At Stuff, we love our Japanese RPGs. Square Enix holds a special place in our heart, especially with their Final Fantasy series.
In fact, the company will be releasing two major RPGs this month; Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII and Bravely Default, a homage to old-school Final Fantasy goodness. There's also the 15th entry to the series, Final Fantasy XV, in the works for the PS4.
With that in mind, we decided to take a little trip down memory lane and recount 5 of the best games the Final Fantasy franchise has wrought upon the gaming world.
1. Final Fantasy VII: Spiky hair goodness
Let’s start off with the most significant, and very likely the most iconic title of the series - Final Fantasy VII.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you'd have at least heard of the game. Released in 1997 for the Playstation, the game's main star was a spiky-haired guy named Cloud and his huge-ass Buster Sword. It had a pretty engaging plot with a somewhat environmental spin to it, involving a group of rebels trying to take down a conglomerate feeding off the planet’s life force (sort of like Greenpeace going up against any major oil company).
Throw in a trenchcoat-wearing psychopath with mommy issues and a host of other characters, and you got yourself a game full of drama.
The gameplay was extremely memorable as well. Fight with fantastical monster, summon bestial allies complete elaborate firepower sequences, and customise your party’s abilities with orbs called Materia. The best part? The graphics were absolutely stunning for its time.
There's no denying the seventh game’s impact on gaming and pop culture. If we had a dollar everytime we saw someone cosplay as Cloud, Sephiroth or Tifa, we'd be rolling in money now.
2. Final Fantasy VIII: Gunblade, nuff said!
So what do you do when you've got a winning formula for a RPG? The logical course of action would be to come up with a sequel and try to replicate its success. Square Enix could have done that with Final Fantasy VIII but instead, they decided to shove all logic aside and go a different route. Smart move.
So did it pay off? After 13 weeks from its launch in 1999, the game earned a whopping US$50 million, making it the fastest selling Final Fantasy title at that point. How's that for success?
So what made the game so memorable? For us, it would definitely have to be the main character Squall's weapon. Let's not kid ourselves. When a game character lugs around a big-ass sword/gun hybrid gunblade around, how can you not call that cool?
There was also the gameplay. The fantasy monsters you summon could be donned as armour, the combat system allows you to draw ANY spell from anyone in any corner of the game’s planet. It also had Square Enix’s version of Magic: The Gathering, which just added more gameplay hours to the title.
The story, on the other hand, wasn't exactly what we called inspiring with its turgid love triangle. Still, it’s worth suffering through, if only for the Gun Blade. Story aside, the rest of the game shows that the RPG-making company can turn things around when all inhibitions are let loose.
More after the break...
3. Final Fantasy V: Where it all started
Final Fantasy franchise wouldn't be what it is today if it weren't for Final Fantasy V. After all this is where the signature Final Fantasy DNA started.
Sure, Final Fantasy IV introduced the meter-based real-time combat system and Final Fantasy III introduced the Job mechanics with class changes on the fly. It was Final Fantasy V, however, that joined both together in holy matrimony. And thus we have today what we call the traditional JRPG experience.
Want to have a team featuring all ninjas? Go ahead, though we advise that you mix your team up if you want to live a little longer. Need spellcasters? Change up your party with shamans and time mages and wreak havoc.
It may have the same storyline as its predecessors, but it’s the light adventure tone, boss battles and dungeon layouts that made Final Fantasy V stand out from the other titles before it. From show-stealers like recurring mid-boss Gilgamesh to the expressions your party makes during cutscenes, it backed away from the angst and drama its prequel went for.
If you want to fault any game for introducing secret bosses that'll fuel your OCD induced, completionist tendencies, you can blame this game for it. It's still a classic and if you can get your hands on a copy, be it on an emulator or even on that old console of yours, play it.
4. Final Fantasy VI: JRPG Story telling at its finest
If there's one thing Square Enix did well, it's following up a success with something even better. Where Final Fantasy V was a great merging of the series’ established systems, Final Fantasy VI took that and added their perfected art of video game storytelling.
Each of the game’s eleven playable characters have their backstories fleshed out through the narrative and how they fight in combat. The theme of science vs magic, rebels vs the empire, and the aftermath of the game world’s ruination all weaves in at a very methodical and elaborate pace. And there’s the game’s main villain, a psychopathic, demigod clown named Kefka (clowns always make GREAT villains). Like all memorable film villains, he had a lasting impact on the entire story. Not bad for a character that started off as a bumbling lackey.
It had a pretty great score as well, courtesy of the great Nobuo Uematsu. Pretty amazing when you realise that it was all done on 16-bit sound.
The game is so memorable, you shouldn't be too shocked if you come across Final Fantasy fans who swear by this game like it was the Holy Book.
Do take note though, if you’re playing it for the first time, DO NOT play the iOS version as it does not do the original justice. Instead see if you can dig up that old SNES or Game Boy Advance of yours and maybe get a copy of the game off eBay.
5. Final Fantasy XI: Time to go online
Really want to know how popular your title is in the realm of pop culture? Make an online version of it. That's what Square Enix did with Final Fantasy XI.
It was a dog eat dog world in the MMORPG space and when you have major competitors like World of Warcraft and EverQuest to go head to head with, it was a tall order to make it a success.
But Final Fantasy XI managed it. Not surprising though, this game sets into motion a new way of playing MMORPGs with your friends all around the world. Everquest may have been the first to start off the genre, but Final Fantasy XI was the one that started the idea of cross-platform play. Which other game allowed gamers from PCs, PS2s and eventually Xbox 360s, to come under one server?
Gameplay was what you'd expect from an MMORPG. Players can choose between five races and their respective classes, level up to gain additional jobs, complete story missions and raids with friends and online strangers in the vast world of Vana’diel.
It’s got a boatload of subscribers and concurrent users, though the latest head count was 500,000 people since its successor, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, was recently out. It has five major expansions and six chapter updates, extending its lifespan for almost a decade. No other title in the franchise can boast that kind of staying power and profitability.
And there you have it. Our top 5 picks of the most memorable Final Fantasy titles. Aye or nay? Let us know your thoughts below.
Can't get enough Final Fantasy goodness? Then check out our review of the upcoming Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.