Ranking Every Mainline Final Fantasy Game

Final Fantasy game logos

Ranking Every Mainline Final Fantasy Game

Few gaming franchises originating during the 3rd console generation have the same kind of staying power as Final Fantasy. The history of the Final Fantasy franchise and Square’s early financial turmoil is well-tread territory at this point. Still, the fact remains that the first game in the series would capture lightning in a bottle thanks to the popularity of Enix’s Dragon Quest from a year prior. The Final Fantasy franchise hasn’t slowed down since, making ranking every Final Fantasy a daunting task. After an initial groundbreaking and impressive run of titles on the NES and SNES with the franchise’s first 6 entries, Final Fantasy would make the bold transition into 3D and onto the Sony PlayStation with the most culturally significant entry in the series’ history — Final Fantasy VII.

The impact of Final Fantasy VII can’t be overstated, helping Sony to come out on top as the “winner” of the 5th-generation “console wars” and bringing the Final Fantasy series its most pronounced commercial success to date. Since then, Final Fantasy has continued to evolve and chase after that success, and its more recent pivot into the MMORPG space sees the franchise stronger than ever. Further, a profoundly ambitious remake project to modernize and retell the story of Final Fantasy VII once again places Cloud and his companions square into the gaming zeitgeist. With this year’s release of the phenomenal Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, it’s high time to rank the mainline Final Fantasy games.

18. Final Fantasy XIII

Final Fantasy XIII gameplay

©Final Fantasy XIII gameplay screenshot - Original

  • Release Date — March 9, 2010
  • Platforms — PS3, Xbox 360, PC
  • Director — Motomu Toriyama
  • Total Sales — 9.6 million units
  • Review Aggregate Score — 83% (Generally Favorable)

It’s a testament to the overall strength of the franchise that ranking a list of purely mainline Final Fantasy games sees the excellent 13th entry land in last place. Final Fantasy XIII has the unfortunate reputation of being the “hallway simulator” of the series, with many fans continuing to deride the entry thanks to its adherence to linearity and what amounts to rapid-fire pacing before pulling out all the stops in the game’s back third. Once Final Fantasy XIII opens up, though, and players have access to the massive open-world area filled to the brim with challenging fights, the game switches gears to focus solely on its greatest strength — its phenomenal combat. Though the story and characters of Final Fantasy XIII are some of the weaker in the series, its RPG mechanics and combat systems are peak Final Fantasy.

17. Final Fantasy II

Final Fantasy II gameplay

©Final Fantasy II gameplay screenshot - Original

  • Release Date — December 17, 1988
  • Platforms — Famicom
  • Director — Hironobu Sakaguchi
  • Total Sales — 2.8 million units
  • Review Aggregate Score — 77% (Generally Favorable)

The “black sheep” of the first 6 games in the series, Final Fantasy II is an important game in the franchise even if it continues to be one of the least-loved. Famously known for its incredibly challenging leveling and progression systems and notorious difficulty (at least in the original Famicom version), Final Fantasy II is nothing if not bold. Rather than follow the exact same template of the original game in the series, the first Final Fantasy sequel bravely charts new territory by introducing players to a new world, new characters, new mechanics, and brand new RPG systems at play behind the scenes governing players’ experiences.

It’s telling that most of these changes only appear in Final Fantasy II before its creators would go on to spearhead their own franchise at Square (the SaGa games), but this sequel’s importance in establishing Final Fantasy‘s anthological nature is hugely important to the series.

16. Final Fantasy XI

Final Fantasy XI gameplay

©Final Fantasy XI gameplay screenshot - Original

  • Release Date — May 16, 2002
  • Platforms — PS2, PC, Xbox 360
  • Producer/Designer — Hiromichi Tanaka
  • Total Sales — 2.8 million units
  • Review Aggregate Score — 85% (Generally Favorable)

As the first fully online Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy XI had a lot to prove when it was originally released. MMORPGs were a relatively new phenomenon in video games, and in the pre-World of Warcraft world, there was plenty of potential for every new entry into the genre to claim a spot at the top of the pile. Square could have easily cashed in on the Final Fantasy name alone and delivered a subpar product, but the company’s steadfastness toward delivering quality products that come to define their respective genres and even evolve them in meaningful ways results in Final Fantasy XI being an excellent first MMORPG offering for the series, and one that still has a dedicated player base to this day.

15. Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy XV gameplay

©Final Fantasy XV gameplay screenshot - Original

  • Release Date — November 29, 2016
  • Platforms — PlayStation 4, Xbox One
  • Director — Hajime Tabata
  • Total Sales — 10.2 million units
  • Review Aggregate Score — 83% (Generally Favorable)

Like Final Fantasy XIII before it, Final Fantasy XV is mostly the victim of a troubled development and a lack of cohesive direction among the development team in terms of what kind of game it wants to be. Despite these shortcomings, though, Final Fantasy XV is nothing if not unique and refreshing, delivering players a heartfelt (and occasionally lighthearted) tale of friendship, brotherhood, and wanderlust. Unfortunately, the gameplay and mechanics acting as the foundation for Final Fantasy XV‘s great story and characters ultimately let the game down, with its open-world feeling at times unfinished and empty. Still, Final Fantasy XV delivers in its narrative, which is arguably one of the most important factors for a series’ built on quality storytelling.

14. Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy gameplay

©Final Fantasy gameplay screenshot - Original

  • Release Date — December 18, 1987
  • Platforms — Famicom/NES
  • Director — Hironobu Sakaguchi
  • Total Sales — 3.5 million units
  • Review Aggregate Score — 79% (Generally Favorable)

The original Final Fantasy is a groundbreaking game and one of the foundational design pillars of the JRPG subgenre with Dragon Quest. It’s also, like Dragon Quest, a charmingly simplistic RPG that is a great first entry point into the genre and introduction to the common elements and mechanics of role-playing games. Several of the Final Fantasy series’ staples are present right from the get-go, with the first title introducing players to turn-based battling and experience-dependent progression, an emphasis on storytelling that mixes science fiction and high fantasy, and the all-important need to grind and power-up characters before tackling some of the game’s labyrinthine dungeons. It’s basic, but that simplicity still serves Final Fantasy more than 35 years later to make playing it feel just as magical now as it did on the NES.

13. Final Fantasy III

Final Fantasy III gameplay

©Final Fantasy III gameplay screenshot - Original

  • Release Date — April 27, 1990
  • Platforms — Famicom
  • Director — Hironobu Sakaguchi
  • Total Sales — 5.8 million units
  • Review Aggregate Score — 79% (Generally Favorable)

After what many consider to be one of the few missteps in the early years of the franchise, Final Fantasy III sees the fledgling RPG series course-correct to once again become one of the definitive games on the Famicom. Final Fantasy III is the first title in the series to introduce the iconic Job system, allowing players to access more than 20 unique classes that they can switch between on the fly. Each of these classes falls under general magic-using or melee-fighting archetypes, but the title does a great job of making certain Jobs necessary for specific bosses or dungeons, ensuring that players have every reason to try out a variety of professions and party compositions. Final Fantasy III also features a great story, but it speaks volumes about how excellent its gameplay is that most players remember it for aspects other than its narrative.

12. Final Fantasy XII

Final Fantasy XII gameplay

©Final Fantasy XII gameplay screenshot - Original

  • Release Date — March 16, 2006
  • Platforms — PlayStation 2
  • Director — Hiroyuki Ito; Hiroshi Minagawa
  • Total Sales — 11.3 million units
  • Review Aggregate Score — 92% (Universal Acclaim)

The last game in the series for the PlayStation 2 and a “dream team” project of sorts featuring a “who’s who” of legendary Final Fantasy creators, Final Fantasy XII is undoubtedly one of the greatest RPGs of the 6th generation. Again, it speaks to the overall quality of the Final Fantasy franchise that XII doesn’t land higher. For many players, the twelfth Final Fantasy is the best entry in the series based purely on its phenomenal gameplay. Situated somewhere between the series’ turn-based past and its (at the time) recent foray into MMORPG territory, Final Fantasy XII introduces the Gambit system that allows players to program their party’s behavior and set up clever “if, then” scenarios in combat.

