Few video games franchises have a history in gaming culture—let alone the JRPG genre—as long and storied as Final Fantasy.
Since its beginnings on the NES in 1987, the series has survived every console generation, and each new entry is always cause for hype, anticipation, and celebration.
And each entry always rekindles debate among JRPG fans over which game in the series remains the best. With over two dozen titles in the franchise and few that are objectively bad, it’s extremely hard to pick five of the best, let alone the best of the best!
To simplify things a bit, I’m only going to be choosing from the main series of video games (sorry, Final Fantasy Tactics). Also, remember that this is just one writer’s opinion and it’s just for fun, so don’t take it too personally if your favorite game doesn’t make the cut.
That said, let’s dive in. Here are my picks for the best video games in the Final Fantasy series, ranked up to my favorite!
5. Final Fantasy VII Remake (2020)
Yes, I know this is a remake. Yes, I know it’s not technically completed yet. Neither of those points keeps this game from being one of the best entries in the Final Fantasy series.
Final Fantasy has never looked as good as it does in Final Fantasy VII Remake. Even on the PS4 rather than the PS5, the game is gorgeous and has a chaotic-but-fun battle system that feels like a real improvement over the innovations brought along by Final Fantasy XV.
This remake goes out of its way to make sure you know it’s a different story to the original, improving on the PS1 version’s storytelling by subverting expectations and playing with the meta-knowledge that players have going into it.
The game still has its faults, of course, and we’ll have to wait until the final chapter is released to know exactly where it will land on this list in the end, but for now, it deserves a mention here.
4. Final Fantasy IV (1991)
Though it was the first game in the series to make it onto the Super Nintendo in 1991, Final Fantasy IV represented one of the biggest jumps forward in the series as a whole.
Whereas the original three games allowed players to change the classes of all characters at will, Final Fantasy IV restricted each character’s class and abilities more directly.
This makes sense when you consider the plot, which focuses on Cecil’s journey in turning away from the path of the Dark Knight and taking up the role of a Paladin. It was the first game in the series to put that much emphasis on a single character’s journey.
This was also the first outing of the Active Time Battle system, which would become a series standard for the next decade. Final Fantasy IV pulled the series forward and made it the benchmark by which all other JRPGs would be judged for an entire generation.
3. Final Fantasy IX (2000)
In 2000, the PS1 was nearing the end of its life-cycle and the gaming console had already given us two Final Fantasy titles—so it was a surprise when Square announced the release of Final Fantasy IX.
Like each previous title in the series, it followed a new cast of characters in a new world as they sought to save their world, starting with a daring abduction/escape involving an airship assault on a castle.
There are the usual romance elements to the story, plus an evolution of the Active Time Battle system we first saw in Final Fantasy IV, plus new character designs and cutscenes that still look stunning today.
It was also the final entry in which famed video game composer Nobuo Uematsu was solely responsible for the music.
2. Final Fantasy X (2001)
Final Fantasy X was the first game in the franchise to appear on the PS2, and it did an amazing job showcasing the technology of the console. The game’s visuals hold up even today, but what really stood out at the time was its voice acting.
All the characters were portrayed by an actor who brought them to life in a way we hadn’t seen before—certainly not to that extent, anyway. While some moments did fall flat (including Tidus’ haunting laugh that later became a meme), the game ushered a new era of cinematic game design.
Add to all that a fantastic cast of characters, the series’ most organic and natural-feeling love story, and one of the best ballads in the series? You’ve got one of the best entries in the Final Fantasy series.
1. Final Fantasy VI (1994)
Released in 1994 for the SNES, Final Fantasy VI is not only the moment when the series really grew into itself, but also a watershed moment for the JRPG genre as a whole.
Though games before it had given us great character development (like Cecil’s journey in Final Fantasy IV), no other game thus far had tried to tackle the same kind of mature themes we saw in Final Fantasy VI.
The plot deals with: the aftermath of war crimes, a magical arms race, slavery and rebellion, and so much more. The game didn’t pull its punches, the graphics pushed the SNES to its absolute limit, and the music is one of the best gaming soundtracks of all time.
Combine that with the magi-tech vibe of the game and its lasting legacy among gamers today, and you’ve got an absolute winner.