Having refinished FFX via the HD remaster in 2016, currently on Disc 3 of an FFIX replay (PSN version), and finished replaying FFXII via the ‘Zodiac Age’ remaster (on 21/7), I thought I’d give my ‘final’ thoughts on the numbered games to date [Note: I’ve finished every numbered game, some multiple times, except FFXI and FFXIV as I make a point of ignoring numbered RPG series’ MMOs in general.] This list will count down in reverse order from FF15.
Final Fantasy XV (15): Far less disappointing than FFXIII, but too much focus on ‘open world’, and a very watered down plot – more seems to happen just on Disc 3 of FFIX alone plot-wise than the whole of FF15. Also, for a game that supposedly spent literally a decade in development, the in-game world actually felt kinda small (about 1/3-1/4 the size it should have been for a decade dev cycle). The ‘in-car music’ (you could purchase selections of various FF soundtracks at shops with in-game currency] was an excellent touch – making this a great ‘first timer’ game for FF noobs.
Final Fantasy XIII (13): The game that FF fans love to hate! Ridiculously linear (‘corridor crawler: the RPG’), excessive difficulty level, lack of sidequests, lack of FUN mini-games and can’t control any character besides the party leader (‘Party leader KO’d = Game Over’). This FF, and numbered FFs since have essentially been on the toilet. The back cover of FF13’s case also had the laughably pretentious boast ‘Final Fantasy XIII delivers the next step in the evolution of gaming’ [more like a huge step backwards]. Due to the difficulty level, I can’t comment on whether or not FF13’s battle system is a redeeming feature or not. Excellent soundtrack for a non-Uematsu composer, but on its own is not enough to be FF13’s saving grace.
Final Fantasy XII (12): Underwhelming story (not terrible by any means, but seemed to borrow plot elements from FFVI liberally without bringing much to the table that was particularly original, and the few original plot elements weren’t prominent enough/fleshed out enough), lackluster soundtrack compared to FFs 1-10 and the original Crystal Chronicles (not terrible, just mostly ‘meh’), and Vaan and Penelo seemed tacked on – not enough contribution to the plot and not enough character development. I feel FFXII’s story, as it stands (ignoring any future chance, however slim, of a remake) could have been done with just 3 playable characters (Ashe, Balthier and Basch) without any real sacrifice of plot. However, FF12 has probably the best battle system in the series, and had a vastly superior dub to FFX. FFXII Zodiac Age (HD remaster) thoughts: job system gives the game a different feel to the original version – there’s a reason for each character to specialise in a specific weapon type [in the original, it was just ‘each character equips whatever’], Job License Boards are reasonably flexible in terms of placement of Licenses (becomes even more flexible after a certain point in the game) – characters having a specialisation means I’m making an effort to evenly level up all characters (in the original Western version, I’d stick with three characters and barely use the other three characters), but ability to ‘re-spec’ character’s Job or Licenses would have been good; 2x & 4x speed is an EXCELLENT feature that actually makes grinding FUN (or at least not tedious) – a feature that more RPGS should have (4x speed makes evenly levelling characters FUN-ish – ~40 hours to finish main story inc. 16 Hunts, about 10 hrs shorter than the original, but much faster grinding and the game is more fun – enjoyment>>>playtime); graphics in HD version still seem high-level PS3 graphics – character models and backgrounds could have been retouched/airbrushed more and default brightness could have been higher and could have used a little more vibrant colours; Zodiac version main story bosses are too easy compared to the original [but luckily one boss battle I struggled with for a long time in the original version seems to have been toned down in difficulty] and would have liked proper difficulty settings.
Final Fantasy X (10): Fairly good plot (though some things were glossed over and could have been fleshed out more), excellent battle system, easily one of the best soundtracks, the Al Bhed primers and Al Bhed language added to the game, was the only numbered FF to allow switching characters in and out of the party during battle (which I used in the remaster to equally level up characters, and I made an effort to ALWAYS level up enough to ‘Overkill’ every story boss for extra rare items), every character had a specific specialisation in battle (as opposed to some of the other games, where you could essentially ignore certain characters unless you wanted to keep them in your party), and some of the optional cutscenes were reasonably interesting. However, the dialogue was at times quite cringe-worthy – whether this was simply a bad dub, or whether the Japanese version had the same problem to some extent, I don’t know – but for first-time players, don’t expect poetry from most of the cutscenes (I didn’t notice this much when I played the PS2 version years ago, but it did stand out when I played the HD remaster) . ‘Putting it out there’ on the off-chance of a 20th anniversary remake – fleshed out plot, ‘revised’ dialogue, extra content, etc.
