Final Fantasy is one of the most beloved and iconic RPG franchises in gaming history. The series has been around for more than 30 years, and during that time, it has spawned countless spin-offs, sequels, and even feature films. This comprehensive guide will take you through the history of the Final Fantasy franchise, exploring every mainline game, delving into the most popular entries, and taking a closer look at the spin-off games that have made the series so unique.
II. A Chronological Breakdown of the Mainline Final Fantasy Games
The first Final Fantasy game was released in Japan in 1987. Since then, there have been 15 mainline games in the franchise, spanning multiple platforms and generations of consoles. Each installment in the series has added something new to the gameplay and story, while also maintaining the core elements that have made the franchise so popular.
Final Fantasy (1987)
The original Final Fantasy set the stage for the franchise, introducing players to a world filled with magic, monsters, and quests. The game featured turn-based combat, an innovative job system that allowed players to switch between different classes, and a sprawling story that would set the tone for the series. While the game was somewhat primitive by today’s standards, it was a groundbreaking release that helped to establish RPGs as a mainstay in the gaming industry.
Final Fantasy II (1988)
Final Fantasy II continued the narrative established in the first game, but it also changed up the gameplay considerably. The game introduced a leveling system based on usage, where characters would gain more experience in areas where they used their skills more frequently. It also did away with the traditional experience point system, instead relying on a story-driven progression arc. The game received mixed reviews at the time, but it has since become a cult classic among Final Fantasy fans.
Final Fantasy III (1990)
Final Fantasy III was another massive leap forward for the franchise, introducing the concept of job classes that would allow players to customize their characters even further. The game also included a more complex story that involved the four Warriors of Light, and it introduced new gameplay elements like mini-games and dungeons. Unfortunately, the game never received an official English-language release until 2006, when it was remade for the Nintendo DS.
Final Fantasy IV (1991)
Final Fantasy IV was the first installment in the series to introduce an epic, cinematic story that would become a hallmark of future games. The game followed the knight Cecil as he struggled with issues of morality and redemption while trying to stop a powerful villain from destroying the world. The game also introduced the Active Time Battle system, where players had to act quickly in order to defeat enemies in real-time. The game was critically acclaimed and has since been ported to multiple platforms.
Final Fantasy V (1992)
Final Fantasy V was another entry in the series that focused heavily on the job system, introducing new classes like the Samurai and the Blue Mage. The game also included a branching storyline that allowed players to make choices that affected the outcome of the game. While the game never received an official English-language release until 1999, it was well-received in Japan and has since been regarded as one of the best games in the franchise.
Final Fantasy VI (1994)
Final Fantasy VI was one of the most ambitious games in the series, featuring a massive cast of characters, a complex story that tackled themes like love, loss, and redemption, and a battle system that allowed for advanced strategies and tactics. The game featured an iconic villain in Kefka, who remains one of the most memorable antagonists in gaming history. The game was a massive commercial and critical success, and it is often regarded as one of the best RPGs ever made.
Final Fantasy VII (1997)
Final Fantasy VII was perhaps the most important game in the franchise, introducing the series to a new generation of gamers and helping to establish RPGs as a major force in the gaming industry. The game was the first in the franchise to feature 3D graphics and full-motion video cutscenes, and it tackled mature themes like loss, identity, and environmentalism. The game also introduced the iconic character Cloud Strife and the beloved summon materia system. The game received critical acclaim and has since been remade for modern consoles.
Final Fantasy VIII (1999)
Final Fantasy VIII was a departure from the series’ traditional gameplay and narrative style. The game focused heavily on the story of Squall Leonhart, a member of a mercenary group called SeeD, and his complicated relationships with other characters in the game. The game also introduced new gameplay mechanics like the Junction system, which allowed players to customize their characters’ abilities and stats. The game received mixed reviews at the time, but it has since been reevaluated by fans and critics alike.
Final Fantasy IX (2000)
Final Fantasy IX was a return to the series’ roots, featuring a classic fantasy setting and a more traditional narrative style. The game drew inspiration from earlier Final Fantasy games, featuring a sprawling story, memorable characters, and an updated version of the job system. The game was another critical and commercial success, and it is often regarded as one of the best games in the franchise.
Final Fantasy X (2001)
Final Fantasy X was another groundbreaking release, as it was the first game in the franchise to feature voice acting and fully-realized 3D environments. The game followed the story of Tidus, a young athlete who finds himself transported to a strange world filled with magic and danger. The game also introduced a revamped version of the turn-based battle system, which used a new mechanic called the Conditional Turn-Based Battle system. The game was another massive commercial success and has since been remastered for modern consoles.
Final Fantasy XI (2002)
Final Fantasy XI was an MMORPG that took the series in a new direction. The game featured a vast world filled with players from around the globe, and it utilized a real-time battle system that relied heavily on teamwork and strategy. The game was relatively successful, but it never achieved the same level of popularity as other entries in the series.
