Final Fantasy is one of the most recognizable brands in the video game industry. The first game in the series was supposed to be the farewell game of Square Enix (then known as Square). But an unprecedented success saved the company from bankruptcy. This led to the creation of more Final Fantasy games over the succeeding years, spread out across different gaming platforms. There are currently 14 main games in the series, with number 15 set for release at year-end, plus numerous spinoffs on the side.
Thanks to the arrival of smartphones, you can now play many of these role-playing games. But which one should you start off with? To help you decide, we’ve put together a guide that gives you a short overview of each game. Due to their number, we separated the games into two categories. Let’s start off with the main numbered games – excluding prequels and sequels.
The game that started it all. Many of the gameplay features in Final Fantasy were carried over to its successors, most notably the turn-based battle system and the hated random enemy encounters. The story is pretty much straightforward. You go from point A to point B with little distractions on the side (although it can be hard sometimes to know where you’re supposed to go exactly). The four main characters, who you get to name and assign classes at the start, are all silent protagonists. So there’s little to no character development for them. However, the game makes up for this with a more developed overall story that features time travel. You need to play this game, if only to see how the series has evolved to its current state.
Final Fantasy II
To this date, Final Fantasy II still stands as the installment with the most oddball character growth system. The game doesn’t have a level-up system like with almost all other games in the series. To raise your character’s stats, you must use certain actions in battle repeatedly. For example, if you want to raise a character’s Defense, you must use the Defend command numerous times. To raise HP, your character must take significant damage. This system, however, is heaven-sent for grinders. It’s perfectly possible to achieve max stats very early in the game. Final Fantasy II is also notorious for killing off quite a number of playable characters, so try not to get too attached to some of them.
Final Fantasy III
Final Fantasy III is arguably the least known of the older games, no thanks to it not receiving a localized version until the Nintendo DS arrived. The game was the first to introduce the job class system in which you can freely switch the fighting style of the four main characters, led by Luneth. The story still features the traditional find-the-light-crystals stuff found in previous games, although you’ll be surprised at the “true” nature of the game world you live in. Final Fantasy III is most notable as the first game that allows you to summon monsters in battle.
Final Fantasy IV
Instead of retaining the new job class system found in its predecessor, Final Fantasy IV features characters with unique skill sets, although they’re based on the previous game’s job classes. The game also features the second-most number of permanently playable characters, so you have a lot of freedom to mix and match to suit your fighting style. The story tells the tale of a tragic family affair, sprinkled with love, betrayal, and redemption. Final Fantasy is the first game that features a world outside of the usual Earth that isn’t in another dimension, as well as the first to utilize the faster-paced Active Time Battle (ATB) system.
Final Fantasy V
Final Fantasy V is one of the lesser known installments, mostly because it’s sandwiched between two very good ones. The number of characters you can permanently play as significantly shrinks to the standard four, which is quite a bummer if you want more unique characters. And it also doesn’t help that the main protagonist, Bartz, is someone you won’t refer to as a stand-out. However, Final Fantasy V features a much more developed job class system from Final Fantasy III. So, in a sense, the four characters offer more diversity, battle-wise.
Final Fantasy VI
It may not be the most popular installment, but Final Fantasy VI makes a very hard case as arguably the best overall. The game is anchored by one of the most developed stories, which features without a doubt the most despicable main villain in the entire franchise, bar none. And thanks to the nature of the story, the game is essentially divided into two parts, with different main characters for each. Final Fantasy VI also features the most number of permanently playable characters at a whopping 14 characters. Each one of them carry unique skills, and their stat growth can be customized by utilizing “Espers” – the summoned monsters in the game.
Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII is the most popular Final Fantasy game of all time – no questions asked. Although its overall story is rather complicated, the game features some of the most memorable characters – both allies and villains. The game is also rife with mini-games, courtesy of a special area in the game which detracts you from all the seriousness. Perhaps the highlight of Final Fantasy VII is the extremely deep character customization based on “Materia”. The playable characters in the game all have unique skills and super-moves called “Limit Breaks”, but you can take their uniqueness further by outfitting them with very specific Materia combinations. Similar to the characters, Materia gain levels, too, and this turns the game into a grind-fest.
Final Fantasy IX
A lot of people agree that Final Fantasy IX is the most complete Final Fantasy experience and serves as the culmination of the first eight games. The game is beautifully designed, especially the music. The main characters are based on typical job classes, similar to Final Fantasy IV, so they don’t offer much customization options. Despite its colorful world and characters, the story of Final Fantasy IX is a very mature one that delves into existentialism. The game is notable for featuring a lot of side-quests, which translates to very lengthy playing sessions. Thankfully, the mobile port has a fast-forward option. And have we mentioned the game’s epic music? Yes? Well, it’s worth mentioning twice – it’s that good.
The “Other” Games
The most noticeable games that have yet to arrive for the iOS and Android are Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy X. Coincidentally both games prominently feature a romance storyline between two main characters. Also, both games deploy summoned monsters in a similar way. Instead of simply unleashing a devastating attack in battle, the summoned monsters act like party members, too, with their own HP.
Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV are both online games, and although Final Fantasy XIII is technically available for mobiles, it has yet to leave Japan. Oh, and there’s Final Fantasy XII, too, which is usually forgotten by everyone no thanks to lackluster characters. Final Fantasy XV is, of course, still unreleased, so if ever Square Enix ports it for mobiles, it won’t be for a while.
That’s all for the main numbered games. If you’re still undecided which Final Fantasy to play, then perhaps your preferred game is one of the spinoff games.