A group of Final Fantasy fans divided against themselves cannot cast fire. Or so the saying goes. For too long we’ve been at war about which is “the best”. Sliding roman numerals around on a table until one of us gets upset and starts using bad language. Let’s end this, here, today. Let’s look at each other, earnestly, with open minds and opener hearts, and regard one another as friends, allies in a world that doesn’t understand us. Let’s look not to the past, but to the future!
And also at this definitive list of Final Fantasy games available on PC ranked in perfect order.
Don’t worry, there’s only nine of them.
All right, settle down. We know Final Fantasy defies a ‘Best of’ list. Fans have been fighting hard for decades, probably mounted on chocobos, to prove that the stomping magitek of Final Fantasy VI is more interesting than the puppet-like mages of Final Fantasy IX. Or the steampunkery of VII trumps the beast-taming of IV. In that sense, our own list is just another chuckling mercenary fighting in an endless conflict for supremacy. But come on, we’re all very tired. Let’s just agree that this is the correct list and go home to our children. They miss us all so much.
For this list, we’ve excluded the MMOs (sorry, Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV) because we’re only interested in the singleplayer games. But we’ve left the door open for spin-offs. Whether any of them actually make the list is another matter.
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Note: In the likely case the Eternal Argument keeps raging, you can summon your own opinions in the comments. But please remember to be a good adversary. Don’t just say: “No Final Fantasy Z?” That’s no use. Say why you think Final Fantasy Z is amazing. Talk about the part where you go Crystal sledding, or the village of the Carrot People, or that bit where Corupcion falls into a TV studio and you have to play the minigame where you pretend to be one of the Empire’s weather presenters. Man, why isn’t Final Fantasy Z on this list??
9. Final Fantasy X-2
Katharine: I have a confession to make. When Final Fantasy X-2 first came out back in 2003, it was this and not the infinitely superior Final Fantasy X that made me want to get a PlayStation 2. Yes, I know.
Call me crazy, but seeing Yuna swap her staff for a pair of guns and kick some ass with her new goth friend and equally bad-ass new haircut was exactly what 15-year-old Katharine wanted from games back then, and even now I'm quite partial to belting out a bit of its Real Emotion opening song at full volume when nobody's looking.
All right, so Final Fantasy meets pop idol was never something we asked for or expected at the time, but after the heavy themes and general seriousness of X, what with you proving the entire [REDACTED] was a fraud and your [REDACTED] was a [REDACTED] and that your whole [REDACTED] was [REDACTED], a light-hearted venture into the realms of dress-up, power ballads and lost loves was arguably just what the series needed before it went back to being all serious again in its attempt to rip off Star Wars (more on this later).
Speaking of dress-up, its Garment Grid battle system was actually brilliant, as this gave Yuna, Rikku and newcomer Paine the chance to dip into any kind of job class they liked with a touch of a button. Fancy playing with Yuna as a Berserker? No problem. Rikku as a Samurai? Why the hell not. Paine as a Tonberry mascot? Go right ahead.
It also finally gave Final Fantasy X the satisfactory conclusion it deserved, provided you whistled three times facing east in the nether realm and clapped your hands twice while rubbing your tummy correctly, of course. That's how all good game endings work, right? RIGHT?
Best moments: It's cheesy as hell, but the Real Emotion opening sequence still gives me the shivers every time I watch it.
Notes: The game's writer, Kazushige Nojima, never liked the idea of X-2 having a happy ending, because YUNA HAS TO BE SAD FOREVER, OKAY?
Where can I buy it: On Steam, together with Final Fantasy X for £19.99
Read more: Here's the details about Final Fantasy X-2's HD Remaster release
8. Final Fantasy VI
Katharine: In a shock twist, neither Brendan or myself have actually played Final Fantasy VI --
Brendan: Don't tell them that!
Katharine: -- but we both feel it should be on this list anyway because it's generally considered 'worthy' and 'the best Final Fantasy' of the so-called classic era.
So why is VI (or III, if you're in US, because they never released II and V in your neck of the woods and made the numbers all confusing as a result) considered so good? Well, based purely on the game's Steam trailer, you get to ride a giant mech that plods slowly through some snow. Revolutionary at the time, and probably the closest you could get to a Gundam-themed JRPG. There's also a train, which is exciting, some chocobos that you jump onto from a bridge (very exciting) and some creepy ass clown dude with a sinister laugh. Because all good villains need a sinister laugh.
