Which FINAL FANTASY game should I play first?

What’s the best starting point for new players? We help you make the big decision
By Duncan Heaney
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“Which FINAL FANTASY game should I start with?”

It’s one of the most common questions we see from people yet to dive into the series, and a hotly debated topic online - ask five fans and you’re likely to get five different answers.

The actual ‘correct’ answer, of course, is… any of them. After all, almost every game in the series acts as a standalone adventure with its own distinct world, characters and even gameplay mechanics. There really isn’t a wrong or right place to start.

But we also realize that’s not particularly helpful for new players, who have a lot of options available - particularly with recent re-releases.

So to lend a hand, we’ll run through the mainline FINAL FANTASY games that are available and give you a sense of what to expect from each adventure.

Then, you can simply choose the game that most appeals most to you - we’re confident that whichever you pick, you’ll have a good time.

FINAL FANTASY

This is the game that started it all! FINAL FANTASY follows the Warriors of Light, who set off on a quest to defeat four fiends and restore their tainted crystals back to their former glory.

It may be the first, but it immediately established many of the elements that would come to define the series - vast, sprawling worlds, deep strategic combat (turn-based in this case), creative character and enemy designs and sublime music.

The version currently available on iOS and Android features updated visuals, and the Soul of Chaos and the Labyrinth of Time - two bonus dungeons that were added in later editions of the game

FINAL FANTASY II

The second FINAL FANTASY game focuses on four war-orphaned heroes: Firion, Maria, Guy and Leon. The group becomes embroiled in a conflict between the hostile Empire of Palamecia and the rebel resistance, with the fate of the whole world hanging in the balance.

Combat is once again turn-based, but even in this early stage, FINAL FANTASY was a series that innovated. Rather than sticking with a traditional leveling system, FINAL FANTASY II introduced a new proficiency system, in which characters’ skill with weapons and abilities increased the more they used them.

The current iOS and Android editions feature improved graphics and two new dungeons that were added to later versions of the game: the Soul of Rebirth and the Arcane Labyrinth.

FINAL FANTASY III

When darkness falls and the land is robbed of light, four young heroes are chosen by the crystals to head off an exciting journey across a vast and hostile land.

This critically-acclaimed entry in the series introduced a flexible job system, which lets characters change their roles in combat at any time. It was also the first to introduce powerful summons, including series mainstays Bahamut and Shiva.

The FINAL FANTASY III for PC and smartphones is an updated version, first released in 2006. It features updated 3D visuals, new story sequences, new designs for the job mastery cards and more.

FINAL FANTASY IV

FINAL FANTASY IV innovated once again, with the deepest narrative and most beloved characters in the series so far.

After questioning some troubling orders from his King, the dark knight Cecil is demoted and sent on a simple delivery job with his friend Kain. The shocking events that follow send Cecil and a group of heroes on a dramatic journey of betrayal, love and redemption.

As well as delivering one of the most powerful stories in the series, FINAL FANTASY IV was the first game to feature the Active Time Battle system, which combined turn-based and real-time elements together to create a faster, but equally strategic, battle system.

For the Steam, iOS and Android release, FINAL FANTASY IV has been recreated with full 3D visuals and even voice acting. It also features a built-in jukebox, so you can listen to the soundtrack at any time. And trust me - you’ll definitely want to.

FINAL FANTASY V

The world of FINAL FANTASY V is reliant on elemental crystals with the power of earth, water, fire and wind. These crystals bring life to and prosperity, but they have lost their power and are on the verge of destruction.

Four characters are driven together by fate: Bartz, Princess Lenna of Castle Tycoon, the pirate captain Faris and the deeply mysterious Galuf. Together, they embark on a journey to save the planet.

As with its predecessor, FINAL FANTASY V features the ATB battle system, but expands the possibilities dramatically with an incredibly deep and flexible new class system that lets you customize your characters with 26 unique jobs.

The version available on iOS, Android and Steam features recreated graphics, as well as addition content, including The Sealed Temple area and a Tetsuya Nomura-designed boss, Enuo.

FINAL FANTASY VI

FINAL FANTASY VI is one of the most popular entries in the FINAL FANTASY series - acclaimed by fans and critics alike.

This game introduced several interesting ideas, including a story with strong characters, but no central protagonist - each member of the party gets their own moment center stage and you can choose who to control for much of the game.

It’s set in a world where magic has vanished, and humankind has embraced the power of iron, gunpowder, steam engines and other technologies. But one still does have the power of magic - a young woman named Terra, who is enslaved by the evil Empire.

