15 Games Later, an Examination of the Triumphs and Shortcomings of ‘Final Fantasy’

The series best known for helping fans escape the troubles of reality could benefit from talking about the real world more.

The gorgeous works of Yoshitaka Amano really helped set this series apart from others.

Around the age of fourteen or so, I learned about the fun world of emulation. My hand-me-down laptop wasn’t nearly powerful enough to run any current games, but I was given a link to a GameBoy Advanced emulator by a weird friend, as well as a long list of game ROMS for the handheld. For the next few months I’d spend time poking and prodding at that library, discovering all sorts of games that I’d either end up spending hours and hours staring at, or dropping after five minutes of frustration. I eventually came across a new game that intrigued me, for within my small internet gaming circles, the title of this game had a bit of a mythological quality to it. And with that, I started playing Final Fantasy IV.

I had heard of the series before, as I was an avid Kingdom Hearts fan, but barely even knew what these games were actually about. I had heard of Cloud and Aerith (Aeris depending on which friend I was talking to), I knew I hated some guy called Leon, and that the series was about crystals or something? But I had never played one of the games before, and figured that since this one was available to me for free, I could pick it up for five minutes and see what’s up with this series that everyone raves about. Cut to three hours later, and I barely want to put it down. In that time I watched the protagonist Cecil cut down innocents, steal a country’s source of power, inadvertently blow up a little girl’s village, betray his best friend, and vow an oath of protection against the very nation he grew up in. Wow. I was a kid back then, barely interested in playing story-heavy games, but I couldn’t look away from this one. I’d continue playing it up until I defeated the evil Golbez, under the impression that I had beaten the game (I had in fact, not beaten the game).

I have to somewhat hand it to young-me for having the patience for this fight.

Over the years I would attempt to dabble in other games from the series. I thought I got somewhat far in VII, touched X for an hour or two, and barely played XII for five minutes before getting distracted with whatever I was doing as a hyperactive teen. And so my quick romp with the series came to an end, but at least I had an idea of what it was all about now, or so I thought. Years later at the beginning of 2020 and I’m a jaded leftist who doesn’t understand why all the kids love those silly Final Fantasy games. They’re obviously for children, folks should instead play more grown-up game for grown ups like, um, Planescape: Torment, I hear that game’s mature (You should play Planescape: Torment). A bit before that though, I had seen comparison screenshots of Final Fantasy VIII’s remaster and think “damn, that looks kinda good”. I then see the same comparison for Final Fantasy X and think “okay not as big of a difference, but damn that art style looks kinda neat…” Suddenly, my weird fixation on wanting to learn gets the better of me and I start downloading Final Fantasy: Origins on my PS3.

The start of a journey.

Fifteen games later, I get it, though I’m pretty certain you don’t have to play all of them to get it too. But there is an interesting benefit from having played all the games, and that’s seeing how the series has changed over the decades. There are arcs to the creation of this series that, in a mundane sense, kind of parallel your average ‘Final Fantasy’. It’s wild that I now have an idea of what an “average” ‘Final Fantasy’ game is though, whereas at the beginning of this year, I barely had the interest to touch these games. And so, I think it’s appropriate to summarize the question that got me interested in playing this series.

Just What is a ‘Final Fantasy’?

Ditch the crystals Square, they don’t control you!

Around completing Final Fantasy VIII, I started questioning what defines these games. I think in a way, it depends on which era of this series you grew up in, which could offer wildly differing results. That said, I’d also be very interested in what Square Enix thinks defines a Final Fantasy game, both out of curiosity for their past games but as well as for what the future of the series may hold.

I imagine for many, a set of defining traits may include:

  • An expansive, epic adventure that spans a very large world.
  • A cast of compatriots who yearn to protect the world they hold dear.
  • An ominous villain who wishes to harm the world they despise.
  • A set of classes/jobs that define the skillset of a player/enemy.
  • A bunch of powerful creatures that can be summoned to aid the player.
  • The cast will eventually be able to ride around the world on a flying vehicle.
  • Crystals are central to the main plot in some form or another.

