The Final Fantasy franchise has been many things to many people in the decades since the series debuted in 1987: a card game, an energy drink, and no less than three unpopular motion pictures. But the nucleus of the entire multimedia universe has been the 15 core games in the series.
Everybody has a favourite Final Fantasy. Everyone also has a least favourite. So instead of doing the whole “VI vs. VII” conversation all over again, let’s try a different angle. Here’s what your least-liked Final Fantasy says about you.
What It’s About: Four heroes of light band together to attempt the impossible: Outsell Dragon Quest.
Why You Think You Hate It: The first Final Fantasy is older than an entire voting generation, and its bare-bones plot is somehow both simple and convoluted. Also: No chocobos.
Why You Actually Hate It: None of the things that have become synonymous with Final Fantasy are here yet. The graphics are simple, the story is skeletal, the music is strong but a shadow of what it will become, and you control four nameless fantasy tropes. The nostalgia you seek isn’t here: No moogles, no melodrama, no amazing haircuts. Playing the original Final Fantasy is hardcore pixelated proof that the past is a foreign country, and you no longer recognise the topography. Also: No chocobos.
What This Says About You: You believe in the Mandela Effect, because the concept of a vast multidimensional conspiracy is more comforting to you than the idea that your memories of childhood are fragile, flawed, and often fictional.
Final Fantasy II
What It’s About: It’s basically Star Wars.
Why You Think You Hate It: Setting the tone for sequels to come, Final Fantasy II features a whole new world with a new cast of one-note characters and an off-the-wall exploitable progression system that’s almost like a proto-survival game. It’s both bold and boring. It’s forgettable. You forgot it.
Why You Actually Hate It: You didn’t forget shit, because you never played it. The first time this game was officially available outside of Japan was in the 2003 Final Fantasy Origins collection on the PlayStation. In a world where Final Fantasy X had been out for two years, were you hungry to play a scrappy, ancient JRPG where the fastest way to increase your HP stat is to punch your friends in the face? You call yourself an FF fan, but this game is a burning hole in your idea of devotion.
What It Says About You: It is easy for you to hate the idea of something without making the effort to understand it firsthand, and you’re not sure how you feel about that.
Final Fantasy III
What It’s About: Four orphaned children are introduced to the joys of the gig economy, only to be quickly tasked with solving climate change.
Why You Think You Hate It: The game ends when a quartet of stubby children dressed as ninjas and wizards fight a malevolent force called the Cloud of Darkness that is also a half-naked woman. It’s almost unbeatable without a walkthrough or a guide, and it’s opaque and inscrutable even when you know what you’re doing. It’s a game you can legitimately play wrong to the point of failure, and it will hurt your feelings.
Why You Actually Hate It: This game was the last of the classic Finals Fantasy to get an official international release, in a 3D remake for the Nintendo DS. Depending on how you feel about the Job System, it represents either the original sin of the franchise or it pales in comparison to Final Fantasy V’s. In a way, this represents the future of the franchise: A Lucasian series of tweaks and remakes until the unedited versions are literally unavailable to the average person.
What It Says About You: Your tastes often trend towards the prickly and unique, but that can also make it hard for you to find connections. You’ve been trying to get your friends to watch your favourite anime (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure) or television drama (The Leftovers) for years to no avail.
Final Fantasy IV
What It’s About: You personally commit three separate war crimes in the opening hours of Final Fantasy IV, a game that starts as a serious meditation on the cost of war and one man’s crusade to improve himself and ends with him fighting the vengeful ghost of a space dictator on the moon.
Why You Think You Hate It: Despite kicking off the legendary run of Square RPGs on the Super Nintendo, FFIV is often forgotten when it comes to nostalgia. It doesn’t have the pedigree and freedom of V or the magnum-opus vibe of VI.
Why You Actually Hate It: Square had so little faith that a North American audience would be able to wrap their Capri Sun-addled brains around this game that it permalocked it to Easy mode during the localisation process. The bowdlerized translation removed all references to death and prayer in a game where multiple characters die and prayer is a viable battle strategy. The end result is a babified version of its former self.
What This Says About You: There is a part of you that will always be moved to the edge of tears by the sight of a man-shaped collection of pixels overcoming his dark side by literally fighting his own reflection in a room full of mirrors.
Final Fantasy V
What It’s About: The classic story of a cheerful bird wrangler and a genderfluid pirate hopping across multiple planes of reality to collect crystals and kill a sentient tree.
Why You Think You Hate It: By the time this 1992 game finally came to America in 1997, many of its notable gameplay innovations had been featured elsewhere. its. In particular, its much-celebrated job system was now a core part of Final Fantasy Tactics, a video game for people who wanted chess, but sadder.
Why You Actually Hate It: If you wanted to spend all day worrying about a dying planet while struggling to make a living in a career that feels painful and unnatural, you wouldn’t be playing video games, you’d be writing about them.
What It Says About You: You still think the name “Butz” is pretty funny.
