X-List: The 5 best Final Fantasy games of all time

Posted on Dec 29 2012 - 6:48am by Tim Torres

X List X List: The 5 best Final Fantasy games of all time

People love Final Fantasy, and if there’s anything people love more than Final Fantasy, it’s arguing about Final Fantasy. Who’s the best villain? What’s the best piece of music? Where’s the best place to dry clean my replica Squall jacket? Too many arguments, too much to fight over.

And, of course, every discussion about Square’s flagship RPG series devolves into “Which game in the series is the best?” Well, that’s easy. There are five of them, and you can find out which ones they are right now, right here. I’ll assume before you clicked on this article you already know full well what your favorite game in the series is already, so hey, chances are you might find it on this list. If not, feel free to sound off in the comments below.

Oh, and as great as Final Fantasy Tactics and 4 Heroes of Light are, they are not included here. This list is for main numbered titles only. Tally-ho:

ffvii X List: The 5 best Final Fantasy games of all time

Final Fantasy VII
Reviled, praised and heralded as the Greatest and Worst Game of All time depending on who you ask at any given time, Final Fantasy VII changed everything. This was the first RPG most Westerners first played. It was the way the world saw video games in 1997. People who never paid attention to games before couldn’t help but take notice at all the commercials on TV and in movie theaters. They only showed the CGI cutscenes, but hey, it was a time when Square and Pixar were the only studios producing high-quality 3D animation and that stuff was impressive! I’ve shared my hate — the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII spin-off titles are worthless — but I’ll be honest. I was as enamored as the next guy when this came out. And the game itself holds up really well to this day.

The pacing is fantastic. It propels you from new setting to new setting constantly, yet still gives you plenty to do and explore. The characters are memorable, the story is interesting (if over-convoluted) and as dated as the graphics, sound and everything is — it’s great! It’s a product of its time. Memories are linked to it. Friendships and sexual awakenings (oh, Tifa) were made over it. Yes, Final Fantasy VII gained an enormous following since its release so long ago, but it kind of deserved it. They just need to quit bugging Square to remake it.

ff9battle X List: The 5 best Final Fantasy games of all time

Final Fantasy IX
After Final Fantasy IX, the series would move on to the PlayStation 2, gain voice acting, go online and become a huge contentious mess. Before that, however, we got creator Hironobu Sakaguchi’s personal favorite of the franchise — a love letter to all previous installments as well as games of its common era. It was the last big PlayStation game to come out, so localization expert Alexander O. Smith (Vagrant StoryAce Attorney) saw fit to sprinkle the script with references to Resident Evil 2Parasite Eve, and many more games (usually from Square) throughout. As a balancing act between the old and the new the game brought just about every familiar Final Fantasy trope back, including the importance of the crystal that was so prevalent in earlier iterations. And each playable character represents a classic Final Fantasy class: Quina the blue mage, Zidane the thief, Steiner the knight and so on.

The new mainly came in the way of pre-rendered CG cutscenes and backgrounds, and the compressed CD-ROM quality audio the PlayStation format was known for — apparently Final Fantasy IX‘s soundtrack is Nobuo Uematsuo’s favorite among his many compositions. It features a charming and heart-warming world contrasted with a surprisingly dark story about life and death, a well-written cast though it’s a little bland at times (Remember Amarant? No? Me neither.) and addicting gameplay that can be tough to put down, especially now that it’s on PSP. The best of the 32-bit era.

ff6ultros X List: The 5 best Final Fantasy games of all time

Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy III for the Super Nintendo was my first Final Fantasy, and unless we’re counting the Zelda games and Secret of Mana, my first RPG. From the moment it showed those three robotic figures lumbering towards Narshe in the snow, with the cinematic opening credits and haunting music, I loved it. It showed me video games can tell huge, sweeping stories with amazing music and memorable characters. Cyan, Edgar, Sabin, Terra, Celes, Locke and all the others may lack belts and zippers or Gackt’s face, but they make up for that with compelling stories (and excellent theme music) that weave through the fabric of the game’s main rebellion vs. evil empire plot.

