6. Final Fantasy VIII


This game has style. It is tonally unique. There is no arguing that. Sword guns rule the school. There's also no arguing that. It has one of the best mini games ever with the card game Triple Triad. Those cut scenes are amazing and beautifully cinematic. Aesthetically, this game is one of the top dogs of the series mixing realism with the fantastic. Also, it was the first to include full motion capture technology which brought the character looks and movements to a whole other level. Did we care about the characters as much as some others in the series?  Not so much. The romantic relationship between Squall and Rinoa did not quite resonate as well as the one between Cloud and Aeris, and Aeris isn't even there through half of the game! 

The junction system, though fresh and inventive, has too many moving parts with too many holes in it that allows for easy player manipulation to eradicate the difficulty. You can get extremely powerful spells to junction way too early in the game and make the first two discs a total breeze. Like a doe-eyed would-be actress fresh off the bus in Hollywood, the limit break system is way too easy to manipulate, and the draw system can get super tedious. It is a game full of new ideas and fresh takes on the series. That's why some of it sucks.

5. Final Fantasy XII


Like Willy Nelson's weed stash, this game is huge.  The general complaint from those who were not completely sucked into this massive time sink is that it's more like a single player MMORPG than a Final Fantasy game, and they aren't wrong. I'd argue that it seems like a pretty natural progression for the series that was currently pushing on-line multiplayer titles, and they did a fantastic job of combining the two genres into one larger-than-life world with a damn fine leveling and battle system.  Let's talk about that for a second, shall we? No? You want to talk about the series finale of Two and a Half Men? Why? It was god-awful. The battle system can get very complicated if so desired. You only control one character, but you can set actions to happen under different conditions and those conditions can get very specific. Example: if HP goes under 30% X character will perform Y action.  

Still, one can't help but feel like the series loses a sense of its identity with this title, desperate to adapt to the modern age of rpgs. Where FF7 made the leap to 3D graphics in astounding fashion, this one felt a little too try-hard to fit in kind of like when you showed up to school that day wearing Jnco jeans.  Don't try and deny it!

4. Final Fantasy IV


Here is where it gets tricky.  There are many out there who feel that this is the best entry in the series, and it is easy to tell why. It was the biggest innovator of the bunch, easily. It was the first of the series to have a strong character driven plot. It was the first to have a memorable musical score done by long time Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu and its "Theme of Love" is played by orchestras around the world to this day. It introduced the Active Time Battle fight system forcing its players to think on their feet and added a tense layer to the fighting. Yes, it is the first game to do many things that make Final Fantasy games what they are today, yet it does not take the top few slots because other games that came after it took these innovations and refined them making for better games. It's kind of like sex. Losing your virginity is totally awesome, but hopefully, it's not the best time you'll ever have doing it.

That said, its enduring story of friendship and sacrifice stand the test of time.  They even go to the core of the moon!  The level and battle systems are totally solid but are perfected in later titles.  The American release also suffers from a censored and poor translation which is unfortunate.  All in all, this game is a wonderful classic that paved the way for some of the greatest games of all time.

3. Final Fantasy VII


Final Fantasy 7 is regarded by many as the best game in the series, so much that there was enough demand tos fully remake it with modern day graphic and battle systems.  It is also the game that brought many to the franchise and jrpgs in general.  It has some really dumb elements in it as well such as a horrible snowboarding sequence and that god awful part where you have to try and march in sync with the other soldiers.  These things do not hold up.  Still, they pulled off something that seemed almost impossible at the time.  They got people to actually cry while playing a video game.  And I'm talking about real tears, not the ones you shed trying to beat Magneto in that piece of shit X-Men game on the Genesis.  Of course I'm talking about the death of Aeris that happens half way through the game.  Sure, permanently killing off a playable character is not a new concept.  Hell, they were pulling this trick in the second game of the series.  But it had arguably never been done so effectively before this game.  The Aeris death scene has since stood as a huge landmark in the evolution of storytelling in games, and, unlike some other aspects of FF7, it totally holds up.

We also got a lot of Final Fantasy staples here for the first time.  Innovations such as full cut scenes for summons (though we wish they were skippable), 3D computer graphics with fully rendered polygons instead of 2D sprites, and a cat riding a giant stuffed toy moogle.  Furthermore, it sports an incredibly memorable soundtrack capped off with maybe the greatest symphonic Square masterpiece "One Winged Angel".  Lastly, the main villain Sephiroth is arguably one of the most reviled yet complex villains ever.  Can you tell this is my personal favorite?  Saying negative things about it just now felt like punching a baby, and not in a good way.

2. Final Fantasy IX


Final Fantasy 9 was a return to form for the series after the wild departures that were FF7 and FF8. It nailed those fundamental components of the SNES games so well with the new innovators that were the 3D games. It provided a very dark and engrossing story that gave new meaning to the roles of mage, healer, warrior, and knight while also relishing in the lighthearted humor that titles like FF3 and FF5 displayed. 

As far as the leveling systems go, having you learn different skills, attributes, and spells from weapons and armor is a solid and interesting way to do things. Each character has their own specific attributes and they all balance each other nicely. They also returned to the four character party here, unlike FF7 and FF8, which had us working with three characters. This led to more variety in each individual fight.

It was the edition to the franchise that made us fall in love with the fantasy rpg all over again; the final swan song to the jrpg as we would come to know it before they went and got all blitz ball anime teenagers on us. This game, though not a groundbreaker, did such a fantastic job of melding together every element of the other games that made them so great, and it did so seamlessly and artfully. It's no surprise that Sakaguchi himself considers it his personal favorite.

1. Final Fantasy VI


Between the fantastic writing, the complex fighting system, the memorable characters, the fascinating world, and the many secrets it has to uncover, this steam punk-infused puppy hits all of the marks. I had the pleasure of playing it long after it had come out on an in college, and it proved to be a fantastic game that stood the test of time. One can sink hours into this game and still not discover everything that the world has to offer. With a diverse cast of playable characters, the player is able to find the fight mechanics that works for them in order to finally take down Kefka.

Each character having their own battle mechanics to bring to the table, though not necessarily a new concept seems to have been perfected in this game. Also, Sabin can body slam a whole train. You catch that?  He can pick up an entire train and slam it onto the ground like he's Macho Man Randy Savage or something. They were going for the steam punk aesthetic before it was cool and then lame and then cool again. They did that awesome thing where just when you thought the game was over, the story completely reset and you realized you were actually only like half way through it. They gave us fantastic side quests that revealed meaningful story and character content. They gave us a summon-based spell learning system that was fun to use and made for simple customization.  They gave us an epic story and a final boss that was both despised and kind of hilarious. They gave us both humor and deep sadness in a complex and well-paced story.

They gave us about as close to a perfect Final Fantasy game as you can get. 

Holden McNeely is a member of NYC's influential sketch troupe MURDERFIST, a featured host/panelist on The Roundtable of Gentlemen podcast, and streams regularly at twitch.tv/holdenatorsho