By William Haderlie / November 22nd, 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
10. Final Fantasy VIII
09. Final Fantasy X
08. Final Fantasy XIII-2
07. Final Fantasy X-2
06. Final Fantasy IX
05. Final Fantasy Tactics
We’re now in the top 5 of this very large set of articles. In some respects, with a list this large, you could consider the top 5 to be somewhat interchangeable. But I would say that for my own list, I think the top two are a little ahead of any others. That being said, numbers 3 through 5 are not going to have any complaints from me. There is really nothing that I don’t like about any of them, it’s just which ones I have loved playing the most over the years. And that starts with this game, Final Fantasy Tactics, which represented a metaphorical surprise punch to the temple for me when it came out. I picked this game up on day one purely based on the Final Fantasy name, I did not even know it shared a history with Ogre Battle (which is a game I also enjoyed both on SNES and on PlayStation 1). I was lucky to be one of the very few people who managed to pick up Tactics Ogre when it finally was released here in the United States, but that game came out on the PlayStation 1 and after it’s spiritual successor, Final Fantasy Tactics, was already released. So to say I was surprised with the structure of this game, would be quite an understatement.
The best version of Final Fantasy Tactics to play currently, in my opinion, is the War of the Lions update on either the PlayStation Portable or the PlayStation Vita. The iOS version of War of the Lions looks nice, but the controls are rough and there tends to be a lot of slowdown and errors when I played it on my iPad. This upgrade, originally released on PSP, adds hand drawn looking story CG scenes and a couple new classes to the mix. There is also some small amount of re-balancing to the Jobs. Story is a major draw to this game, so the more cinematic scenes definitely make a welcome addition to the game. While they tend to skew short, they at least keep the aesthetic of the main game, and they are quite beautiful to watch.
As I’ve said multiple times throughout the list, I generally prefer much more hopeful and romantic stories in my games (especially RPGs). But this one is a minor exception because of how well it is told. This game focuses much more on the world story of combating nations than it does with the traditional Hero’s Journey. If they did not pull it off well and feature amazing writing, then this game would rank lower on my list. But not all war stories are told the same, certainly there is a lot of really good reasons that War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy, is still remembered today (beyond its size), and it’s for good reason that this game ranks so highly in my gaming pantheon but I still find the modern FPS shooter genre so distasteful. War is a disgusting brutal thing, as I have seen first-hand several times, but if you tell me the story well you can still keep my interest. There are a lot of really sad, and sometimes brutal, events that take place during the titular War of the Lions in this world. But other than a personal issue I have with part of the ending (using the Princess in such an emotionally exploitative way to merely show how far your former friend had fallen), I have no real complaints with how dark and serious they go with this story.
One of the things that has stayed with me over the years with this game, beyond the fact that I play it again at least once every two years, is how memorable the characters of this game are. Every time I go back and replay the game, it’s like meeting long lost friends all over again. And when the betrayals repeat, it still fuels fresh outrage. At first, you wouldn’t think, with the super deformed characters on those tile maps, that these characters would be filled with so much personality. But even with a cast this large (something that it does share with old school war epics) I never had trouble keeping track of the different characters. The events could be difficult to remember for the first couple times I played the game, but each of the characters had their own personalities and motivations.
What remains most memorable about this game, even beyond its story and characters, is the fighting style. This was my first Strategy Role Playing Game that I ever played, and that is now one of my favorite genres in all of video games. Without this game, and this series, popularizing the genre, it is very unlikely that we would have such amazing modern examples, such as Disgaea. I had played a lot of Real Time Strategy before this game, like Command and Conquer and Warcraft 2, but they were never really my cup of tea. Soon after I fell in love with Final Fantasy Tactics, Starcraft came out and made me enjoy RTS games more than I used to. But even to this day I prefer the methodical turn-based SRPG to the RTS. It wasn’t so much the chess style movement grid, not all SRPGs have maintained that style (even though it remains the most popular), it had more to do with keeping your same group of characters and building them up like an RPG. Although many later RTS games co-opted that formula (mainly starting with Warcraft 3).
The Job system in this game has remained one of my favorite character building systems in gaming history. When I go back and play this game every few years, it remains the most pleasurable experience for me. Even after I have the story pretty much memorized, and I know all the Job requirements and abilities, I still have a lot of fun building up my characters. One interesting aspect of grinding up your classes in this game is the fact that random battle enemies have levels based on the average level of your party, but the story battles maintain their set levels. So you can feasibly level up your army to level 99 in Chapter 1. However, it can be dangerous to do so because the gear that the shops sell changes by story progression, not by level or by the Jobs you have unlocked. In other words, just because you unlock the Calculator Job in Chapter 1, doesn’t mean you can find a weapon to equip them with.
This game has earned a bit of a reputation over the years as being notoriously difficult. That reputation has been largely well deserved but is a little overstated unless you really want to go through the game with little grinding. For any SRPG you really need to plan on even more grinding than you do in a dungeon crawler, it is an intentional part of their design. They also make use of the Strategy name, so you need to plan ahead if you are going to survive some of the fights. This becomes especially true late in the game when you will have several difficult fights in a row without the ability to save the game between. While this spells frustration for some, I enjoy strategy so much that it spells more fun for me. So, as I said in the beginning, I have no complaints about this game. No game is perfect, but it’s close enough to perfection for what I want out of it. Final Fantasy Tactics surprised the hell out of me when I first played it, but now it has become a fundamental part of my gaming history.
Final Fantasy TacticsFinal Fantasy Tactics: The War of the LionsFinal Fantasy XVFinal Fantasy XV CountdowniosPlayStation 1Playstation PortablePlayStation VitaPSNSquare EnixSRPG