Final Fantasy IV
“But anger never bears true strength, and it blinds you.”
Original release: July 19, 1991 for the Super Famicom
This might be the most controversial placing on my list. For many, Final Fantasy IV is one of the most classic RPGs ever. For me, it’s an alright, short game filled with few surprises. Part of my problem is that I played it a bit on the late side, well after Final Fantasy VI and the PlayStation installments. Much of Final Fantasy IV’s charm came from its, at the time, epic presentation. It was one of the first major RPGs in the 16-bit era, and its art, graphics, and music are all a major advancement over the NES days.
It also introduced the active time battle system (ATB) that the series used up until Final Fantasy IX (and still today in spin-offs like World of Final Fantasy). Final Fantasy IV setup the series for success for years to come, but the game itself feels simple compared to what follows. If you do play it, try to avoid that 3D remastering they did for the DS. The game loses a lot of its charm when it ditches the pixels.
Playing it now: The DS version still works on a 3DS. That version is also on Steam, iOS, and Android. You can also download the PSP version, Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection (which also comes with the mediocre sequel, The After Years), on you Vita.
Final Fantasy VIII
“Why do people depend on each other? In the end you’re on your own.”
Original release: February 11, 1999 for the PlayStation
Final Fantasy VIII kind of reminds me of Final Fantasy II. It’s a sequel that could have played it safe after the huge success of Final Fantasy VII, but instead, it dares experiment. Magic works weirdly in Final Fantasy VIII. You get spells by drawing them from enemies, which you could then cast later. You also use spells to augment your own stats.
It’s complicated, which probably turned a lot of fans off, but it’s a rewarding system for those that learn its nuances. Final Fantasy VIII also turns up the presentation, wowing us with some of the most impressive music and cutscenes we had ever seen at that point in gaming.
Playing it now: You can download the PC version on Steam.
Final Fantasy XIV
“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”
Original release: September 30, 2010 for PC
I didn’t get into Final Fantasy XI, but I’m a fan of the series’ second MMO. Well … kind of. You see, Final Fantasy XIV was actually a mess when it was first released. If it had stayed in that state, it would have easily been on the bottom of this list. But Square Enix remade the game, relaunching Final Fantasy XIV in 2013 as A Realm Reborn.
The new MMO was accessible, beautiful, and featured an engaging story to play through. Today, it’s one of the best MMOs on the market, but it’s also the greatest turnaround in gaming history.
Playing it now: It’s still relatively new game, so you can get it for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PC easily. Here’s the Steam page for the PC version.
Final Fantasy X
“This is your story.”
Original release: July 19, 2001 for the PlayStation 2
People were hyped to see Final Fantasy on the new PlayStation 2, and Square delivered a memorable experience. Like Final Fantasy XIII, it suffers a bit for its linearity, but its story is more memorable thanks to standout characters like the mysterious Auron and the priest-like Yuna.
It also changed the franchise’s combat system for the first time in years, showing players which characters would be attacking in what order many turns ahead. You could also swap party members in and out at any time, making it easier to exploit enemy weaknesses.
Playing it now: Final Fantasy X recently got an HD remaster along with its sequel for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and Vita.
Final Fantasy XV
“So, you are the Chosen King … but you are a second choice, at best.”
Original release: November 29, 2016 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
The newest entry in the series was in development for a decade, but it came out just fine. It’s better than fine, really. Final Fantasy XV is a big game featuring an open world full of sidequests. The combat system takes place in real time, but you still have to use strategy (specifically, knowing when to defend and when to attack) if you want to win.
But Final Fantasy XV four friends are its core. You only control Noctis, but his three buddies join you for special attacks in a combat system that flows like a choreographed battle from a movie.
The game does suffer from pacing issues toward its end, but the actual ending (without giving anything away) makes up for it. You can check out my full review if you need more convincing of Final Fantasy XV’s greatness.
Playing it now. It’s new and out for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.