Here at Steelseries, we are obsessed with the audio experience in games, and few games have such a memorable, emotional and memorable musical experience than the Final Fantasy series of JRPGs.
Now that the Nintendo Switch is quickly becoming the go-to Final Fantasy handheld machine for you, let’s give a ranking to EVERY Final Fantasy game available on the Nintendo Switch! From worst to best:
8. Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition
There exists an extremely abridged alternate version of FFXV that came out last year on mobile devices. If you so choose, you can now experience it on your Switch in all its questionable glory.
I say if you want to experience a flawed (but ultimately good) story, stick with the complete version for consoles or PC and at least see the incredible art and character models as it was intended.
7. Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon Every Buddy!
Part of the Chocobo Mystery Dungeon series, a spinoff franchise within Chunsoft’s Fugishi no Dungeon style games, Every Buddy! is a remaster of Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon for the Nintendo Wii, a lightweight dungeon crawling RPG.
The most niche title on this list, it’s worth checking out only if you ever played the other Mystery Dungeon titles (such as Pokémon Mystery Dungeon for DS) or have an intimate nostalgia for chibi chocobos.
6. Final Fantasy Adventure (from Collection of Mana)
Released in Japan as Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden, FFA is a spinoff Zelda-like action adventure game originally released on the original Game Boy with a loosely inspired Final Fantasy skin that simultaneously became the precursor to Seiken Densetsu 2 and was released in the West as Secret of Mana.
It’s an interesting game to experience for historical purposes, both for its connections to Final Fantasy as well as the root for the Mana series. Is it incredible? No, but its not bad, and if you enjoy old Zelda, you’ll have a fun time. Plus I’m a sucker for original Gameboy graphics.
5. World of Final Fantasy: Maxima
Another spin off title on this list, Maxima is a turn-based RPG squarely centered at dedicated fans of the franchise featuring a new, strange multiverse original story and chibi-fied versions of characters, enemies, and summons from all the mainline games.
I mean, how can you not love Chibi Terra and Vivi, not to mention a cute pet Ifrit or Ramuh? Ultimately, it is worth experiencing only if you have prior nostalgic feelings for multiple titles in the series, such as VI, VII, or IX.
4. Final Fantasy VII
The most iconic and widespread Final Fantasy in the West, FFVII is a fantastic game and worth playing in 2019, even if it is does take the (unfair) spotlight over other games in the series.
Nobuo Uematsu’s score is hauntingly beautiful, and the transition to taking full advantage of the PSX sound chip shows. Tetsuya Nomura was lead character designer, and took the industrial leaning look of FFVI to the extreme, incorporating the now-famous spiky hair along with a world firmly rooted in a semi 20th century skin, motorcycle chases, machine guns and all.
The Nintendo switch version has some notable improvements: added speed toggles for easier grinding and built in optional chests, but also feature annoying text smoothing common with emulating pixelated text. Textures also don’t age well in HD - it is the ugliest PSX Final Fantasy despite its great story. The introduction of Final Fantasy into a 3D plane did bring gorgeous CG backgrounds (although they would be improved upon in VIII and IX). The story also came to define the direction of the series with a finer focus on singular character arcs, wrought with teenage angst and personal introspection instead of grand fantasy.
Sephiroth is still as good a villain as ever, and if you haven’t caught up with the zeitgeist that is this game, it’s never too late.
3. Final Fantasy X/X2
FFX is the game that thoroughly cemented the modern tropes of Final Fantasy and JRPGS of the PS2 era.
The game is an ethereal, absurdly beautiful tropical dreamscape concocted from the mind wild mind of Nomura, replete with outfits bearing more skin than makes practical sense (for both genders), hair physics that defy gravity, and zippers haphazardly strewn across outfits like a Picasso painting. It’s divisively beautiful in its dedication to its tropical style, and paired with meticulously fully rendered 3D backgrounds for the first time in the series, blends together to create a wonderful experience that is noticeably influenced by Japanese heritage as a seafaring island nation.
FFX also scraps the active time battle system for a swap in/swap out system and explicit turn order, and also marks the first time the series featured voice acting (which is notoriously rough in its English performance and pacing due to game engine limitations). The story crafts a wonderfully realized world - Spira is a fascinating land governed by theocratic rule, and the plot weaves together deep questions about religion, morality, dogma, ethics, and power structures in society.
X2 continues the story of X with an altered cast of characters featuring a revamped, more action-based combat system and multiple endings. The HD remaster is the definitive way to experience this important JRPG.
