Best Final Fantasy games: All entries ranked & best place to start

Best Final Fantasy games: All entries ranked & best place to start
Images via Square Enix

Written by 

Liam Ho


30th Jun 2023 13:21


There is a huge debate to be had when ranking the best Final Fantasy games, 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.

However, there is one room for one at the top, so make sure to keep scrolling if you want to find out what the best Final Fantasy game is, alongside the ideal place for new players to start in the series.

Best Final Fantasy Games ranked

Split image of Shiva in Final Fantasy XVI and the opera scene in Final Fantasy VI
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Check out the complete list below if you're wanting to see our picks for the best Final Fantasy games ranked. We have opted to stick to mainline entries, so no spin-offs or sequels, but there are certainly enough games to consider - 16, to be precise!

Of course, these are all our own personal choices, but let us know what your favourite games in the series are. Without any further hesitation though, here is our ranking of the best Final Fantasy games from worst to best:

#16: 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 Final Fantasy ranked list.

#15: 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 definitely is not one of the best Final Fantasy games you can play, regardless of whether you're a newcomer or series veteran.

#14: 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, FFXV 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 to its detriment. There’s far too much lore and supplementary material which makes the game hard to understand. That or it’s explained awkwardly through an exposition dump in the latter part of the game.

While there are still many players that have a fondness for the series' first foray into real-time action combat, it unfortunately does not fall anywhere near the best Final Fantasy games in our eyes.

#13: 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-XIVFinal Fantasy XI is still a very interesting 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 one of the best Final Fantasy games.

#12: Final Fantasy III

Image of the title screen in Final Fantasy III
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Final Fantasy III originally started out without being released worldwide and was only released in Japan. As one of the earlier games in the series, many felt that the game was reiterating 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, sitting in a rather middling position on this Final Fantasy ranked list. However, FFIII was an important milestone that laid out and built upon further foundations that made the series so iconic and popular today.

#11: Final Fantasy IV

Image of a cave in Final Fantasy IV
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Final Fantasy IV was one of the more triumphant entries into the early part of the series, emerging as arguably the game in which Final Fantasy as a series defined itself, with its character-focused storytelling. 

Although, for being an old game, FFIV still remains a breakpoint for the series as a whole. With its introduction of new storytelling methods, FFIV paved the way for future entries to come, making it well worthy of being one of the best Final Fantasy games. On top of the story improvements, it invented the Active Time Battle system, which was kept until FFX.

#10: 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 into the series, with 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 is 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.

#9: Final Fantasy V

Image of a fight with Bahamut in Final Fantasy V
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A recent interview with the key developers of the sixteenth entry revealed that Final Fantasy V was near-ubiquitously considered one of the best in the series, and we cannot help but agree there. It is from this point that really things get thrown up in the air, as any of the subsequent games could easily be considered someone's favourite.

Final Fantasy V in particular revitalised the job system within the series, which is perhaps one of the most substantial additions, defining many titles from that point onwards. While it is let down in some other areas, it is a standout that deserves to be ranked highly among its contemporaries.

#8: Final Fantasy X

Image of Tidus from Final Fantasy X
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Final Fantasy X remains 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 FFX’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 definitely one of the best Final Fantasy games that you can play right now.

#7: Final Fantasy XVI

Image of Bahamut in Final Fantasy 16
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Being the most recent entry into the list, it is quite difficult to confidently place Final Fantasy XVI in the grand scheme of things. Time will tell whether it falls up or down in the estimation of Final Fantasy fans, but in our eyes, it is a spectacular game that produces some of the best moments within the entire series.

However, it is unfortunately not without its issues, with poor pacing at many points caused by tiresome quest design, and a fair amount of jarring cutscenes. Regardless though, it features an excellent narrative with some top-tier characters, and a combat system that - while not traditionally Final Fantasy - still proves to be excellent, especially within its boss battles.

#6: Final Fantasy VIII

Image of Squall and Rinoa in Final Fantasy VIII
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Final Fantasy VIII is considered to be another dark horse in the franchise, but it sits near the top of our Final Fantasy ranked list as one of the best games.

With its Draw and Junction systems, it was controversial among most of the player base. Instead of sticking with a more traditional levelling system, players would get the most usage of their party by "junctioning" them to another entity. This was alongside the Draw system in which players had to "draw" magic from enemies.

It is within these innovations that the series is arguably most interesting, and while some won't always gel with it, we certainly appreciate how FFVIII innovated on the FF formula and reinvented the idea of the RPG as a whole. Squall also has a sword that's a gun, which you can't help but love.

#5: Final Fantasy XII

Image of combat in Final Fantasy XII
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Final Fantasy XII comes in near the top as one of the best Final Fantasy games, with an excellent political narrative and complex 'gambit' combat system.

With its great casting, innovative combat and robust story, XII deserves recognition as one of the better games within the franchise. In particular, the highly praised gambit system allowed players to pre-set their companions, making combat much more free-flowing while in real-time.

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.

#4: Final Fantasy VII

Image of Cloud meeting Barret in Final Fantasy VII
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Final Fantasy VII is easily the most well-known of the entire series and for a very good reason too. Cloud is iconic to the Final Fantasy franchise and is arguably even the poster child of it all, with other key characters like Sephiroth, Aerith, and Barret standing tall among gaming's most recognisable faces - especially with the recent Remake.

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 Final Fantasy 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 it is most definitely one of the best Final Fantasy games out there - perhaps the best, in many eyes.

#3: Final Fantasy XIV

Final Fantasy XIV Endwalker expansion promotional image
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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 easily one of the best Final Fantasy games you can play right now.

Being the second MMO in the series after FFXIFinal 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 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, FFIX 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.

  • If you loved Tears of the Kingdom, you might want to see some other suggestions for the best games like Zelda here.

What is the best Final Fantasy game?

Image of the opera scene in Final Fantasy VI
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Our pick for the best Final Fantasy game goes to Final Fantasy VI, as it provides a fantastic 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 FFVI offers flexibility and complexity that let players go absolutely ham if they so choose to invest in the game. With its amalgamation of all its brilliant features, it's easy to see why FFVI is one of the best in the franchise.

  • One key Final Fantasy game features on our list of the best Steam Deck games, so make sure to read it to find out more.

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 we 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. We 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.

So, that wraps up this list of the best Final Fantasy games, giving you our picks and ranking every mainline entry within the series. While some might not agree with our choices, that is perhaps the beauty of the series that we all have our favourites and individual opinions.

If you're wanting to delve deeper into the series with more news and guides, make sure to check out our dedicated Final Fantasy homepage as we've got plenty more.

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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