Final Fantasy is a franchise that needs no introduction. If you’re a gamer with any interest in vast, expansive RPGs, you’ve surely crossed paths with the series several times. Maybe adult life has sunk its time-sapping claws into you and you don’t have the free time for these lengthy experiences any more, but Final Fantasy will always have a place in your nostalgic gamer heart.
So many of us grew up engrossed in the earlier entries in the series, like the iconic Final Fantasy VII and the enchanting storybook stylings of Final Fantasy IX. How do the many classic entries in the series stack up against each other, though? Let’s take a look at Metacritic’s Final Fantasy ratings (with an emphasis on full games only, not the well-received expansion packs and such that clutter the rankings) and find out!
10 Final Fantasy X-2 (85)
In many ways, Final Fantasy X-2 was a real curveball. A sequel to the much-beloved Final Fantasy X, it arrived at a time when Square/Square-Enix were trying to shake things up a little. Classic turn-based battle systems were starting to fall out of favor somewhat, so X-2 opted for a more dynamic and high-octane take on the formula.
X-2 was a very different experience, giving the trio of Yuna, Rikku and Payne time to shine. The Garment Grid and Dressphere mechanic were certainly creative and the game is packed with things to do. So much so, in fact, that it’s notoriously difficult to complete 100%. Still, the Final Fantasy faithful would never complain about something like that.
9 Final Fantasy XI (85)
Sharing the previous entry’s Metacritic score of 85 (as well as its unique nature and place in the series) is the franchise’s first bold shot at an MMOPRG: Final Fantasy XI. Because, sometimes, your acronym just isn’t long enough, and you feel compelled to add another three letters to it.
This ambitious adventure is set in the land of Vana’diel. While there, players engage in the traditional MMORPG activities: questing (alone or with others), nabbing loot, hopping into various in-game events… it’s a bustling world that has been expanded with a whole array of content since its original Japanese release back in May 2002.
8 Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (86)
Outdoing our opening two entries by a single Metacritic rating point, it’s Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. As the name suggests, this wasn’t the team’s first attempt at a fourteenth mainline Final Fantasy title. Late in 2010, the original Final Fantasy XIV launched, and… well, the less said about the general reception it received, the better.
Happily, though, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn came along in 2013 and was intended to resolve the previous game’s faults with a new team at the helm. This far-better-regarded title casts the player as an adventurer in the land of Eorzea, following largely the same MMORPG model as Final Fantasy XI.
7 Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions (88)
While the franchise is best known around the world for fantastic and compelling traditional RPGs, Square-Enix have delved into various offshoots and variations on the formula besides. Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions is one of the very best.
A game of turn-based tactics akin to Fire Emblem or Advance Wars, War of the Lions is a 2007 PSP retelling of Final Fantasy Tactics, which launched on the original PlayStation a decade before. It’s the definitive way to play this long, engrossing game, and the use of traditional Final Fantasy job classes as units will appeal to all fans.
6 Final Fantasy VIII (90)
While Final Fantasy VIII does take the traditional RPG route that the franchise is best known for, it’s also the ultimate black sheep as far as the series goes. Even franchise die-hards aren’t quite sure how they feel about it.
Controversial mechanics like the Junctioning system (and the ease of exploiting it to make your characters incredibly overpowered) tend to sour fans’ opinions of the game. Square-Enix themselves didn’t deign to give us a remaster until quite recently. Contentious as it may be, though, this ambitious adventure is as compelling and unforgettable an RPG as any classic series entry. Its Metacritic score reflects that.
5 Final Fantasy VI Advance (92)
Now, you might not think that the humble Game Boy Advance would be the system to offer you a definitive version of a sprawling RPG, but here we are. Final Fantasy VI Advance is the version Metacritic deems the best.
The original 1994 SNES version of Terra’s adventure is regarded as one of the best video games ever made, telling a poignant story that franchise and genre fans will never forget. While the Game Boy Advance release (which launched in 2007) didn’t add anything too revolutionary, it’s a worthy overhaul of this beloved title.
4 Final Fantasy VII (92)
Ah, Final Fantasy VII. When it comes to the most iconic releases in the series, there’s no doubt that this little doozy is right up there. It has its detractors, as all games do, but nobody can deny the influence that this 1997 PlayStation release went on to have.
Often credited as the game that popularized the whole concept of JRPGs in the West, it will always hold a place in the pantheon of gaming legends. Final Fantasy VII’s blockier-than-Minecraft visuals look laughable today, but the March 2020 remake is on the way to remind us what a stunning title this really is.
3 Final Fantasy XII (92)
As all gamers know, the whole open-world concept has become almost as ubiquitous as battle royale modes lately. Everybody’s at it. For the Final Fantasy franchise, the twelfth instalment was the first to offer such a liberating overworld.
Final Fantasy XII first arrived on the PlayStation 2 in 2006. It was a huge success, with fans and critics alike enjoying the dizzying scope of the title and the interesting new gambit system. It’s always a bold move to get a little creative in an established franchise, but it paid dividends here.
2 Final Fantasy X (92)
Our runner-up (and the last title to share a Metacritic score of 92) is Final Fantasy X. There was a huge amount riding on this game. Final Fantasy IX was the series’ PS1 swansong, after all, and its follow-up had to prove that the series could still deliver in the brave new console generation that PlayStation 2 heralded.
Needless to say, it delivered in spades. Presentation-wise, it was wonderful (by 2001’s standards), finally introducing voice-acting. The gameplay kept pace perfectly, being familiar and deep enough for series veterans to sink hundreds of hours into. The engaging tale of the battle against Sin and the incredibly addictive mini-game of Blitzball make this one RPG package that can’t be missed.
1 Final Fantasy IX (94)
Which is the best Final Fantasy game of all time? Well, that’s a heck of a question. Every franchise fan will have a different (and passionately defended) reason for their choice. As far as Metacritic’s ratings go, however, the series’ aforementioned PS1 swansong is at the top of the mountain.
It’s well-known that the team wanted to go back to the franchise’s roots with this one, and it shows throughout. Zidane and Garnet’s timeless love story is also a love letter to Final Fantasy and its fans, who have continued to heap praise on (and triple- and quadruple-dip on re-releases of) the game since its initial launch in the year 2000.