Sadly, the PC version is based on the horrible mobile port, featuring ickily prettified sprites and nasty fonts that really spoil what's otherwise considered a very good game indeed.
Brendan: It's horrible-looking. It's a shame so many of Squeenix' back catalogue are bad ports, including the very recent Chrono Trigger - a JRPG that would normally have this entire list looking at it with jealousy, but which in this timeline is uglier than a pug's bottom.
Katharine: Personally, I'm waiting for a 3D remake (like the ones they did for Final Fantasy III and IV) so I can play it properly, but if you're looking to play it right this second, you're probably better off finding a cheeky emulator.
Brendan: Our lawyers have just passed me a small note written entirely in colouring pencils. It says we should encourage some legitimate ways of finding the game first, so I'm obliged to remind you, reader, that Final Fantasy VI does come included in the Mini SNES. And you bought twelve of those, remember?
Best moments: That cool bit with the mechs and the things and the other things, and probably the bit where you unintentionally take part in a whopping great opera scene.
Notes: Final Fantasy VI has been ported to TWELVE different platforms since it was first released in 1994 and we STILL don't have a proper PC version. Outrageous.
Where can I buy it: On Steam for £10.99 if you want the rubbish mobile port. Sadly, there's no other official PC version. But it's floating around in various second hand guises. And built-in to the Mini SNES (as Final Fantasy III).
Read more: Here's Adam lamenting about the ugly PC release
7. Final Fantasy IV
Katharine: I came to Final Fantasy IV - or II, if you're using US numbers - quite late, so I've never actually played it in it original form. Instead, my first taste came from the 3D remake on the Nintendo DS, which is the same one you can buy on Steam today. To be honest, I'm all for this particular version of the game, because anything that makes the classic 'YOU SPOONY BARD' moment of mistranslation even funnier is a good thing in my books.
Final Fantasy IV was the first one in the series to do a proper story with proper characters you actually liked and loathed, with relationships and personalities often reflected in their job class and character skills. There's moody old dragoon Kain and his unrequited love for white mage Rosa, Cecil's transformation from conflicted dark knight to righteous world-saving paladin, super cool ninja Edge who disappears when he gets embarrassed, the slightly useless bard Edward who just can't get his act together to confess his love for his dear Anna, and the mischievous mage twins Palom and Porom who you decide would make brilliant additions to your travelling party despite the fact they're just five years old (social services clearly need to get their act together on this version of Earth). And who could forget Rydia, the child summoner who's sort of rubbish for the first half of the game but then becomes the greatest beast tamer of all time once some STUFF HAPPENS.
Did I mention you also go to the moon on a whale?
Best moments: YOU SPOONY BARD!
Notes: Nobuo Uematsu's 'Theme of Love' music is so beloved in Japan that it's actually taught in schools as part of the music curriculum.
Where can I buy it: The 3D remake is on Steam for £10.99
Read more: You can't. This is the first time we've broken our silence about it.
6. Final Fantasy XII
Brendan: A long time ago, in a fantasy far, far away, a dusty street urchin teamed up with a roguish airship captain and his rabbit-eared first mate, to take a backseat in the story of a freedom fighter and warrior princess. Twelve years later, they all arrived on PC and once again the halls of games journalism were filled with the cries of: “Hang on, this is Star Wars” and “Actually, it’s not bad!”
Storywise, it tramps around in the middleground of the series. While no Final Fantasy could be classed as a literary masterpiece, this takes th--
Sorry, I thought I could hear something in the distance.
While all Final Fantasies are tropey, this takes the anime silliness and aims it straight down the centre of your screen. There’s a war, an empire and a princess. Crystals, knights and monsters. Perhaps the only distinct thing about this tale is that you aren’t playing as a very important person. Vaan and his pal Penelo are just there to act as the reader’s squinting eyes. Two street kids who get swept up in a larger story within the first 8 hours, and only end up fighting big “Judges” in scary armour because the rest of the characters were doing it first.