An encounter with an Esper - an ancient being of incredible power - frees Terra from the Empire’s clutches, and sets off a chain of events that touches countless lives, and leads to epic and terrible consequences.

And, of course we should mention that FINAL FANTASY VI features Kefka - regarded by many as one of the greatest villains of all time…

FINAL FANTASY VII

FINAL FANTASY VII changed the face of gaming forever.

It’s inspired a legion of fans thanks to its epic story, legendary characters and unsurpassed presentation. It’s gone on to inspire spin-offs, movies and even a full-blown remake (coming March 2020).

The story starts in Midgar, a city controlled by Shinra Inc - a less than ethical multi-conglomerate that is absorbing Mako energy and destroying the natural resources of the planet.

Cloud, a former member of Shinra’s elite SOLDIER unit, joins AVALANCHE in a daring mission to bomb one of the city’s reactors, but in the chaos that follows, he makes a discovery that will change his life, and the world, forever.

The game also made waves with its cinematic battles and innovative Materia system that essentially lets you slot abilities and magic into armor - this allows for an incredible level of flexibility in how you set up the party.

The version available on current gen devices features a number of useful features, including the ability to speed up time, turn off random encounters or even boost your characters to full health.

Available on:

FINAL FANTASY VIII

FINAL FANTASY VIII is set in a world where the militarized nation of Galbadia has formed an alliance with the Sorceress Edea and is making a bid for world conquest.

Amid the conflict, Squall Leonhart and a group of fellow students from Balamb Garden’s mercenary force, SeeD, are dispatched into action. But Squall’s universe it turned upside down when he meets the free-spirited Rinoa Heartilly and starts to dream that he is a Galbadian soldier named Laguna Loire…

FINAL FANTASY VIII upped the ante with presentation once again, with more detailed characters models, and one of the most adored soundtracks in the series.

It also innovated in terms of gameplay, with more real-time elements like timed button presses to enhance damage in combat, and the strategically deep ‘Junction’ system, which lets you enhance your party’s stats with magic. Also, it featured the card game Triple Triad - one of the best mini-games in the series to date!

FINAL FANTASY VIII Remastered is out now for Switch, PS4, Xbox One and Steam. It's an updated version of the game with enhanced visuals, and useful boosters, such as the ability to speed up time.

Available on:

FINAL FANTASY IX

FINAL FANTASY IX is an epic story of love, war and betrayal. The game begins with an elaborate plan by the roguish Zidane and the Tantalus Theater Troupe to kidnap Princess Garnet, the heir of Alexandria.

But to their surprise, the princess wants to be kidnapped, and make her escape from the castle. Before long Garnet, her personal guard Steiner, have joined Zidane and a colorful cast of misfits, including Vivi, Freya and Quina, on an unforgettable journey across a dangerous land.

This game marks a return to the series traditional fantasy roots, after the sci-fi inspired worlds of the prior two games. More than that, it operates as a love letter to the FINAL FANTASY series as a whole. The game contains lots of references that serve to reward series veterans, while introducing many elements of the franchise to newcomers.

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FINAL FANTASY X HD Remaster

FINAL FANTASY X tells the story of Tidus - a talented blitz/ball player, , who journeys with a young and beautiful summoner named Yuna on a quest to save the world of Spira from an endless cycle of destruction wrought by the colossal menace Sin.

The game features exciting turn-based battles, and introduced the sphere grid system of character progression.

Rather than characters levelling up automatically as in prior games, in FINAL FANTASY X, you manually build their stats and abilities by inserting orbs into a massive grid. It’s very simple system to use, but it gives you greater control over how your party develops than many of the older games.

FINAL FANTASY X|X-2 HD Remaster is available for current-gen devices, and updates the game with high-definition visuals, and a remastered soundtrack. The collection also includes the sequel FINAL FANTASY X-2 - a memorable game in its own right, as well bonus material and extras.

Available on:

FINAL FANTASY XI

FINAL FANTASY XI was even more of a departure for the series - rather than an epic single player adventure, the game was a massively multiplayer online RPG (MMORPG). Still pretty epic though.

It’s set in the vast world of Vana'diel, and allows players team up to battle, explore, talk and trade their way through a huge number of quests, full of drama and intrigue.

While FINAL FANTASY XIV: Online has since overtaken it as the more popular - and populated - game, the fact that people still play FINAL FANTASY XI speaks volumes about its quality.

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FINAL FANTASY XII THE ZODIAC AGE

The world of Ivalice is at war. The small kingdom of Dalmasca has been conquered by the Archadian Empire, leaving Princess Ashe the one and only heir to the throne. Meanwhile, Vaan, a street urchin and orphan, dreams of flying freely in the skies.

