All series have to start somewhere, and the original Final Fantasy was certainly a valiant effort for Square. While it was certainly impressive in 1987, not much about the game (besides the fantastic soundtrack) has aged well. The once impressive class system is now a genre norm, and the story is barely there, let alone interesting. It served its purpose and kickstarted an amazing franchise, but there's little reason to revisit it unless players want a history lesson. The PSP remake, which is pictured, is the best way to experience it in 2017.
By the time Final Fantasy II actually released in North America, the 1988 RPG was 15 years old. Despite its age, it still offers up several improvements from its predecessor, even if it won't provide the most epic adventure. II also features a story that isn't unlike Star Wars: A New Hope, and is worth checking out since most fans never played it.
Another title that took several years to come to North America was Final Fantasy V, which was originally released on the Super Famicom but didn't come stateside until a PlayStation release seven years later. Sadly, it featured a poorly done translation (play the Game Boy Advance version if you can) and felt like a step backwards for the series. It's too bad that V's English release was so botched, as it has a lot of interesting gameplay mechanics in place, including a great job system.
While the first two titles paved the way, Final Fantasy III is where the series really started to come into its own. It was the first Final Fantasy game to introduce the series' signature job mechanic, and the story had players going on a truly grand adventure. It wasn't available in English until 16 years after release, but thankfully the remake features some adorable graphics and updated features that make it highly enjoyable even today.
A lot of players were worried about Square Enix's decision to take their beloved series into MMO territory, but Final Fantasy XI turned out pretty well. It showed that fans of the series were willing to play (and pay) for a solid online experience. While it originally had some poor quest designs when it launched, a lot of the issues were ironed out over time, and many fans look back at XI with fond memories.
Despite receiving a lot of hate, Final Fantasy XIII isn't a bad game. In fact, it's pretty darn good once the story really gets going. The 2010 release still looks shockingly good today, and features a really satisfying combat system. Those that are able to get past the game's slow start will be rewarded with one of the PS3's best RPGs.
Final Fantasy VIII will always have a special place in my heart, as it was the Final Fantasy title I played the most growing up. While I love its sprawling narrative, and the teenage angst of protagonist Squall appeals to me on an inner level, even I can admit that the Junction system wasn't quite the evolution to the battle system that fans were looking for. Despite this hiccup, VIII features a really enjoyable story and some of the coolest sequences in the series' history.
Despite releasing last year, I found it hard to really rank Final Fantasy XV at the moment. With major patches and sizable DLC still being released, it seems like the game is constantly getting better post-release. While the game never could've lived up to its long development cycle, it still features a fantastic cast of characters and a truly grand adventure that is worth partaking.
Final Fantasy X was truly the end of an era as it was the last traditional turn-based game in the main series as future titles gave players more control over the action. It went out in style, though, as the PlayStation 2 classic was a visually striking release that managed to wow players with its many plot twists and impactful ending. It recently made its way (alongside its sequel) to PlayStation 4, and the remastered version is definitely worth playing.
Final Fantasy IV was where the series really came into its own. It featured an incredible story that had players swapping party members regularly, and really redefined what a role-playing game should be. The PSP remake, which came out in 2011, is a great version of the game, and even includes its sequel, The After Years. The fact that it holds up over 20 years later proves that IV is truly a classic.
The first Final Fantasy game in the main series to debut on PlayStation was a special one. I'm talking about Final Fantasy VII, which helped the series find an even greater popularity in North America. The game might be pretty tough to look at now, but the story of Cloud Strife still holds up. There's a PS4 remake on the way that should make this beloved title even better, but the PS1 classic is still highly enjoyable in its own right.
It took me a long time to truly appreciate Final Fantasy XII, as I initially hated the drastic change in combat. It eventually won me over, though, as Ivalice is easily the series' most fleshed out world. The story may get convoluted in some spots, but it helps create a truly breathing world that is a joy to explore. XII was a RPG that was ahead of its time, and one that can really be appreciated on PlayStation 4.
Despite a disastrous start, Square Enix has been able to turn Final Fantasy XIV into one of the best MMOs ever created. A Realm Reborn continues to get better with each expansion. and any fan that's avoiding the game simply due to its online nature is missing out on one of the best games in the series.
Final Fantasy VI features an incredible cast of characters (14 of which can join the player's party), including one of the greatest bad guys ever in Kefka. Its highly memorable story is only one of the reasons why the game has stood the test of time, though, as its turn-based gameplay is incredibly balanced & the spritework still looks good despite originally being released in 1994. It's a true classic, and a game that every fan has to play.
When I think about what I want out of a Final Fantasy game, I think of Final Fantasy IX. Not only does the PlayStation classic feature the great turn-based gameplay I love, it also features a compelling story and writing that is as funny as it is captivating. IX has also aged better graphically than many of its peers thanks to the game going for a deformed art style rather than realistic characters. Overall, it's a captivating experience that sums up exactly why the series is so special.