Top 10 Final Fantasy Games

Final Fantasy series artwork

Top 10 Final Fantasy Games

Across more than 35 years and 16 mainline entries, the Final Fantasy series continues to be a name synonymous with quality RPGs. That said, there are some entries that stand out head-and-shoulders above others, as the level of quality across the entire series varies somewhat. It would be nice to say that each Final Fantasy game is a perfect 10 and better than the ones that have come before it, but that is simply not be true. Even looking back at the very first sequel, Final Fantasy II, the series takes a massive dip in quality between just its first and second entries.

With such a long and storied history across such an important and impactful franchise, you might expect that it would be hard to rank a list of the Top 10 Final Fantasy games, but truthfully most longtime fans will have their favorites clearly identified right from the mention of ranking them. Like Mario or Zelda, the Final Fantasy series got its footing and endeared itself to fans on the NES and SNES, only to have one of the most successful transitions to 3D of any franchise. And the Final Fantasy brand is still going strong following the release and acclaim of its latest entry this year, the 16th in the series.

While some Final Fantasy titles clearly stand out above others, it almost goes without saying that the series generally establishes a high bar that few other games exceed, let alone meet. As the 10 best games in the Final Fantasy series, each of these titles qualify as some of the best RPGs ever made.

10. Final Fantasy XII

Final Fantasy XII gameplay

There’s no denying that the twelfth mainline Final Fantasy is a polarizing entry in the franchise. But for those who played it and found it clicking with them, Final Fantasy XII contains one of the best stories, ensemble casts, and combat systems of any game in the series. Sure, there are Final Fantasy games that have the benefit of releasing on more advanced hardware and featuring more modern visuals, but the brilliance of Final Fantasy XII‘s art design and character models makes a strong case for it being one of the best-looking games in the series, as the artistic direction is more important than raw graphical horsepower. That alone earns it a spot on the list of Top 10 Final Fantasy games.

And, lest we forget, the battle system in Final Fantasy XII is one of the most ingenious bridges between the series’ classic turn-based combat and something more akin to an MMORPG. Through the use of Gambits, players can essentially program their party members to behave using certain actions under certain “if, then” scenarios, allowing for players to endlessly grind without having to press a single button. Some may decry this as the game “playing itself”, but for those who sunk hours into crafting the perfect Gambits, there’s few feelings quite like finding the ideal behaviors for an area’s enemies, setting your party to auto-battle, and coming back hours later to several new levels and skill points.

9. Final Fantasy XIV

Final Fantasy XIV gameplay

If this were a list of the best stories in Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy XIV would undoubtedly end up at or near the top, with its story arc being quite possibly the best in the entire series. However, since this is a Top 10 Final Fantasy games list, it does take a few notches for having the bulk of its early hours feature mostly mindless MMORPG-style fetch quests. Still, FFXIV‘s redemption is one of the best phoenix-like resurrections of a game in history, appropos of the series. That Square took a game that was practically dead in the water and transformed it into one of the most successful ongoing MMORPGs is nothing short of a miracle.

And that’s to say nothing of the quality of the game itself. Final Fantasy XIV has some incredible flexibility when it comes to your character’s composition, including the ability to have primary, secondary, and tertiary jobs for composing your dream build that can synergize with your clanmates’ for taking the party into raids. Speaking of the raids, the level of strategy and awareness that Final Fantasy XIV requires of players in some of its toughest endgame challenges is nothing short of arduous. Those who invest the time into the amazing realm of Hydaelyn will find that Final Fantasy XIV both expects a lot from its players and rewards them for their commitment to the game and its world.

8. Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy gameplay

It couldn’t be a Top 10 Final Fantasy list without including the 1987 original. Even after all these years it’s amazing how well the initial game in the series holds up. Final Fantasy might not be the game responsible for creating the blueprint for JRPGs (that honor goes to Dragon Quest), but it is the game that arguably perfected them. There’s not an ounce of fat on Final Fantasy, with its pacing and difficulty so finely tuned that the game is still an excellent entry point into RPGs for anyone looking to get into the genre. Build a party, choose some classes, visit towns, enter dungeons, kill a boss, repeat. The formula is simple, but man oh man does it tick all the necessary boxes.

The original Final Fantasy also gets some points for mixing high fantasy and sci-fi right from the start, with a tale that begins like any other Lord of the Rings-inspired narrative and gradually folds in forgotten civilizations and time travel. It may be “primitive” in comparison to all of the games that come after it, but the original kickstarts one of the most important franchises in gaming for a reason: the quality is right there front and center from the start. Thanks to the Pixel Remasters version, it’s now easier than ever to play and appreciate Final Fantasy, and that it still holds up as one of the 10 best games in the series is a testament to its greatness.