Final Fantasy VI
What It’s About: After five straight entries about Light Warriors, Crystals, and physical embodiments of abstract concepts, Square used this game to kick off a new storytelling trend that would carry them through the next 20 years: A sprawling cast of damaged people travel the world to fight an Empire, save their loved ones, and kill God.
Why You Think You Hate It: Final Fantasy VI includes scenes of depression, slavery, suicide, genocide, regicide, yeticide, and cheating at a coin toss. The entire spectrum of human despair and joy is depicted by mouthless sprites with a four-emoji range of expression.
Why You Actually Hate It: Because all these memories will be lost in time, like Gau in the Veldt. Outside of a solid Game Boy Advance port and an awful PC and mobile one, Square has done nothing to update Final Fantasy VI and keep it in the public consciousness. Mostly you hate having to explain why you want to name your daughter “Celes” and why listening to a warbly opera song on Spotify makes you cry.
What This Says About You: One day you’re going to bring your grandchildren to the edge of the ocean as you tell them about your first love and slowly, dramatically, drop an old, weathered SNES cartridge into the waters below.
Final Fantasy VII
What It’s About: By embracing the PlayStation and its CD-based technology, Square finally had the power to enact its full cinematic vision and tell a story about life, death, and how the logical endgame of capitalism is to literally murder the world for a profit. Fans mostly remember it for its giant swords and giant-haired sword boys.
Why You Think You Hate It: Because you don’t have any other option. This game has become so inescapable that saying it’s your favourite entry in the series is almost boring. So even if the story of Cloud fighting for the right to his own identity changed your life, you can’t call it your favourite. It belongs to everyone now.
Why You Actually Hate It: It’s easy to worship a piece of media instead of actually developing a personality, but when that media warps and shifts over time, your earlier devotion can seem embarrassing.
What This Says About You: You know all of the lyrics to “One Winged Angel.” You also know that they changed the lyrics for Advent Children and you know all of those, too. Your Spotify is a source of deep personal shame.
Final Fantasy VIII
What It’s About: Squall Leonhart was a typical high school student cum child soldier, until his frenemy Seifer gave him a fashionable facial scar right before prom. Players help Squall navigate the typical pressures of young adulthood, like doing time or committing war crimes.
Why You Think You Hate It: The weird (even for Final Fantasy) plot essentially retells Shinji’s emotional arc from Neon Genesis Evangelion in a world of alien-owned high schools and amnesiac orphans, and yet it still remains the franchise’s most consistent attempt at telling a love story.
Why You Actually Hate It: If you played it as an adult, it’s the video game equivalent of finding your old LiveJournal entries. Characters are open wounds of insecurity, angst, and emotional numbness, unless they’re literally screaming their feelings or trying to make the phrase “romantic dream” sound cool. If you played it as a preteen or a teenager, it was like looking into a low-poly mirror: Squall wasn’t an annoying reminder of how you used to be, he was you.
What This Says About You: You fear change. But more than that, you fear you haven’t changed enough. (…Whatever.)
Final Fantasy IX
What It’s About: The tale of Zidane, Dagger, and Vivi fighting to stop an evil empire would be the last time the franchise created a world with its iconic airships and crystals until literally two games later.
Why You Think You Hate It: Most Final Fantasy games have a chapter where your party is separated or split into atypical groups, to both focus on specific character dynamics and to force the player to use new team compositions. FFIX asks the bold question: What if that was most of the game?
Why You Actually Hate It: Hours of the game are devoted to characters discussing, quoting, and performing an in-fiction play, I Want To Be Your Canary. Final Fantasy IX is thus literally and figuratively about fanfiction; all of the characters love this one old play, and the game itself mixes and matches plot elements and settings from the first six Final Fantasy games with a bunch of self-insert characters. FFIX is more of an unapologetic fan than you are, and it’s embarrassing to watch.
What This Says About You: It’s not a question of whether or not you have badly written probably-erotic fanfiction hidden on a hard drive somewhere, but a matter of how much.
Final Fantasy X
What It’s About: According to the internet, Final Fantasy X is largely about a blonde man laughing loudly in a field.
Why You Think You Hate It: Tidus.
Why You Actually Hate It: Tidus. This entire game is based around the slowly dawning horror of Yuna’s situation, and the bravery and strength she displays as she marches towards a violent Lovecraftian death. And yet the entire narrative is hijacked by some arsehole jock in lederhosen yelling about how her death is His Story. It’s mansplaining framed as a love story. Luckily, Square would learn from its mistake and never have a bland, smiling nothing of a main character at the expense of the expanded cast ever again.
What This Says About You: You were really active on Tumblr back in its heyday.
Final Fantasy XI
What It’s About: Apparently a beloved and long-running online adventure through the land of Vana’diel that has been active for almost two decades. Actually an experiment to see if a beloved franchise name was enough to convince someone to play an MMORPG on their PlayStation 2 in the year 2002.
Why You Think You Hate It: It was an MMORPG. For the PlayStation 2. In the year 2002.
Why You Actually Hate It: In a period of five years, Final Fantasy went from reinventing itself as a mind-bending technomagic epic to releasing an EverQuest ripoff. Each title from VII to XI was wildly different from the last, and it was entirely possible that at a certain point, it wouldn’t be a series for you anymore. Also, who had high-speed internet in 2002?
