Final Fantasy is a long-time running series populated by good to great games. But there are a few exceptions to that rule. I have made an effort to list the five worst main Final Fantasy games of all time on this list.
This is not a list based on Metacritic or GameRankings. It is a list based on my subjective preferences, though I am considering the general feelings of our readers on Facebook, and yes, some of the critical reception that these games received.
Still, this list is bound to cause controversy, and even death threats to my person (or not, as online death threats only seem to issued by the Legend of Dragoon cult). However, someone must do it, so I might as well. Keep in mind that only main numbered titles (No X-2, XIII-2 shenanigans) were taken into consideration. By that rule, I also omitted XI and XIV as these games are MMORPGs, and I have always felt that Square Enix shouldn’t have numbered them.
5. Final Fantasy XV (2016)
How I scored it: 9.0/10
How the Metacritic scored it: 8.1/10
I know that you might be thinking “If he gave it a 9 out of a possible 10 score, why is he ranking the game in this “worst” games list?” Well…life is complex, extraordinarily complex. Like I said, I am taking into account several factors apart from my own personal preference of Final Fantasy games as I write this listing, and perhaps more importantly, there are no truly bad mainline Final Fantasy games (well, except, perhaps, the number one game on this list)
Final Fantasy XV is a very divisive game, and very few Final Fantasy games that are discussed on our group and page receive as much ‘negative’ vibe from our community. Some gamers didn’t like the ‘All Bro’ party. Others simply hated the game’s transition from a turn-based combat system into a party based all action one.
Final Fantasy XV also featured an ‘open world’ that wasn’t quite open and was largely empty, if not quite bland. In some ways, the game was all about monster hunting and little else in terms of gameplay. The game’s development team tried to appeal to Final Fantasy’s Sakaguchi roots by including all of the soundtracks from previous games, and it had a dramatic story with a tragic finale.
The game has serious issues in developing the one important female member of the cast. If you do not watch the mandatory Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV CG film before playing the game, then Lunafreya will mean nothing to you. It can change your whole perspective on the quality of the game’s storyline. That (having to watch extracurricular material in order to get the full storyline) has been a bummer for some FF fans.
Despite these shortcomings, Final Fantasy XV was better than XIII (in my opinion). I did care about Noctis and his K-Pop crew, but many fans did not, as the game continued to push the series away from the format that Hironobu Sakaguchi had established for the series in its first 10 entries. As such, the game is divisive. Personally, I liked FFXV. I felt it fixed plenty of the issues that I had with FFXIII. That said, the game lacks the “magic” of the Sakaguchi-era entries, and because of that it made this list.
4. Final Fantasy VIII (1999)
How I scored it: 8.5/10
How Metacritic scored it: 9.0/10
I like Final Fantasy XV more than I like Final Fantasy VIII. There! I said it! There is something about Final Fantasy VIII that I just disliked back in 1999, and that I continued to dislike 23 years later. It could be that I was a victim of the game’s massive hype. After all, I was subscribed to Electronic Gaming Monthly and GamePro all throughout my high school career (due the ‘scholastic’ subscription program that they gave us in schools during that era). The massive hype in 14 year old me was largely fueled by the fact that EGM’s editors handed the game four 9.5/10 scores.
For those of you who were born after 2000, Electronic Gaming Monthly in the 1990s was one of the more credible and serviceable magazines in terms of reviews, thanks to the magazine’s four editor (reviewing a game) format. Basically, as readers, we got 4 different perspectives on a specific game. Being that FFVIII received the same scores as FFVII, and that some proclaimed the game to be better than Squaresoft’s biggest hit, I completely expected Final Fantasy VIII to be the holy grail of gaming.
Unfortunately, I was left in disappointment by Final Fantasy’s 8th entry. For the era, the game was gorgeous. Square improved the game’s polygonal models from FFVII’s blocky ones, and the FMVs were stunning (perhaps the best part about the game was that awesome ‘Liberi Fatali’ introduction). Once I got past the game’s stunning visuals and awesome music, the issues began to pop up. The first culprit was the Junction System. This system was Squaresoft’s attempt at reinventing the JRPG character progression wheel. Final Fantasy VII’s Materia System (coupled with the game’s straight forward ‘level up’ progression mechanic) was deep, but simple and easy to manipulate.
On the other hand, the Junction system was confusing, and that coupled with the game’s ‘enemies level up along with your party’ mechanics made for some annoying moments. It was the type of the game where a guidebook might have been needed, as I struggled massively during the last stretch of consecutive (no saving) end game bosses.
But my struggles as a 14-year-old with the game’s Junction system are not the reason I feel that Final Fantasy VIII is one of the worst numbered games in the series. My biggest issues with Final Fantasy VIII stems from its pedestrian storyline. To be fair, the game did better in terms of translation than FFVII did, but the overall storyline was quite poor by comparison.
First, the time compression plot was somewhat silly, as most time travel stories are. Second, the ‘orphanage twist’ in which it is revealed that our cast was composed of orphaned children that had forgotten their memories due to equipping Guardian Forces (Summons). This was was a lazy and absurd way out for Squaresoft to get away with giving us characters with non-complex backgrounds
This was particularly a big issue for me since both Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VII had given us complex characters with even more complex backstories. I expected the same from FFVIII, but the game failed to deliver. Never mind the non-sense about the ‘17-year-old teen Mexican soap opera’ (or is it J-Pop) cast of ‘elite’ warriors that will save the world from the clutches of evil’ shenanigans. True, ‘teens saving the world’ was a tried-and-true plot mainstay of most JRPGs, but Final Fantasy VI and VII had a more mature cast of individuals. One would think that things would have gotten progressively ‘serious’ as the series aged, but alas.