Final Fantasy IX (9): Based on my experience from playing every non-MMO numbered game, probably has the best writing in the entire numbered series (dialogue, plot, Active Time Events [ATE], humour, Mognet letters, etc). Excellent system for learning abilities, great plot, excellent soundtrack, excellent sidequests, plenty of allusions to earlier FF games. Due to pre-rendered backgrounds, (for a PS1 game) it’s not too difficult on the eyes, but the one thing that stands out as not holding up – the card game, Tetra Master, is neither as fun nor easy to pick up as FF8’s Triple Triad (I can’t seem to make sense of the almost nonsensical numbers and letters on the cards in Tetra Master). Fingers crossed for 20th anniversary remake.
Final Fantasy VIII (8): Still my favourite numbered game – I related to Squall, the plot was fairly ‘grounded’, the characters seemed to have much more believable dialogue than FF7, my favourite FF soundtrack next to maybe the original Crystal Chronicles, GFs were great inc. the system for learning abilities, the card game was easy to pick up and reasonably fun, the ‘Tutorial’ had plenty of background information about the world and terminology, and the final disc is more extensive than FF7’s. Also, FF8 along with FF7 got me into writing Super Power – which gives it a huge tick under ‘Pros’ . Without looking at the game with ‘nostalgia filters’ (acting as though the game’s immune to criticism), the only ‘cons’ I’d fault FF8 for are too few significant sidequests and minigames, using the ‘Draw’ command to draw stock for spells takes WAY too many turns (a remake can remedy that though – hint, hint, Square Enix!), the difficult is a tad too low, and disc 3 seemed a little too short compared to FF9. Like FF9, hoping for a 20th anniversary remake.
Final Fantasy VII  (keeping in mind the upcoming remake – retrospective is for original version): FF7’s ‘Materia’ system was a highlight, the plot was one of the most ‘spiritual’ in the series, excellent soundtrack, it became a ‘gateway drug’ for JRPGs’ popularity in the West when it was released, like FF8 it had a modern setting, raising and racing Chocobos was a highlight, its environmental themes are still relevant and a complex battle system. Things that have not aged well are numerous, often fairly obvious translation errors, dialogue that sometimes doesn’t fit the characters at all based on their Advent Children voice actors and the ‘Lego men’ graphics (remake will fix that). . However, the remake already fixes the graphics (and then some!), expands and extends the story beyond the scope of the original as well as modernising FF7’s world, tying it in more closely with the ‘Compilation of FF7’, corrects translation errors (I’m assuming), revises dialogue to suit their Advent Children actors, etc. The original writer of FF7 has returned for the remake, so at the very least the remake’s story should be fairly good. When the remake is released (I’ll probably wait until all installments have been released in case they at that point release a compilation with all the installments), I’ll share my thoughts both on how the remake compares to the original, and how it affects the series.
Final Fantasy VI (6): More summons (esp. original ones) than 2-3 other numbered games combined, the best soundtrack of the pre-3D FF games, the largest cast to date of a non-MMO numbered FF with similar amounts of character development for each character and none seeming tacked on like Vaan and Penelo, great plot, excellent villain, excellent Gameboy Advance version (extra dungeon, extra Espers, etc), and one of the best plots in the series. It’s hard to fault FF6, except maybe that ‘Desperation Attacks’ were incredibly underutilised, and the difficulty is maybe a little too low by today’s standards.
Final Fantasy V (5): The only Square Enix games that surpass the ‘Job’ system in FF5 would be either Bravely Default and/or Bravely Second, excellent soundtrack, no tacked on playable characters, was the first FF to introduce ‘Blue Magic’, and was the first FF to feature ‘Superbosses’. The plot is one of the weakest plots in the series though and falls a bit flat compared to many, more modern RPGs (e.g Xenoblade Chronicles, the SMT Personas 3-5, The Last Story, Radiant Historia, Bravely Default, etc).
