By William Haderlie / November 7th, 2016
The next major entry in one of the most beloved video game series of all time was due to arrive in September of this year after a long gestation period. However, Final Fantasy XV has now been delayed until November 29, 2016. While I, like most people, find this news to be a bit disappointing, I would also rather see this major entry be in its most complete form when it sees the light of day. So I err on the positive side of the delay reaction, more than the negative side. I will be reviewing the game for Operation Rainfall when it does arrive later this year (I’m going to assume for now that it will not see another delay).
In the meantime, I will be posting my top list of Final Fantasy games as a countdown until the release of the next entry. I can almost guarantee that our lists will be different, and I encourage discussion. This will also let our readers know some of the history of this franchise, and my own personal thoughts on it. This ranking is my own opinion and does not represent the views of the rest of the Operation Rainfall staff, but it is a creation that I am proud of, so I stand behind it.
Countdown List Rules
These rules are rather arbitrary, but I had to decide on a list of them just to make it more concise and clear. The first rule is that I will only put one version, the best version I’ve played, of each game. And the second rule, and possibly most contentious, is that I am listing any game that contains Final Fantasy in the American title of the game. That does mean a couple games featuring Final Fantasy characters, but not having that title, will not make the list. Examples of games featuring characters would be Chocobo’s Mysterious Dungeon or Ehrgeiz: God Bless The Ring. And that also means that there are other titles which were not originally Final Fantasy games in here as well, such as Final Fantasy Legend. Other than that, this list is just to have some fun and have a conversation while we wait for the next release in this classic JRPG franchise. There are 34 entries on my personal list, even discounting the different versions, so plan on a long series of articles, and I hope that you enjoy them.
Top Final Fantasy Game Countdown
34. Final Fantasy XI
33. Final Fantasy Record Keeper
32. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles
31. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call
30. Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII
29. Dissidia Final Fantasy
28. Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy
27. Final Fantasy Mystic Quest
26. Final Fantasy XIV
25. Final Fantasy Adventure
24. The Final Fantasy Legend
23. Final Fantasy Legend II
22. Final Fantasy Legend III
21. Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift
20. Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings
19. Final Fantasy Type-0
18. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
17. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
16. Final Fantasy II
15. Final Fantasy III
14. Final Fantasy
13. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
12. Final Fantasy VII
Yes, I have Final Fantasy VII down at #12 on my list. No, I’m not going to apologize to anyone for that. But I will explain what I do like about the game and what I don’t like. As you can see from the rest of my list, Final Fantasy VII was not anywhere near my first JRPG, nor was it my first Final Fantasy game. In fact, the news that Squaresoft was jumping the Nintendo ship to join the new console from Sony was one of the primary reasons I changed my primary console in that first year of the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. During that time they were fairly neck and neck with my favorite PlayStation game being Resident Evil and my favorite Nintendo game being Super Mario 64. But I knew that Final Fantasy VII was coming down the pipe from all the articles on EGM, so I was super excited for it. You will notice that the SNES entries in this franchise have not appeared on my list yet, and they will not be appearing for some time yet.
There is a remake of this game currently underway, from the ground up, but I would have to say that my favorite release of this game so far has been the current PlayStation 4 version. I played this game on the PlayStation 1, original PC version, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita (PSOne Classic version), updated PC version, and now the newer PlayStation 4 release. The worst version of the game, without mods, was the original PC version, and the best is the PlayStation 4 version, but the updated PC release is not a bad one to play either. Also, I should point out that I played through the entire game to completion with each of those releases. So I have beaten this game at least 10 times, most of those times I have done everything possible in the game as well, including 3 sets of every Master Materia and all optional bosses defeated. So you would be mistaken for thinking that I ranked this game lower than other people because I have a lack of experience with it. In fact, I would submit, that the opposite is more likely. I know it well enough to know where it doesn’t quite hold up as well as some nostalgia would have people believe.
I’m not the first to suggest that Cloud makes a much worse protagonist than Sephiroth makes a villain, but I definitely agree with that school of thought. He’s not the worst part of the game, by any means (not that there is anything really all that bad), but I definitely prefer Tifa and Yuffie to the surly Cloud. The shocking death of Aerith (Aeris) still remains a tragedy even when I play it now, but the closer attention you pay to her story and all her optional dialogue the less I like her. The first time I played the game, I wanted her and Cloud to work things out and be a romantic couple, but Silent Hill 2, run with the concept. But this game did that narrative convention quite well. And everything is not about Cloud, there was a fairly large party full of interesting characters, and Yuffie remains one of my favorite Final Fantasy characters of all time.
