We recently ranked the mainline single-player Final Fantasy games, and noted just how much the series changed and experimented with its formula along the way. The series’ propensity for reinvention is why people are so divided on what even defines a Final Fantasy game.
The funny thing is, while the numbered entries are known for shaking things up, the spin-offs are where Square Enix’s blockbuster RPG franchise can get really weird. We’ve seen numerous Final Fantasy spin-offs over the years, both one-offs and eventual, entire subseries. Some are great, more are good, and others aren’t worth your time. So, after some debate, we narrowed the field down to our 11 favourite Final Fantasy spin-off games and subseries.
We’ll start from the pretty good ones and work our way up to the absolute best…
11. World of Final Fantasy
A lot of the Final Fantasy spin-offs are crossover nonsense, but where Dissidia is a very serious fighting game in which everyone is concerned about the stakes of everything happening around them, 2016’s World of Final Fantasy is more lighthearted, and gives RPG fans something to sink their teeth into.
The game follows twin siblings Lann and Reynn and marries monster capturing with turn-based Final Fantasy battles. But the real draw is the sort of Final Fantasy theme park vibe it’s got going on. It includes a lot of returning characters, all in a colourful environment and made up in chibi style. It’s a joyful, often silly game that may not be the deepest RPG the series has spawned, but if you’re looking to hang out with your favourite Final Fantasy heroes at their cutest, World of Final Fantasy is delightful. — Kenneth Shepard
Read More: World Of Final Fantasy: The Kotaku Review
10. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles (series)
The Crystal Chronicles games have had just as many shifts and changes as the mainline Final Fantasy games, but I still have a lot of fondness for that original 2003 GameCube adventure. It was a four-player cooperative action game that centered on a caravan of adventurers travelling to new, dangerous lands. The battle system was simple, but the cooperative element made it so players would have to take turns carrying a protective vessel while others fought enemies, or they’d have to drop it and stand their ground in a small space. It might sound frustrating on paper, but it kinda ruled, and made Crystal Chronicles feel like a communal adventure.
The trouble was Square managed to complicate that first game in a new, annoying way by requiring all players to connect a Game Boy Advance to the GameCube instead of just using standard controllers. Remember when Nintendo thought having to buy whole other game systems to use basic features was cool?
After Crystal Chronicles’ debut, the subseries tried different genres like city building in My Life as a King and tower defence in My Life as a Darklord, but it all came screeching to a halt with 2009’s The Crystal Bearers, which was more of an action game and wasn’t received particularly well. That original game, however, is still something pretty special. — Kenneth Shepard
9. Final Fantasy Type-0
If nothing else, Final Fantasy Type-0 delivers variety. The action-RPG spin-off includes 14 playable characters, each of whom has a different playstyle that keeps things fresh through the game’s runtime. King is a gunslinger with dual pistols, Jack strikes foes down with a Katana, and Deuce plays a magical flute. And that’s only three of the members of Class Zero.
While Type-0 requires you to play as certain characters at different times, each party member gives you a memorable moment with each, though some stand out more than others. All of it culminates in what was genuinely one of the most effective final scenes in a Final Fantasy game, for me. The 2011 PSP action-RPG and its subsequent 2015 HD remaster may not have the staying power of some of the other games we’re discussing today, but it definitely had some cool ideas. — Kenneth Shepard
Read more: Final Fantasy Type-0 HD: The Kotaku Review
8. Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings
Final Fantasy X famously got a sequel, and Final Fantasy XIII got two. But a lot of people now forget that Final Fantasy XII got one too, just in the form of a 2007 real-time-strategy-style spin-off for the Nintendo DS.
Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings reunites much of the charming if slightly tertiary-feeling cast from the series’ controversial, final PlayStation 2 chapter for one more adventure in its distinctive version of Ivalice. The unpausable, stylus-driven RTS battles it’s based around can feel more frantic and spammy than strategic, but the production values are through the roof and if you’re a fan of XII like me, the chance to spend more time in its world soaking up those vibes is reason enough to take this journey. Inessential? Yes. Delightful? More than you might expect. — Alexandra Hall
7. Chocobo’s Dungeon (series)
The long-running Mystery Dungeon series has taken many forms over the years, stretching all the way back to 1993 when Chun Soft spun the roguelike Taloon’s Great Adventure: Mystery Dungeon off of its more traditional RPG Dragon Quest IV. Since then we’ve seen original characters, pokémon, and yes, chocobos join in on the dungeon-delving fun.
