Everyone needs an epic adventure in their life from time to time, and the Final Fantasy series has kept players flush with options since they first appeared on the Famicom / NES. This franchise brings new worlds and stories with an evolving system to its fans, even branching off or doing sequels at times, the catalogue is vast. Though there are widely loved entries in the series, one of the great things is that most individuals have a different favored title, and as Final Fantasy XV approaches, it’s time for the rebels to sound off on theirs.
Final Fantasy IX | Nate Rowe
Final Fantasy IX has everything a fan could want for an entry into such a great core series: an awesome story, lovable characters, fun side-quests, and an amazing score. From the very beginning of the game, it’s easy to fall head over heels for the characters. That being said, the characters fall into some of the same bland roles you might expect: the naive and rogue-like protagonist, the innocent yet insanely powerful female lead, and your basic band of sidekicks and followers. However, what sets FF9 apart from some other RPGs with the same types of roles is how the characters interact with each other. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but something felt so ‘real’ about the way the story played out and how each character reacted in situations and conversations throughout the game.
Another thing that’s extremely cool about this game was that Square Soft (yes, I know its Square-Enix now…) didn’t do what they usually did for previous games. Both FFVII and FFVIII had main roles filled by human characters, as well as was most of the main cast in both games; minus a few side characters. FFIX, however, took a more ‘fantasy’ type approach with very unique characters, locations, and scenarios throughout the story. All of this leads up to, without any spoilers, one of the best endings in video game history. Even as a grown man, after every playthrough a little tear is shed leading up to the credit roll.
And that soundtrack… each new location seems to be accompanied by an equally distinctive score in the background. Whether is the trumpets of the dark city Treno, or the tranquil, eerie sounds of Burmecia, each will definitely set them mood to your travels.
While my outlook may be biased (seeing as this was my first Final Fantasy experience), I think FFIX is one of, if not THE best, entries into the long standing franchise.
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest | Lumpz the Clown
What can I say about Final Fantasy Mystic Quest that hasn’t been said already? An excellent soundtrack accompanies the apparently simplistic story and gameplay. In fact, you may be fooled into thinking that this is nothing more than a children’s game that is not to be taken seriously.
Granted, things aren’t what they were back when we were kids: jobs, relationships, bills and children of our own tend to put a serious dent in many an intended binge session. Across social media, I hear my fellow 30-somethings lament on how they simply can’t get into time-consuming RPGs anymore.
And this is where Mystic Quest has been our silent hero all along. Instead of having to painstakingly figure out the best possible Materia combination that will finally lay Ruby Weapon to rest, you can find new weapons and armor that are automatically equipped for you. Instead of slogging across a huge map, the locations in Mystic Quest are already laid out for you. Further, random encounters are a thing of the past, with most available enemies already visible.
And to cap it all off, your eardrums are treated to one of the best soundtracks ever made. One of the most excellent and most overlooked features in Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is the fact that players can move across menus and save at anytime, all without a hitch in the music! It can be jarring and even detrimental if the pitch takes an unexpected turn, but Mystic Quest’s seamless audiovisual cohesion makes the entire experience pleasant, refreshing and timely.
So instead of bashing Mystic Quest for what it isn’t, celebrate the experience for what it is. The game was there for us when we were first starting out with RPGs, and it is here for us now as we do our best to clear out Pazuzu and party before the baby wakes up. But hey, if it does, you can always hit Save!
Final Fantasy IV | Christopher Neal
They say you never forget your first, and Final Fantasy IV was my introduction to not just the series, but to JRPGs in general.
Up to that point, my gaming diet had consisted entirely of Chef Boyardee – games that simply had me running to the right and annihilating everything in my path. By comparison, Final Fantasy IV was like discovering that pasta could be made from scratch. It had a narrative that compelled. Characters that were more than their meager, chibi-fied sprites displayed. Art that lit up my imagination and music that infected me.
From the opening flight of the Red Wings and the idea that I was starting on the side of evil instead of good, all the way to the parallax-scrolling final fight against Zeromus, Final Fantasy IV captivated me in a way that broke the mold. It was probably the first video game I had ever played that showed how the medium could be an actual art form. It showcased a form of gameplay that I had never known prior in the RPG.
It also made me one of those frothing Nintendo diehards that participated in the idiotic console wars of the time. I can only claim the ignorance of youth as a defense; I’m the same kid who also thought Fester’s Quest was an outstanding game.
Final Fantasy IV truly changed my gaming world, and I’ve been a Final Fantasy lover ever since, even after the cringe-worthy design decisions of the later titles.
Because you never forget your first.
Final Fantasy X | Jack Johnson
There is no doubt in my mind that video games are the single best artistic medium for world building. A book can describe a new world, a play can approximate it, a movie can show a brief glimpse of it, but only a video game can put you inside of it.
Final Fantasy X is a phenomenal case study in video game world building.
The land of Spira is utterly unique: a sun drenched array of tropical archipelagos chronically haunted by a living natural disaster in the form of Sin. People rarely live long (the “elder” characters in the player’s party are in their mid-20s, except Auron), cities never get large, and death and destruction are always an imminent threat. The culture of Spira is a depressing but reasonable product of the need to find hope in a hopeless world. People cling to a religion which simultaneously curses individuals with original sin (allegedly monster Sin is a product of moral sin) while offering salvation via self-abnegation and distractions like blitzball, AKA “under water soccer.”
