Jim Reilly: Final Fantasy XI took the series online in a new MMO experience that continues to be a driving force of revenue for Square Enix. Despite the fact that the game was met with mixed criticism, Final Fantasy XI garnered an impressive community of fans. Initially launched in 2002 for the PC, the title would later find its way to consoles, making an appearance on PlayStation 2 and the Xbox 360. Years later, Final Fantasy XI also remains one of the most graphically impressive titles in the MMO genre. With solid character job classes and an everlasting item creation system, fans will probably continue to play Final Fantasy XI forever…or until Final Fantasy XIV is released.
11. Final Fantasy II
Ryan Clements: The second iteration of the Final Fantasy series was the first to introduce a main cast of characters, as opposed to interchangeable Warriors of Light like in the first game. Final Fantasy II was also much more story intensive, as it followed Firion, Maria, Guy and other heroes on their quest against an evil empire. Final Fantasy II also abandoned the experience-based levels designed for the original game and went with a very different gameplay mechanic instead. As characters were used in battle, they grew more powerful based on what actions they performed. This gave Final Fantasy II a unique feel and made it a special member of the legendary franchise.
10. Final Fantasy III
Ryan Clements: Although the original NES version of Final Fantasy III never made it to the United States, the game would eventually appear on U.S. shores in the form of Final Fantasy III for the Nintendo DS. The remake, which was a full 3D affair, gave proper names to the originally nameless protagonists and gave them individual backgrounds. Of course, the presence of the powerful crystals and approaching darkness still remained. One of Final Fantasy III's most notable additions to the series is the introduction of the job system. While Final Fantasy I did have a few classes to choose from at the start of the adventure, Final Fantasy III allowed players to switch their characters' jobs at any time during the quest, giving players plenty of freedom to design their dream party.
9. Final Fantasy XII
Ryan Clements: There is a tremendous amount of debate regarding Final Fantasy XII in the RPG community. Some praise its attempt to try something new and its eye-catching visual style. Others condemn the battle system, which could be automated in such a way as to take control away from the player. Needless to say, Final Fantasy XII is a controversial member of the series (though not nearly as surprising as XI when it was first released). But it did some things well. The visuals were excellent for the PS2 generation and the game's voice acting was some of the finest in the series. There was also a tremendous amount to do besides the game's main quest, making Final Fantasy XII an incredibly long experience overall.
8. Final Fantasy I
Jeff Haynes: Four characters known as the Warriors of Light are tasked with defeating the Four Elemental Fiends and the evil knight Garland. In the process, their adventure would spawn a franchise that would last for more than twenty years and save developer Squaresoft (later Square Enix) from financial ruin. The adventure would also revolutionize how RPGs were designed, with multiple character classes (that evolved later in the game) and different kinds of magic to be wielded in battle. By today's standards, the turn-based gameplay and 8-bit sprites may seem antiquated, but the attention to storytelling, humor and gameplay set the standard for the entire franchise. The original Final Fantasy is one to be remembered.
7. Final Fantasy IX
Eduardo Vasconcellos: Though it uses many of the most notorious JRPG cliches, Final Fantasy IX was a wholly enjoyable addition to the series because it changed the focus from bleak techno-worlds found in previous installments to a vibrant fantasy adventure starring a fun, diverse and entirely likeable cast. The fact that this installment does away with the morose protagonist in favor of the upbeat Zidane makes it that much more appealing. When you consider other memorable characters (such as the cool Vivi), solid gameplay, a great art style and an engaging narrative that culminates in an extraordinary battle (along with a truly fantastic epilogue), Final Fantasy IX is certainly a worthy installment of this venerable series.
6. Final Fantasy V
Meghan Sullivan: The fifth entry in the Final Fantasy series is best known for its impressive job system, which is similar to the one in Final Fantasy III but with notable improvements. For example, Final Fantasy V's job system allowed characters to not only learn various skills and abilities through different classes, but it also permitted some of those abilities to be transferred over to another job. The game also featured the first Active Time Battle gauge, which let the player see which character's turn was up next in battle and plan their attacks accordingly. Although Final Fantasy V was not a huge milestone in the series like Final Fantasy VII and X were, it is often cited as a fan favorite for its original storyline and memorable music and gameplay.
5. Final Fantasy VIII
Jeff Haynes: How exactly do you follow up a well-loved installment in a popular franchise? In the case of Final Fantasy VIII, you attempt to stray away from the look and gameplay of Final Fantasy VII to create a story that stands on its own. The tale revolved around Squall Leonhart, a young SeeD cadet, and his friends who find themselves continually facing off against a rival student: Seifer. Although the game will always be in the shadow of its predecessor, Final Fantasy VIII was unique in a number of ways, such as the changes it sported to the magic system, which required characters to draw spells from their opponents before they could be used. Furthermore, the ability to pull the trigger on Squall's Gunblade to provide extra damage during attacks was a notable addition.
4. Final Fantasy X
Meghan Sullivan: Like Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy X was a major milestone for the franchise. Not only was it a huge leap forward in terms of graphics (dropping pre-rendered backgrounds for 3D areas) and gameplay (introducing the Conditional Turn-Based Battle system and allowing players to swap characters in and out of their party during battle), but it was the first Final Fantasy to feature voice acting. These features, together with a compelling storyline and a stellar soundtrack, have solidified Final Fantasy X as one of the most popular games in the franchise. To date it has sold more than six million copies and is the only Final Fantasy game thus far to have its own sequel.
3. Final Fantasy IV
Colin Moriarty: Drama. Excitement. Intrigue. Romance. Final Fantasy IV had it all. Initially released Stateside as Final Fantasy II, this classic Super Nintendo JRPG did what few games managed to do before it: tell a riveting, thought-provoking story that dictated the course of the entire game. In an era of primitive 16-bit graphics and limited storage capabilities, Square managed to create what is now considered not only one of the best Final Fantasy games, but also one of the finest RPGs in gaming history. Cecil's righteous rebellion against his own kingdom and the tale that followed has become the stuff of RPG legend, thanks to this ambitious title that proved once and for all that JRPGs were a force to be reckoned with.
2. Final Fantasy VII
Ryan Clements: If any game deserves special recognition in our ranking, it's Final Fantasy VII. The first 3D iteration of the series, Final Fantasy VII introduced gamers to a fantastic cyberpunk world and a startlingly unique cast of characters. Not only did it boast spectacular visuals at the time, but the combat system was also a real treat, as players could collect the powerful substance known as Materia in order to learn magic and summon helpful creatures. Final Fantasy VII also featured one of the most iconic villains in the series: Sephiroth. His cold eyes and twisted mind have been framed in the memories of many Final Fantasy enthusiasts, and for good reason. Players were also rewarded at the game's conclusion with an astounding ending that was discussed for years following the game's launch.
1. Final Fantasy VI
Ryan Clements: Final Fantasy VI is, without a doubt, the finest Final Fantasy game created in the old, sprite-based style -- before the franchise made the jump to the PlayStation. With one of the most well-developed, diverse casts of all time and a pristine battle system, Final Fantasy VI will always be fondly remembered. Few gamers could forget the bitter melancholy of watching Terra and her captors march through the dark snow towards Narshe, or hold back the heartache as Cyan kneels over his family, cruelly murdered by the mad Kefka. Final Fantasy VI also threw a massive curveball at players in the form of the World of Ruin, which completely changes the physical and emotional landscape of the experience. These brilliant strokes are just some of the many reasons why Final Fantasy VI is the best of the franchise.