There’s more nuance to the series of course, but I think if we’re allowed to be reductive, this does an okay job of summing up its typical traits. That said, as much as I believe that for an identity to be had, certain features need to be maintained across media, I also believe that a series doesn’t need to be so dang stubborn about straying away from them. I often have more respect for the ‘Final Fantasy’ game when it subverts expectations, and tries to redefine the above traits to be somewhat similar, but different enough to stand out. VII offers us a morally ambiguous hero who, while eventually yearning to protect his world, from the outset doesn’t necessarily seem to care. XIII has an entire cast that seems at odds with one another until the last third of the game, while X gives us a sympathetic antagonist who the cast wishes to help, not fight, until forced to. There are many more times where the series bucks its mold and attempts to alter itself, whether incrementally or dramatically. That said, fifteen games later and I do have my own questions on some of these traits for more hardcore fans of the series.

I’m not necessarily sure that the worlds in these games need to span continents and countries, but I’m certain that Square thinks that. I’d be interested to see what could be done with the budget of one of these games set inside a single city. I’m not necessarily sure that there usually needs to be a villain behind a villain in almost all of the games. I’m also not necessarily sure we need crystals in every story, but that’s just me. I do have some thoughts on what I’d like to see from the games going forward though.

What Could The Future of ‘Final Fantasy’ Look Like?

It’s tempting to buy into the idea that ‘Final Fantasy’, and maybe games at large are escapist fantasies. After all, I don’t think the series has necessarily presented itself as much else. The characters often go through ideological transformations throughout the stories of their games, but I’m not convinced I have at all. Fifteen games later and I haven’t finished any of them really feeling my beliefs pushed or nudged a tiny bit. Granted, I’m an adult who’s like, read 2 or 3 books so maybe I’m not supposed to. Either way that’s fine, but I think Final Fantasy is at its best when it lets the real world in a little bit. Getting ahead of myself here, but I think my favorite of these games, Final Fantasy VII, works so well in the first half because

The imagery and music of the Mako Reactors is haunting.

it takes a peek at the real world issue of uh, not letting the planet die. I don’t know whether the writers were aware of climate change, but it’s quite obvious they had taken inspiration from events like Chernobyl. I was not aware of the prominence of these issues when I had first played the game as a teen, but in 2020 the opening of the game truly tugged at something in me that none of the other games have managed. Eventually the game distances itself somewhat from Eco-activism and settles back into the tried and true method of protecting the world from a single entity (though realizes that this single entity is a symptom of a larger, systemic issue). But for half a game, Final Fantasy VII brought a dose of reality into its story, and greatly benefited from it. I don’t expect future titles to suddenly start including excerpts from ‘Das Kapital’ in their narratives, but it’d be nice to see more commentary on real world issues through the lens of a Final Fantasy title.

The Final ‘Final Fantasy’

As of writing, I have only completed part of the tutorial in Final Fantasy XV, a game I’ve heard many a mixed message about, but am still excited about playing. I only saw the trailer for Final Fantasy XVI once, and won’t delve into it again until I finish XV, but I do have some thoughts relating it to my hopes and wishes from the last section. From what I can tell, the game is set in a medieval-inspired fantastical world that’s more reminiscent of The Witcher or perhaps Square’s other fantasy series, Dragon’s Dogma (The combat director for that game is working on XVI). The director of the game is Naoki Yoshida, who was responsible for the revival of Final Fantasy XIV’s disastrous launch, and a person many fans hold a large amount of trust in. I saw a lot of excitement about the prospect of a new numbered Final Fantasy game, but I also saw a not insignificant amount of disappointment and frustration from marginalized groups, whose representation in the games have often felt, well, within the margins. People of color in general have struggled to be seen in the series, and the few times it has happened hasn’t always had ideal results. There’s only a handful of black characters in the series, three of which are main playable characters, both equally loved and criticized by folks they help represent. Apart from race, the series could also do much better to represent sexual orientation and non-binary genders. I have heard arguments for certain characters (Namely Vanille and Fang from Final Fantasy XIII) being LGTBQ, but you often have to infer these characteristics instead of having them explicitly stated through the text of the game. The MMO’s have seemingly fared better in this regard, but it’d be nice if the single player games could try a bit harder to represent its playerbase better. To note, I am not trying to take away from the importance of these characters to those that do feel seen by them in some regard, but I also believe that the multi-billion dollar company in charge of this series can always do better, and must do better.

Not too sure If I’m into Dante’s new look here, but optimistic!

All in all, I hope that these games continues to evolve, and that Final Fantasy XVI defies and subverts expectations. One thing I’ve certainly learned from playing this series is that these games go through creative arcs, and that a numbered ‘Final Fantasy’ a decade from now can feel vastly different than one to today, and not just in terms of its gameplay. I hope that Yoshida can be the beginning of one of these creative arcs and carve a new path for the series going forward.

