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Squaresoft’s (or as they are now known, Square-Enix’s) Final Fantasy series has become synonymous with the RPG genre in gaming. It has been more than 20 years since the Japanese release of the original title for the Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System) in 1987, and since that time the Final Fantasy games have gained an immense following all over the world, helping to bring a once niche genre of gaming into the mainstream. While all roleplaying fans undoubtedly have their own personal favorite titles in the series, here in chronological order are the top five Final Fantasy games of all time.
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Final Fantasy IV
Originally released in the U.S. as Final Fantasy II in 1991, this epic Super NES title was the first of the true story-driven Final Fantasy games. In it, players assume the role of Cecil, a dark knight who starts to have a moral crisis when he faces a conflict between following orders and doing what is right. It was also the first title in the series to use the Active-Time Battle System instead of a stock turn-based combat engine, and introduced a massive cast of characters, each with their own back stories. It was innovative stuff for the time, and has been remade on several occasions throughout the years, most recently on the Nintendo DS.
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Final Fantasy VI
Like Final Fantasy IV, the sixth installment of this classic RPG series underwent a name change en route to North America, releasing as Final Fantasy III for the Super Nintendo in 1994. It features the largest case of any non-spinoff game in the series, as well as an epic story that remains a favorite among roleplaying fans today. At its core, Final Fantasy VI is about a group of rebels working together trying to overthrow an evil dictatorship and stop a sadistic madman, but the story is so much more than that, really. Each character faces his or her own struggles, and the game was one of the first to tackle such adult themes as suicide, teen pregnancy and mass murder. It also featured an epic score from renowned series composer Nobuo Uematsu and is widely recognized not just as one of the best Final Fantasies of all time, but one of the best video games ever made.
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Final Fantasy VII
For the seventh installment of the series, not to mention its debut on the Sony PlayStation, Squaresoft dramatically changed the way the world looked at roleplaying games. Fans of the genre had come to expect certain things when they played an RPG, such as solid storytelling done completely via text and super-deformed sprites representing their characters. Then in 1997, along came Final Fantasy VII, the first game in the series to use 3D computer graphics and cinematic cutscenes. It opened the world’s eyes to a type of game that, up until that point, had enjoyed primarily just a cult following.
The epic adventures of Cloud, Tifa, Aerith and company are well known by most gamers by now, especially considering that the success of Final Fantasy VII would eventually spawn several sequels and prequels in both movie and game format, and would lead to these characters enjoying cameo appearances in other Square-Enix games.
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Final Fantasy IX
The final installment of the series to appear on the original PlayStation, 2000’s Final Fantasy IX is somewhat of an anomaly on this list. It didn’t introduce any massively successful innovations to the gaming world. It didn’t radically change the RPG genre in any significant way. What it did do successfully, however, is blend the best of the old and new school Final Fantasy games into an attractive package. While the characters in the game sported a super-deformed look ala the Super NES Final Fantasy titles, the graphics were just as sharp and as crisp as later Sony Playstation versions, and the cutscenes popularized in Final Fantasy VII were every bit as present and every bit as spectacular in this one as well. Every aspect of the game oozed quality, from plot to gameplay to character customization to musical score.
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(Tie) Final Fantasy X & Final Fantasy XII
How can one choose between the two main single-player Final Fantasy games for the PlayStation 2? Each has its own reasons for inclusion on this list, but each as its flaws as well. For example, Final Fantasy X was the first game in the series to include full 3D dungeon environments and voice acting. The problem is the voice acting wasn’t very good on the whole (and downright cringe-inducing at times) while many gamers lamented the lack of a world map and free exploration. Final Fantasy XII, on the other hand, was an absolutely gorgeous game, with cutscenes that could quite possibly rival the work done on the Lord of the Rings movies. On the other hand, the gambit-based battle system (reminiscent of what one would find in an MMORPG) was a love-it or hate-it affair, and while the plot was solid, the character designs were of varying quality. On the bright side, it did do away with random encounters, which was most welcome. Both games met with critical success and both games, like Final Fantasy VII, would go on to spawn sequels. In the end, both are worth playing, although which of the two gamers will enjoy more is simply a matter of individual taste.
Some lists of the best Final Fantasy games of all time.