With Final Fantasy XV just a few days away, masses of Final Fantasy fans around the world are excited to play a game that’s been in development for 10 years. With all of the buzz surrounding XV however, you might be wondering where on Earth you should start if you’re new to the series. If you want a quick summary of what the series has to offer and where I think you might want to jump in, then read on.
Luckily for you, each main titled Final Fantasy game is a self-contained narrative without the need of playing previous entries in the series to understand. There are a few games, like Final Fantasy X or XIII that have spin-offs or sequels, but otherwise, they’re all standalone experiences. The Final Fantasy franchise has covered so many various themes and settings that there’s something to cater for everyone’s tastes at this point. So where should you start?
Final Fantasy I – V?
If you’re looking to enter the franchise with an old-school 2D JRPG from the good ol’ Nintendo console era, you’re covered with the first five games. About which one to start with? It honestly doesn’t matter. You could start with Final Fantasy I to see the series’ roots, or II for the unique levelling system, III for its back-to-basics approach, IV for its story, or V for its battle system; it really doesn’t matter. Unless you’re particular about seeing the origins of the series, you wouldn’t be missing out on anything critical by giving these a pass.
Final Fantasy VI?
This is where things get interesting. You could consider Final Fantasy VI to be the first real Final Fantasy title. It’s got everything you’d expect from a Final Fantasy game from this point onwards, and it was the first one to not just be a good game, but an exceptional one. Many still consider this the #1 Final Fantasy title of the entire series. If you aren’t too bothered with discovering the franchise’s true origins, and you want to get straight to the meat of the franchise at the earliest entry point, VI is your best bet.
Final Fantasy VII?
It’s safe to assume that pretty much everybody is aware of Final Fantasy VII – or at least knows of its reputation. Topping numerous ‘Best Final Fantasy’ lists across the internet, it changed expectations of what a JRPG could be in both terms of setting and gameplay. Becuase of its reputation and how it broke through the JRPG genre into the West, I would argue VII is one of the better places to start for those of you who want to really understand what kicked the franchise into massive popularity. If you can get around the aged, low-poly graphics and engage with the rest of the experience, it’s still incredibly playable even today. Start here if you want to try out the first 3D Final Fantasy title, and see why the series became a phenomenon.
Final Fantasy VIII?
Final Fantasy VIII is my personal favourite, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it for anyone wanting to start off their Final Fantasy adventures. The gameplay is perhaps the most alienating in the franchise. To really become effective in VIII, you need a good understanding of the complex junction battle system. In basic terms, Final Fantasy VIII did a lot of weird stuff for the genre like stocking an inventory of magic instead of casting it at the cost of magic points. Whilst you could still level characters up, the rest of the game’s monsters and bosses would level up in sync with you, which meant you couldn’t grind your way out of a hard boss fight. To stand out, you had to assign your stocked magic to attributes like strength and defense. It was weird and took some getting used to. For someone new coming into the franchise, Final Fantasy VIII falls short in accessibility, making it difficult to recommend as a first title.
Final Fantasy IX?
After VI, VII, and VIII tried their hands at unique and interesting themes and settings, Final Fantasy IX was a return to form. It took the traditional medieval fantasy theme back from earlier titles for one last visit. It was a love letter to fans with references galore, but I feel this is the main weakness of the game for a first-time player. A lot of its appeal and charm relies on you being a returning Final Fantasy player. Because of its nostalgic approach however, it does mean that it takes the essences of what made the first six games great, and distills them into a unified experience. The combat can get a little unforgiving if you aren’t prepared to engage with it beyond a simple attack/spell spamming approach. Persist however, and this gets you up to speed with tropes of the franchise whilst still being an exceptional Final Fantasy title.
Final Fantasy X and X-2?