It’s oddly refreshing. And so is the fighting system. For the first time, Square threw away the standoffish system of menus and little white gloves. They filled the overworld with enemies, rather than having fights confined to the random interruptions signalled by blurred screens. Finally, they asked: "Why should the player have to go through menus to attack?" Another design team might have answered this challenge with: “You’re right! Let’s just add an attack button!” But this is Final Fantasy. Instead, Vaan and his compatriots got the Gambit system - a means of programming all your characters so they’d do particular things in combat. Healers would heal, tanks would tank, rogues would stab, all according to some “If Then Else” rules you created yourself.
It didn't stick around but this was a turning point for the series and ought to be appreciated for throwing off some of the most concrete traditions, even if it is unmistakably familiar in many ways.
Best moments: The delivery of the words “surprisingly rude” in this sequence.
Notes: The world of Final Fantasy XII is called Ivalice. It’s the same world where Vagrant Story took place, according to the developers. But that was a PlayStation game released in 2000, and this connection is weakly based in referential terms like “Leámonde” and “Kilde”.
Where can I buy it: The HD remaster Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is on Steam. And, unlike other remasters, isn’t made out of stickers and crayon.
5. Final Fantasy XV
Katharine: Final Fantasy XV is an absolute mess of a game that has no right to be as good, polished or genuinely affecting as it is after a decade of development hell. Its flaws are too many to count, from its bobbins story to sticking all its important bits in DLC, films and an anime TV series. Despite this, though, it's still one of my favourite games in the series and a large part of that is down to the boys themselves: sullen prince boy Noctis, beefcake muscle man Gladio, squad dad chef Ignis and dear old Prompto.
When you get down to it, there is simply no greater depiction of friendship, male or otherwise, in the whole of video games. I know th--
Brendan: Shh! Can you hear that?
Brendan: It's like... a rumbling... or the sound of marching or... something... Sorry, nevermind.
Katharine: As I was saying, I know they're just a bunch of pixels, but the way this group of lads care for each other makes my heart ACHE with joy every time I see them, and I just want to give them all a great big hug.
This feeling of camaraderie is constantly being forged and reinforced throughout the game, too, whether it's Ignis' campfire cooking and Prompto's end of day photo collection cataloguing your progress, or the way they riff off each other's attacks in battle and chat incidentally as they're ambling through the countryside. Forget getting married and saving the world; I just want to hang out with my mates a bit longer - and oogle at Ignis' cooking, because hot damn that Fat Chocobo Triple Decker sandwich looks so, so tasty.
Best moments: Running out of dinner ingredients and eating nothing but toast after a long day's adventuring. Driving on your own at night for the first time. Getting the all-powerful ring that sucks everything into a void and makes all your enemies disappear in one go, just like that, whether it's a regular drone soldier or an entire mountain-sized Adamantoise because, you know, MAGIC.
Notes: Final Fantasy XV was in development for so long it was originally conceived as a PlayStation 3 spin-off called Final Fantasy Versus XIII.
Where can I buy it: On Steam, very soon, for £34.99
4. Final Fantasy IX
Brendan: I’m so, so sorry. But there’s only two of us working on this feature and neither of us have put “The Best Final Fantasy” in the correct position. Call it an editing mistake.
It’s easy to see why a large contingent rallies behind this colourful, characterful tale of heisting actors and clown-faced queens. Gone are the frowning strongmen and hormonal teen mercenaries of the previous games, replaced with a jokey thief, a bumbling bodyguard, an anxious puppet and a sad princess. Ah, Final Fantasy. From fairytales ye have arisen and to fairytale ye shall return.
Almost everything else is fairly vanilla. The battling system, the world map, the potion shops. You accrue new moves by equipping weapons or armour and “learning” their powers by heart, which does let you spread the most useful abilities around just by taking turns with the same equipment. This means everyone can have the “auto-potion” ability that triggers anytime you're hit. Your frontline fighters can all have a “counter” move that immediately strikes back at an enemy even when it’s not their turn.
It was also the las--
Katharine: Oh yes! I hear it now!
Brendan: I swear it's like a concert or something.
Katharine: But concerts don't get closer.
