The Definitive, Undisputed, Undeniable Final Fantasy Ranking
In the most recent issue of Playstation Magazine, they unleashed a monstrosity of a Final Fantasy ranking. Taking the 15 mainline entries in the franchise plus the remake of Final Fantasy VII, they gave us what they believed to be the definitive ranking. I’m not going to break down their entire list, but suffice it to say that Final Fantasy XII took the top slot.
As someone who has spent her entire career talking about the Final Fantasy franchise, I was offended by this ranking. And not one to just sit there and complain, on today’s episode of Checkpoint Daily, we did a proper tier list of the Final Fantasy franchise.
Final Fantasy XIII
I’m sorry, but you’ll never convince me this game wasn’t terrible. The weird linear story really didn’t pay off in the way that you expect a Final Fantasy game to. The paradigm system was the early days of a system they finally improved on in games like FF15 and Kingdom Hearts 3. The tease of Fang and Vanille that never paid off still infuriates me.
They wanted to create a powerful female lead, which I’m in full support of, but they created someone who was downright boring instead. And I’m sorry, but having her model purses isn’t a substitute for a bland personality. Nothing about 13 paid off the way Square-Enix hoped it would.
Final Fantasy II
No, we’re not just gonna trash on the new games on this list. The NES games are classics, but they haven’t aged particularly well. I put some respect on Final Fantasy 1’s name because of what it did for the industry, but FF2 doesn’t get the same treatment.
FF2 is a weird game. The leveling system is jank, and there’s a reason they never brought it back to my knowledge. The story really doesn’t carry the game the way FF3 or later entries do. I appreciate Firion, but it was long before the era of powerful characters driving the game forward.
Final Fantasy XV
This one is the best of the D-tier games. Final Fantasy XV is offensively unoffensive. Everything about is okay.
The story is okay. The characters are okay. Boss fights and gameplay: okay. Even the music is pretty okay.
Like it or not, Final Fantasy has a higher bar to live up to than that. And a game that was in development as long as this one really needs to meet it. The story is better when you consume the library of media surrounding the game, but in my book, that’s not an acceptable way to tell a story in a game.
Final Fantasy XII
Take note Playstation Magazine, THIS is where Final Fantasy XII belongs. It is the worst of the mediocre entries in the series. The characters are AWFUL. Outside of Balthier and Fran, there’s not a likable one in the bunch.
The gameplay is okay, but it gets tedious SOOOO fast. I can never bring myself to get through the game. I get about 40 hours in and just lose interest.
That’s a lie. I lose interest about 10 hours in the game, and can only force myself to keep going for another thirty.
Final Fantasy III
I might have ranked this one higher if not for the mini tower. The mini-tower is maybe the most frustrated I’ve ever been while playing a game ever.
Final Fantasy III is responsible for the job system, chocobos, Cid, and a number of other staples of the franchise today. It’s an incredibly difficult entry in the series, but I wouldn’t say it holds up particularly well in 2021.
Final Fantasy IV
Norris and I agreed whole-heartedly on this one. Final Fantasy IV is the most gassed entry in the franchise. People loved it because it was the first SNES title. But it has really shown its age in a way that Final Fantasy V and VI haven’t.
Kain and Cecil are good, but a lot of the characters lag behind their SNES counterparts. The music is also one of the weaker entries in the franchise, with the exception of the boss music, which is AMAZING.
Final Fantasy XI
I can hardly bring myself to even type this. My fingers are actively trying to stop me. But if I’m to remain objective and really look at the franchise fairly, I can’t rank XI higher than a C.
I grew up playing this game, and I wouldn’t have my career today without it. But it’s a game that I loved in spite of it. It did everything it could to make me hate it, and I just refused to. I completely understand anyone who tried to play XI, and couldn’t get into it. Because even I had many times when I wondered why I was still playing.
Respect for being the original only goes so far. And on our list, that’s the B tier. Final Fantasy launched the franchise and will always be remembered as a revolutionary game. But it’s also really old, and it feels really old.