On top of Celes’ and Shadow’s personal tragedies and successes, bombastic set pieces like the storming of the desert camp and the opera scene set the standard for the rest of the series as it prepared to enter 32-bit territory. Yet even as it did we still haven’t had anything like the open-ended World of Ruin or an ending as immensely satisfying as Final Fantasy VI‘s 20-minute send-off. This would’ve been the top one if the next one on this list didn’t come around, or if I never got my hands on the first game on this list. So it goes. The best cast, best soundtrack and best villain by a long shot. You never forget your first.

ff12bomb X List: The 5 best Final Fantasy games of all time

Final Fantasy XII
If Final Fantasy XII were portable and didn’t take four hours to really get going, it would be the best Final Fantasy game ever. Instead it’s the best polygonal Final Fantasy and the best one on the PlayStation 2. Just like the true best Final Fantasy ever (look below!) it emphasizes pure gameplay above all else. Some say it takes too much control away from the player and I can’t help but wonder if they played a different game. The Gambit System gives you complete control over each and every possible variable in battle. Like the Tactics games — surprise, it’s made by the same super-talented people — it makes you the general of your own small army.

It makes you the programmer. It gives you so many ways to play the game, and if you don’t want to pre-program your characters to attack automatically you can still take direct control and input all the commands yourself. It’s very considerate. It’s also the classiest game in the series. Cutscenes are directed by someone who actually knows how to use a camera, the voice acting’s expertly done, the soundtrack’s restrained and subtle and the plot is about something more than teenage love or the power of friendship. It’s about history, power and the world at large and Ivalice is such a beautiful world to get lost in. This is the game Square Enix should port in HD to the Vita.

Final Fantasy V Advance 03 06 2010 23 11 14 157 X List: The 5 best Final Fantasy games of all time
Final Fantasy V Advance
Kept from U.S. audiences for too long, this “lost” game in the series arrived as part of an awful PlayStation port before finally landing in its ultimate, playable form on the Game Boy Advance, right around the same time everyone moved on to the DS or PSP. So chances are you never played Final Fantasy V or gave it a second thought. If you have then you already know its rightful place as the best game in the series. Free of a maudlin plot or melodramatic whiners, the fifth game focuses on light-hearted adventurers as they save the world from an ancient evil. There’s no angst, no suffering, just airy, earnest entertainment with the funniest script in the series. Simple stuff.

The complications arise in the game’s dense, versatile Job System, which allows players to create whatever kind of party they wish. Want all your characters to be summoners? Done, though you’ll have to find and defeat the summoned monsters first. Want everyone to be a Black Mage? Go ahead, just remember to buy magic. Want Ninjas? Thieves? My favorite, the Blue Mage? Mix, match, experiment — make a black mage with white magic, a samurai with black magic — you can have it any way you want in Final Fantasy V and that kind of freedom feels so, so good. A rousing soundtrack, moogles, chocobos, airships, crystals, creative bosses (one boss has you mimic its moves), plot twists including the death of a major character — it’s the most Final Fantasy Final Fantasy there is. It’s the most fun you can have with a Final Fantasy, so go, play the Game Boy Advance version. Final Fantasy V is the best Final Fantasy.

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Editor-in-chief Tim Torres is a video game geek, a tech nut, a film nerd, and he occasionally picks up a book once in a while. He has written all manner of copy for PCMag, Computer Shopper, The Jersey Journal, Radio One, and Random House. As a video game critic and podcast host, he has written in-depth reviews, attended industry events, conducted interviews and led creative discussions on various topics related to games and the games industry. Before entering the tech world, he attended New York University and worked in education as an art instructor. In his spare time he acts, sketches, eats a lot of sushi and watches a lot of Netflix. He does not hate Final Fantasy VII.

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33 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. WEL January 18, 2012 at 11:49 PM - Reply

    The list was looking really epic until you had to ruin everything with FFV. Between FFIII, FFV and FFXIII I seriously don’t know which one is the worst. But you still had FFI, FFIV, FFVIII and FFX to chose from dude, what happened?

  2. Bhushan A. Rodgers January 19, 2012 at 12:44 AM - Reply

    LOLOL at this list. 

