By this point I’ve played all of them. Only 8 & 15 I have not completed, which gives you an idea where I rank them in the overall scheme. I see the series more like generations of games, where the break in generations is a baby-meets-bathwater event. And often, the first and last games per generation really do something special.
I see 1 through 6 as the early wave. 7 through 10 as the 3d wave. And 12 through 15 as the AI wave.
The early wave was all about building a game with very limited resources. Most people wouldn’t be able to play FF1 as it originally launched. Hard to navigate, limited sprites, few saves, low forgiveness, and the annoying fact that you missed attacks if the enemy was dead. It was remastered later on to add a lot of the more modern conveniences (like inventory management) as well as some extra content. Solid.
FF6 took all those ideas and practically perfected them. A massive roster of distinct characters with their own side quests. Chocobos, summons, airships. A musical score that still gets me going, and a storyline that was epic.
Each additional game in the early wave tried some different bits. Group sizes, jobs (!), ATB vs turns, methods of leveling, and side quests. They all had sprites. Chocobos showed up. The final battles were excruciatingly long. Cid. And each has been remastered/remade in the years since. You can play all of them on a cell phone.
I still remember popping in FF7 in a rented Playstation. The intro cinematic just blew everything I knew of console games out of the water. I’ve replayed it a dozen times at least, and each time it still feels like the first. Sure, the character art required imagination and the translation was horrible, but the sheer scope of the game… wow.
8 brought in minigames. 9 was a throwback to 1-6 (and is one of my all-time favs), and 10 decided to bring in voice acting and a crazy stupid long end-game. I am sure across the years I’ve broken the 1k hrs mark on FFX play time. I can lightning dodge blindfolded.
Where the 3d wave changed how we saw the game, the AI wave changed how we played the game. Gone was the concept of turns, and instead battle was active. Computer power was good enough to always show enemies, so no more random battles. Other player characters could be customized to act on their own, with a rudimentary (at first) AI system on behavior. This optimization of gameplay meant that the difficulty spike went way up. Enemy behavior became much more complex.
FF12 took the familiar steakpunk fantasy approach that worked wonders in previous settings. The shift from FFX to FF12 was massive, and it’s only after years that people have come to appreciate what it did to the genre. FF13 looked amazing, but its overall lack of complexity until the way end of the game makes it a rough one to recommend. FF15 took the Ubisoft gameplay of open world minimap icons to another level, and a much more action oriented gameplay – kind of like Kingdom Hearts. The story removed almost all fantasy elements, and was so poorly received that extra content was cancelled.
FF11 is pure eastern MMO, in line with Everquest’s need for group based combat and a super punishing death mechanic. FF14 came back from a catastrophic launch to become the gold standard in western MMOs. Nearly every issue that exists in WoW has been resolved in FF14. I am of the opinion that the game is so refined, that it’s not possible for the genre to “grow” outside of it.
I said earlier that everyone has their personal ranking, and I’m no different. And rather than rank on games at release, I’d rather rank on what you can get today. Cause frankly, getting the original FF games is not going to happen. So, from “worst”, to “best”. No sequels.
- FF8 – Both story and combat never clicked for me.
- FF15 – Driving to pad time, and minimap quests were too much.
- FF2 – Solid story, but the leveling mechanics were insane (had to use a skill to improve it)
- FF5 – This one is hard to play since it feels like a beta for FF6.
- FF13 – The “Press A” mechanic lasted WAY longer than it needed to. The game is great once it opens up, but that’s after 8 hours of corridors.
- FF3 – The job system and the Warrior of Light & Dark are in full force here.
- FF4 – The story does it here and is the model for a lot of other games. Cecil & Golbez make this work. Trip to the moon too!
- FF1 – The remake greatly polishes some rough ideas.
- FF7 – When you leave Midgar and realize it’s effectively only a large dungeon…that’s when you realize what FF7 did to the genre.
- FF9 – If you took the best parts of FF1 through 8 and put them in a single game. It doesn’t innovate – it polishes.
- FF6 – Kefka. Ultros. Shadow. True character development and a polished system underneath. The remake’s graphical adjustments are meh.
- FF10 – The voice acting is really bad, and the story bittersweet. Sphere grid and Blitzball are the standard which others are measured.
- FF12 Zodiac Age – the bug fixes and job system dramatically improve an already amazing game. Retrospective, the gambit system is an amazing development.