Finally, the game was billed as the ultimate love story (between Squall and Rinoa), and Squaresoft couldn’t have crafted a more selfish and dislikable introvert than Squall Lionheart as its main heartthrob. The guy literally cared about nothing (including the aforementioned Rinoa) until the late stages of the game.
I always considered Final Fantasy VIII to be the weak link of the series until Final Fantasy XIII arrived, but I can also see why many fans loved it too. I mean that soundtrack was awesome, as were the game’s visuals and art direction.
3. Final Fantasy XII (2006)
How I scored it: 9.0/10
How Metacritic scored it: 9.2 /10
Sheez, this one will draw a lot of heat, but hear me out: Final Fantasy XII is a great RPG, but a so-so Final Fantasy game. So yes, it is possible for me to like (even love) FFXII and still think that it was a bad Final Fantasy game.
Take away the “Final Fantasy” tagline and series popular terminology such as ‘Phoenix Downs,’ ‘Curagas’, etc. and you are left with a game that would have passed for something other than a Final Fantasy game. FFXII did not sound, look, or play like a Final Fantasy game.
Today, in 2022, many of you might say “you know nothing fool! All Final Fantasy games play and feel different”. Well, tell me you were born after the Y2K craze, without telling me that you were born at or after the turn of the millennium. If you played, and loved Final Fantasy 1-10, then Final Fantasy XII was big shock to you, even if you were expecting it to be different (from other Final Fantasies) because Sakaguchi and Uematsu had nothing to do with it.
In my opinion, Final Fantasy XII was the beginning of the end for Final Fantasy as we had known and loved. After this game, the series has struggled to find its identity (or any semblance of an identity) to this day. To join Co-Editor Mont Cessna’s feelings on the game’s vibes, Final Fantasy XII does feel (and sound at times) like it was partially inspired by Star Wars, rather than previous Final Fantasy games, if you such a thing can be possible.
2. Final Fantasy II (1988)
How I scored it: have yet to review it.
How Metacritic scored it: 6.3/10 (PSP)
The fact of the matter is that if I were to play any of the NES Final Fantasies today…I would hate them. Technology advances and storytelling got much better during the series’ 1994-2001 run. Final Fantasy II is not here by virtue of being bad, but virtue of me not liking it as much as the others in the series. The most important reason for why I don’t like it is because I came late into the game when it was re-released with remastered graphics on the PS1’s Final Fantasy Origins collection.
By the time I played Final Fantasy II, every average JRPG available on the PS1 felt like a more entertaining endeavor to me. But even if I put on my retro glasses, I found the game to be a bit more cumbersome than the original game had been (which I scored a 7/10). The game did not play all that differently from its predecessor, save for in one particularly important way. The game moved away from the standard (utilizing EXP gained from battles to level up) character progression system of the first game.
Instead, in what could be seen as an odd, and yet, vanguardist move for the era, Final Fantasy used “action based” enhancements for the party to up its stats depending on the party’s actions in battle. For example, if a particular character takes a heavy beating in battle, that character will likely gain an upgrade in his or her HP max amount.
It is an interesting system that has worked in fun ways on newer games like The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. But Final Fantasy II doesn’t have as enchanting a world, and its turn-based combat makes the entire thing a tedious affair. The game did well in its heyday, and I am sure that if I had been in my teens in 1988, I would have found some enjoyment in the title. Alas, I just did not enjoy the game’s character progression system and the story. While it is a bit of an upgrade over Final Fantasy I, it was not enough to carry the day for me during the long battling stretches.
1. Final Fantasy XIII (2009)
How I scored it: 7.0/10
How Metacritic scored it: 8.3/10
Here is where the wheels of the cart fell off. They shouldn’t have fallen off, but they did. Final Fantasy XIII had the look and a likable protagonist in Lightning, but not much else going on in terms of storyline. To be fair, the game was so forgettable that I have a challenging time remembering important plot points even though I played the game about 12 years ago. This is not a long time in comparison to other older games that I played much earlier.
The only thing I clearly remember about the game’s audio/visual presentation was its ending theme, Leona Lewis’ “My Hands,” and how good the game’s visuals looked in contrast to other JRPGs of the time. The last positive thing I have to say about FFXIII deals with its amazing turn-based battle system.
My next statement will have many of you screaming “heresy!” However, it must be said. Final Fantasy XIII has the by far the best (as far as turn-based goes) battle system in the entire series, with only Final Fantasy X approaching its fast-paced and polished quality.
The above statement is the only reason why I was able to tough it out while battling through FFXIII’s “on-rails adventure.” One of the main reasons why I play role-playing games is that I want to submerge myself in a believable world. Towns, NPCs, Ruins, and likable characters are essential to that experience. Final Fantasy was the standard bearer for all of the aforementioned elements back in the 1990s, and Final Fantasy XIII inexplicably ditched all of those things in favor of extremely linearity and a lifeless empty world.
Yes, I hated Final Fantasy XIII. No, it was not a terrible game, but Final Fantasy games used to be one of a kind experiences. Final Fantasy games were special, and Final Fantasy XIII fell quite short from the standards set by its forebears.
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