Getting skilled enough with the Gambits allows battles to essentially play themselves, and mastering this system is a necessity if one is to have any hope of toppling the game’s many challenging super bosses and hidden fights. Final Fantasy XII also takes place in the mythical land of Ivalice from both Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story, giving it a unique atmosphere and plot that allows it to stand out from the rest of the mainline games in the series.

11. Final Fantasy IX

Final Fantasy IX gameplay

©Final Fantasy IX gameplay screenshot - Original

  • Release Date — July 7, 2000
  • Platforms — PlayStation
  • Director — Hiroyuki Ito
  • Total Sales — 8.9 million units
  • Review Aggregate Score — 93% (Universal Acclaim)

The ninth game in the Final Fantasy series sees franchise creator Hironobu Sakaguchi return to a creative position after many years away from having a direct hand in a mainline Final Fantasy game, serving as the game’s producer and writer. As a result, Final Fantasy IX feels like a 3D version of one of the first 6 games in the series, a loving tribute to both the franchise and its fans and the RPG genre as a whole.

To say that Final Fantasy IX carries a little bit of magic with it might be an understatement, as the title is an emotionally profound and mechanically complex entry in the franchise that “feels” more like Final Fantasy than arguably any game before it or since. Ultimately, Final Fantasy IX is the full package, delivering some of the best plot, characters, and gameplay in the series and sending a fitting farewell to the franchise’s PS1 era.

10. Final Fantasy VII Remake

Final Fantasy VII Remake gameplay

©Final Fantasy VII Remake gameplay screenshot - Original

  • Release Date — April 10, 2020
  • Platforms — PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC
  • Director — Tetsuya Nomura; Naoki Hamaguchi; Motomu Toriyama
  • Total Sales — 7 million units
  • Review Aggregate Score — 87% (Generally Favorable)

The existence of a Final Fantasy VII remake is something that RPG fans have been clamoring for since the initial tech demo for the PlayStation 4 featured a familiar spiky-haired hero. After years of rumors (and just as many dashed hopes), Square Enix would finally reveal the existence of the Final Fantasy VII remake project in 2015, announcing that the game would be retold across three separate full-length games. The first of the trilogy is Final Fantasy VIIRemake, which not only expands the original game’s 5-7 hour Midgar section into a 40+ hour experience but also introduces new story elements that change the course of the characters and plot from the original game.

Aside from the new twists the game provides to a familiar and beloved narrative, though, Final Fantasy VII reimagines iconic locations and characters in stunning graphical fidelity, making them look how they always have in the imaginations of fans. Further, the game’s new combat and skillful mix of turn-based strategy and party management with real-time commands and attacks is the perfect middle ground for the franchise and a great template on which to build future mainline Final Fantasy games.

9. Final Fantasy V

Final Fantasy V gameplay

©Final Fantasy V gameplay screenshot - Original

  • Release Date — December 6, 1992
  • Platforms — Super Famicom
  • Director — Hironobu Sakaguchi
  • Total Sales — 4.2 million units
  • Review Aggregate Score — 73% (Mixed or Average)

That Final Fantasy V continually ranks as a favorite of Square Enix employees and Final Fantasy developers speaks volumes about its importance and impact as one of the greatest games in the series. The final title to feature direction from series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, Final Fantasy V has both one of the best narratives and some of the best gameplay of the first 6 games in the series. Most importantly, Final Fantasy V reintroduces the Job system from Final Fantasy III but also expands upon it in meaningful ways, allowing players to mix and match abilities from different jobs and create their own custom character hybrids that have the potential to break the game with how powerful they are.

