The Final Fantasy franchise has featured dozens of memorable characters, each with their own compelling backstories and elaborate visual designs. Launched in 1987, no other JRPG series has the same legacy that Final Fantasy has.
But even in a video game franchise with as many awesome characters as this one, several characters stand out as exceptionally remarkable thanks to their personalities, influence, and lasting impact.
Who are the best Final Fantasy characters of all time? Here are our picks for the standouts after all these years, who has taken the franchise to new heights and enduring moments.
5. Lightning (Final Fantasy XIII)
Say what you want about Final Fantasy XIII. Even if you think this "game" was nothing more than a series of corridors and cutscenes with strangely paced difficulty spikes that frustrated even the most patient gamers, it still gave us one of the best protagonists in JRPG history.
Lightning is a simple woman with a simple goal: she's on a quest to save her sister. This task quickly snowballs into something much bigger and more difficult, but at her core, she still only has a single mission in mind.
That simplicity is by design, and it makes for one of her strongest traits as a character. When faced with overwhelming odds and a nasty fate ahead, most characters in the game lament their situation—but Lightning's sharp focus is what keeps them all moving forward.
Every step she takes brings her closer to rescuing her sister, and she will overcome any obstacle in order to make that happen.
4. Cloud Strife (Final Fantasy VII)
It's pretty much impossible to write any article about Final Fantasy and not mention Cloud Strife. Final Fantasy VII has become one of the most iconic video games of all time, largely due to Cloud's stoic nature, his relentless pursuit of his enemy, and the resulting story.
He's quiet and distant and carries a sword big enough to cut your car in half, which should honestly make him one of the most basic characters in the entire series—yet he continues to capture the attention of fans more than two decades since he was first introduced.
Cloud Strife isn't just a strong character, but he's had a massive impact on JRPGs and video gaming as a whole. He may seem like a walking bag of clichés now, but many of those clichés and tropes were popularized by him (and, in some cases, were even started by him).
The influence he's had on the series and the JRPG genre is difficult to overstate, and for that alone he belongs on this list.
3. Lulu (Final Fantasy X)
Lulu is the big sister we all wish we had in life: protective, caring, and willing to set those who wrong us on fire with a mere thought.
The icy stare she gives most people in the world is instantly thawed when it comes to Yuna, the young summoner whom she's tasked with protecting and guiding. While all the characters in the party are dedicated to protecting Yuna, for Lulu it feels more personal.
As the black mage of the party, Lulu is one of the best damage dealers in the game. Combined with her no-nonsense approach to the rest of the world, this gives her an intimidating nature that makes her moments shared with Yuna that much more special and fun to watch.
2. Kefka Palazzo (Final Fantasy VI)
The Final Fantasy series has been going for a long time, so it takes a lot to make a character stand out as completely as Kefka does.
While pretty much every JRPG game features a pretty male character with a large sword, Kefka is unique in his design as a horror movie clown. His unusual appearance is only a small part of his appeal, though.
Villains in the Final Fantasy series—or JRPGs in general—rarely manage to succeed in their quest of destroying the world. Kefka Palazzo was one of the first and few to actually pull it off, resulting in Final Fantasy VI's iconic World of Ruin and its most memorable moments.
Kefka's success might have been short-lived, but he was still able to reshape the known world in his own chaotic image, something that puts him in an elite club of villains. He doesn't grab the top spot on our list, but he's certainly the best Final Fantasy villain to this day.
1. Vivi (Final Fantasy IX)
Many Final Fantasy characters are memorable, but only a handful can evoke the kinds of emotions that bubble up when we think of Vivi.
When we first meet him in Final Fantasy IX, the little black mage is sweet and clumsy and lovable. He cares deeply about the people around him, even if he doesn't always understand them.
And while the game's overall story might not be kind to Vivi, he never loses that spark of kindness that makes him the most human of all the characters in the game—and perhaps even the entire series.
He grows and changes throughout Final Fantasy IX, and Vivi's story is ultimately a tragic one. Because he's a black mage, his life is designed to be a short one. That revelation causes him to be understandably distraught, yet he also shares his joy with his friends along his journey.
Vivi is one of the greatest Final Fantasy characters because no one else in the series has ever been both so heart-breakingly tragic yet so heart-warmingly kind at the same time. As a sucker for a tragedy, I had to give Vivi the top spot. The little guy deserves it, after all.