any of the exploits, it’s still one of the more approachable games in the series.
The Junction system can allow players to significantly boost their stats early on in the game, and random encounters can essentially be ignored for a large portion of gameplay thanks to the intricacies of the title’s mechanics. The game surprisingly does an excellent job of teaching its mechanics to newcomers through the framing of them being lessons that main character Squall learns at the SeeD academy, and it’s a crash course that more games in the series should include.
2. Final Fantasy XVI
The greatest aspect of Final Fantasy XVI is that the game can be as challenging or forgiving as you like. Knowing that many of the series’ longtime fans might not be familiar with the requirements of a character action game like Devil May Cry, the developers include a set of accessories that do everything from extending the timing for parrying and dodging to outright triggering special attacks and limit breaks at the push of a button.
I’d argue that playing the game this way completely removes any of the fun of experiencing what Final Fantasy XVI has to offer (including its incredible combat), but the best part is players can easily equip one, a few, all, or none of these accessories as they acclimate to the game and increase their skill with it. Even without any of the accessibility options active, Final Fantasy XVI is still a largely forgiving experience that puts story and character first.
1. Final Fantasy Mystic Quest
Without a doubt, the most forgiving and beginner-friendly of the Final Fantasy games is Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. Some games in the series might feature more approachable mechanics or easier-to-understand systems, but no other game in the franchise was developed specifically as a “beginner’s” Final Fantasy. Mystic Quest‘s arrival comes from concerns over the level of difficulty that Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II feature, prompting Square to develop a title that greatly streamlines the classic Final Fantasy experience while remaining true to the series’ RPG spirit. Amazingly, despite the game’s easier nature, the title holds up as an incredibly charming experience that Final Fantasy fans of all skill levels owe it to themselves to play at least once.