Whether you think it was overrated or the best thing in the world since forever – Final Fantasy 7 is considered one of the most well-known installments in the series. Being one of the flag ship titles on the Playstation it pushed the graphical power of the system to its height to bring about some of the most iconic images and scenes. From the first look of Midgar to the death of Areith, it was chock full of memorable characters and is famous (or infamous) for bringing in one of the most well-known heroes in the series: Cloud Strife. The materia system also brought a unique blend of customizability not seen in the series until then. It is strong evidence of the timelessness of the game that even today people still want HD remake of the thing.
Final Fantasy 10 had a lot riding on it. It was the first installment to debut on the Playstation 2 and carried with it the strong graphical boost that the next gen systems could provide. Like Final Fantasy 8, FF 10 also took some deep changes to gameplay involving a timeline to track attack turns, a new grid system that allowed characters to develop and progress in however way they pleased, and added a decidedly modern yet rustic look and feel to the game. What made this stick out was the cast and story. Main lead Tidus was a complete shift from past heroes – he was cheerful, scatter-brained, sporty and care-free – he was no Cloud Strife. But as the game went on, he became a strong and poignant hero for players to relate to. Plus, it introduced one of the series coolest characters, Auron – so it cannot be all that bad.
Final Fantasy 13-2 came as another way to correct some of the last game’s missteps and to also answer the many questions left dangling after the end of 13. The shift of main character and the creation of a supremely open-ended world in addition to an introduction of some of the facets of Final Fantasy that were removed from 13 made this more a return to form of sorts. But the main addition was new quick-time-event sequences in the battle that made them far more dramatic and cinematic than past games in the series. In much the same vein as 10-2, Final Fantasy 13-2 also used its time-jumping mechanic to see just where and how the rest of the party was mending. Overall, it was not without its hiccups, but it still remained a strong addition to the Final Fantasy line.
After the hyper-futuristic worlds of Final Fantasy 7 and 8, Final Fantasy 9 went back to the series more fantasy-laden roots. The return to the subtly deformed characters and the rustic look and feel of the gaming world was a big homage to the old-school Final Fantasy games before the series officially moved to the next-gen of consoles from Playstation to the upcoming Playstation 2. The main character Zidane was a breath of joyful air as a happy-go-lucky thief and his growing friendship with the black mage Vivi was one of the greatest buddy duos in the series. In addition, it brought some interesting battle dynamics by including tag-team attacks between certain party members and the story was at once light-hearted and deeply heart-felt. All in all, this was the perfect send off for the old days of the series.
In many ways, Final Fantasy 13 is this generation’s Final Fantasy 8; it is either greeted with great love, or utter hatred. The thirteenth installment brought along a huge paradigm shift in gameplay. A female lead Lightning was met with some conflicting reactions, the battle system’s change led to much headaches, and the super-linear narrative for the first half of the game led to many fans getting turned off to the series. However, for those who stuck with it, the game truly repaid you for the investment. The cast of characters all showcase dramatic growth and likability (save for Hope)and even stoic Lightning gets a warmth about her as the game goes on. Plus, it introduces Sazh, a black man with a baby chocobo living in his afro…come on people; I’m not made of stone!
The main theme for Final Fantasy is redemption and whether one can truly repay the sins they’ve committed in the past. As a narrative, the journey that main character Cecil travels from the dark knight to the light-wielding Paladin is a personal journey from darkness to light as he slowly realizes the terrible things he has done in the past and his various attempts to make up for that. The various cast in this chapter of the series have some of the more complex interactions with one another such as the love triangle between Cecil, Kain, and Rosa. In addition, the villain Golbez also serves to be as complex a character as the rest of the cast -- especially towards the end of the game when you learn of his reasons for his actions.
Final Fantasy 8 had a rough hand dealt. Coming after the nigh-legend-status Final Fantasy 7, it went a decidedly different direction than its predecessor in many ways…and suffered rather heavily for it. The shift to a more realistic look and visuals threw some old-school purists off. Others decried the junction system that replaced the materia system from the last game. Others just hated it for the characters themselves and considered Squall to be a huge stoic jerk. However, despite its many detractors (myself included at first), it grew and matured in my eyes down the years. Eventually, it became its own solid addition, finally stepping out of the shadow of Final Fantasy 7 and people truly began to appreciate the subtle nuances that it offered.
Of all the Final Fantasy games in the series, Final Fantasy I believe had the tightest and most intriguing story. The cast was excellently fleshed out and each had their own personality and pathos that bonded the player to them. From the enigmatic Shadow, the kindly thief Locke, and the young yet powerful esper Terra, each showcased a strong and heartfelt spirit that led you to truly become invested in them. In addition it featured one of the strongest and deranged villains in the series, Kefka. His slow ascent from lowly grunt to power-mad demi-god is horrific in his actions. The moment when he poisons a whole town’s water supply and one of the main characters comes home to find his wife and children all dead, still sticks with me to this day. Another reason it’s on the list is because it was the first Final Fantasy where the villain actually succeeds in destroying the world. Watching the cutscenes showcasing the earth slowly being torn apart and the following wasteland that the heroes must try to save makes it so much more of an intriguing tale.
After the Square-Enix’s first foray into online gaming with Final Fantasy 11, Final Fantasy 12 was their return to consoles. However a lot of its gameplay was still influenced by online gaming in its battle system and other mechanics. This installment is a standout because it throws out a lot of the clichés that plagued Final Fantasy in the past. The main male lead and female lead were not destined to be lovers – the female lead was a warrior princess whose husband was killed. And even the main character was a change of pace. Though you played as the youthful Vahn, who wanted to be a pirate, the true male lead was Basch, the grizzled knight of the old kingdom fighting for redemption. The local was an even more realistic look and feel than past games and it all carried a decidedly more mature and focused narrative. Quite the feat considering one of your party members was a rabbit-eared amazon.
Coming as the first direct sequel in the history of Final Fantasy, 10-2 came as a bit of surprise for many people. What came as more of a surprise was the departure from its original game. The three, all-girl party, Yuna becoming more of a Tidus-like out spoken gun-wielding adventurer, the overall “girl-power” atmosphere, and the mission-based layout of the game threw many players for a loop as to just what the hell is going on. However, with another run in the Final Fantasy 10 world, it brought about an interesting sense of resolution. Seeing the old party members and watching them live their own lives: Lulu and Waka being new parents and Lulu expecting another child, Kimahri the leader of his tribe, and watching many of the old temples and sacred lands of the last game turned into tourist traps or past relics was an intriguing feeling and helped wrap several loose ends in the game. The story itself was not as heavy-handed as the last game, but the light-hearted tale of lost love and the endlessness of love and emotions was more fitting for the scope and ambiance of the game. In addition, the smaller party cast of Rikku and new-comer Paine led to some secret missions that delved into their pasts and opened up more of the narrative, if you were willing.