Part and parcel to Final Fantasy's popularity as a franchise is its focus on ensemble casts of richly detailed and well realized characters. However, as much as we adore each party member's unique quirks, the games generally revolve around a singular, stand out character as the definitive protagonist. And quite usually, they're the most engaging and heroic personality among the troupe of go-gooders that the player is guiding through the events of the game.
However, the operative term there is usually. Not every shot is going to hit the bull's-eye, after all, and as a result our protagonists sometimes fall short of the mark, no matter how badly the game would like us to love them. Whether it's a flat personality or an unforgivably annoying giggle, they just rub us the wrong way. To demonstrate, here are five of the best main characters in the entirety of the Final Fantasy universe alongside five that were totally unlikable.
10 BEST: Cecil Harvey (Final Fantasy IV)
Cecil, like the greater majority of Final Fantasy IV's plot, was pretty bare bones in terms of personality and character arcs. However, sometimes sticking to the basics yields a perfectly desirable result, and that's precisely what the case is here.
He starts off as a strong and capable Dark Knight that eventually confronts his inner demons and emerges as a true champion of light. Or that's generally how one would describe a Paladin, anyway. He becomes the big hero, saves the day, and gets the girl, as heroes often do. There's no overly complicated dynamic to screw up, and as such, he did exactly as he needed to do.
9 WORST: Squall Leonhart (Final Fantasy VIII)
Final Fantasy VIII was a fine game. It wasn't the best in the franchise, but it wasn't the worst, and it told a great (if slightly convoluted) story that captured the imagination of a generation. However, leading man Squall didn't contribute much to its enjoyment, as he had the emotional range of a brick that nobody bothered to lob through a window.
Squall is a textbook example of the mysterious bad boy trope taken entirely too far, as he's so mysterious and emotionally aloof that he fails to evoke even the slightest in terms of emotional engagement or sympathy. He's got the cool sword and radical scar going for him, but not much else.
8 BEST: Zack Fair (Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core)
Zack was a character that fans always wanted more of when it comes to the Final Fantasy VII universe, and they were rewarded in spades when he received his very own game in the form of Crisis Core for the Sony PSP. It was easily one of the best offerings on the platform, though that may not be saying very much.
Crisis Core allowed players to thoroughly explore the man that Cloud desperately wanted to be. He was a bit of a spaz, which could be an annoyance at times, but this was entirely balanced by a heart of high karat gold. He consistently put himself on the line for others, with the high point being his last stand to protect Cloud.
7 WORST: Lightning (Final Fantasy XIII)
You'd think that a character named Lightning would have something of an electrifying personality, but what we wind up with for the primary protagonist of Final Fantasy XIII is yet another emotionally flat, unnecessarily "mysterious" stand-in with all the depth of a puddle that dried up three days ago.
Like Squall Leonhart from Final Fantasy VIII, Lightning is an attempt to follow up on the emotionally detached, no-nonsense archetype that had proven successful with Final Fantasy VII's Cloud Strife. However, the result was a blank slate heroine that, despite something of a character arc, failed to engage players in the same way.
6 BEST: Cloud Strife (Final Fantasy VII)
Make no mistake, old spiky head Cloud cuts it really close when it comes to actually having a personality. However, his background does very well to compensate and explain his emotionally void character, successfully humanizing him and painting him in a sympathetic light.
Although the guy's hair is much more expressive than he's capable of being throughout the game's first half, learning about his inability to own up to his past failures, feelings of inadequacy and crippling sense of loss render him relatable, and give players a real reason to push his story onwards.
5 WORST: Vaan (Final Fantasy XII)
Vaan's annoying, childish, and a bit dull. But surprisingly, these factors have nothing to do with why he winds up on the wrong side of this list. The biggest flaw with Vaan is that, even though he's set up as the protagonist, he is completely and utterly dispensable to the plot at large.
Practically every other character contributes to the plot of Final Fantasy XII, or impacts it in a meaningful way. Ashe, Basch, and Balthier in particular are crucial and developed characters with motivation and impact. Vaan is more of a fly on the wall, a dude riding in the back seat while everyone else takes turns driving the bus. Or airship, as it were.
4 BEST: Terra Branford (Final Fantasy VI)
Final Fantasy VI boasts such a fantastic group that it can be difficult to sort out a protagonist, with practically each member of its extensive cast having their own personal interludes and motivations. However, the leading woman is the troubled Terra Branford, far and away, and she's a wonderful character to boot.
Though she initially begins as a blank slate that doesn't even seem to know how to be human, that's explained nicely by the fact that she... well, isn't entirely human. Piecing together Terra's identity as an esper-human hybrid is entirely compelling, serving well to push the player through the initial stages of the game.
3 WORST: Zidane Tribal (Final Fantasy IX)
As if Square has begun to realize that they were pushing the moody, emotionally crippled protagonist shtick to its limits over the past two games, they took a hard left with Final Fantasy IX, and steered just a little bit too far in that direction by providing us with an annoying chipper monkey boy.
Final Fantasy IX was an incredibly charming game that had a lot going for it, Zidane just wasn't one of those things. He had some redeeming moments, but just as many were cringe-worthy, with a certain scene involving Garnet's rear being particularly memorable, and he can be thanked for a trend of annoying protagonists that the series still struggles with.
2 BEST: Ramza Beoulve (Final Fantasy Tactics)
Final Fantasy Tactics features some of the finest writing and storytelling ever executed in a Final Fantasy title, and the character of protagonist Ramza Beoulve is no exception. Ramza saw a truly perfect character arc, growing from the privileged and naive child of a noble family into a tortured hero on a desperate quest for the truth.
Each of Ramza's experiences has a truly profound impact on his character, enduring betrayal, loss, and slander as he slowly unravels the conspiracy behind the Church of Glabados. Even though he successful in ending the nefarious plot of the Lucavi, his costly victory is entirely thankless, and he fades from history as a forgotten hero.
1 WORST: Tidus (Final Fantasy X)
Final Fantasy X was a very polarizing title, and arguments concerning its merit as a game will likely continue long into the ages. However, one fact that can be agreed upon by most parties is that Tidus was an endlessly annoying and shallow character.
From the abhorrent laugh heard 'round the world to his almost complete lack of character development over the course of the game, Tidus is capable of turning off prospective supporters of the game's legacy with his petulant, whiny man-child persona alone. Which is impressive in its own right, just for all the wrong reasons.