7. Final Fantasy X

Final Fantasy 10 gameplay

Final Fantasy X represents a massive turning-point for the franchise. It is the first game on Sony’s PlayStation 2 hardware, the first game to not feature a score completely composed by legendary Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu, and is also the first game in the series to go full 3D, ditching the pre-rendered backgrounds of FFVII-IX for three-dimensional environments. Despite all these changes, or perhaps even because of them, Final Fantasy X still manages to land on most players’ Top 10 Final Fantasy games lists thanks to just how perfectly it nails all of the fundamentals the series is known for.

It’s no secret that Final Fantasy titles are synonymous with impactful storytelling, and Final Fantasy X has one of the best narratives of the series. To support this best-of story is the game’s setting, the first one in the series to take inspiration from Southeast Asia rather than Europe, and the two elements work in tandem to present players with an experience that’s simply unlike any other game in the series. The combat system is fluid and efficient, and the Sphere grids allow for customization in how players build their party, but ultimately its Final Fantasy X‘s emotional narrative and tragic hero that plant it in the hearts and minds of fans.

6. Final Fantasy V

Final Fantasy V gameplay

The fifth Final Fantasy is such a great game that it’s honestly tragic fans in the West never got to experience it until 7 years after its release. Better late than never, though, as Final Fantasy V is absolutely deserving of a spot on any Top 10 Final Fantasy list and still holds up more than 30 years later. Expanding on the Job system from Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy V offers some of the most robust customization of party members through the freedom that mixing and matching Jobs and Abilities affords. Players can craft tons of unique combinations that are ideal to fit any of the game’s challenging encounters, and there are many. It’s worth noting that, without the right Jobs and Abilities, Final Fantasy V can often soft-lock players behind certain encounters.

Aside from its excellent iteration on the series’ turn-based combat, Final Fantasy V features an uncharacteristically whimsical and lighthearted tale along with an affable and carefree protagonist. Comparing Bartz to Final Fantasy IV‘s Cecil or Final Fantasy VI‘s Terra is practically a breath of fresh air, as the hero is infinitely likeable while also not taking himself too seriously. Bartz never loses sight of what he and his companions must do to stop Exdeath from returning all life to the Void, and that players get to face off against a sentient evil tree wizard shows that the developers likely didn’t take themselves to seriously either.

5. Final Fantasy IX

Final Fantasy IX gameplay

If Final Fantasy IX could be summed up in just two words, it would almost certainly be “fan service”. Both Final Fantasy VII and VIII were significant departures for the series, trading the traditional medieval fantasy settings of previous games for a more futuristic and dystopian sci-fi one. Final Fantasy IX brings the series back to its fantasy roots while also retaining all of the lessons from VII and VIII, resulting in what many consider to be the best Final Fantasy on the PS1 and, quite possibly, the best Final Fantasy game ever. The protagonist, Zidane, and his band of companions rank among some of the best characters in the series, with the Black Mage Vivi being a clear standout. Topping it all off is Nobuo Uematsu’s incredible score, which even Uematsu himself considers to be one of his best.

Ultimately, though, what cements Final Fantasy IX as being fan service (as well as lands it on any self-respecting Top 10 Final Fantasy list) is the fact that there is no mistaking that it’s a Final Fantasy game. There’s a massive world map for players to explore, there are loveable characters and moments of heart-wrenching tragedy, there are perfectly tuned and balanced turn-based battles, and there’s magic, cystals, and chocobos. Everything players want in a Final Fantasy is part of Final Fantasy IX, and it executes all of the core fundamentals of what makes the series so special just perfectly.

4. Final Fantasy XVI

Final Fantasy XVI gameplay

Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way right now: Final Fantasy XVI is absolutely a Final Fantasy game. The debate over whether a new Final Fantasy can be considered a “true” Final Fantasy has existed among the fanbase for decades, dating all the way back to some of the earliest entries. While critical reception to FFXVI may paint a picture that the game is the subject of universal praise, the fanbase couldn’t be any more split on the issue of its quality and whether it counts as a “true” Final Fantasy. Sure, the title abandons turn-based combat in favor of real-time action. And yes, the aspects of party management and player statistics are completely gone. It may not be a “pure” RPG, but it’s no less a Final Fantasy.