The ‘Final Fantasy’ series is a strange, uh, Behmoth to say the least. So rarely does any kind of media get to sixteen titles of its main series, let alone with an entire myriad of side-stories and spinoffs. Fifteen games later though, and I get why, and I think it’s similar to what fourteen-year-old me saw when he first booted IV up, in that these games are unlike anything else out there in games. They have such a wild amount of money behind them, and can produce titles that always elicit such varying reactions, yet strong devotion. Even titles that might be considered to be universally dislike have a strong base of defenders that see something in it that others can’t, which is kind of lovely. I don’t know what happens with the series from here on out, but I hope that aspect never changes, I hope these games never get to the point where no one really feels strongly about them anymore. There’s a now debunked myth that the title of the series came because Square was in financial woes and planned on one last game. I hope if that myth ever comes to be true, and that Square is faced with an actual final ‘Final Fantasy’, that it comes out to be something that people never shut up about, and that will live on forever on online forums or whatever we have by that point. As it stands right now, we’re sixteen games in, and this series doesn’t look anywhere close to being near it’s finale.

A Now, a List of Rankings

A perfect individual.

Top Tens and the likes are silly and can be harmful in losing subjective nuance around media, but they’re also fun so let’s do some. The big one is at the bottom.

Top 10 Individual Songs That Aren’t Battle Themes:

  1. Prelude (Yeah this shit slaps, I hope they never get rid of it)
  2. Terra’s Theme (Final Fantasy VI)
  3. Opening Bombing Mission (Final Fantasy VII)
  4. Prologue (Final Fantasy IV)
  5. Main Theme of Final Fantasy IV (Final Fantasy IV)
  6. Final Fantasy VII — Main Theme (Final Fantasy VII)
  7. Mako Reactor (Final Fantasy VII)
  8. Mambo De Chocobo! (Final Fantasy V)
  9. Rydia’s Theme (Final Fantasy IV)
  10. Frontier Dali Village (Final Fantasy IX)

Honorary Mention: Slam Shuffle (Final Fantasy VI)

Top 10 Individual Battle/Boss Themes:

  1. Fighting (Final Fantasy VII)
  2. Those Who Fight Further (Final Fantasy VII)
  3. Force Your Way (Final Fantasy VIII)
  4. Fight With Seymour (Final Fantasy X)
  5. Battle Theme (Final Fantasy X)
  6. The Extreme (Final Fantasy VIII)
  7. One Winged Angel (Final Fantasy VII)
  8. Battle On the Big Bridge (Final Fantasy V)
  9. Man With The Machine Gun (Final Fantasy VIII)
  10. Dancing Mad (Final Fantasy VI)

Honorable Mention: Blinded By Light (Final Fantasy XIII)

Top 10 Summons:

  1. Bahamut ZERO (Final Fantasy VII)
  2. Bahamut (Final Fantasy X)
  3. Remora (Final Fantasy V)
  4. Knights of The Round Table (Final Fantasy VII)
  5. Carbuncle (Final Fantasy V)
  6. Leviathan (Final Fantasy VIII)
  7. Ifrit (Final Fantasy X)
  8. Choco/Mog (Final Fantasy VII)
  9. Alexander (Final Fantasy IX)
  10. Shiva (Final Fantasy X)

Honorable Mention: Odin when he does his job right (All of them)

Best Enemies:

  1. Cactuar (All of them)
  2. Flanitor (Final Fantasy XIII)
  3. Hell House (Final Fantasy VII)
  4. Bomb (All of them except XIII’s)
  5. Tonberry (All of them)
  6. Behemoth (Final Fantasy IV)
  7. Zu (Final Fantasy IV)
  8. Ahriman (All of them)
  9. Skull Eater (Final Fantasy V)
  10. Marlboro (Final Fantasy X)

Honorable Mention: You and Your Friends (Final Fantasy II)

Flanitor, you were too good for Final Fantasy XII.

