List-O-Rama: Top Five Final Fantasy Games

Last month, The Game Heroes had their countdown of their five favorite Final Fantasy games.  I agreed with all of their choices, but it got me thinking of which five games in the series would be on my list and why.  So using my experience with the franchise, I present my own list of my Top Five Final Fantasy Games.  (Please note that, with all games using Job Systems, if Summoner is available, then it is automatically an honorable favorite job.)

5.) Final Fantasy X-2: Girls’ Night Out Adventuring
- Why Others Dismiss It: I’m willing to bet lots of people who’ve never played it hate it just because Spoony hated it (as recent events have proven, Spoony has some serious issues, so I no longer consider his opinion worthwhile).  More fairly, though, I’ve heard complaints about the plot (especially the fairly unlikable Lenne & Shuyin) and the ridiculous amount of fanservice.  Both of those are perfectly valid.
- Why I Like It: I’m sorry, haters, I can’t hear you over all this Job System going on.  So far, X-2 is the only post-sprites game I’ve played to attempt a traditional Job System and do it well.  Picking the right Dress-spheres with the right grid for the combination of bonuses & abilities affords it a lot more variety than any of the polygonal Final Fantasies in my experience.  While the plot was pretty nonsensical, I also liked how it built on the characters & world of Spira  now that the power structure they knew was literally in ruins.  Yuna especially became a favorite through her new development; it struck me as her taking on elements of Tidus’ personality as a way to keep him with her.  Yes, the fanservice could be quite awful (like that execrable massage game, which may be the source of 75% of the hate this game gets), but if you’re willing to tough it out & just go along for YRP’s crazy ride, you might see why I consider it one of the better post-PS1 games in the series.
- Favorite Job: Trainer.  Ever since Shadow’s dog bolted out to counter for you in VI, I’ve wanted a job where you sic a pet of some sort on your foes; Yuna’s summons in X were close but still not quite there – you can’t picture anyone playing fetch with Ifrit off-screen.  This has pets that reflect their owners’ personalities,  that fill a variety of party roles with their abilities, and most importantly, will eventually allow you to sic a swarm of angry monkeys on some sorry monster.

4.) Final Fantasy IV: To the Moons!
- Why Others Dismiss It: I’ve heard two common complaints.  First is hype aversion, as people wonder why this game gets so many more remakes & a full-scale sequel over the others.  The second is both the specificness of the characters’ roles & the rapid party changes.  Again, I can understand these.
- Why I Like It: You know how every person’s favorite Doctor is supposed to be the first one they watched?  Well, this was the 1st Final Fantasy game I ever played, and it made me realize why this franchise was so beloved.  It had a healthy, mature love story; a solid tale of redemption & purpose; characters who actually developed over the course of play; and Kain, one of the harder-to-pin-down players in the story.  As an “entry” game, it gives you a good idea of how the gameplay works, the different roles needed for an effective party, and a plot with suitably high stakes.  It also has pretty much every series’ staple you could imagine – the mages’ appearances, the different kinds of chocobo, the airships.  About the only things I can’t really remember in there were the moogles.  I’ll bet that awful Demon Wall ate them.  Just another reason to hate it.
- Favorite Character: Rydia, although Kain is a close second because his motivations are so subtle & human compared to the rest of the cast.  But besides being a mystical powerhouse & having pretty green hair, Rydia offers a counterpart to Cecil’s story of redemption.  Her willingness first to believe his sincere apology and later to forgive him is a reminder that you need to be just as strong to turn the other cheek as you do to work through your guilt.  Plus, she was basically raised by monsters, which probably made for interesting family gatherings.

3.) Final Fantasy VI: The Laugh that Haunts My Nightmares
- Why Others Dismiss It: Honestly, they usually don’t.  The only diss I’ve ever heard about it is that it’s not in polygons.  And you’re not getting a nod of understanding for being a graphics whore with no sense of history or perspective from me, so sorry.
- Why I Like It: You’ve probably heard the usual reasons (the strong characters who are all given fair focus, the epic scope, the somber tone, the variety provided by the espers & accessories equipped), and I agree with all of these.  It gives us villains where the person you think is harmless turns out to be the most horrifying (complete with nightmarish digitized cackle); it gives us personal stories for characters who come into the plot rather late that aren’t all pat & cozy (Gau’s story is so heartbreaking it makes up for the fact that he’s not terribly useful); but for me, what amazed me the most was that you didn’t have to gather the entire party, to find out what befell them & to bring them back into the fold, to fight Kefka one last time unless you really wanted to explore the world.  And between the cast & the perverse curiosity of seeing what had & hadn’t survived in the World of Ruin, you DID really want to explore.  It marked the shift away from D&D-style fantasy trappings towards steampunk, coined the term “magitek”, and helped a generation of us redefine what, exactly, could fit into a fantasy story.  Finally, it’s the only game to have the chutzpah to pull off making the player enjoy performing in an opera.  You could NEVER do that today unless it starred fetish topless barmaids or something.  It’s a reminder of an era when gamers weren’t expected to be stupid.
- Favorite Character: Argh, it’s so hard to choose!  I can give you a reason to like damn near everyone in the game, so I’ll pick the one whose story I find the most intriguing – Setzer.  Here is a man who seems to be a devil-may-care loon with a severe gambling problem (to the point it’s his unique method of gameplay & weapon preference), and then you learn about his death wish.  He lost the one person he truly loved and now he didn’t care what he did because he didn’t care if he lived or died.  He could be a terribly depressing character, but Setzer has a natural buoyancy that makes it easy to forget he’d probably throw himself on a grenade for a bet.  Also, I’m one of those total freaks who likes it when you have a slot machine attack, even if you get the instant total KO. 