For starters, Final Fantasy XVI has one of the series’ best stories, bar none. It features superb voice acting and characterization, helping to create some of the most endearing heroes and repulsive villains ever seen in the franchise. There’s chocobos, there’s moogles, and there’s crystals. All of the core components that make a Final Fantasy are there, only they’re brought full-speed ahead into the modern era of gaming, complete with a real-time combat system that perfectly balances accessibility and challenge. It subverts expectations while also remaining true to its lineage as a Final Fantasy game, and it features pitch-perfect renditions of the series’ staples in its excellent story and combat. In terms of what makes a “real” Final Fantasy, look no further than FFXVI.

3. Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy VII gameplay

Final Fantasy VII could just as easily sit at number 1 on any Top 10 Final Fantasy list from its importance alone. After all, Final Fantasy VII is the game responsible for breaking the series through to a mainstream audience. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s the game single-handedly responsible for popularizing JRPGs in the West and birthing millions of lifelong Final Fantasy fans. That said, while it may be the most important game in the series, it’s arguably not the best. Still, it deserves to sit high up on this list for more than just its relevance in the series’ history. Underneath it all, there’s no denying that Final Fantasy VII is one of the best games in the series.

Although its blocky polygonal graphics may look silly today, at the time of its release they were nothing short of jaw-dropping. To see the heroes and villains of the story represented in 3D models was revolutionary, and the power of the PlayStation to pre-render painstakingly detailed backgrounds made Final Fantasy VII seem like a game from the future in 1997. Beyond that, though, the gameplay of Final Fantasy VII shines as some of the best in the series, including featuring what many consider to be the absolute best magic system via the use of Materia. Not every Final Fantasy game is good enough to get a complete remake, and even fewer are good enough to get three, but not every Final Fantasy game is as significant as FFVII.

2. Final Fantasy IV

Final Fantasy IV gameplay

As the first “next-gen” Final Fantasy and the series’ debut on the SNES (arguably the greatest era for RPGs in history), Final Fantasy IV is still the torchbearer for greatness that it always has been. The developers at Square knew that it would be necessary to “wow” audiences with the first Final Fantasy game for Nintendo’s newest hardware, the Super Famicom/SNES, and they succeeded in ways that still reverberate today. Story was always a crucial component of Final Fantasy games beginning with the very first entry, but Final Fantasy IV ups the ante in ways not previously seen, delivering what was an incredibly ambitious tale for its time.

Personal fondness for Cecil’s Hero’s Journey and transformation from Dark Knight into Paladin aside, Final Fantasy IV introduces one of the most important innovations in the series’ history: the Active Time Battle System or ATB. Whereas before players strictly took turns in order and had their ability to have the party act before enemies determined by speed stats, the introduction of ATB meant that enemies could act at any time. To even out the odds, players could level up and increase their speed, allowing them to see their ATB meter fill quicker and get the jump on foes before they ever have the chance to attack.

The drama of the game’s story is supported by one of Uematsu’s most emotional scores, and the cast of characters is absolutely one of the best in the entire series. Final Fantasy IV literally takes players to the moon and back, and its a trip worth taking time and time again.

1. Final Fantasy VI

Final Fantasy VI gameplay

Final Fantasy VI isn’t just the best Final Fantasy game, it’s one of the best games ever made, period. What makes Final Fantasy VI land the premier spot on the Top 10 Final Fantasy list is the way that it so perfectly captures everything great about the series. The story is one of the best in gaming, and undoubtedly the most mature and harrowing tale to feature in a game on the Super Nintendo. The combat has impeccable balance and flow, and there’s just enough challenge for it to feel rewarding without it ever feeling overwhelming. And, of course, the characters of Final Fantasy VI are the best cast in the series, including a villain that no other game has yet to surpass.

Kefka is the ultimate antagonist; a psychopathic narcissist who just wants to watch the world burn. There is no reasoning with Kefka, and his motivations are only to cause chaos. He’s already a frightening enough foe, and then Final Fantasy VI throws a wrench in the works by allowing him to win. What follows is a dreary and oppressive second half of the game in which players must re-gather their allies while living in the post-apocalypse with Kefka as their god.

Thankfully, players have the Espers at their side, and these creatures in their stone prisons are clearly the inspiration for Final Fantasy VII‘s Materia. After past games relegate magic to certain classes or jobs, Final Fantasy VI blows the doors off the magic reservoir and makes it available for all via equipping Espers. Best story, best characters, best villain, best combat, best magic system; Final Fantasy VI has it all, and we might as well throw “best RPG” in there too.

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