What It Says About You: You’ve been on the fence about checking out TikTok for a while now.
Final Fantasy XII
What It’s About: The tale of a bland, smiling nothing of a main character and a really good combat system.
Why You Think You Hate It: Fans of the game will admit that half of the playable cast falls flat, that the main plot amounts to a lot of nothing, that the lack of an overworld impacts the sense of adventure, and that the Ivalice setting creates a weird precedent for the series. But have you heard about how cool the Gambit System is?
Why You Actually Hate It: It could be Vaan and Penelo. It could be the plot, which starts off as grounded medieval political intrigue and ends with you having to kill a weird clockwork Angel Dictator. It could Square-Enix’s continual attempts to make Ivalice happen. But really, it comes down to this: The combat system is celebrated because they essentially invented a way for the game to play itself. The best part of FFXII is that even if you play it you don’t have to play it.
What It Says About You: You refuse to get into something unless it’s been thoroughly vetted by people you trust. Because of this, you’re still on the fence about Game of Thrones.
Final Fantasy XIII
What It’s About: I honestly could not tell you.
Why You Think You Hate It: Final Fantasy XIII combines the nonsense logic of a bad fantasy anime with the one-note characterization and bizarre plotting of a different bad fantasy anime. The tragic romance between Snow and Serah comes off as a grown man wooing a literal teenager in a pleated schoolgirl skirt. Three-quarters of the game is a linear march through scripted scenes, and the rest is an open field full of grinding. Have fun!
Why You Actually Hate It: Because Final Fantasy has never been about lore, and the world of Cocoon cannot support the Extended Universe levels of backstory that has been foisted on a cast of six anime stereotypes. You can name all of the members of Shinra’s Executive Board in FFVII, but you can’t name the central villain in XIII. It is shiny and shrill and pointless, and that’s before you even consider the fact that it’s technically just the first part of a trilogy.
What It Says About You: You might actually enjoy lore and trivia more than actual stories, characters, or people. But even you have standards.
Final Fantasy XIV
What It’s About: Not content with one MMORPG, Square Enix decided to launch a second one, which was so viscerally disliked by its fanbase that the entire world was destroyed in-canon and relaunched. Fans will tell you how amazing things have been since then, with each subsequent expansion increasing the depth and scope of the game. They will never stop telling you. This is your life now.
Why You Think You Hate It: Final Fantasy XIV might be the first playable example of a Catch-22. Every fan will insist you buy the base game plus a subscription to fill the yawning chasm in your soul right now. Those same fans will also warn you that the game takes dozens of hours and multiple expansions to actually get good. If you offer to buy a level boost so you can play the newest content, they’ll also tell you that all the new amazing moments mean nothing without context. FFXIV contains amazing moments that are bad if you go to them immediately, and need to be preceded by literal days of bad moments to appreciate them.
Why You Actually Hate It: Because what if they’re right? What truly rewarding things in life don’t take time and suffering to achieve? You’ll never know, and that’s why you think about it more than almost any other game.
What It Says About You: You have digital FOMO, and your days are filled with gathering new memes and watching every new show before people stop talking about it.
Final Fantasy XV
What It’s About: You play as Noctis, the crown prince and heir to the throne of Lucis, a country best described as Monster Hunter: European Vacation. Due to a series of events that literally aren’t explained in the main game, he forces his friends slash servants to take him on a cross-country road trip so he can have a political wedding with the only female character with any plot relevance.
Why You Think You Hate It: Upon reflection, a story about the tragic burden of a coddled Fashion Prince with Nightcrawler powers and retainers who literally die for him doesn’t feel so noble during late-2010s peak capitalism. Most impressively, Square Enix managed to simultaneously make a terrible open-world game with a linear story-driven chapter that was so universally disliked that it needed to be patched months after release.
Why You Actually Hate It: As of this writing, the world of Final Fantasy XV contains multiple DLC episodes, a multiplayer spinoff, a feature-length CG movie, and an anime miniseries. It is a Clash of Clans-style mobile game, a chibi-fied pocket edition for less powerful consoles and devices, and a digital marketing platform for other brands like Cup Noodle and the collected works of Ubisoft. It’s not a game; it’s an experience. And it basically served as a glimpse into the future of gaming.
What It Says About You: All of your righteous disappointment in your old favourite franchises has been siphoned into rabid fanaticism for something new and shiny. From Game of Thrones to The Witcher; from Final Fantasy to, let’s be honest, Dragon Quest.
The only thing more timeless than the stories presented in the Final Fantasy games are the reasons to clown on those stories. Whether they’re telling us to collect crystals because an old man said so, or that the only thing stopping you from killing God is a dependable group of friends with a shared goal, these are the lessons that stick with us for the rest of our lives.
I will update this article in nine years when the final episode of Final Fantasy VII Remake is out.
Mike Sholars is a freelance pop culture writer who believes that the best way to celebrate the things you love is to roast them relentlessly. He loves video games and anime. Follow him on Twitter @Sholarsenic.