The story of Final Fantasy X is a grand tour through Spira from the perspective of Tidus, a man(-child) who knows just as little about this fantastic world as we do. Like the player, he is baffled by the culture of pessimism and nihilistic acceptance. He can’t comprehend why seemingly intelligent people accept obviously contradictory teachings from corrupt authority figures or refuse to even attempt innovative counters to Sin. The culture of Spira may be a natural reaction to constant tragedy, but Tidus isn’t wrong.
Final Fantasy X created a world unlike any other and simply presented it to the player. Sure, there are exciting plot developments and fun characters, but the star of the game is a place with its own natural elements and logically extended consequences. I won’t even claim everything about Spira makes perfect sense, but it is endlessly interesting, and worth visiting for anyone who wants to see how imaginative video games can be.
Final Fantasy VI | Spin of Nerd Rage Renegades
Final Fantasy VI, or as we knew it here in the state Final Fantasy III, was that one birthday present I wanted more than anything. After completing the 2/4th installment of the series I was looking forward to playing the next exciting adventure and on that faithful birthday my sister came through and I was not seen by any human for days after.
A massive game with multiple characters each with their own unique stories and abilities, I was enthralled with the story of Tera, Locke, Sabin, Shadow, Setzer and the rest. Multiple branching paths that all sync up later in the game, a villain that completes his task of destroying the world therefore making you traverse two similar but different maps, secret characters, and the players actions that could change the ending of the game, this was a huge achievement from Square at the time.
What seemed a simple tale of a rebellion out to stop a tyrannical empire quickly transforms into a dark world ruled by a megalomaniac whose sole purpose is to bring chaos and destruction. Kefka is, in my opinion, the best villain in the entire series because not only does he achieve his goal but he leaves a path of bodies in his wake. He poisons an entire kingdom at one point and it just escalates from there.
It was also the first time I remember where a character you get to control dies during the story and before people were trying to revive Aerith in FFVII, we were hearing rumors of a potion that could bring back General Leo. Luckily his devastating shock attack could be learned by Gau so his spirit lived on.
Pick up this installment of the series and if you can’t find it on the SNES it has been ported to the PS1 and the GBA.
Final Fantasy VIII | Stephen Wilds
From the start of that opening cutscene, it all gripped me tightly. The action was amazing, the graphics spectacular, and the music promised an epic fight between good and evil with some love involved. I was siding with the hero, Squall, from the moment he woke up with his fresh new badass scar in the medical bay, and I was pumped when he was dropped on the beach as a mercenary for SeeD. I was hooked, unable to put the controller down—sleep would wait until the Sorceress was defeated.
It may all sound like hype, but this was one of the first Final Fantasy games where I didn’t want to leave when the quest was complete. I looked into the rest of the upgrades, played more Triple Triad, and just explored every nook and cranny I could before grinding myself to tears on the islands closest to Heaven and Hell. I loved each of the characters, especially Zell Dincht and Quistis Trepe, and how they can go from being in space and battling on floating cities to feeling like a CW romantic drama. There are incredible moments in an adventure that feels epic in scope and history that remains personal to all involved.
The story itself starts off tremendously and quickly builds its lore and introduces a second set of characters that aren’t even in the same time. The big boss also changes on several occasions and the reasoning does get a little confusing. Some fans argue that the Draw mechanic and Junctioning of magic and Guardian Forces is too much for them or simply not fun, but I found myself tweaking stats with a grin and stroking my OCD and strengthening my characters as I stocked up on every spell. Like many games in the series it is a long journey, but I find myself constantly trying to find time to squeeze in re-living my favorite tale.
Final Fantasy Tactics | Derik Moore
While my personal favorite of the Final Fantasy games is FFVI, I think Tactics deserves to be praised as the second best of the series—and it’s a spinoff, at that. The series’ traditional deep storyline is intertwined with one of the finest strategy RPGs that has ever been made, making for a fantastic experience from start to finish. I love this game so much because it rewards the player for thinking strategically.
Each turn players can only do one action, and if a move is performed there is no undoing this. Magic has a multi-turn lag, which means planning ahead is imperative or the target enemy may move the effective area over a friendly team member. Attacking an enemy looking at friendly units does less damage than attacking them from behind so positioning is even more important. The best example of rewarding the thinking player is the job of calculator. The calculator casts magic based upon parameters set ahead of time, such as level, attack power, etc, and it does so without any wait. By intelligently combining the parameters the player can cast a devastating magic attack without waiting that hits all enemies without regards to where they are located. Of course, a careless combatant could also cause the calculator’s attack to hit their team. Life’s full of tradeoffs.
All of this combines to make a game where the battles are far more than simply selecting a command from a menu, watching an animation, and doing it again. Tactics is the most underrated game in the library as it only had two semi-sequels. Square, if the brown bag full of week old dog excrement that is FFXIII can get two sequels why in the hell aren’t you making more Tactics?!