Best Bosses:

  1. Your Dad/Sin (Final Fantasy X)
  2. Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII)
  3. Phantom Train (Final Fantasy VI)
  4. Kefka (Final Fantasy VI)
  5. Gilgamesh (Final Fantasy V)
  6. Ultros (Final Fantasy VI)
  7. Demon Wall (All of them)
  8. Necrophobe (Final Fantasy V)
  9. Dark Cecil (Final Fantasy IV)
  10. Seymour Omnis (Final Fantasy X)

Honorable Mention: Magus Sisters (Final Fantasy IV)

Best Protagonists:

  1. Yuna (Final Fantasy VII)
  2. Tifa (Final Fantasy VII)
  3. Tidus (Final Fantasy X)
  4. Cloud (Final Fantasy VII)
  5. Rydia (Final Fantasy IV)
  6. Terra (Final Fantasy VI)
  7. Sabin (Final Fantasy VI)
  8. Balthier (Final Fantasy XII)
  9. Rinoa (Final Fantasy VIII)
  10. Galuf (Final Fantasy V)

Honorable Mention: Sahz (Final Fantasy XIII. For being a normal dude)

Best Antagonists:

  1. Jecht/Sin (Final Fantasy X)
  2. Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII)
  3. Gilgamesh (Final Fantasy V)
  4. Ultros (Final Fantasy VI)
  5. Kefka (Final Fantasy VI)
  6. Hojo (Final Fantasy VII )
  7. Seymour (Final Fantasy X)
  8. Dark Cecil ((Final Fantasy IV)
  9. Phantom Train (Final Fantasy VI)
  10. Kuja (Final Fantasy IX)

Honorable Mention: Seifer I guess (Final Fantasy VIII)

I shouted in my apartment at 2AM when I finally beat this stupid thing.

The 12 Best Final Fantasy’s That I’ve played:

12. Final Fantasy II

This game is not good! It’s kind of interesting in that you have a more central hub that you’re centered around (You’re being protected by a small resistance group who have fled their city), but good gosh is the gameplay in this a headache. Taking a departure from ‘Final Fantasy’, your stats improve the more you repeat certain actions. If you attack more with a sword, your sword skill will go up, and so. Some stats are tied to others though, and increasing them will decrease the other one, fun! The funniest of these is your health state, which can only be increased by taking damage. A good way to improve this is to beat yourself up, but hopefully not crit yourself to death. Other than that, it’s a pretty forgettable game other than seeing Leviathan I guess, and the last Dungeon which is incredibly scary to go through because it’s easy to die and you have to completely start it over if you do so.

A character that looks way too cool for a game this bad.

11. Final Fantasy

It’s a bit unfair to fault the first game in the series for feeling so quaint when it must’ve felt revolutionary back during its release. Upon hearing the main title’s ‘Prelude’ theme, you already know you’re about to play something that feels like nothing else. Seeing your characters in battle must’ve been awesome, and the light narrative must’ve helped push players forward to see what would happen next. That all said, yeah, it does feel quaint by today’s standards and there’s no helping that! But damn, that ‘Prelude’ sure does slap.

It’s probably no mistake that the artist for this graphic went with such a small castle to help emphasize the journey you and your party would take to get there.

10. Final Fantasy III

I must emphasize that there is a wide gap between this game and the above one. If you’re looking for a fun and charming podcast game to play, Final Fantasy III for Steam has you set. It’s got enough story to just sorta move you along to the next thing, and the grinding is well, kind of fun? The Steam release allows you to fast forward through battles and repeat your last action. But it’d feel a bit empty if you were *just* grinding for battles, but it’s more than that. In this one, you can are given multiple sets of Jobs to equip your characters with, giving them abilities unique to that Job. It’s fun to try them all out and see which ones you enjoy. Also the last area of the game is 3 hours long and yep, if you die you start all over.

I genuinely can’t remember any of these characters’ names.

9. Final Fantasy VIII

I must again emphasize that there is a large gap between this game and the last. Final Fantasy VIII is a good game, with some incredible music, a charming story with a fun cast of characters, and uh, well that’s kind of it? I kind of am personally rating with a weird subjective system that combines how good of a game I think they are combined with how much I’d want to play them again, and let’s just say I’d rather play the first Final Fantasy over VIII. I’m sure someone online will yell at me how the gameplay is actually fun, and the 40 hours I spent barely tolerating it is all just me being dumb or something, but I feel that no cell in my body wants to play that game again. I’m not a fan of how slow any of the PS1-era FF games feel, but I’ll take the other two over this because of it’s incredibly dumb and needlessly convoluted junction system. I thank whichever twitter person told me to farm those fish early on so I could get 100 water for everyone to make the same somewhat less unbearable to play through.