Well, potential fun. These roguelikes aren’t for everyone, with simple-feeling moment-to-moment gameplay paired with sometimes stressful amounts of difficulty (if you die, you tend to lose all your items). The Chocobo sub-series, which started with PlayStation’s 1997 Chocobo’s Dungeon and 1998’s sequel, is less punishing than many Mystery Dungeon games, but western reviewers back then gave the series a chilly reception.
Even so, the Mystery Dungeon series isn’t marking its 30th anniversary this year for nothing.
It has its fans, and just 10 years after the first Chocobo Dungeon, Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon for Wii met a much warmer reception, as did that game’s eventual remaster on Switch and PS4. Like ‘em or hate ‘em, dungeon-delving chocobo are here to stay. — Alexandra Hall
6. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy (series)
Music is consistently one of the best parts of the Final Fantasy series, and the Theatrhythm series is an entire spin-off subseries dedicated to spotlighting it. What started as a cute rhythm-action spin-off for the 3DS in 2012 has spawned multiple sequels and has even extended into the Dragon Quest series. But on top of showcasing the terrific music from decades of Final Fantasy, Theatrhythm and its sequels are also just great rhythm games in their own right. — Kenneth Shepard
Read more: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: The Kotaku Review
5. Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin
There’s a lot I could say here about last year’s Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin. I could talk about how it’s a delightfully unhinged and unapologetically cringe take on the Final Fantasy story. I could praise its weighty, Dark Souls-inspired combat. There’s also probably a joke about Chaos that I might throw in there. But instead, we’re simply going to watch the scene where Jack says “bullshit,” then struts out of the room while listening to the most Limp Bizkit-arse song Square Enix could have possibly concocted in a recording studio. — Kenneth Shepard
4. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII project produced a lot of games and other media through the years since 1997’s original PlayStation RPG milestone, but Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is widely considered one of the best parts of its extended universe.
The action RPG follows Zack Fair before the events of Final Fantasy VII, and while the original PSP game has shown some wear and tear, the HD remaster, 2022’s Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII- Reunion, has done some work to make it both more readily available and a bit more modern. It turns out, even for a 16-year-old PSP game, there’s still a lot to love, and its ending could absolutely break you. — Kenneth Shepard
3. Final Fantasy VII Remake
Full disclosure, I am extremely nervous about Final Fantasy VII Remake. When a piece of art gets metatextual it can be great. I look at games like Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony and the Rebuild of Evangelion movies as stellar examples of well-done meta commentary, and that seems to be the direction Square Enix is pursuing with Final Fantasy VII Remake.
Personally, given the damaging extended universe nonsense it’s done to games like Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XV, I’m not convinced Square can meaningfully pull off such a high-concept storyline by the story by the end of its Final Fantasy VII Remake trilogy. But in the meantime, the first chapter’s action-based combat whips, it’s brought some of the classic characters to a modern audience, and the Honey Bee Inn sequence will live in my head rent-free for the rest of my life. Here’s hoping the upcoming second chapter, Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, proves me wrong. — Kenneth Shepard
Read more: Final Fantasy VII Remake: The Kotaku Review
2. Dissidia Final Fantasy (series)
Move over Avengers: Infinity War, the real greatest crossover event in history is Dissidia Final Fantasy. Square Enix’s 2008 fighting-game take on the series is a bit unorthodox, using a perspective more akin to a third-person action game, but its roster is made up of some of the biggest heroes across Final Fantasy history, which paves the way for some thrilling battles between fan favourites going as far back as first game’s Warrior of Light.
While the latest main game in the series, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, was a pretty big disappointment and complicated a pretty great thing with terrible UI and odd 3-on-3 fights, the first two PlayStation Portable games were absolute bangers. Going back to play Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy makes me yearn for a more traditional take on the series for consoles.
And let Clive and Cid in on the action, Square. They deserve it, and so do we. — Kenneth Shepard
1. Final Fantasy Tactics (series)
1997’s PlayStation classic Final Fantasy Tactics was and remains a cultural reset for the tactical RPG genre. While the game is significant for first bringing the beloved setting of Ivalice to life, it’s also one of the most sublime examples of the tactical RPG subgenre, and stands head and shoulders above a not-insignificant amount of the mainline Final Fantasy games. The Tactics series is also notable because it’s one of the most consistent in all of the Final Fantasy spin-off catalogue. Every game is a banger, including GBA’s 2003 spiritual follow-up Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and its 2007 DS sequel Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift.
Despite its prestige, there’s not really a great way to play Final Fantasy Tactics games outside of mobile ports of the first game, much to the chagrin of literally everyone. Now let’s all gather around and hold hands and pray for a Switch port. — Kenneth Shepard
Read more: Why Everybody Loves Final Fantasy Tactics
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