The game has a pretty simple villain, and no characters to really identify with. But it set the standard for RPG gameplay, and even today carries a nice nostalgic value to it.
Final Fantasy V
FF5 brought us the modern job system that we’re still seeing used in games like Bravely Default II. Whereas FF4 might be the most over-rated game in the franchise, FF5 may well be the most under-rated. Faris is awesome, Battle on the Big Bridge is awesome, the game overall is just awesome.
We took some points off because it just ran a little too long. That final world really felt like a slog, but outside of that, FF5 remains a solid B entry on the list.
Final Fantasy VIII
<Incoherent sobbing while occasionally sputtering out reasons why I still love the game dammit.>
Final Fantasy X
I think FF10 gets a lot of the same benefits that Final Fantasy IV and VII get, in that they were the first title on a new generation of hardware. Please understand that we’re in the A tier now, so when I criticize games, it no longer means they’re deal-breaking problems.
Final Fantasy X misses out on the S rank for a few reasons. The cast of characters is okay. The world is interesting, but not quite S-tier material. Oh, and Tidus better send Vaan a thank you card because the stale cardboard we played as in FF12 is the only reason he isn’t the worst main character in the franchise.
Final Fantasy XIV
I made my career saying mean things about this game, but here I am giving it an A ranking. Did I sell out? Have I finally gone corporate? Should I empty my bank account and open a new Blockbuster location?
No, of course not. Shadowbringers came out and Final Fantasy XIV finally started delivering on the potential I always saw in it.
I won’t rank it as S tier, because I refuse to ignore that the game has been woefully inept at times. But the game now is very strong, and it also helped me understand who I am as a person. Thank you Trans XIV community!
Final Fantasy VII
Uh oh! Not so fun when I put a game you like below S tier, is it? I’m sorry, but I think FF7 is another one that gets a bit more credit because it was the first on a new generation of hardware.
I think both of the other Playstation era Final Fantasy games are better games, although I do give FF7 bonus points for what it has done for RPGs in North America. (Hence it gets a better grade than FF8.)
FF7 will always be a classic, and again, we’re arguing the difference between A and S tier at this point. But I think it ages pretty ugly, and maybe was a little shallower than we all remembered. The deluge of mini-games was also a bit much at times. Still a classic, but not S tier.
Final Fantasy IX
As we get to the creme de la creme of our Final Fantasy ranking, we have to pay respect to FF9. The final entry in the Playstation 1 era, FF9 took us back to the roots of the franchise in all the right ways. The leveling system was better than FF8, the story was fun, and the message of self-acceptance was powerful.
It ranks as the weakest of the S tier entries because the supporting cast wasn’t as strong. Half the party felt tacked on and unnecessary. But the music and world are gorgeous, and I can’t wait to play it again.
Final Fantasy VII – Remake
While FF7 feels a little old and gassed to me, FF7R does not. The remake marked Square-Enix delivering on a title in a way they haven’t in a long, long time. The game was as good as advertised and better. It was gorgeous, the music was beautiful, the gameplay was fun.
I could go on and on about this one. On the show, I said I gave it an S-, but I will revisit that grade and up it to an S if they deliver on Cloud, Aerith, and Tifa being a throuple. Until then, it remains the second-best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise.
Final Fantasy VI
11 years ago, I did a podcast where we ranked the Final Fantasy games. We concluded that FF6 was the best game in the franchise, and in a decade, that has not changed. There is so little to complain about with FF6 that it’s ridiculous.
Is it starting to feel a little dated? Yes, it’s beginning to show some wear and tear. But the characters are still strong, the villain is still great, Dancing Mad is still maybe the best piece of music created in our generation.
The story is still dark when it needs to be, and light-hearted when it can be. I love this game, and if FF7R is the standard of remakes we’re going to get, then I hope FF6 is next.
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Lead Image courtesy of Square Enix