Alright, rant over. Other than the gameplay, I came around to liking Squall by the end. His dumb friends trying to constantly lift his spirit up is nice and cool and I like them as well, especially Rinoa, who really won me over when she kicks Irvine down the stairs. Also the weird space scene is fucking weird but also very romantic and lovely.

8. Final Fantasy IX

This game used to be way higher on the list, but over time I’ve kind of mellowed on it. I think the ending is incredibly cute and well-earned, and the characters are fun (except for Amarant), but I don’t think I enjoyed playing the game that much. Of the three PS1 games, it by far plays the slowest, with battles taking a while to load in, and animations feel like the characters are slogging through molasses (except Vivi’s cute battle idle). The story is, fine. It was always touted as an old school Final Fantasy in the modern times, and it can feel like that sometimes. There’s not one, not two, but three secret villain reveals in this one, and the last one is a boring boss you don’t care about. I did really like combining some abilities, and the gear-ability system they have is really neat since it makes every set of gear feel interesting to pick up (until you realize it has way lower stats, but an ability you want). For what it’s worth, I added the ending song to a playlist somewhere, because it’s a very dang good moment.

If this scene didn’t get ya with the feels, then I don’t know what to tell ya.

7. Final Fantasy XIII

This was unexpected to say the least. Going into this whole journey, I had known of the stigma against XIII, and I agree with a lot of that stigma. But also, this game is higher on the list than IX, what gives? At the end of the day, I have mixed feelings on the whole game, but also I kind of respect it a ton.

At times, this game feels masturbatory. Towards the end, our heroes fly into the city Cocoon to disrupt a fascist speech that is also playing over a race track for some reason. They interrupt the race, and during this scene I can’t help but think of an executive at Square going “Look at all this fucking money we have to spend, and look what we did with it” as things happen on the screen for the sake of happening. It’s completely bizarre.

Look up “himbo” in the dictionary and this guy is probably pictured.

At the same time though, I kind of love this game? It so badly wants to be as big of an upset to the series that VII was to the point that the opening of the game is just taking page after page from VII’s playbook with a resistance-military conflict, a gun-sword wielding lady who’s apathetic to the overall scenes surrounding her, an unsettling green color palette, etc. The gameplay is the biggest departure from the series, even after XII, where you only control one character, and have the ability to auto-battle. Later on the game shifts things up a bit where you can essentially change your party’s jobs on the fly during battle. I think it takes way too long to become interesting, but by the end it can feel somewhat hectic and chaotic as you switch from one job to another many, many times within a minute.

And then there’s the narrative and characters. As convoluted as the story is, it is at least more interesting than the typical “ruling for the sake of power” narrative that so many of these games like to tread out. As for the characters, you get to see another departure of a staple in the series in the sense that most of the cast doesn’t like each other for most of the game. They’re all put in a shitty position where they have to cooperate to get out of a jam, but for a while they don’t really share any goals other than to survive. I’m not at all recommending anyone play this mess of a game, but it for sure deserves more examination than its stigma would suggest.

6. Final Fantasy XII

This game feels like an single player MMO, and probably for the better. Like XIII, you can only control one character at a time, but unlike that game you can switch to play any of your party members at any time as well as essentially program their tactics. For example, you can program a simple action like “If Self Health >30%, Then, Cast Cura”. You can add a ton more options like that to a character, and get them to play for you for the most part. The characters are never so fully autonomous that you feel comfortable just sticking to playing as one character through a tough boss battle, but for going through most enemies it works just fine. The story itself is fine, and the characters are charming enough (Balthier the large chunk of that charm), but you’re not really there for them as much as you are just exploring the world, taking the sights in, and pressing the fast forward button in the first combat area of the game so you can gather 30 AP in under 3 minutes.

Balthier is like, the anti-Snow, yet they both get the same results.

5. Final Fantasy IV

I’m happy that the game that got me to look at this series in the first place ended up towards the middle of the list, it seems like a good place for it. After playing the first three, it’s shocking to see just how much IV really changed things for the series, starting with the fact that it had an interesting cast of characters that swapped in and out of the story. Even if I were to put aside my own nostalgia for the game, it really does have some excellent moments that stand out even among other Final Fantasy games. I’ll never forget fighting the dark version of your main character Cecil, only to learn that the way to win the fight is to either not fight at all, or simply heal your dark self.

This scene blew my damn mind as a kid.

