I’m a huge Final Fantasy fan. I used to be a huge Final Fantasy fan.
Remember the Playstation 1 demo discs that had twenty-some-odd games on them? My family had one with the FF VII demo on it that I played over and over again. Every time we went to Babbage’s (yeah, we’re talking long ago in a time far far removed from today) I would beg and plead my parents to let me get the full game. But it was rated M, and I probably heard five “No”s for every time I played the demo. Then, after wearing my parents down for years – although it was probably only one or two – I was finally allowed to purchase my very first Final Fantasy game.
It was everything my prepubescent mind hyped it up to be. I became an instant fan and played every Final Fantasy game I could get my hands on from that point on – yep, even the FF XI mmo.
For years the series never disappointed me, then FF X-2 came out. I really hated X-2. I don’t mind it as much now, but I remember an intense sense of betrayal after completing that game. What my 12-year-old mind expected was a continuation of FF X, and what I got was something I thought didn’t even deserve a Final Fantasy title.
Then the three year wait for FF XII happened. I couldn’t play FF XI when it first came out, so the drought was real. But I had puberty, teenage angst and a job to distract me.
I remember being so happy when FF XII came out on PS2 instead of the upcoming PS3, which I wasn’t going to be able to get any time soon. It was so different that the previous iterations but it still had a Final Fantasy heart to it. Was it ground-breakingly phenomenal? No, but it was a step in the right direction.
Then FF XIII happened. After another excruciating long three year wait we got a linear, auto-attacking visual-novel-like game that made me sick. Hour after hour went by as I waited with baited breath for the intricate side quests, the Golden Saucer-esque stages, the exploration and fleshed-out world building, but all I got was an X-button mash-a-thon with pretty graphics and a convoluted story that took itself way too seriously.
The upcoming FF XV seems nice, but I have serious doubts after playing the demo. The combat is clunky and it seems like another FF XIII situation waiting to happen.
But I digress. This introduction has gone on long enough and I have quite a few other things to write today. It’s time to get to the point.
FF IX is the Best of the Franchise
Most people tend to pick an iteration between FF VII and FF X when they discuss which Final Fantasy game is the best of the franchise. The previous titles were largely only released in Japan before later being released worldwide, and FF VII – FF X served as practically the gold standard of console RPGs during their respective years.
You have to keep in mind that this was before games like KotOR revolutionized the genre, and there were a lot of console gamers who never owned or played PC RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Fallout. These games existed during the golden age of turn-based combat, a system that the modern gamer would reject quicker than a bad kidney transplant.
Games like the old Final Fantasy and Suikoden series would have their niche fans like me, but wouldn’t appeal to the gaming masses as a whole nowadays.
Crap, I’m rambling again, but you get the point.
Why it’s not FF VII
But despite the chocobo racing and raising, the Emerald and Ruby Weapon bosses, the Golden Saucer, one of the greatest gaming villains ever, the submarine exploration coupled with airship travel and all the other little things that make the game a massive stand-out in the industry, I never really got sucked into the story.
The story’s great, but I wasn’t one of those people who felt all emotional when Aerith died and I never felt a real connection with any of the characters. They were interesting and went through some great moments, but I was never really sucked in beyond the gaming experience itself.
FF VII is also the bandwagon favorite of the genre. It’s the easy answer because it came first, and honestly it would be my second choice, but the lack of any emotional ties to the characters just rules it out for me.
Why it’s not FF VIII
Graphically the game always felt off, like it was trying to make the characters more realistic than the technology at the time was capable of, and that always turned me off of the game. It was fun and had all the hallmarks of a Final Fantasy game, but nothing really stood out and it’s the single graphical blemish on the FF franchise.
Next time someone says it’s their favorite, ask them if they played any other Final Fantasy games. If they have and still claim it’s the best, just remember than all entertainment is subjective and agree to disagree.
Why it’s not FF X
WHY DID SQUARE NEVER MAKE A BLITZBALL GAME?! Sorry for yelling, but it had to be said. I absolutely loved the blitzball mini-game from FF X.
The first PS2 FF game was a massive success. It had a fun combat system and a host of likeable characters with the same bits of side questing and rewarding exploration fans had come to expect in their FF games.
The unique progression system gave gamers some fun customization options, and the combat system was more dynamic than ever before. Being able to swap characters in the middle of battle and little details like giving flying enemies evasion boosts against melee characters made FF X a stand-out in the franchise.
That being said, FF X’s story was an angsty downer and dragged on towards the end. It had the opposite problem of FF VII, with interesting characters to get behind but a main plot I couldn’t care less about. I could see the twist coming from a mile away and never really cared about the main antagonist. It was a creative story for sure, I just personally cared more about my blitzball team.
What made FF IX so great
The phenomenal characters, the card game, the sword fight routine in the beginning, the over-the-top band of merry thieves, the badass summons, the wonderfully paced story that knew when to be serious and when to lighten the mood, the zany main character that used daggers instead of a massive sword, Puck and Vivi, Mognet, the monster eating blue mage, the Festival of the Hunt, the flavorful antagonists… take your pick!
FF IX was a perfect blend of all the elements that made the Final Fantasy franchise so great. Every time you turned a corner there was a fun mini-game or something else that ensured combat never became monotonous. The characters were some of the most imaginative of the franchise and the Trance system was a nice change to the Limit Breaks we were used to. The graphics were a good combination between FF VII and FF VIII, and the new summons (called eidolons) looked fantastic.
As always, the best is entirely subjective, and the quirky nature of FF IX hit the nail right on the head for me.
Why FF XII Wasn’t Bad
Since we’re here talking about the Final Fantasy series, I wanted to address the idea that FF XII was a bad game. Critic-wise it received the same acclaim as its older brothers, but there are those within FF’s fandom who mark it as Square’s second massive FF misstep. (The first being FF X-2.)
FF XII was radically different from previous iterations. It featured a completely new combat system with companion A.I. settings and did away with random encounters. It also sported a progression system similar to FF X’s except the progression board was somewhat hidden, and there was a new loot/bazaar system in place that was almost like pseudo crafting.
I personally liked the loot system. It was the first thing that really stood out to me when I played the game and it made sense that monsters would drop parts instead of money. The fact that these parts opened up new items at shops made killing the mobs more worthwhile than ever before.
The real time encounters were a nice change from the tired random encounter system that took more time to load than it did to complete. It gave the game a more dynamic feel and I remember more than one “Oh Shit!” moments as I happened across a hunting boss by accident.
The main complaints people have against the game is the varied difficulty and subsequent grindy-ness involved. These complaints are valid, the game requires a good bit of grinding, but it’s also a trait all the Final Fantasy games share. If anything, grinding in FF XII took less time because you didn’t have to wait for the game to load before and after each encounter.
The A.I. system certainly wasn’t the best, but you could always pause and take control of each character manually. Sure, some of the boss fights were hard, but they’re supposed to be. I was happy to run into a higher level of difficulty than usual because it made combat feel more strategic and I actually felt like I accomplished something with each wanted boss I took down.
Square realized it needed to make a drastic change, and FF XII was a step in the right direction. I can’t help but wonder how XIII would’ve turned out if fans hadn’t been so hard on the game and seen it for the progressive step forward that it was.
That being said, Breath of Fire IV is still better than all the Final Fantasy games combined.