Final Fantasy VII
“I’ll be going now. I’ll come back when it’s all over.”
Original release: January 31, 1997 for the PlayStation
Final Fantasy VII is one of the biggest hits of its time. Some have reacted to its popularity by claiming that it is overrated. That’s not true. Final Fantasy VII is one of the most ambitious games of its time, offering a rich story, big world filled tons of side activities (like raising chocobos), and more memorable and iconic moments than almost any other digital experience.
Sure, its polygons look dated, but Final Fantasy VII is still an accessible RPG that can wow players with its emotional moments. And it still has plenty of depth, especially with the fun materia system for magic, which has you level up spells separately from characters.
Final Fantasy XII
“With each passing day, the world finds new and exciting ways to kill a man.”
Original release: March 16, 2006 for the PlayStation 2
Every Final Fantasy game brings about changes, but Final Fantasy XII felt like an even bigger departure from tradition (outside of the MMOs) than ever. For the first time outside of Final Fantasy XI, battles take place in real time. Final Fantasy XII plays more like a Western RPG, like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. You may pause the action and think about your attacks, and you no longer have to worry about random battles.
You control one character at a time, but you may setup how your teammates would behave with the complex gambit system. You may for example, tell a character to only cast a healing spell if someone were at less than half of their health. You may then order these commands based on importance. So, if someone were dead, the command to revive them would be placed ahead of the one to attack an enemy.
For some, the gambits are too confusing, but I love how much strategy they provide.
Playing it now: Just like Final Fantasy X, a remake of XII is coming out for PlayStation 4 and Vita sometime in 2017.
Final Fantasy V
“Enough expository banter! Now we fight like men! And ladies! And ladies who dress like men!”
Original release: December 6, 1992 for the Super Famicom
Remember the Job system that Final Fantasy III introduced? Final Fantasy V makes that sucker sing. Your may change your four characters’ classes between battles, but they also keep some abilities they learned from other Jobs. It becomes important to figure out which classes would work best with each other. It’s an awesome leveling system, so much so that Square Enix brought it back for the recent Bravely Defaut series.
Final Fantasy V also has memorable characters, like the ridiculous villain Gilgamesh, who would become one of the series’ few reoccurring cast members. But my love for this game really does come down to that fantastic Job system. It’s my favorite progression system in the series.
Final Fantasy VI
“Why do you build, knowing destruction is inevitable? Why do you yearn to live, knowing all things must die?”
Original release: April 2, 1994 for the Super Famicom
Final Fantasy VI is one of the most epic stories in gaming history. Its large cast of characters, maniacal villain Kefka, timeless score, and memorable scenes give it the kind of clout in our industry that those in the film world would reserve for something like Lawrence of Arabia and Citizen Kane (yup, I just went for the obnoxious Citizen Kane comparison).
It’s one of the most gorgeous 16-bit games ever, showing us a dying world that mixes classic fantasy tropes like castles and magic with technology like robots and trains. The opera scene is one of the first times a game let music take center stage, while a mid-game event completely stunned players by actually enabling the villain succeed in taking over the world. Final Fantasy VI is one those games that everyone should play at least once.
Final Fantasy IX
“Doesn’t it feel nice to let yourself go under the stars?”
Original release: July 7, 2000 for the PlayStation
Final Fantasy IX has everything I want from the series: a fantastic score, memorable characters (like the young mage Vivi who has to learn about morality), and over-the-top, beautiful cinematics. It’s also the last game to use the ATB battle system, which is the kind of combat I think of first when I hear the words “Final Fantasy.”
I don’t mind when Final Fantasy takes its setting into more sci-fi or modern places, but it does feel more comfortable when you get to play in a more magical world like Final Fantasy IX’s. Square designed it as a callback to the franchise’s earlier days, with references to previous games. Sure, it’s fan service, but it’s fun stuff for mega fans of the series like me. This is role-playing perfection while retaining all of the classic Final Fantasy fixings.
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