There’s another bit that sets it apart from other games is that it’s one of the very few Final Fantasy games where a main playable character dies. The character Tellah gains the spell “Meteor” at a point in the game, but you can’t cast it because you don’t have the sufficient mana to do so. In an act of rage against one of the chief antagonists of the game, Tellah summons meteor anyways, but failing to kill his enemy. He dies as he realizes he’s failed his quest for revenge. It’s moments like these in the SNES era of Final Fantasy games where the designers found how to tell a story through the battle arena itself, and not just through overworld text, an idea that has since inspired countless RPG’s to do the same.

4. Final Fantasy V

I’m not gonna sit here and tell you Final Fantasy V has an epic story that can rival the best of the best, but it has more going for it than one would realize. The game mainly stars 4–5 playable characters, one of which is an old man named Galuf. You see, Final Fantasy has a habit of using a “Four Warriors of Light” myth throughout its early games, and Final Fantasy V asks the question on what would happen if one of these groups of warriors had actually failed in their quest? Imagine playing a Final Fantasy and ending the game with the villain winning (Back to that later). Galuf is the answer to that question. You find him, amnesic, early on in the game and discover he comes from a parallel world where he and his party failed in destroying the main antagonist of their world, only for that same villain to rise again and now attempt to destroy both Galuf’s and your worlds. It’s a fun twist in a series that was still young by that time, and a welcome one.

Apart from subverting the narrative, the game is also just super damn fun to play. Like Final Fantasy III, you are given the ability to swap between a set amount of Jobs/classes at any time, giving you access to various skillsets. But unlike III, you can now take a skill from one class and attach it to another. For instance, the Ranger has the ability “Rapid Fire” that will attack four times randomly for half your normal damage, but ignore defenses. If you put this ability on your Monk, a Job known for its incredibly high physical damage, you can suddenly just melt through bosses health in a matter of minutes. It’s genuinely fun unlocking and grinding your way towards these abilities and finding the perfect synergies around them. I would love to see Square make another attempt at this concept in the future, but until then I would happily play Final Fantasy V again.

3. Final Fantasy VI

I said above that Final Fantasy IV changed everything for the series, and while VI doesn’t do as dramatic of a shift, it’s still incredible just how much it changes from IV and V. I mentioned I played the GameBoy Advance version of IV, which I only realized later was remade to look like the style of VI and even then didn’t come close to how cool VI ended up looking. From the very opening we hear the melancholic melody of Terra’s theme coupled with a trio of mechs trekking across a snowy landscape towards a small mountainside town they plan to invade and occupy. If Final Fantasy IV’s opening was shock and awe, then VI’s is a relaxed spectacle that asks for the player’s patience in letting scenes without dialog tell so much more.

Hours later, you play as a shirtless himbo that suplex’s a ghost train, it’s great.

A memorable part of VI is the character Kefka, and I think the reasoning for that is that he isn’t one of the many, many generic villains the games have had (and will have). He has an actual personality, he has some humanistic flaws, and he looks funny. He’s not breaking ground for storytelling in any medium, but he’s providing a key lesson that the Final Fantasy series has struggled to follow since, which is to set your villain’s ideals and personality up early and clearly, and make you really understand them. Kefka’s ideals aren’t that different from EXDEATH or Golbez or whatever, they all want power for the sake of power, and they believe they deserve it. Kefka stands out because he asks, and even wants you to truly hate him to his core. He hurts people you genuinely care about, he commits mass murder, he tricks the side he’s fighting with, all while he stares you down with a maniacle smile. The best part though, is that Kefka wins. He may end up dying in the end, but not without leaving an un-healing scar upon the world.

2. Final Fantasy X

A few games above, I mentioned that the PS1-era Final Fantasy games all felt and played incredibly slow. Final Fantasy awkwardly laughs in those games faces and shows you how it’s really done. Your character’s attacks and spells are nearly as quick as their 2D predecessors, and all while looking stunningly gorgeous. Yeah the summon animations are a bit long, but with eye candy like that, it’s hard to complain.

Sorry nerds, this scene is Good.

Also there’s the Sphere Grid. I used to look at games like Path of Exile, and get exhausted merely from looking at their skill trees. But now I get it, I get the addiction. I fell into a deep hole with Sphere Grid, but even aside from that I’ll argue why it’s great. Starting with VII, the games get into this stupid idea that there’s no hardlocked jobs, and that anyone and their mom can cast a spell. Final Fantasy X technically allows you to do that too, but it’s much harder. Each character of your party starts somewhere on the massive Sphere Grid, and can move around it somewhat, to acquire abilities and spells for them to use. They can technically move towards other member’s grids and start gaining their abilities, but the game heavily incentivizes that each member finishes their own grid first before getting experimental. By the late game, each of your characters has a well-defined skillset of their own, with just a hint of another member’s poking in. It’s the perfect balance of this bad idea that the series has, and hopefully they go back to it at some point.