2. Final Fantasy IX
First, a warning: the Nintendo Switch version of Final Fantasy 9 is sub-optimal. The best is still the authentic experience of FFIX on the PSX, playing on a CRT TV with scan line blurring that truly lets the wonderfully detailed character renders and backgrounds shine as artistically intended.
The Nintendo Switch HD version is the same as PS4, PC, and mobile, which includes a few (perhaps unforgivable) pitfalls: backgrounds are low-resolution and jarring, and the new UI and font is truly atrocious and near-unforgivable. If I haven’t lost you yet, and you are able to overlook this, FFIX is still one of the highest points of the series, and some argue the highest peak of the series, which has been on a steady decline ever since.
Historical context is important in this regard, as FFIX came as a deliberate pushback against the way Final Fantasy (and JRPGs in general) were headed. Crafted as a passion project of nostalgic love for the now gone days of medieval high fantasy in JRPGs, FFIX was crafted simultaneously with FF8, with one team marking the future of the series (and genre), and the other creating a farewell to their youth both as a company, as a series, and as fans of the genre.
The passion shows - Uematsu’s soundtrack is sublime, hauntingly beautiful, channeling sounds of midi pan flutes and harpsichord. Shockingly prescient in its themes, FFIX marks the definitive end of the fairy tale nature of the series. The plot is almost self aware in the grand story of the characters fighting to save a world slowly dying, culture and history being erased, and conflict escalates to emotionally intense conclusions for this idyllic fairy tale.
The characters are delicately wonderful, empathetic, and lovingly crafted with bittersweet romance, lighthearted humor, and Shakespearean tragedy. A relic of a time long since past in gaming, Final Fantasy IX is absolutely worth experiencing in its glory on Nintendo Switch.
1. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (FFXII: TZA)
Depending on who you are, Final Fantasy XII is either complete garbage and a stain on the series or it is a blissfully perfect experience, a rare game where systems, story, characters, plot, and music blend together to create something incredible.
Initial shock sets in when you realize FFXII completely ditches the concept of turn-based battles, opting for a completely real time combat system where the game seemingly ‘plays itself’ while you sit back. This is an illusion, however - when you learn the nuances of the systems at play, you realize it is just an extension of Active Time Battle and as a player, instead of menu selection nonsense, your job becomes a meta-strategic responsibility in crafting the systems by which your party interacts with the world with programming-like commands and an intensely detailed class Job system.
Unlike some other entries on this list, this is the definite way to experience FFXII.FFXII: TZA is a rather heavy remake of FFXII, originally only released in Japan and only now seeing the light of day in the West. Objectively better than the base game in every regard, TZA is more than a mere re-release - it completely guts the core of the systems that were in place on the PS2 version, and bringing back the class systems at play with early NES/SNES titles, presenting the player with an insane level of customization and character building depth.
I literally spent over 15 hours theorycrafting builds before ever touching TZA, making characters who were originally simple healers into game-breaking, time-bending heavily armored knights or black magic wielding, nimble ninjas. TZA is a game for the min/maxer, a player who dives into the stats of an RPG and who gets satisfaction out of time investment.
The story is a Game-of-Thrones-like political tale of warring nations and the innocent people caught in between international conflict, suffering from the displacement and loss caused by war, and eventually reaching points that question the true nature of God, creation, and the free will of humanity. It is arguable that there is not even a tangible ‘bad guy’ present - characters from all sides are explored in realistic depth and given believable motivations.
It is an ensemble cast with no single main character, and although Vaan is marketed as the ‘main’ character, Basch, Ashe, and Balthier all are arguably the center of which the entire story revolves, and share significant more screen time. Don’t forget the wonderful score, too, which is re-recorded with a full studio orchestra.
Everyone: play this game. Now.
Last, honorable mentions:
Final Fantasy VIII
When I was a kid, I played Final Fantasy VIII on a demo disc that came with a Pizza Hut large Pepperoni Pizza combo and it was the first time I experienced turn based combat in a game. It was wonderful.
For years, I thought I had actually played FFVII and Squall was actually this Cloud guy people kept talking about. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Crash Bandicoot were also on that disc. I miss demo discs. Keep an eye out, this is (FINALLY) a proper remaster of VIII, with full character retextures.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles
Remember when your older sibling and their friends bullied you into carrying the crystal while they got to experience one of the most fun co-op action RPG’s of the GameCube era? You’re in luck: get ready to feel shamed into carrying the crystal again this fall of 2019!
...and that’s it for now! Hopefully in the future, we’ll be able to get proper ports of the NES/SNES FF games, an era often forgot about now for anyone under the age of 30. Until then, check out some of these great landmarks of JRPG history! For more, check out this list of overlooked JRPG titles for Nintendo Switch.