8. Final Fantasy X

Final Fantasy X gameplay

©Final Fantasy X gameplay screenshot - Original

  • Release Date — July 19, 2001
  • Platforms — PlayStation 2
  • Director — Yoshinori Kitase
  • Total Sales — 8.5 million units
  • Review Aggregate Score — 92% (Universal Acclaim)

To put it bluntly, Final Fantasy X might feature the most heartbreakingly tragic narrative in the history of the series. The emotional weight of the franchise’s tenth entry (and first for the PlayStation 2) surrounds every aspect of the title, from its beautiful yet somber visuals to its stirring score and iconic cast of characters. The tragic love story at the heart of Final Fantasy X cements its leads, Tidus and Yuna, as the franchise’s own Romeo and Juliet, and their pilgrimage across the world of Spira to stop Sin is no less poetic or profound in its execution. Beyond its phenomenal narrative and themes, though, Final Fantasy X is arguably the last of the “classic” Final Fantasy games, signaling a shift from turn-based RPGs to the more modern real-time approach.

7. Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy VII gameplay

©Final Fantasy VII gameplay screenshot - Original

  • Release Date — January 31, 1997
  • Platforms — PlayStation
  • Director — Yoshinori Kitase
  • Total Sales — 14.4 million units
  • Review Aggregate Score — 92% (Universal Acclaim)

Few games in the Final Fantasy series are as important as Final Fantasy VII. The first 3D entry in the franchise and the first to debut on a non-Nintendo console, playing Final Fantasy VII for the first time felt like a window into the future in 1997. Even today, the game’s mechanics and storytelling still hold up astoundingly well even if time hasn’t been as kind to its visuals. The cyberpunk dystopian future setting and its prevalent environmentalist/anti-capitalist themes establish Final Fantasy VII as having one of the best stories in the series (even into the modern era), and its gameplay is just as groundbreaking thanks to innovations like Limit Breaks and Materia. Cloud and Sephiroth (bolstered by an inextricable bond between them) rank as two of the best heroes and villains in the series and the rest of the supporting cast is just as iconic.

6. Final Fantasy XVI

Final Fantasy XVI gameplay

©Final Fantasy XVI gameplay screenshot - Original

  • Release Date — June 22, 2023
  • Platforms — PlayStation 5
  • Director — Hiroshi Takai; Kazutoyo Maehiro
  • Total Sales — 3.4 million units
  • Review Aggregate Score — 87% (Generally Favorable)

The latest mainline entry in the series also happens to be one of the greatest thanks to some truly excellent combat direction and one of the best narratives in the series. Ahead of Final Fantasy XVI‘s launch, much was written about how the team was influenced by George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones, and that inspiration shines through in the sharp dialogue, emotional highs (and lows), and political intrigue that wind themselves into every moment of Final Fantasy XVI‘s incredible narrative. Clive is one of the best Final Fantasy protagonists in years, and his place as Mythos creates the perfect opportunity for players to experiment with an impressive variety of useful abilities and attacks tied to each of the game’s Eikons. Though many pined for turn-based combat, FFXVI‘s real-time system is one of the game’s greatest strengths.

5. Final Fantasy IV

Final Fantasy IV gameplay

©Final Fantasy IV gameplay screenshot - Original

  • Release Date — July 19, 1991
  • Platforms — Super Famicom/SNES
  • Director — Hironobu Sakaguchi
  • Total Sales — 4.6 million units
  • Review Aggregate Score — 89% (Generally Favorable)

The first three games in the Final Fantasy series would always keep their narratives front and center, but the jump between Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV is a quantum leap. Final Fantasy IV uses the benefit of being the first “next-generation” game in the series to deliver the most impressive story, characters, and dialogue that console players have seen, RPG or otherwise, and its plot still ranks as one of the best in the series. Further, Final Fantasy IV introduces one of the most important innovations to the series in the Active Time Battle system. Essentially, ATB transforms traditional turn-based combat into something more similar to real-time combat using menu commands, and it changes the series for the better.