The two will join forces with friends, pirates and warriors to form a resistance, find a way to restore Dalmasca to its former glory, and maybe even save the world.

FINAL FANTASY XII’s biggest innovations were the critically-acclaimed Gambit system, which allows players to set the behaviors of your party to an incredibly precise degree, enabling them to act automatically in battle.

The ZODIAC AGE edition of the game - available on most platforms - expanded the options further, with even more gambits and the ability to give characters a second job in combat. It also features improved HD visuals, a remastered soundtrack and the ability to speed up time.

Available on:

FINAL FANTASY XIII

A deepening crisis threatens to plunge the floating world of Cocoon into chaos. A powerful and dangerous being called a Fal'Cie has been discovered, and in the aftermath a group of unsuspecting strangers are branded enemies of the state.

With the terrified population baying for their blood, and the military eager to fulfil that request, the group has no choice but to run - but will they be able to escape the destiny that has been thrust upon them?

One of the best things about FINAL FANTASY XIII is the paradigm system - fast paced, strategic battles in which characters must change roles on the fly to suit the constantly changing conditions. It also introduced popular characters like Lightning and spawned two direct sequels.

FINAL FANTASY XIII (and its sequels) can be played on PC and Xbox One via backward compatibility.

Available on:

  • Steam
  • Playable on Xbox One (via backwards compatibility)

FINAL FANTASY XIV: Shadowbringers

FINAL FANTASY XIV Online is a massively multiplayer game set in the land of Hydaelyn - a land embraced by Gods and forged by Heroes.

It has everything you could want from a FINAL FANTASY game - a deep, engaging storyline, fantastic graphics, and a deep job system that lets you change roles whenever you want.

It’s also one of the most welcoming MMOs out there for newcomers. It eases players in gently, with a mentor system that helps newcomers get up to speed quickly.

Even better, it’s getting bigger all the time. The most recent expansion, FINAL FANTASY XIV: Shadowbringers is out now, and it adds loads more content, including new races, new areas, new storylines and more.

It’s a game with hundreds of hours-worth of quests and content to dig your teeth into - not to mention some of the most compelling stories in the whole FINAL FANTASY series,

It’s a joy to play through, but of course, if you do want to skip straight ahead to join friends who have been playing it for years, you can do that too with a Tales of Adventure item.

If you want the most content, including the new Shadowbringers expansion, FINAL FANTASY XIV Online Complete Edition’s the way to go, but for newcomers who want to dip their toe in first, we’d recommend the FINAL FANTASY XIV Online Starter Edition.

If you like what you play, you can always upgrade and get access to the expansions later.

Available on:

FINAL FANTASY XV

After years of fighting, the nations of Lucis and Niflheim agree to an armistice.

As a symbol of the peace, Noctis, crown prince of Lucis, plans to wed Lady Lunafreya of Tenebrae. Joined by his friends and bodyguards - Gladiolus, Ignis and Prompto - the young prince sets off on a road trip towards his bride to be. But the group is unaware of the many dangers that lie ahead.

FINAL FANTASY XV opens with a statement of intent - “A FINAL FANTASY for Fans and First-Timers”.

It offers up a large world, filled with quests to complete, vicious monsters to hunt and secrets to discover and - for the first time for a numbered FINAL FANTASY game - a spectacular action-oriented battle system.

It’s an unconventional FINAL FANTASY game in that respect, but the core of the series shines through - wonderful characters, a compelling story, exciting battles and incredible presentation.

Available on:


What about the spin-offs?

FINAL FANTASY has been around for a long time, and has spawned direct sequels, like FINAL FANTASY X-2 and FINAL FANTASY XIII-2, as well as spin-off games like FINAL FANTASY TACTICS or WORLD OF FINAL FANTASY.

But to be frank, this article is more than long enough already. Maybe we’ll cover them in a future post, but much like the main numbered titles, each is designed to be played standalone, so you can’t really go wrong.

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4 CommentsTo leave a comment, login or join the community.
Jandroid93
By the way, our options for Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VI don't look that great. As great of a game they are, I really can't see them as a great starting point for new players with washed up sprites and terrible looking user interface. I think that Final Fantasy IV/V/VI closer to their original version should be re-released as a collection for the Nintendo Switch.
Jandroid93
I started with the Game Boy Advance so I'm biased to say Final Fantasy IV|V|VI. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance was the first game I played but I also played War of the Lions for PSP so I'd like to recommend that too. Lately though, and putting nostalgia aside, it's all about Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers!
boxmyth
Final Fantasy Tactics still stands as one of my all time favorites.
austinfred500
FFXV is available for Xbox as well