Beyond the characters, the world story itself starts off looking fairly paint by numbers with a party needing to save the world from a great evil. But there are interesting, and timely, changes thrown into that motif with the theme of environmental destruction and eco-terrorism. Anyone who has studied much of Japanese history or reads much of their literature knows that the ecological conflict is a strong part of their modern history, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that this theme would come out of the country. But it was not really touched in video games before this and added a more serious feeling to the story and its themes. While the tone of the game over the long run would be dominated by the death of Aerith, deaths of major characters (even female ones), had been seen many times before in this series. The world story was a bit more new in that it was less dominated by supernatural crystals and more by multinational corporations. That seriousness sometimes worked against it though when the game either wanted to change the tone abruptly, or to not invest in the depth required to immerse even more fully into the world.
The combat ended up being my favorite part of this game, and it has remained so after playing through the game so many times. It took quite a while before I even put the disc for Tobal No. 1 into my PlayStation because I spent so much time just enjoying the demo disc for Final Fantasy VII. Granted, that fighting game ended up being really good and highly underrated, but it was difficult to hold up to the demo it included. That was even before I got around to the Materia system. The Materia growth and Materia junction system remains one of my favorite JRPG systems of all time. You can come up with some amazing combinations even before you get the Master Materia, but after that, it’s time for god characters. And anyone who has read the rest of my entries in this list, or my reviews, know that one of my absolute favorite aspects of RPGs is creating god characters. This game does a super job of allowing you to get just as powerful as you invest time in being. A Master Summon Materia junctioned to MP Absorb may make the rest of the game super easy, but there is something particularly satisfying with getting to the last boss and being able to just set your controller down and watch your characters defeat Sephiroth and his mother purely on counter attacks (and counter magic, and counter summons). Because the combat system is my favorite part of this game, that makes me extremely concerned for the current remake of the game.
So it comes down to the question of why this game would rank so low on my list when it’s the number one Final Fantasy game on so many others, and as a side question what would make it rank any higher. This game has one of my favorite JRPG fighting systems (but not my favorite one on this list) if the rest of the game held up to that quality it would certainly rank higher. When it comes to the characters and the overall story, it definitely deserves its place on my list. That’s to say that it may seem low at #12, but this is a list of all time Final Fantasy games, not a list of JRPGs of the PSOne era. Any other RPG would struggle to get into the top 10 on this list, so it’s not like I’m saying the game is bad. Maybe if they made the Turks your party, make Elena the protagonist as a new Turk who slowly realizes that she may be a part of an unethical organization, I would have probably enjoyed the game more. But I still did really like a couple of the party members, even if they weren’t always as interesting as I would have liked.
Also, there is the issue of character design, the music is a highlight for the whole series, but the character designs absolutely do not hold up. It’s not just that they are polygons, but that is certainly a part of that issue. After the amazing SNES era designs of Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy VI, The Secret of Mana, and Chrono Trigger, it was extremely difficult to go back to this level of detail. The characters do not look very interesting, even with some modern polygon shaders, but almost worse are the enemy designs. This is really tragic when you look back on the history of this series, but thankfully something that they definitely addressed in the next two PlayStation 1 entries into the franchise. While the designs are nothing to look at, and the story is not something that I’m all that into, the combat is enough to make me come back to the game again over the years, the last time I’ve played this was earlier this year after all.
So, yes this game did not make my top 10, and it is certainly not my favorite of the series, but that does not mean that I hate it. I just don’t agree with the love it gets in the greater gaming community. But, in my experience, most of that love seems to come from those who this was the first Final Fantasy game they played, and often the very first RPG or JRPG. So if it increased our community membership, it remains a worthwhile game to me. I accept that many people will disagree with this selection, but one thing they can’t say is that it’s due to any ignorance of the game. Playing it one more time will not change my mind on it, and I certainly will at least try the remake when it finally sees the light of day. There is some hope that it will end up being the best version, but they will really need to nail the combat and character growth systems. If they just make the combat more action oriented and just present me with the same characters and story, I’m not going to be pleased. But I do genuinely want to enjoy this game more than I already do, so maybe they will surprise me.
Final Fantasy VIIFinal Fantasy XVFinal Fantasy XV CountdownJRPGPS1PS4PSNSquare Enix