Final Fantasy XII (2006)
Final Fantasy XII was another massive departure for the franchise, featuring an open-world environment and a real-time battle system that was closer to an action game than traditional RPGs. The game followed the story of Vaan, a young thief who becomes embroiled in a political conflict that threatens to tear his world apart. The game also introduced a new systems called Gambits, which allowed players to program their characters’ behaviors in combat. The game received critical acclaim, and it has since been remastered for modern consoles.
Final Fantasy XIII (2009)
Final Fantasy XIII was another ambitious release, featuring stunning graphics, a complex story, and a unique battle system that relied on a paradigm shift mechanic. The game followed the story of Lightning, a powerful fighter who embarks on a quest to save her sister and uncover the secrets of her world. The game received mixed reviews, but it was still a commercial success and has since been followed by two sequels.
Final Fantasy XIV (2010)
Final Fantasy XIV was another MMORPG that attempted to build on the success of Final Fantasy XI. Unfortunately, the game was plagued by technical issues and poor reception at launch, which led to an unprecedented move by Square Enix to reboot the game entirely. The reboot, called Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, was released in 2013 to much more positive reviews.
Final Fantasy XV (2016)
Final Fantasy XV was another massive departure for the franchise, featuring an open-world environment and a real-time battle system that was closer to an action game than traditional RPGs. The game followed the story of Noctis and his friends as they travel across their world, fighting monsters and uncovering the secrets of their kingdom. The game received mixed reviews, but it was still a commercial success and has since been followed by numerous DLC expansions.
III. An Analysis of the Most Popular Final Fantasy Games
While every Final Fantasy game has its own unique charm, there are a few entries in the series that stand out as particularly beloved by fans. These games have achieved critical acclaim, high sales figures, and a lasting impact on the franchise.
Final Fantasy IV
Final Fantasy IV is often cited as one of the best games in the series, with its epic story, memorable characters, and classic gameplay mechanics. The game introduced the Active Time Battle system, which would become a standard feature in future entries, and it tackled mature themes like morality and redemption. The game was a massive commercial and critical success, and it remains a fan favorite to this day.
Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VI is considered by many to be the pinnacle of the franchise, thanks to its massive cast of characters, complex story, and innovative gameplay mechanics. The game introduced the concept of espers, which allowed characters to learn new spells and abilities, and it featured a villain in Kefka who remains one of the most memorable antagonists in gaming history. The game was a critical and commercial success, and it remains a fan favorite to this day.
Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII is perhaps the most iconic game in the series, thanks to its groundbreaking graphics, cinematic story, and memorable characters. The game tackled mature themes like death, identity, and environmentalism, and it introduced the iconic character Cloud Strife and the beloved materia system. The game received critical acclaim and is often cited as one of the best RPGs ever made.
Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy X was another groundbreaking release, featuring stunning graphics, fully-voiced cutscenes, and innovative gameplay mechanics. The game introduced the Conditional Turn-Based Battle system, which enabled players to act more quickly in battle, and it told a deeply emotional story about love, loss, and sacrifice. The game was another critical and commercial success, and it remains a fan favorite to this day.
Final Fantasy XIV
Despite its rocky start, Final Fantasy XIV has become one of the most popular MMORPGs in recent memory. The game has evolved considerably since its launch, with numerous updates and expansions adding new content and refining the gameplay. The game boasts a dedicated player community and has received numerous awards for its innovative design and engaging gameplay.
IV. A Deep Dive into the Final Fantasy Spin-Off Games
While the mainline Final Fantasy games are certainly the focus of the franchise, there have been numerous spin-off games that have expanded on its rich lore and imaginative world-building. These games have taken many forms, from tactical RPGs to action games to even rhythm games.
Final Fantasy Tactics
Final Fantasy Tactics is a tactical RPG that features a complex story, memorable characters, and innovative gameplay mechanics. The game was originally released for the PlayStation in 1997, and it has since been ported to numerous platforms. The game is known for its challenging battles, intricate job system, and deep multi-layered story.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is an action RPG that features colorful graphics, a unique setting, and engaging multiplayer gameplay. The game was originally released for the GameCube in 2003, and it has since been remastered for modern consoles. The game is known for its charming world and memorable music, as well as its focus on cooperative play.
Dissidia: Final Fantasy
Dissidia: Final Fantasy is a fighting game that features characters from across the Final Fantasy franchise. The game was originally released for the PlayStation Portable in 2008, and it has since been remastered for modern consoles. The game is known for its frantic battles, deep customization options, and iconic character cameos.
V. A Comparison of Final Fantasy and Other Popular RPG Franchises
There are many other popular RPG franchises in the gaming industry, each with their own unique features and gameplay mechanics. However, Final Fantasy stands out as one of the most beloved and iconic franchises of them all.
The Elder Scrolls
The Elder Scrolls is another popular RPG franchise that focuses on open-world exploration, deep lore, and immersive storytelling. However, the franchise is known for its much more somber and serious tone, compared to the often fantastical and imaginative world of Final Fantasy.
The Witcher is another popular RPG franchise that features a mature, complex story, and characters who are forced to confront the darkest aspects of human nature.