Final Fantasy IV (4): Probably where Final Fantasy started to really take off (FF2 and FF3 were Japan-only at that point until the GBA ‘Dawn of Souls’ remakes of FF1 &FF2 and the DS remake of FF3, so western releases before 7 were renumbered [‘FF2’ on SNES in the West was actually FF4, and ‘FF3’ on SNES was actually FF6]– good plot, great soundtrack, the first prominent featuring of summons in the main plot [summons in FF3 – I played the DS remake – were ones that are now pretty standard and played no role in the plot whatsoever], and FF4 still holds up reasonably well. The DS remake also introduced some neat new features that weren’t in the original – including ‘Augments’, new touchscreen mini-games and a ‘thought bubble’ where characters discussed what was happening in the plot (though the Gameboy Advance version had bonus dungeon(s), weapons, etc that weren’t in the DS version). Its sequel also happened to be pretty decent (sequels to numbered FFs are usually fairly inferior to the original numbered game).
Final Fantasy III (3): The DS remake created personalities and backstories for the 4 playable characters (who like FF1 were essentially blank slates in the original version), and the ‘Job’ system, although inferior to FF5’s (especially the Gameboy Advance version of FF5) was in some ways ahead of its time. Certain late/endgame plot elements in FF3 seemed almost like a set up for a (at this stage) non-existent sequel or prequel, which remains to be realised. The biggest problems with FF3 are the virtually complete lack of save points in dungeons and outside of the world map (which was not corrected at all by the remake), and that Phoenix Downs cannot be bought in shops AT ALL, which means prior to unlocking certain spells, a character being K.O’d is a very big deal because resting at an inn doesn’t revive them like in other games.
Final Fantasy II (2): The plot holds up a fair bit better than FF1’s, every character can master multiple weapons and spells, stats increase based on actions in battle rather than levelling up, like Elder Scrolls (using magic might increase maximum mp at the end of the battle, attacking might increase strength, being hit by a physical attack might increase maximum HP), it had a ‘Keywords’ system for speaking to NPCs about plot-related topics, a better soundtrack than FF1, the characters had personalities and backstories, the plot was darker and more dramatic than FF1’s, and some of its plot it was referenced in a certain part of FF9. The GBA version added a ‘Souls of Rebirth’ storyline where you played as certain other characters (which wasn’t present in the original), and the PSP version added even more additional content. Levelling up stats, spells, and weapons tended to be a bit grind-y though.
Final Fantasy I (FF1): The RPG that started it all. It will always get due credit for that, but that said, I should be obliged to point a few things out. None of the characters have preset personalities, and no dialogue, which means the plot is a bit threadbare by today’s standards, and there is a very basic character class system but no ability to change classes once a class has been ‘locked in’ upon starting a new game. There are 2-3 aspects of FF1’s plot that still hold up, and the music definitely still holds up, but many RPGs of the last two decades have surpassed FF1 in plot, writing, battle system and gameplay that nowadays it’s virtually unsuitable as a measuring bar for the quality of RPGs. However, despite its age, the GBA/PSP remake holds up much better than either of the two NES Zeldas, which are in need of remakes.
Final Fantasy Type-0 (HD version): Much better than FF13 – much more opened ended gameplay, twelve playable characters, each with a unique weapon type, missions that play out as strategic military battles, VERY good soundtrack, better plot than FF12 and FF15, and it even has an awesome ‘Secret Training’ feature where you can level up quickly without spending ages grinding (if only more RPGs had a feature like that! Grindfests are not fun.). Pretty impressive for a non-numbered FF!
World of Final Fantasy: Had a better and more impactful story than FFXV while simultaneously attempting comedy reasonably successfully (which the video game industry in general seems to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid), had an old-school battle system with modern touches like the ‘stack’ feature with some vague Pokemon vibes, the skill system for monsters was pretty good and even monsters from early in the game could be raised to be sort of uber by endgame, had HEAPS of fan service (esp. music and characters), it put an interesting twist on ‘summons’, and had a better soundtrack than FF12 and FF15. The only things I’d fault it for are being a little too short, and the ‘Imprism’ command failing too often even against an severely weakened enemy. All this from a mere ‘spinoff’? Give this team a numbered game to work on already (or at least give us a sequel)!