    5. Final Fantasy X
    4. Final Fantasy V
    3. Final Fantasy XIII
    2. Final Fantasy VII
    1. Final Fantasy VII believe that’s the correct order :)

  3. Bhushan A. Rodgers January 19, 2012 at 12:44 AM - Reply

    LOLOL at this list. 

    5. Final Fantasy X
    4. Final Fantasy V
    3. Final Fantasy XIII
    2. Final Fantasy VII
    1. Final Fantasy VII believe that’s the correct order :)

    • Anonymous January 19, 2012 at 3:44 AM - Reply

      I like this guy, he makes perfect sense.

      • Trevor Alexandre May 15, 2013 at 8:32 PM - Reply

        XIII, really? It was the fisher price big-wheel of the final fantasy franchise, and that is including Mystic Quest on the SNES. This game ran you in a straight line, offered only the appearance of customisation, and couldn’t be bothered to take the training wheels off until you were well into the second act. add in the slap in the face of realizing that the open feeling once you reached Gran Pulse was just a lie.

      • Tatjana Vejnovic May 18, 2013 at 5:13 PM - Reply

        Terry.. you and your FF7. IF YOU LOVE IT SO MUCH, WHY DON’T YOU MARRY IT?

        • Valkor May 28, 2013 at 1:04 AM - Reply

          I already went to Canada and did just that. We’re registered at Penny’s FYI. Lulz

  4. catfrog January 19, 2012 at 12:45 AM - Reply

    final fantasy VIII is my favorite of all of them and its not even on your list :( all the games on your list are very good though, and i agree, SE should port XII to the vita, and while were at it, they should just make it a crossplatform ps3/vita game so i can play my game wherever im at

  5. catfrog January 19, 2012 at 12:45 AM - Reply

    final fantasy VIII is my favorite of all of them and its not even on your list :( all the games on your list are very good though, and i agree, SE should port XII to the vita, and while were at it, they should just make it a crossplatform ps3/vita game so i can play my game wherever im at

  6. Miles Greb January 19, 2012 at 12:48 AM - Reply

    This is not an opinion, this is a fact, you are a damn fool and should stop writing. Please learn something about games, art, narratives, etc. this is s fucking joke man. I know this is mostly a flame, but i can’t bring myself to give you respcet cause this is just bs 

    • Mike January 19, 2012 at 2:22 AM - Reply

      All I hear is QQ. Someone sounds butthurt that the shit that is FF7 did not make the #1 spot. While it is true I would not have it on my list at all. I respect him more for haveing it in his top 5.
      My list would be
      5: FF 11 (Spent 3 years of my life enjoying this with friends)
      4: FF 9 (loved the game)
      3: FF 6 (loved the rom I played cause the cart was to expensive even back then)
      2: FF 1 (grew up with this game and still own it case, box, and maunal)
      1: FF 12 (never a better RPG was made except skyrim)

      • Anonymous January 19, 2012 at 3:42 AM - Reply

        I’m glad someone would include FF1 (the american version), which people seem to forget it’s the one that started it all and still an amazing game to play even today. 

      • MikeIsAJoke December 30, 2013 at 7:12 AM - Reply

        If anything I see more people getting here butthurt about FF6′s placement (see 1st post) and saying FF7 either ‘sucked’ or is ‘overrated’. But you know, doesn’t fit the oft-told narrative that all whining morons replying to these must be ‘FF7 fanboyz’ now does it?

        Congrats to anyone who didn’t list FF11 or FF13 in your top 5. You are correct!

  7. FirstReality January 19, 2012 at 1:34 AM - Reply

    Hell yes, XII & IX ftw, they are my two favourites.

  8. jd January 19, 2012 at 11:16 PM - Reply

    Uhh… Did you play Crisis Core? Absolutely not worthless.

  9. Hawt_mess26 January 31, 2012 at 11:00 PM - Reply

    okay, no ff10? seriously people?

    • Trevor Alexandre May 15, 2013 at 8:26 PM - Reply

      FF X is only slightly less overrated than VII, up until the twis it had a largely forgettable narrative, and the most vapid pair of leads ever. Take Auron out of the mix and you would be left with possibly the weakest cast ever.

