By William Haderlie / November 8th, 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
11. Final Fantasy XIII
Yes, you are reading that right, I do have Final Fantasy XIII ranked higher on my list than I do Final Fantasy VII. In fact, the trouble for me was in wanting to rank it higher on the list than this, in several iterations of the list, it was in my top 10, but never in my top 5. Even though I had fond experiences with this game and had beaten it twice before, I wanted to go back and remind myself of the game earlier this year. Mostly that was in preparation for the release of Final Fantasy XV, it was before I ever decided on creating this countdown. I was fairly unsurprised to find that it held up just as well as I thought it would, and the experience of playing it on PC through Steam was a good one. So even though that version started off life fairly rough, I definitely consider it the current definitive version of this game.
On my previous article in the Countdown, I started off with what I liked about Final Fantasy VII and then I went to the aspects that failed to impress me. I’m doing pretty much the opposite here because the general tone of the online consensus about these two games is so diametrically opposed. The one point critics slam this game on that I agree with (for the most part) is the pacing issue, but not in the same way. The first 20 hours as a tutorial complaint doesn’t really hold water for me, many JRPGs in the past have your group splitting up into different combinations before they come back together. And almost all JRPGs have your party gain new powers and abilities as they progress through the game, this is something that started in this series with the very first Final Fantasy. You felt far more epic when you turned into a Ninja than if you would have been able to start by creating one, instead of having to spend half the game as a Thief. Where I disagree with this complaint is that it largely ignores the narrative reason for splitting up the party like that. The narrative strength of this decision is in allowing you to really explore the personalities and motivations of each of your party members, instead of just having all 6 together and only ever using the three that you enjoy the most. This decision may not be for everyone, because you may not like a few of the characters, but at least it allows them each to have their own growth.
There are definitely some characters that I liked more than others, however. Unlike most of the internet, it seems, my least favorite character was not Vanille, she’s not my favorite but I still like her a lot. My least favorite character by quite a ways was Hope, and that has not changed with subsequent playthroughs. Look, I was a young boy at one time as well, and I had to deal with some serious crap, but I never behaved in such a pathetic way. So I give him zero points for his age or his circumstance, he just comes off as whiny and needy and that would be enough to put me off liking him. But the blaming everyone else for things that weren’t their fault makes me actually dislike him. I wanted a Mass Effect style choice wheel where I could have taken control of Snow and just started putting pressure on the kid’s windpipe and explaining to him that if he doesn’t value the sacrifice that his mother made for him, I would send him to join her.
Vanille I actually enjoy, but mostly as a combination with Fang. I really wanted those two characters to be the main characters and their romance to be explicitly defined instead of subtlety inferred. Not only would this be cool because I like yuri couples, but also because I actually like Fang more than Lightning. Lightning does get a lot better in the last half of the game, but I couldn’t help feeling like she was a bit stupid, and also was made into an asshole just so she could have a character development arc where she would become a more likeable person. Frankly, I prefer just enjoying the time I spend with my fictional characters rather than needing a character arc. I am a writer, and I do know the general conventions of writing fiction, but I don’t agree with all of them. This is one of those cases.
And that is it for my complaints about the game. The overall story is a really good one, and the music and character designs are all really great. I not only own the full multi-CD soundtrack, but I have listened to it many times. But where this game really shines for me is in the combat system. For the first 12 Chapters the combat system slowly gets better, but for me, it still remained fun. On my first playthrough, it took a bit of getting used to in order to wrap my mind around the combat being almost the opposite of Final Fantasy X. Your characters basically act on their own and you have to interrupt their actions in order to take control. But really the combat wasn’t all that different in concept than it was in Final Fantasy XII. Where it innovated heavily is with the Paradigm Shift, which is the process of changing your party member’s classes in the middle of battle.
Each fight, even the small random battles, would often be complex enough that you really would want to Paradigm Shift at least once during the battle in order to receive the highest score rating (and thereby the best potential rewards). Because the battles were more difficult by average than any of the previous games, and because the rewards were determined by your strategy, your party was always completely healed after each battle. This ended up being a great decision, in my opinion, and really opened up the battle system to a lot more experimentation and challenge. Once you reach Pulse in Chapter 12, the battle system really opens up and your characters start to be able to be very diversified. However, it is a mistake that people often make to suggest that all the characters are equal. In fact, that complaint was largely leveled against Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XII, so Square Enix actually made the characters in this game much more individual with their combat abilities. You can beat the main story of the game without really knowing that Lightning is the best Ravager, or Fang is the best Commando, or Vanille is the best Saboteur, but you will not go as far as you could with the bonus optional battles if you don’t make the most of those subtleties.
And those bonus battles and optional Marks are where this game gets most of my love. Once you get into the really deep game and difficult content, especially after you beat the final boss and unlock the remainder of the Missions and Crystarium, this game gets extremely fun for me. My favorite group is Fang (leader), Lightning, and Vanille. With my three ladies, I can destroy absolutely anything in the post game, and by maxing out my Crystarium with all of them and obtaining their Ultimate Weapons, it becomes a really fun dance between the different Paradigms which I have set up. In the first half of the game, this game plays a little like a traditional JRPG only flashier. And it seems like they might have taken away the control inputs just so you could watch the pretty action on the screen. But late in the game, you find out that if you do the Paradigm shifting correctly it can make the combat seem like a beautiful dance. It also made the combat stay more fun over >100 hours of grinding for materials, which is more than most other RPGs can claim.
So I generally disagree with the general consensus that this is a bad game, as you can tell by its placement on the list. But I will say that if I just stopped at beating the final boss as quickly and low leveled as possible, it would rank lower on my list. The more you dive deeply into this game’s esoteric systems, the better the game becomes, in my opinion. I would have certainly liked the game better without Hope, and if the combat system reached fruition earlier on in the game. But that might be a major reason why you haven’t seen the direct sequel to this game on the list as of yet.
Final Fantasy XIIIFinal Fantasy XVFinal Fantasy XV CountdownJRPGPCPlayStation 3Square EnixSteam