All Final Fantasy games ranked & the best place to start

All Final Fantasy games ranked & the best place to start
Images via Square Enix

Written by 

Liam Ho & Harry Boulton

Last updated 

8th Mar 2024 11:40

Contents

There's a huge debate to be had when ranking the best Final Fantasy games, as nearly every title in the long-running series could emerge as someone's favourite or their recommendation for the best place to start.

Final Fantasy has produced many of gaming's most iconic moments and has often stood at the forefront of technological and mechanical advancements - with stunning cinematics, heart-wrenching narratives, and ever-engaging combat systems defining the series.

Best Final Fantasy Games ranked

Split image of Shiva in Final Fantasy XVI and the opera scene in Final Fantasy VI
Click to enlarge

I've opted to stick to mainline entries, with the only entries that are technically non-numbered being the two existing entries in the Final Fantasy 7 Remake trilogy (Remake and Rebirth). Of course, these are all my own personal choices, but let us know what your favourite games in the series are.

#18: Final Fantasy II

Image of a throne room in Final Fantasy II
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Final Fantasy II is a certainly product of being an early game in the franchise. Unlike the other items on the list, FFII didn’t have the retrospect or experience to teach it what sort of game it should’ve been. It’s clear that at this point the franchise was still trying to figure out all of the kinks within the game.

Unlike the original, traditional levelling was subbed out to level up traits based on how much they were used and random generation. Story-wise, FFII was good for its time but was quickly outmatched by games that came after it, especially FFIV and FFVI, leaving it firmly at the bottom of this list.

#17: Final Fantasy

Image of a castle town in Final Fantasy
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Following shortly after its sequel is the original Final Fantasy, which was released back in 1987. While remarkable in its scope for the time of release, it doesn't pass the test of time quite as well as many of the other older entries within the series.

It is still a great place to go if you're looking to see where the series began, or just play a classic fantasy RPG experience, but it's not one of the best Final Fantasy games you can play, regardless of whether you're a newcomer or series veteran.

#16: Final Fantasy XV

Image of combat in Final Fantasy XV
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Final Fantasy XV is one of the most recent entries within the series and was one that came with a lot of hype and expectations. Unfortunately, the game wasn’t able to deliver on every front that it was expected to, opting for a more action-oriented style of combat meant that FFXV’s RPG systems such as character progression were limited.

Story-wise, FFXV accesses a variety of multimedia to tell its story - and this is definitely to its detriment. There’s far too much lore and supplementary material which makes the game hard to understand, and much of the actual diegetic narrative is explained awkwardly through an exposition dump in the latter part of the game.

While there are still many players who have a fondness for the series' first foray into real-time action combat, it unfortunately does not fall anywhere near the the many gems that have defined the series both before and after this.

#15: Final Fantasy III

Image of the title screen in Final Fantasy III
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As one of the earlier games in the series, many felt that Final Fantasy III reiterated largely the same formula as the previous games. On top of this, the narrative of the game felt overly cliche with the four Warriors of Light restoring order in a world thrown into chaos.

Unfortunately, FFIII just felt like a slightly more forgettable title in the franchise, and that definitely hurts its position in the wider context of the series. However, it remains an important milestone that laid out and built upon further foundations that made the series so iconic and popular today.

#14: Final Fantasy XI

Image of combat in Final Fantasy 16
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Arguably the most overlooked entry within the series due to its status as an MMO pre-XIV, Final Fantasy XI is still a very intriguing game that took the series into new places. As the first mainline Final Fantasy game without a turn-based combat system, there were obviously reservations, but it still garnered popularity and a solid fanbase.

There is just something within the fantastical nature of the series that suits the feeling of an MMO so well, and while this is achieved much better and far more successfully later on with another game, the eleventh entry is still worth at least a small consideration as a bit of a cult favourite.

#13: Final Fantasy IV

Image of a cave in Final Fantasy IV
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Anyone playing through the series chronologically will notice a massive step up once they reach Final Fantasy IV, as the move from the NES to the SNES signalled not only an improvement in graphics.

While still not quite there compared to many of the games that came after it - especially its immediate sequel, IV feels like the start of what we know the series to be today and is an excellent point of return for anyone looking to explore the series' roots.

#12: Final Fantasy XVI

Image of Bahamut in Final Fantasy 16
Click to enlarge

It is still difficult to properly place Final Fantasy XVI in the grand scheme of the series as it's the most recent mainline title, but it is a game very much of highs and lows.