  10. raizen December 23, 2012 at 10:45 AM - Reply

    Sorry but ff6 is the acclaimed game in the series. It’s the top rated game by most critics worldwide. FF6>FF5 in pretty much every category. Better plot, character development which beats every other ff, especially 5. Far superior soundtrack and arguably the greatest villain in the series.

  11. Palladiamors January 17, 2013 at 7:22 PM - Reply

    You put XII above VI and VII? …okay. Opinions and all that.

    • Tim January 17, 2013 at 9:50 PM - Reply


  12. Trevor Alexandre May 15, 2013 at 8:24 PM - Reply

    ehhh, I would have rolled with
    1st- FF VI
    2nd- FF XII
    3rd- FF IX
    4th- FF IV
    5th- FF VIII

    personally I felt like VIII improved on everything VII had to offer, and IV was three first one I completed, it is the one I turn to every year, like comfy socks.
    With V I can see the argument for it, but I never seem to be able to get into it.

  13. Lucidious May 27, 2013 at 1:19 PM - Reply

    FFVII is #5 and FFXI wasn’t included. You don’t even know what final fantasy is do you -.-? I was half expecting FFX 2 to be #1 on your list!

  14. Ryan Alexander Herrera May 28, 2013 at 2:09 AM - Reply

    Solid list! Agreed that 7 is pretty damn overrated and angsty. I woulda moved 6 and 9 up closer to the number 1 spot, but still I dig what you’ve got hurr~

  15. KRL1009 May 28, 2013 at 8:15 PM - Reply

    Who is the character on the cover of the article? (before you click it to read)

  16. Scotty Sinegal June 4, 2013 at 4:16 PM - Reply

    XII hell yes.

  17. gadiv June 5, 2013 at 5:41 PM - Reply

    7 sucked, 9 was a flaccid reimagining of an older form, 12 was J-Pop-infused bullshit.

    Next article.

  18. sdrew88 June 5, 2013 at 5:51 PM - Reply

    I love all FF titles but i am sorry VIII is the best! Its in a league of its own when compared to others. REAL customisation! Sick weapons, limit breaks that you actually want to improve, biggest and best assortment of summons, improved graphics on 7 and quite frankly 9 as well (who wants to play 50 hours plus as a stupid gay monkey thief??? not me, give me the gunblade, lionheart and renzokukens all day! Plus the story shits on all the others, child rivalry, invading armies, evil sorceresses, the best love story in the FF universe, its the longest, possibly the toughest. And if that aint enough spend all your time robbing people blind in Triple Triad. How you can say graphics made of little blocks and a soundtrack that sounds like a ringtone from a nokia 3210 is better i will never know. I know there classics but when youre talking 60- 100 hours of my time i need something a little bit prettier.

  19. ScraggyStrider June 7, 2013 at 8:48 PM - Reply

    I applaud this list, though 7 shouldnt even be here. its overhyped bullshit.
    my list is close, but better

    5. ff5

    4. advanced

    3. ff6

    2. ff8

    1. ff9

    Also lol at the butthurt ff7fags

  20. Manuel June 22, 2013 at 2:30 PM - Reply

    Sorry but my TOP five is 5. FF8 4. FFXI 3.FF3 2. FFX-2 … 1. FF XIV.

  21. Adam_Rodriguez July 21, 2013 at 8:46 PM - Reply

    I’m not sure how FF9 beat FF6 and even got on this list while FF10 did not. FF9 was unmemorable save for two characters. I don’t even remember what the point of the game was. All I remember was the battle-system was executed beautifully.

  22. John Roastbeef December 23, 2013 at 1:33 PM - Reply

    Decent list, but everyone knows that 6 is the all around best Final Fantasy. There are many, including myself that believe it is the best “game” of all time.

  23. Adam_Rodriguez December 27, 2013 at 12:24 PM - Reply

    Final Fantasy IX has no business being up there on the top five. All it had was a fantastic battle system. The story and a large percentage of characters were completely forgettable.. Final Fantasy X was far more worthy.

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