Brendan: Anyway. Final Fantasy IX was also the last in the main series to have those crafty static environments, as this would be abandoned in the move to PlayStation 2. Let’s not grieve overlong for those blurry bits of scenery (we get whole freeways to drive on now), but we can still remember them with fondness. There was a peculiar feeling to mapping the different scenes in your head, and an obsessive joy in roaming around the edges of the scenery, mashing the action button to find chests or trinkets hidden behind immovable props. In hindsight, a game about a troupe of dodgy actors is a fitting end for those theatre-like sets.
Best moments: Impressing 100 nobles with a fight scene from a play. Passing letters along the “Mognet”. Princess Garnet mulling over a new alias for ages, looking at a dagger, inspecting this dagger the whole time, saying “Hmm… Dagger...” over and over again, Dagger, Dagger, Dagger, before finally settling on whatever you want to type into the box as her new name. Eg. “Spoon”.
Notes: There was a Final Fantasy IX themed Coca-Cola advertisement on TV. No, really. Coke is FF canon.
Where can I buy it: It’s on Steam (and it’s one of the good ones).
Read more: Here’s some more short words on the Best Final Fantasy.
3. Final Fantasy VII
Brendan: I SAID WE’RE SORRY. Anyway, there’s no use trying to stop us now, so let’s reflect on the Other Best Final Fantasy.
So much has been written about Cloud, Tifa, Barrett and Aerisitheseshth, that it’s impossible to give you any more insight than you probably already have. This was the entry which popularised Final Fantasy, the shining JRPG torch in 1997’s foggy cellar.
It was pretty good. You start as a half-hearted eco-terrorist, fighting against a vile, planet-sapping corporation. Then you fight for revenge. Then you fight because, uh, there’s a bad man in a long cloak. Then some terrifying otherworldly force comes to... destroy the world? Oh god, it’s nonsense, isn’t it? It’s all nonsense. But - psst - here’s a secret.
They’re all nonsense.
So let’s remember the atmosphere of FFVII, if not the daftness. Let’s remember wandering around the steamy, dirty, semi-robotic city of Midgar. Its factories and slums, its skyscrapers, tunnels and highways. This was a big city, and then you left it. And even here, at the threshold of the world, you were not close to finishing the game.
From the first act of environmental sabotage, it’s an up-and-down-and-all-around story of friendships being made. Those friendships aren’t ideal, but hang together loosely, and sometimes you get the feeling these people wouldn’t glance at one another if they weren’t all stuck in the same prison cell together, or gathered around the same out-of-the-way fire in Cosmo Canyon, or gathering in the lobby of a glitzy, ridiculous theme park, as if to say: "OK, if any of us get lost, we meet back here."
The reasons you’re all going on this adventure are too stupid to list. Sometimes, there is no reason for your party to stay together, other than the fact another monumental threat to mankind has appeared over the horizon. But Final Fantasy VII rarely stopped to ask “why?” It was too busy shouting “WHY NOT”. It was also--
Katharine: You might want to take a look at this...
Best moments: Running around the Golden Saucer playing all the minigames. Escaping the Shinra headquarters on a motorcycle. Aeris being dead and staying dead.
Notes: A remake was announced at E3 in 2015 but hasn’t been confirmed for PC.
Where can I buy it: On Steam, sheesh, how many times do we have to say it?
Read more: It’s one of our best PC games of all time but here’s Alec telling us all to forget it, to let go, to let it die.
2. Final Fantasy X
Brendan: Oh, it's a riot. Yep, there they are. Clamouring outside the castle walls, setting their torches aflame. We don’t have long. Let’s talk about Final Fantasy X, aka The One About The Big Fish.
Final Fantasy loves to do exposition, but this one is arguably the only one to do it convincingly. You play as a sportsball player who has been eaten by a monster the size of a city and pooped out in the future. As such, you need to have everything explained to you by a ginger man with a Jamaican accent called Wakka. In fiction, this a common enough way of introducing a reader or viewer to a new world (him or her being a stranger, I mean, not the ginger Jamaican). But Tidus has just enough personality, history and curiosity to make you go along with it. When he’s learning about the weird anti-technology religion that governs the world of Spira, so are you. When he’s asking about monsters, so are you. When he’s crying like a big crybaby in a crybaby’s nappy, so are you.
