It’s VII! No, it’s VI! Shut up, idiots, it’s X! Pfft, look at all these sheeple. Dirge of Cerberus FTW!
I’ll start off by simply stating that my favorite Final Fantasy is a tie between VI and XII. But which one is the absolute, uncontested best Final Fantasy game ever created? Well, like any other game, that depends on what you as an individual look for in a game. I recently reviewed Final Fantasy VIII and thought it was terrible. Mind you, if you read my review, I lauded it for its stab at originality and trying some new things in terms of its battle and leveling systems. It was a good story in an imaginative world that was very poorly executed. But you can read the full review later.
The point is, there are many variables to consider both in terms of what Square has given us and in how we as fans determine, “The best,” in a franchise we’ve played and loved for decades.
So which is it? VII? VI? XII? X? These are usually the more popular choices during my conversations on the subject. Between these four, usually VII and X get the most love. So, statistically, you can say VII or X are the best, right? Wrong.
About eleven years ago I worked at a now-defunct video game store called Game Crazy. A lot of you may remember this place as it was a part of Hollywood video before they went out of business some nine or ten years ago. While working there, I had this very same conversation almost weekly. More often than not, when this question was posed the answer I’d receive was VII or X. More often than not, when X was the answer, my follow up question was: which ones have you played? The answer: Only VII and X.
That’s it. Wait…that’s it? You’ve only ever played VII and X?
That wasn’t always the case, I’ll admit, but it was the majority by a wide margin.
I’ve played all the games in the numbered franchise aside from the MMO’s. I’ve even played some of the spin-offs and sequels. VI and XII still remain my favorites in the series. XV came pretty close to a favorite and it is certainly one of the better ones in my humble opinion. I’m sure it will remain one of the better/best games for a lot of people for one simple reason: It’s new.
What I mean by that is, whenever Square does something drastically new with a Final Fantasy, it tends to stand out. Aside from VI (which was almost a carbon copy of V but with a better story and more memorable characters), the most popular Final Fantasies did something quite new. Even my dreadful experience with VIII offered something new and exciting almost 18 years after it came out. That’s almost two decades past and this game still had something new to show me! That’s incredible! As much as I hated the execution, it will remain a memorable game for me. I hope they remake it someday the same way they are remaking VII. I’d play the shit out of an updated version of it.
Final Fantasy VII did away with the medieval universe in favor of the modern ‘futuristic’ Final Fantasies we get today. Not only that, but the story was pretty damn good, too. The battle system was more in-depth and required a lot more thinking than previous installments. Oh, and the graphics were amazing. See Clouds brick-like fists? I bet he can punch a hole right through the universe with those things!
All jokes aside, these WERE amazing graphics back then. We were all amazed. That alone made anyone want to play Final Fantasy VII. Heck, even my Nintendo fanboy brothers and I wanted a PlayStation after seeing the trailer on TV.
What did X bring to the table? First and foremost, it was the first Final Fantasy to have voice acting. The graphics also made leaps and bounds compared to the previous installments. The leveling system and swappable characters during battle (Not the first installment to do this, I know, but it was the first for a lot of people, including myself) added a whole new aspect to the franchise. With a good story to boot, it was a winning formula for Square once again. So much so that they made the mistake of creating a sequel. I’m pretty sure it’s not on anyone’s ‘best of’ list.
Then came their first MMO with Final Fantasy XI. I never played it because I couldn’t justify paying a monthly fee for one game when there was so much more out there I wanted to play. Because of this, I won’t talk about XI or XIV in this piece.
Final Fantasy XII ushered in better graphics, a huge world, incredibly memorable characters, a fantastic story and a very interesting MMO style battle system.
The addition of hunts made the game even more fun. The voice acting had improved a lot since X and the sheer amount of stuff to do was immense. I must have put over 160 hours my first time around and still had plenty to do. I’m running through it a second time on PS4 playing on 2x’s the speed and already have over 100 hours logged in with more still to do. And I regret not a single second of it.
XIII…we won’t go there. It was a decent installment, and for some the best, but for most it was almost a flop. For the record, I played the crap out of it and enjoyed it, but it’s hardly a ‘best of’, for me anyway. For some reason, they decided to make not one, but two sequels. The battle system was pretty damn fun though, for those who haven’t played them.
Final Fantasy XV may yet still be too young to determine if it truly is ‘one of the best’. It has ushered in a nice blend of medieval and futuristic visuals. The story is one of the better, more mature undertakings. The battle system was fun, if chaotic at times. The addition of several optional dungeons as well as a massive number of hunts was done well and kept the fun going. Though I wish there was more of a reason to go out and complete said hunts. After a while, I felt there was no point and stopped doing them.
So, I mentioned VI earlier but didn’t go into great detail about what made it amazing. Well, as stated before, it was almost a carbon copy of V. VI was great in terms of story and its massive open world with a lot of optional quests and characters. There are 16 playable characters in that game! That’s the second most playable characters in any of the numbered series, right behind IV: The After Years, which sported a whopping 22 playable characters.
But aside from the great story and tons of optional characters, what did Final Fantasy VI bring to the table? Well, nothing really. But what more do you need? A very fun game with memorable story and characters, throw in a decent battle system (but far from the best) and you have a solid game. Some of you reading this are probably asking: why does this guy love VI so much when he doesn’t have anything special to say about it? He talked up VIII more than VI and he apparently hates VIII.
You wouldn’t be wrong.
Final Fantasy VI is a wonderful game that you MUST play if you haven’t already. But why is it probably my favorite? Simply put, it was my first. And we all remember our first with such fondness.
I tested out VII around the time it first came out and I was too young to understand the intricacies and tendencies of RPG’s. I couldn’t figure out how to frickin’ run. How the hell could I figure out the complicated battle system? I was twelve at the time and mainly played Mario or Star Fox. All this RPG stuff was too much for me.
Well, a couple years later and my little brother bought a SNES from our older brother’s friend and got Final Fantasy VI with it (originally released as Final Fantasy III in the US, by the way). By now I had a much broader understanding of games beyond the popular platformers of those times and was able to figure out what Final Fantasy was all about. Needless to say, my world changed forever. I played the fuck out of Final Fantasy VI. I beat it and played it again.
Over the years, I probably plated Final Fantasy VI at least six times. The emotional storyline, the funny yet serious characters, and the fantastic music stayed with me, and still does. When I play XV, I put on the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack and just revel in all its musical glory. I pretend I’m Locke, Edgar, or even the moogle soaring through the air instead of Noct (no offense, Noct).
This game changed the course of my video game life forever. My love relationship with the RPG genre had begun. I went back and played VII and was amazed. Final Fantasy IV (released as II in the US originally) was an utter delight. I played and got my ass kicked in Final Fantasy I and III respectively. My journey through every Final Fantasy over the years offered something new and enjoyable – even VIII. But none could compare to my love affair with Final Fantasy VI. It was my first, and I will never forget what it did for me.
So, when we find ourselves in a discussion of what our favorite Final Fantasy is and our opinions differ from someone else, it’s not because one of us is right or wrong, it’s because – in most cases – we remember and chose the first one we’ve ever played. Sometimes it’s the only one we’ve played. In rare cases, we might not choose the first one we’ve played. But one thing is for sure: we chose the one that introduced us to something new; something amazing; something fresh. For some, it’s the Gunblade (shudders), and for others, it’s the phantom train. But what it boils down to is that feeling we got when we played our favorite Final Fantasy or RPG for that matter. There is no ‘best’ Final Fantasy. There are some less than good ones, I will admit, but each one has its set of hardcore fans that love it to death because it changed their lives. In the end, that’s all that matters.