The first step into the PS2 era, Final Fantasy X modernised a few staple features of the franchise while still keeping its DNA intact. The combat was dumbed down significantly, and that’s a good thing. The Sphere Grid system made it easy for players to plan out a route that they wanted that character to take, and the suggested/recommended role for that character was easy to spot. It takes everything the series is known for, and remains modern enough to still be playable – especially considering the PS Vita and PS4 remasters now available. Final Fantasy X-2 is more of the same, but introduces the job class system, so it’s a nice follow-up for those that want more of X‘s story, but also steps things up to a more technical battle system.
Final Fantasy XI Online and XIV Online?
Let’s say you love MMOs, and you want to get into the Final Fantasy franchise in general. Would one of the MMOs in the series be a good suggestion as your first Final Fantasy game? Not really. Much like Final Fantasy IX, both MMO titles rely too much on nostalgia and foreknowledge of the franchise’s history. Final Fantasy XIV is one of the best MMOs out there when taken in isolation, but it really shines when you’re a Final Fantasy fan in conjunction. Once you’ve played two or three titles in the series, I would say you stand a better chance of catching the references of fan favourite monsters, characters, and items. Come back later; I can’t really recommended either of these as your first.
Final Fantasy XII?
This is where things start to get strange. Some call Final Fantasy XII one of the weaker titles in the franchise, whilst others proclaim its genius is simply unrecognised and underrated. Wherever you stand on the controversial issue, you can’t deny that Final Fantasy XII did a lot differently. I wouldn’t recommend this as a first Final Fantasy title, for that reason. It’s better you play a few traditional Final Fantasy titles before returning to play this one in order to clearly see why it stood out. Then you can pick which camp to pitch your tent!
Final Fantasy XIII, XIII-2, and XIII-3?
Final Fantasy XIII: The Bad Modernised Final Fantasy, Corridor Simulator 2009, it goes by many names. Final Fantasy has a few staple tropes that always remain constant, one of which is providing open overworlds to explore. Final Fantasy XIII, in comparison, offered a completely linear narrative that took you from one area to the next. That was perhaps its biggest failing, alongside what was described as an automatic-battle system which played itself. Ironically, this makes it a good recommendation for a first time Final Fantasy player. Because the game hand-holds you so much, it actually makes these three titles a good suggestion for getting to grips with everything the series has to offer, without needing to be a comfortable JRPG player. If we’re going to put a positive spin on it, I would call the experience “streamlined”. If you’re really clueless about the genre, but still want a taste of Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy XIII is as easy as it gets. As for the sequels, it gradually ramps up the difficulty and complexity of the combat and surrounding gameplay elements, so it could be a good trilogy to work your way through and grow as a player.
Final Fantasy XV?
Here we are. Days away from release, why should you play Final Fantasy XV as your first Final Fantasy game? Simply, it will offer the most modern experience. If you’ve played Kingdom Hearts before, the combat system will be the most familiar, and therefore likely easiest to get to grips with. If you haven’t played Kingdom Hearts, then it’s a case of whether you really want to get to know the real Final Fantasy of yore before diving in, or whether you just want to fast-track into the series. Judging from early impressions of the game, Final Fantasy XV contains all of the usual Final Fantasy tropes as well as offering an easily accessible modern gaming experience. It looks like it won’t dwell on nostalgia too much, and for that reason it’s likely to be an ideal place to jump in.
Still not sure where to start? If you’re not that great at JRPGs or lack experience with the genre, I really suggest you go with Final Fantasy XIII thanks to its automatic battle system. It eases you gently into the world of Final Fantasy, and doesn’t give you too much to micro-manage in terms of the battle and equipment systems. If, however, you feel you could get to grips with the genre quite easily, opt for Final Fantasy X.
If this ain’t your first JRPG cowboy, then go a bit further back in time to jump into Final Fantasy VI, VII, or IX. Go for VI if you want some old-school action whilst appreciating where exceptional work began on the franchise, and VII or IX depending on whether you want a more modern dystopian setting, or a traditional medieval one.
Otherwise, you can completely ignore all of my thought-out suggestions and well-constructed arguments, and just go for the game with the prettiest graphics and tone that suits your tastes! Happy gaming!