2.) Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Life is a Novel, Write Your Own Epic
- Why Others Dismiss It: They fall into that appalling “true art is angsty” mindset.  The story in this one isn’t as philosophical or misery-rich as the previous two Tactics games, so it is therefore terribly inferior.  Again, I’m calling bullshit.
- Why I Love It: There is SO much to do in this game.  I could spend hours tooling around skill-grinding with random monster fights or playing the auctions.  Depending on how you did in auctions, you had people either asking for your help or trying to fight you at random.  There were quests outside of the main story where you learned more about the people you met, learned new jobs, recruited potential new clan mates, and even just help someone get over her fear of heights.  There were the Cup challenges, where you had to follow the rules to win all of the fights and got the powerful Final Fantasy XII summons as a reward (they were attached to equipable accessories).  The sometimes frustrating JP system from the previous Tactics games was replaced with abilities for a character’s chosen job being learned from SP earned while wearing particular pieces of equipment, making the process less frustrating (and also, you didn’t need to waste time on stupid stuff like learning how to use items).  And I liked the main story, in which our sheltered young hero Luso was told just to live his life, be the hero of his own story, & fill the pages of his enchanted grimoire with his adventures.  Even the subplot involving his friend Adele (and the side quest to get all of her abilities) has a similar “life is for enjoying” message.  In a genre and especially a franchise becoming defined by depressing sturm und drang pseudo-philosophy, having such a simple yet reaffirming theme at the center of this game makes it that much more rewarding.  Yes, even when you’re helping the hacks at the Bonga Bugle.
- Favorite Race: Either the well-varied Moogles or the stupidly useful Gria.  The Moogles (which, in the Ivalice setting, have a more rabbit-inspired look) have a range of jobs that includes everything except healing; my personal favorite job for range, usefulness, & that gleeful feeling of being totally cheap is the Fusilier, who can shoot spells from a pistol from one end of the board to the other.  The Gria, while being primarily melee oriented & having much fewer jobs, combine speed & range without sacrificing adequate strength or giving up the ability to weaken opponents.  In any given battle party outside of the main story, you’d have my Viera Summoner/Elementalist surrounded by rabbits with pom-poms and sword-wielding dragon girls.  It was glorious.

1.) Final Fantasy V: Two Worlds, Two Dozen Jobs, Zero Love
- Why Others Dismiss It: Let’s go down the list.  It wasn’t brought over to the US during the SNES era.  The first translation that was done, for the PS1, was absolute gibberish.  The second one was on the GBA and therefore doesn’t count somehow.  The story is stupid & clich√©.  The script is too jokey.  The villains aren’t appropriately dark & broody.  The characters aren’t “deep” enough.  Every single one of these is complete and utter RUBBISH.
- Why I LOVE It: This is Job System perfection here.  Other games have tried to follow suit, and the only one after it that comes close is FFTA2 as far as making your heroes totally customizable.  The simpler “save the crystals” plot allows you to focus more energy on seeing what the jobs can do & how you can customize her cast than on seeing the plot twists, which leads me to believe that the simpler story was an intentional choice.  The cast is small but very, very likable – Bartz is a dim bulb but so very sincere & loyal you can’t help but love him; Lenna is the epitome of selflessness; Faris is a spitfire without the sometimes shrewish tendencies that latter day works give her type; Galuf is one of the finest examples of the ornery old guy who is still the biggest badass in the room; and Krile is the kind of cute, charming kid that so many games in the series strive to create but miss by a mile.  Ex-Death is terrifying in his ability to think ahead of everyone & manipulate everything you do; Gilgamesh is awesomely arrogant & random to the point that he was the closest thing gaming had to a Deadpool figure until recently (in fact, I would love to see a fight between the two).  Even the one-off enemies like Atomos are creative and make for challenging play.  It’s a game with a story that determines the fate of two separate but connected worlds and has many beloved characters die noble deaths as well as senseless ones.  It’s a game that brags about your might as master of the piano if you play each one you see during your travels.  In short, it’s a game that rewards you for playing it instead of watching it.  Those feel like more & more of a rarity, especially with the words “Final Fantasy” in the title, so we should treasure V like the special gem it is instead of throwing it away for being too colorful.
- Favorite Job: Geomancer.  So stupidly useful and guilt-inducingly cheap.  You can only equip bells as weapons, and you can’t select the Gaia spells you want to use in a given environment.  But the bells can be absolutely devastating as regular attacks on flying enemies, and I’d say maybe 10% of the time tops does a Gaia spell not work.  Best of all, they consume ZERO MP!  You can spam them like nobody’s business, do crowd control with them, and switch off to bell attacks when you get bored.  About the only thing wrong with the Geomancer is that the designs makes the heroes look like they’re wearing clown pajamas.  Give them a makeover and they’d be PERFECT!

Honorable Mentions: Final Fantasy III for the DS (the birth of V’s Job System, if not as customizable, finally given a good US release); Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings (an interesting adaptation of the RTS game style to the franchise & the reason I want the Cu Sith species as a new mascot critter alongside the others); Final Fantasy IX (while I haven’t played it in full, I can more than understand why it gets the love it does, although I personally hate Eiko with the fire of a thousand suns).

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