Top 5 Favorite Final Fantasy Games from a 20-Year Fan

During the early 90's I played my fair share of video games. Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Super Mario Bros., Bonanza, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist were just a few of the games that introduced me to what would become a lifelong passion. However, it wouldn't be until holiday 1997 that I would find myself addicted to my first game. Until that point, I could easily walk away from any game I was playing without hesitation. But this particular game was something different. Something magical.

That game was Final Fantasy VII.

This was not only my first time dabbling into the world of Final Fantasy, but my first foray with the RPG genre. I was won over within minutes as I experienced my first epic story in a video game.

It's been 20 years since that time, and I've completed most of the games in the Final Fantasy franchise over the years, in some cases just to say I played them. It's without a doubt one of the most influential franchises I've ever played, holding great esteem despite a few rough years.

In this feature I'll go through my top 5 favorite Final Fantasy games ever and explain why.

5. Final Fantasy XIV

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Release Date: September 30th, 2010

Platform I Played On: PC

My Favorite Qualities: Fan-service, boss design

In a time when World of Warcraft has become old and less interesting, and most MMOs simply aren't very good, Final Fantasy XIV has been a savior of sorts. It's become one of the most popular games of its genre with over a million subscribers, delivering an online version of the franchise that can be enjoyed in a social environment.

But it wasn't always a top-tier MMO. I played Final Fantasy during its beta in Summer 2010, and eventually purchased the Collector's Edition at launch. What a mistake that was. v1.0 was a cataclysmic disaster, undoubtedly the worst product from Square Enix that I've ever played.

Three years later it would relaunch under the name A Realm Reborn. Somehow, miraculously, under the leadership of Naoki Yoshida, the game was cured of its lethal illness.

I have played Final Fantasy XIV a lot during the past five years, going as far as leveling up seven jobs to max level. It separates itself from competing games by allowing you to play every job on a single character, and enjoy Final Fantasy fan-service at its best.

4.Final Fantasy IX

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Release Date: July 7th, 2000

Platform I Played On: PlayStation

My Favorite Qualities: Refined turn-based gameplay, optional side-content

Final Fantasy IX was a sharp turn thematically for the franchise, deviating from the pseudo sci-fi of Final Fantasy VII and VIII, returning to its more classical fantasy roots. It admittedly took a little bit of warming up for me to get used to the protagonist having a tail, and the storyline seeming like your typical knight and princess narrative.

Once I got over the initial hump, I found myself hooked. The gameplay in Final Fantasy IX was familiar, but introduced deeper elements of strategy in many of its encounters that largely thwarted attack spam with overleveled characters. Battle was also faster paced, doing away with the longer transition times of the prior two titles.

What I remember most is the optional side-content. I enjoyed maxing out my characters in Final Fantasy IX much more than the prior two games, and had an incredible amount of fun with the Chocobo Tracks mini-game.

I played through Final Fantasy IX yet again just a few years back on my PSP, and found that it still held up over time. Not many games from its era can say that proudly.

3.  Final Fantasy XI

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Release Date: May 16th, 2002

Platform I Played On: PC

My Favorite Qualities: Group leveling, social atmosphere

Most Final Fantasy fans would probably overlook this bizarre title, probably because many missed it due to not having a gaming PC or a PlayStation 2 with a hard drive.

Nonetheless, I jumped into the game after some friends in high school mentioned it in passing. I had no idea what to expect give I had never played a proper MMO before. After more than a dozen hours of installing patches and battling with PlayOnline software, I finally jumped into Vana'diel.

Let me tell you something: there's nothing that will ever equate to my first month in Final Fantasy XI. As many MMO enthusiasts can attest to, there is no match for your first MMO experience. This was my first time in an expansive world with seemingly no boundaries, and no linear path for me to follow like the RPGs I had played before it. It was my first true adventure where I could carve my own path, and become the hero I wanted to be.

Supporting this was the fact that I was playing a Final Fantasy with thousands of other people. This was at a time when MMO communities actually meant something. You needed to make friends to progress, and you built a reputation over time. For all intents and purposes, it was a world like our own.

Within the next year I would level a Black Mage to level 75, which is considered quite a feat of time investment. At this point I have spent more time in Final Fantasy XI than any other game in the series.

2. Final Fantasy VII

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Release Date: January 31st, 1997

Platform I Played On: PlayStation

My Favorite Qualities: Character design, music

Final Fantasy VII was a game of incredible magnitude. It was one with an assortment of outstanding characters, and perhaps the best antagonist in history (Sephiroth). It was ahead of its time graphically, equipped with CGI cutscenes that had no equal at the time.

This fantastic cast made the story a joy to witness. This was a game that managed to hold great influence on the player's emotions. It could make you happy when you defeated an evil enemy that had been built up over many hours. It could make you excited to obtain a new rank of a magic spell, or head into a new area on the world map. It could also make you cry when certain characters died.

Some of this was dictated by the music. I can still listen to Aeris' Theme and immediately begin reminiscing. Meanwhile, One Winged Angel is capable of giving me a few extra reps at the gym. It was like experiencing a beautiful composure of visual and audio design that was equally harmonious and powerful.

This combination of outstanding character design, a well-composed story, all backed by one of the greatest soundtracks of all-time, resulted in a game that built up unequalled nostalgia with millions of young people.

You were probably expecting this to take my top spot given the introduction. While I hold Final Fantasy VII in high regard, there is one Final Fantasy game that I consider more profound.

1. Final Fantasy Tactics

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Release Date: January 28th, 1998

Platform I Played On: PlayStation

My Favorite Qualities: Job system, medieval theme

I had no idea what I was getting myself into with Final Fantasy Tactics. Turn-based RPG gameplay? Forget about it. 3D graphics standard? How about isometric battlefields. Midgard? How about a medieval castle.

For some reason that didn't matter to me. The moment I saw its circle of available jobs, I knew I had to unlock and try all of them. This was the game that taught me that I have affinity for grinding away for hours on end. I enjoy battling enemies endlessly, even if only to unlock one or two new skills for my Summoner and Ninja.

But this wouldn't stand alone if it had to. No, it was the story that drew me in enthusiastically. Set in the medieval era with knights and bowmen, an epic narrative would unfold that showed what it was like to be the unappreciated good guy. It resonated powerfully with me, to a point where I consider it one of the greatest stories ever told in gaming.

I argue that Final Fantasy Tactics still has the best combat system of any strategy RPG. I've played my fair share of Fire Emblem, and even classics like Tactics Ogre. Nothing quite compares to incredible freedom of Final Fantasy Tactics' job system, which allowed for mixing the traits of two jobs on each character, and an incredibly long list of skills to unlock through leveling up.

Though, the main reason I rank this game higher than Final Fantasy VII is that not only have I beaten it several more times, I can actually play it today and still find myself having a great time. Final Fantasy VII hasn't aged well, and therefore has been left only to my thinning memories. Final Fantasy Tactics is a game I play every few years and remember why it captivated me seemingly eons ago. For that reason, it's my favorite Final Fantasy of all-time.


That's it for my top 5 Final Fantasy games. What about yours? Let us know in the comments below.