This was also the end of an era, the last of the rando battlers. When it came to spectacle, Square had adapted to the new technology of the PlayStation 2. But they hadn’t yet rethought the game itself. That’d take a blond orphan called Vaan who, now that I think of it, isn’t so different from Tidus himself.
Except only Tidus would be capable of the most divisive laughter ever depicted in a videogame. It says a lot about us Final Fantasists that we can have entire flame wars over the significance of what must have been the most awkward performances of two voice actors’ entire careers.
And then there was the Blitzb--
Katharine: What was that?
Brendan: Oh god. They’ve breached the walls. They’re coming to stop us. They must know what we’re about to do. Quickly! Get a weapon ready.
Oh, hey, that’s an odd-looking sword.
Best moments: Arriving in tropical Spira without a single idea of what the hell was going on. Learning about the shunned Al Bhed people. Riding the Shoopuf. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha (unintentional).
Notes: This was the first in the series to use voice acting, but it still allowed the player to rename their character. As a result, nobody in the game ever says the name “Tidus” aloud.
Where can I buy it: The remaster is on Steam and it includes the definitively proven 9th best Final Fantasy, FF X-2.
Read more: A few more words on the world of Spira.
1. Final Fantasy VIII
Katharine: It's official. Final Fantasy VIII is the best Final Fantasy game. Fact. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?
Brendan: They've broken through the eastern gates.
Katharine: Evidently not, but we're the Final Fantasy gods in this scenario, not you, so deal with it. If you want to dispute our decision, grab your gunblade and we can settle this Final Fantasy VIII-style with a good old-fashioned duel, no doubt giving ourselves matching nose scars in the process, like Squall and Seifer in the game's opening FMV sequence.
Apart from the fact that gunblades are obviously cooler weapons than buster swords, there are several reasons why it's "the best" in the series. It's often labelled as the lovey-dovey one and therefore not as good as VII or X, but I'd wager that watching Rinoa transform Squall from a series of angry ellipses into a functioning human being is far more affecting than whatever non-existent relationship Cloud and Aeris have going on, never mind Tidus' “must protect Yuna” complex.
Brendan: It's got some excellent moments. At one point, your ragtag group of teen soldiers are spending the evening in a giant disc of solar panels. Then some of the teens turn it into an empty stadium, and decide to put on a show for the two romantic characters. You get to choose which instrument each character should play and mix 'n' match to see what sounds good. Finally, you perform. And the way Squall and Rinoa react depends on whether you created a great show or a discordant mess.
Katharine: Its combat system is also genius. Mad, but genius. I'm still not sure how I ever understood it as a wide-eyed 11-year-old, but the ability to 'junction' or assign both your summons and magic spells to individual characters in order to fine tune up their stats makes this one of the most personal Final Fantasy games in existence. Instead of buying your way to success with throwaway trinkets, here you're actively seeking out new monsters and growing together with them as a team, learning shiny new attacks from them and then passing those skills onto your friends. Oh what now? What is it?
Brendan: They've breached the inner courtyard.
Katharine: Pfft. It's endlessly replayable, but you also can't mention Final Fantasy VIII without a shout-out to the best Final Fantasy mini-game of all time, Triple Triad, which I'm also calling the best collectible card game of all time because I can.
Brendan: They're at the doors, Katharine.
Katharine: The best thing about it, however, is that despite its obvious attempts at life-like graphics, this is still fundamentally a game about a floating military school which has been set up to stop a time-travelling witch from possessing a teenage girl (and her dog) in the future so she can carry out her wish of compressing time and starting the world afresh. It's bonkers, mad, ridiculous and sometimes downright silly, but it's also the best and I love it. I may have also brainwashed Brendan into agreeing to let me put it at the top because that's just the kind of person I am. And now that we've established VIII is the best, it's time to compress time and start again.
Brendan: And not a moment too soon. Here they come.
Best moments: Getting chased down the streets of Dollet by a giant mechanical spider in the game's opening mission. The "concert" at Fisherman's Horizon. Finding the secret city of Esthar for the first time. Hearing that glorious music start up when you finally get your hands on the Ragnarok airship.
Notes: Character designer Tetsuya Nomura decided to give Squall's jacket a fur collar as a challenge for the full motion video team, the turd.
Where can I buy it: On Steam for £9.99.
Read more: Here's the newspost from the glorious day of its PC release.