It features some of the most spectacular boss battles I've ever seen - as highlighted in our review - but also meanders for much of its narrative and has been criticised for its lack of actual RPG mechanics, which are fundamentally central to each and every game prior.

We will likely continue to ponder XVI's place within the larger Final Fantasy space for years to come, but it's still definitely worth playing.

#11: Final Fantasy XIII

Image of Lightning on a horse in Final Fantasy XIII
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While largely maligned at launch for being overly linear, Final Fantasy XIII (and its direct sequel, especially) have had a relative critical resurgence in recent years. Featuring Lightning as its protagonist, XIII forefronts a more electronic sci-fi world into the series, featuring a vast array of futuristic and colourful locations - even if many are resigned to corridor-like design.

The game not only brings ATB back to the series but it's also the last time that turn-based combat appeared, which many fans earnestly cling to in retrospect. It does still maintain a negative perception in some aspects - especially in the grand scheme of the series, but it is undoubtedly one of the best Final Fantasy games in our eyes, if not just for the music alone.

#10: Final Fantasy VII Remake

Image of Cloud in Final Fantasy VII Remake
Click to enlarge

It was always going to be tricky remaking Final Fantasy VII due to its iconic status within both the franchise and gaming as a whole, but Remake took the task and ran with it. While the first game in an eventual trilogy only covers the opening of Midgar, it's vastly fleshed out which is both a positive and a negative.

Many consider Remake to be a bloated game that didn't need to be as long as it is, but it's impossible to ignore how impressively it recreates the 1997 original and so many of its key characters.

Furthermore, the hybrid of turn-based and action combat introduced in the game is simply fantastic and bridges the gap between the two wildly different systems with ease.

#9: Final Fantasy VIII

Image of Squall and Rinoa in Final Fantasy VIII
Click to enlarge

Final Fantasy VIII is considered to be another dark horse in the franchise due to its rather convoluted battle mechanics, but it remains a highlight for the series and one you should definitely play.

It features a complete reworking of both levelling and spells, where your characters don't grow stronger by levelling up but instead through 'junctioning' their respective Guardian Forces (or GFs). Furthermore, magic is consumable instead of being learned, and is taken from enemies that you fight through the 'draw' system.

It's a brilliant game if you can get your head around it though, and looks fantastic - especially when you compare it to FFVII which came out only two years before!

#8: Final Fantasy V

Image of a fight with Bahamut in Final Fantasy V
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Any Final Fantasy fan survey will likely have its fifth entry cropping up near the top, and for good reason too. By far the main selling point here is the revitalised job system, which affords a near-limitless number of combinations for your party members.

One of the best things about turn-based combat is the creativity that it affords players who want to experiment, so having this freedom to learn so many new abilities across different jobs is excellent and served as a foundation for so much that came after it. 

#7: Final Fantasy X

Image of Tidus from Final Fantasy X
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Final Fantasy X is easily one of the most popular games within the series, especially within its subsequent re-releases. Following the original turn-based formula but ramping up the speed resulted in a fast-paced, flexible and enjoyable combat experience. That, paired with the sphere grid customisation system, allowed for the game’s RPG and combat systems to prosper.

FFX's main downfall is arguably how simplistic it is. While this is perfect for those who are entering the series at this point, it did leave a lot to be desired when it comes to the complexity of combat that you might otherwise expect. However, it remains a favourite of many regardless and is perhaps the ideal jumping-off point for newcomers too.

#6: Final Fantasy VII Rebirth

Image of Aerith in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth
Click to enlarge

Much like XVI it's difficult to concretely place Final Fantasy VII Rebirth so close to its release, but after playing and reviewing it there's no doubt that I'd consider it to be one of the best games in the series.

Expanding upon the foundations of its 2020 predecessor, Rebirth takes many of the best parts of the original game and spins them into an expansive adventure full of wonder, joy, and emotion. It features easily some of the best characters I've encountered in any game full stop and only enhances the already excellent battle system that was introduced in Remake.

It truly feels like everything a modern Final Fantasy game should be and more than lives up to the incredibly high expectations set up by the original.

#5: Final Fantasy XII

Image of combat in Final Fantasy XII
Click to enlarge

Final Fantasy XII really shines as one of the best Final Fantasy games despite being so different, as its excellent political narrative and complex 'gambit' combat system keep in line with a series that was so good at reinvention.

