By William Haderlie / November 29th, 2016
The release of Final Fantasy XV is upon us. Over the last few months I’ve been doing a countdown list of my favorite Final Fantasy games of all time. This list has been mostly for fun, but it will also place some perspective on my upcoming review of the most recent entry. In this final entry I’ll be doing a short recap of the previous titles and then crown my favorite Final Fantasy game of all time. But first, a review of the rules I used for the countdown list.
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
My initial reaction to the game was very bipolar. The classic Final Fantasy hooks were there, and they certainly did their work in grabbing me. However, they were rather few and far between in my experience. The music was wonderful, and the world was an upgrade to what I was playing before. But, to be honest, this game felt much more like Everquest with a Final Fantasy skin. And for some people, that is what they wanted. For me, that wasn’t what I was there for.
This is the only natively mobile game on this list for good reason. I really despise the idea of a game intentionally placing roadblocks in your way to playing it the amount you want to. The music and the pixel art are enough for me to enjoy it, however, so it’s not like there are no redeeming qualities. A good, but flawed, entry into this list. Only held back by the cell phone free to play model more than any quality of game design.
You can have some fun in this game single player, but the game is definitely focused on its multiplayer and your experience will be very limited. This was not an online capable console either, so your multiplayer was restricted to local; an impossibility for people like me, even if you got past the GameBoy Advance and connecting cable needs. That was a definite impediment to me really enjoying my gaming experience with this one, but one gameplay aspect made it even more of a chore, and that was lugging that stupid crystal around everywhere.
What could have made this game climb higher on my own list would have been to have it’s own story. If there was a long and interesting story mode that made even more use of the RPG mechanics, then I would have loved this game even more. Final Fantasy without the story and without the exploration feels like I am missing a lot of what I love the most about the series.
What I appreciate the most about this game is that Squaresoft finally gave us fans another opportunity to enjoy the characters from a game that we already loved. I really do still appreciate their ability to tell a whole new story in a whole new world to this day. But I would like to have it both ways as much as possible. Give me some of the old, and also blow my mind with some of the new.
So this game was a good idea, and I did enjoy it for a while. But I got bored long before I finished maxing out all my characters. The story was not bad, but could have been better. And the actual playing of the game, the combat, could have been a lot more interesting.
The addition of new characters was a nice bonus, but it was not what pushed this game higher on the list than it’s original. It was the addition of the overworld and stronger RPG mechanics. In the end, there are many other fighting games and 3D action RPG’s that I can play. I play Final Fantasy mostly for the RPG mechanics and the stories. So not having those things in this series is a bit of a hang-up. Adding more of those classic components into this one definitely felt like a pretty significant upgrade.
Even though it was a bit disappointing that there were no random battles (a practice that has become much more common now), that does not mean that exploration was boring. In fact, exploration was much more interesting than most console RPGs were for that time. That is because this game introduced some Action-RPG (Zelda) elements such as puzzles and destructible obstacles. Some of these elements have entered into the Final Fantasy games since then, but not quite to the degree of this game.
Party battles could be fun, but they still do rely on the holy trinity of MMORPGs (Tank, Healer, DPS). Class changing was quite cool, and I considered it a large improvement over other MMOs that you had to create an all new character in order to fight as a different class. Unfortunately, the capability to carry other class spells and techniques into a different class was much more limited than in their entirely single player based RPGs, obviously to keep it balanced and not make people who invest an enormous amount of time in the game too powerful. But to me, who does not care about multi-player combat, that was a huge missed opportunity.
This game may not be as much of a classic as it’s sequel, but I still do love it. If I separated it from the Final Fantasy lineage and put it up against other handheld exclusives, GameBoy exclusives, or action RPG games, this one would rank even higher. It was difficult but fair. It added a lot of fun RPG mechanics into a classically Zelda style of gameplay, which was way ahead of its time. And really its greatest strength was how absorbing and fun it was on the simple gray brick GameBoy. If you wanted to spend a fortune on batteries, all you needed to do was purchase this game.
There may not have been too many story trappings, but each world you arrived at as you climbed that Tower of Babel had its own style and personality. So that turn based combat, combined with the fun RPG mechanics, combined with a pretty severe difficulty level, all added up to a great recipe. And a great way to spend your time on a handheld system.
The battle system was mostly the same as the first game, other than the ability to restart if you died in battle. So the main draw of the battles were that there was better character progression this time around. And there were new monster designs as well that honestly looked pretty good in black, white, and grey. There was much more variety in the spells and abilities, to go along with the increased variety in the lands that you could visit. Really this is one game that I wish they would make a full remaster of and release it on the PS Vita.
The SaGa games were always a mix of fantasy and science fiction, particularly when it came to the choices of weapons and armor. But this game skewed much more in the science fiction direction. The main story did not involve climbing a fantastic tower, instead you gained control of a spaceship that would allow you to fly around and travel through time to fix what has been going wrong in the world.
The main reason that this one ranks as my lowest of this series is that the main character Luso was largely uninteresting to me, and the overall story was on the short side and not nearly as epic as the other two games previous to it. Also, the ending has certainly stayed with me as leaving a bad taste in my mouth. It felt like they were just having him go home so they could be responsible parents and not convince kids to run off to their own world. There was absolutely no reason, to my way of thinking, for him to abandon his friends and his potential love interest and return to his own world.
For those paying attention, it wasn’t too much of a surprise for them to go tactical with the sequel, given that the main title was set in the world of Ivalice. And the world of Ivalice was the location of the Final Fantasy Tactics side series of games. But, what was really shocking, was that this was not a Final Fantasy Tactics turn and grid based SRPG, this was closer to real time strategy (a first for the Final Fantasy series).
But it’s not any higher on the list because I just don’t like the combat system very much. It occupies this strange place of trying to make combat more action filled (something that I have never needed from my RPGs; Dragon Quest and Etrian Odyssey are two of my favorite RPG series), but also still maintain some of the RPG mechanics that the series has been known for. And for me, that balance has never quite worked out all that well. In my action games, I want more precise control and hit boxes and challenge. In my RPGs, I want more strategy and stat growth and build choices.
Because of his service in Soldier, as well as his romantic relationship with Aerith, you will meet almost all of the characters who were originally involved in the story of Final Fantasy VII. This is a really smart tactic for this game to make use of. This allows the developers to insert the story between the margins of what we already knew, and they already have all the characters (and some of the art assets) already developed. Of course, the disadvantage of this design decision is that we already know how this will end, especially if you loved Final Fantasy VII enough to see all the optional content.
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