4. Final Fantasy VII Rebirth

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth gameplay

©Final Fantasy VII Rebirth gameplay screenshot - Original

  • Release Date — February 29, 2024
  • Platforms — PlayStation 5
  • Director — Naoki Hamaguchi; Motomu Toriyama; Tetsuya Nomura
  • Total Sales — 2 million units
  • Review Aggregate Score — 92% (Universal Acclaim)

After a long 4 year wait between entries, the middle chapter in the Final Fantasy VII remake trilogy arrived earlier this year with the incredible Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. Now outside of Midgar and in the world of Gaia proper, Cloud and his allies must track down Sephiroth while also avoiding capture and confrontation with the Shinra corporation, all while figuring out a way to save their dying planet. Fittingly, Rebirth introduces one of the series’ most stunning and dense open-world maps to date, with plenty of worthwhile side activities to get lost in when not rushing forward to find out the ways the established Final Fantasy VII canon changes.

3. Final Fantasy VIII

Final Fantasy VIII gameplay

©Final Fantasy VIII gameplay screenshot - Original

  • Release Date — February 11, 1999
  • Platforms — PlayStation
  • Director — Yoshinori Kitase
  • Total Sales — 12 million units
  • Review Aggregate Score — 89% (Generally Favorable)

After the series gets one of its most popular and accessible entries in Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII is a daring follow-up that wholeheartedly embraces its complex mechanics and systems. Though it might not have the same emphasis on story and characters as its predecessor, Final Fantasy VIII is a massive leap forward for the franchise in terms of gameplay and visuals, showcasing just how far Square had some in a short time rendering its worlds in polygons. Final Fantasy VIII can also be one of the hardest or easiest games in the series depending on how observant and aware players are. Those same complex mechanics that act as the game’s foundation also allow players to become insanely OP early on through manipulation of the Triple Triad card game and understanding FFVIII‘s leveling system and scaling.

2. Final Fantasy XIV

Final Fantasy XIV gameplay

©Final Fantasy XIV gameplay screenshot - Original

  • Release Date — August 27, 2013
  • Platforms — PlayStation 3, PC
  • Director — Naoki Yoshida
  • Total Sales — 24 million units
  • Review Aggregate Score — 86% (Generally Favorable)

The most impressive thing about Final Fantasy XIV is that, like the Phoenix that appears in almost every mainline series entry, the game rose from the ashes of death to be reborn as one of Square Enix’s most important titles. The original launch of Final Fantasy XIV was an unmitigated disaster, prompting Square to shut down servers and go back to the drawing board. Under the guidance of designer and director Naoki Yoshida, Final Fantasy XIV would return as A Realm Reborn in 2013, quickly becoming one of the most popular and successful MMORPGs this side of World of Warcraft and continuing to cultivate a legion of dedicated fans. Final Fantasy XIV might be an online RPG, but the overall quality of its storytelling and gameplay make it peak Final Fantasy. It’s the single best-selling game in the series for a reason.

1. Final Fantasy VI

Final Fantasy VI gameplay

©Final Fantasy VI gameplay screenshot - Original

  • Release Date — April 2, 1994
  • Platforms — Super Famicom/SNES
  • Director — Yoshinori Kitase; Hiroyuki Ito
  • Total Sales — 5.1 million units
  • Review Aggregate Score — 93% (Universal Acclaim)

The best of the initial 6 Final Fantasy games also happens to be the best game in the series and one of the greatest RPGs of all time. Final Fantasy VI ditches the “main character” model of almost every Final Fantasy before it in favor of an “ensemble cast” approach featuring some of the greatest heroes in the series. And, of course, their foil is none other than the franchise’s greatest villain, the mad god Kefka. Final Fantasy VI delivers one of the best narratives in the series by answering the question of what happens when evil prevails, and seeing the heroes fight their way back from the brink is one of the greatest redemption arcs in any medium.

Beyond its incredible cast of characters and narrative, though, Final Fantasy VI is the culmination of almost a decade of design philosophy, combining the best parts of all the games in the series that came before it to deliver the “ultimate” 2D game in the franchise. The introduction of Espers and Magicite allows every single character to learn and master magic regardless of their class, and the number of secrets and challenging encounters to discover make every deviation from the critical path a worthwhile adventure. Tying it all together is one of the best scores from legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu, making Final Fantasy VI an enduring slice of RPG perfection.

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