Heavily inspired by the Star Wars universe, Final Fantasy XII takes a new approach to the worlds that we have typically seen before, with a stunning art style that is very reminiscent of other Square games like Vagrant Story, and later Final Fantasy XIV.

The gambit system in particular is a real selling point, taking inspiration from the MMO mould by removing turn-based actions entirely in favour of pre-determined roles. It's always great to see innovation in action, and while the series has never returned to the gambit system or anything close to it, XII stands tall as a fantastic experience overall.

#4: Final Fantasy VII

Image of Cloud meeting Barret in Final Fantasy VII
Click to enlarge

Final Fantasy VII is easily the most well-known of the entire series and for a very good reason too. Cloud is one of gaming's iconic characters, with other key members like Sephiroth, Aerith, and Barret standing tall among gaming's most recognisable faces - especially with the Remake trilogy in full swing.

Released originally on the PlayStation, Final Fantasy VII features an incredibly mature and political narrative that remains relevant to this day. Depositing players into a grungy, industrial world is perhaps not the setting you would immediately associate with the series, but it works so incredibly well.

While the graphics are perhaps the only thing setting it back, leaving it (perhaps controversially) the only ugly Final Fantasy game, there is little else that falls on the negative side with FFVII, and I certainly wouldn't fault anyone for thinking that this deserves to sit at the top as the best Final Fantasy game ever made.

#3: Final Fantasy XIV

Final Fantasy XIV Endwalker expansion promotional image
Click to enlarge

Final Fantasy XIV has to be considered near the top of this list for its remarkable comeback alone, as its disastrous release failed to define a game that has only improved with every single expansion, making it a fantastic experience that definitely shouldn't be missed - even if MMORPGs aren't typically your thing.

Being the second MMO in the series after FFXI, Final Fantasy XIV gives players a massive world full of wonders to explore that you can easily lose hundreds, and even thousands of hours in. With an expansive narrative that has stretched over a lengthy main game and four (soon to be five) expansions, there is so much to fall in love with here that will be perfect for any fan of the series. 

#2: Final Fantasy IX

Key art of Final Fantasy IX
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Final Fantasy IX falls just short of the top spot in our list of the best Final Fantasy games, but that does not detract from how great it truly is. Not only is it the favourite of series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, but it also contends to be one of the fan favourites with its references to the franchise as a whole.

Featuring a cast full of excellent and memorable characters, and a story that seems to encapsulate everything a Final Fantasy tale should be, the game is a surefire winner that you must play if you haven't already.

While the original release was arguably marred by slow and repetitive battles, this has been resolved in subsequent releases that add a turbo mode to speed things up, making the experience far more pleasurable in the long run.

What is the best Final Fantasy game?

Image of the opera scene in Final Fantasy VI
Click to enlarge

Our pick for the best Final Fantasy game goes to Final Fantasy VI, as it provides the ideal combination of gameplay, characters, and story. Not only is it one of the best games within the series, but could easily be considered one of the best role-playing games ever made. Being the first game in the series not made by series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yoshinori Kitase and Hiroyuki Ito took the reins to produce this masterpiece.

With plenty of well-fleshed-out side characters and an excellent villain in the form of Kefka, Final Fantasy VI glistens throughout its story while serving darker more serious themes. Combat-wise the game offers flexibility and complexity that let players go absolutely ham if they choose to. You suplex a train after all, how could it not be the best?

What Final Fantasy game should you play first?

Image of Tidus and Yuna in Final Fantasy X
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For newcomers to the series though, there is the ever-present question of which Final Fantasy you should play first, and for that our choice is Final Fantasy X. While I mentioned its simplicity as a negative when discussing its ranking earlier, this does indeed make it perfect for first-time players, allowing them to ease into the systems and enjoy the narrative as it unfolds.

Truth be told though you could start at any point, as there are no formal connections that tie any of the games together outside of a few recurring enemies and subtle callbacks. I perhaps might not recommend opting for some of the more complex games like Final Fantasy VIII or Final Fantasy XII, but you should really just go for whatever one looks most appealing to you.

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Make sure to dive into our packed Final Fantasy homepage to see everything that we've covered for the series, including everything that you'll need if you're playing Rebirth like all Chocobo locations, the best Materia to use in your party, and a recap of Remake and Crisis Core.

Liam Ho
About the author
Liam Ho
Liam is a freelance writer from Sydney, Australia. He currently writes for GGRecon, Blitz UNSW and works as a team leader at Summoner’s Society OCE. He is addicted to MMOs, mainly Final Fantasy XIV.
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