For half the game, I went back and forth on whether I was enjoying the narrative. Voice acting was new to the series, and I tried going in open-minded about that fact, but sometimes the acting really hampered down the emotional beats. That, coupled with a story that felt oddly paced and I was starting to get worried. Eventually though, the humanity of characters like Yuna and Tidus shined bright enough to really start getting into this world. It’s a story of the acceptance of destiny and death than transitions into defiance of both. It both comments on the dangers of an organized religion, and on how it can bring hurt communities together. I don’t know if it’s a great story about fatherhood, but the last scene between Tidus and Jette felt properly earned; right before I beat him up.

  1. Final Fantasy VII

I don’t particularly like playing this game. I find it (as said above) too slow, and the materia system annoying. This is hypocritical of me, but while I love the hell out of Final Fantasy III and V’s job system, I’m not a huge fan of these characters being able to cast whatever spells they dang please! As mentioned above, Final Fantasy X eventually found the perfect solution to this, but this ain’t that game.

So why the hell is this number one then? At the end of the day, the game just has an incredibly engaging story with a great cast of characters. The game opening with a bombing run, an act of eco-terrorism against a destructive corporation, is incredibly compelling, but also just straight up puts the player in a position they’re not used to. IV and VI open with acts of violence, but against innocents who’ve done no harm. Whereas VII’s characters make sure you know that this mission is within their ideology, their worldview. To help give the player a bit of space though, they’re asked to play as an apathetic mercenary named Cloud Strife, who’s simply in this whole saving the planet nonsense for a quick bit of cash. The opening hour of the game is incredibe, but only continues to get better as you learn more about Midgar and the denizens who suffer under the might of Shinra, a megacorp whose reactors and the plates that hold them, block out the sun from reaching the citizens of Midgar’s Slums.

The mystery of Cloud’s flashback concerning a single village is genuinely amazing stuff.

I said above that Final Fantasy VII is at its strongest during the first third of the game, but that doesn’t mean the rest is anywhere near being much poorer. The thing that holds it all together is the relationship between Cloud, Sephiroth, and the mystery that ties them both together. Of all the games in the series, VII feels the most tragic in every sense. Many of its characters suffer not only physical wounds, but mental scars from the trauma they went through in their past. Cloud is a failed soldier that suffers from PTSD caused by the massacre of his village, his friends and family, and his own sense of ego. The only way he feels he can reconcile with all of this is to graft another person’s personality onto himself, thus distracting him from having to endure the tragedy of losing so much. In spite of everything, the way he is able to push past his trauma and rediscover himself with the help of his friends, makes Cloud one of the most inspiring characters in the series.

There’s so much more that could be said about the story of this game, and how Square has had a hard time making anything as close to interesting as it. In VI, Kefka scarred the world, but its characters could still live and thrive and learn to move on. In VII, the heroes defeat Sephiroth and save the day, but saving the day may not mean what we’ve come to expect. 500 years later, it is heavily implied that the planet has indeed continued to live and thrive, but without the help of humans, as none are shown to remain. Kitase (the game’s director) has backed up this ending in years since, even in spite of Square’s unwillingness to commit. It’s a bold ending for sure, and I wonder how it would be received had the game come out today.

Just guys bein’ dudes.

It’s so odd to ramble on about a game I didn’t necessarily enjoy playing, but I think that only proves just how hard Final Fantasy VII gripped me. I wrote a ton about how Square Enix should handle future titles in the series, but honestly it’s my hope that by revisiting and remaking Final Fantasy VII that Square re-examines what made that game special, and maybe take inspiration for their games going forward. For there was never a game quite like Final Fantasy VII, and there hasn’t been since.

Thank you Masahiro Sakurai. Thank you.

Welp, that’s all I’ve got. I’ve got one more Final Fantasy game to play, but I’d like to try and really take my time with it. After that, I’m incredibly excited to play the Final Fantasy VII remake. I mean, I literally just wrote a ton about how much I love it in spite of its gameplay, so surely a better playing game will have me over the moon, right? Right??