Every Single-Player Final Fantasy Game, Ranked From Worst To Best

Every Single-Player Final Fantasy Game, Ranked From Worst To Best

The Final Fantasy series has become synonymous with experimentation and continual reinvention, with each entry taking you to a new world with new characters, new systems, and new experiences. As such, it’s not uncommon to ask a bunch of fans for their favorite and get as many different answers.

How can you even hope to pit these disparate games against each other? How can you compare the action-oriented stylings of Final Fantasy XVI and the VII Remake series to the series’ pixelated origins in 1987’s first, 8-bit Final Fantasy?

Nonetheless, we thought we’d try!

20. Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (2008)

Square Enix / TheFFTVChannel

It’s easy to overlook the little-loved sequel to Final Fantasy IV, which trailed the original SNES game by a whopping 17 years. But for good reason: It’s a repetitive rehash of the beloved original, adding few new ideas of any worth within a mobile-friendly but emotionally impotent episodic format. Later compilations eliminated The After Years’ offensive DLC nickel-and-diming, but even fully assembled the game came up lacking.

“This game makes Final Fantasy Mystic Quest look like motherfucking Chrono Trigger,” wrote Jason Schreier, in a 2012 Kotaku article headlined “This Is The Worst Final Fantasy Game.” The headline had a period, as if to emphasize its declaration.

Perhaps this misstep is notable for one more dubious reason. The After Years, due to its mobile origins and its porting low-res SNES graphics to higher-res systems like Wii, was one of the first commercial Final Fantasy games to look like, uh, graphic design was someone’s passion, a problem that plagues nearly every new re-release in the series today. — Alexandra Hall

19. Final Fantasy II (1988)

Square Enix / Retro Walkthroughs

Final Fantasy II will always be remembered as the ill-conceived sequel whose gameplay was so wack that beating up your own characters was quite a good way to grind up their HP. But it was more than that, of course, even if it wasn’t a particularly good game.

Here was the series’ first attempt to tell a more involved tale, with the scenario designed before the gameplay, rather than vice-versa. A novel keyword-based dialogue system let you have more say over what you said. Cid and chocobos made their first appearances. The overworld music was wonderfully, sadly evocative. And here Square established the longstanding tradition of scrapping all the specifics of the prior game in favor of telling a completely new tale.

Unfortunately the gameplay just isn’t well balanced or particularly enjoyable to push through, and the dungeon design is a crime against humanity. Later re-releases addressed the most egregious missteps of the RNG-based leveling system, but if you’re playing Final Fantasy II today it’s because you’re curious about the series’ history, not because you’re expecting a good 8-bit RPG. — Alexandra Hall

18. Final Fantasy III (1990)

Square Enix / Retro Walkthroughs

Final Fantasy III’s influence is felt in so many future games because it was the first to introduce the series’ recurring “job” class system. The Dressphere system in Final Fantasy X-2 or the Paradigm Shift in Final Fantasy XIII wouldn’t exist without Final Fantasy III bringing in the idea of easily interchangeable classes. While its characters and world haven’t quite had the same staying power as most other games on this list, its influence on the gameplay of the franchise permeates through it over 30 years later. The original game was the last of the series’ NES entries, but thanks to re-releases like the DS remake, it has remained a touchstone for modern fans, albeit one that hasn’t had the same cultural impact as any of the games it influenced. — Kenneth Shepard

17. Final Fantasy XV (2016)

Square Enix / Lacry

There’s a lot of talk about “what makes a Final Fantasy game” these days, and it does feel like Final Fantasy XV is the product of Square itself trying to figure that out.

There’s a lot to love in Final Fantasy’s first swing at an open-world action-RPG. Its road trip format means you get a lot of time to hang out with Noctis and his buddies. It’s certainly gorgeous to look at, with every swing of your sword or summoning a visual feast to behold. But it’s also oddly rigid for an open-world game, and lacks a lot of what makes action games feel engaging, even compared to its distant cousin Kingdom Hearts. Perhaps most confounding, Final Fantasy XV sequesters crucial exposition in expanded universe media like a bad feature film which, for some reason, stars Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul.

All of this came before a DLC plan that was ultimately scrapped, leaving fans who were invested in the story without closure on some major story threads. Final Fantasy XV had great ideas, but ultimately was torn down by weird business decisions, long-term creative difficulties, and inconsistent execution. The greatest impact Final Fantasy XV had on pop culture was the Songs from Final Fantasy XV EP by Florence + The Machine. — Kenneth Shepard

16. Final Fantasy XVI (2023)

Square Enix Lacry

The Final Fantasy series has been gradually moving to being an outright action RPG, and Final Fantasy XVI is the culmination of that arc. That shift has made the game pretty divisive among fans, alongside its pivot from the quirky, campy melodrama of previous games into Game of Thrones-esque political drama. But even with those contentious elements, Final Fantasy XVI still has a lot going for it. The fast-paced, combo-driven combat is more akin to something like Devil May Cry, and brings with it the same flair that makes the genre so popular. Square Enix knows how to choreograph a set piece, and XVI has a ton of explosive, memorable fight sequences. But in between all the gravitas, Clive’s story has a lot of heart and soul. Its cast, while also divisive, has some series greats such as its main hero and Cid.

The Final Fantasy series is at a crossroads right now, and it’s unclear if XVI is the path forward. But it is, at the very least, an inflection point for what comes next in the series. — Kenneth Shepard

15. Final Fantasy XIII (2009)

Final Fantasy XIII is often held up as a poster child for contentious Final Fantasy games, and some of that criticism is valid. Accusations include it being a hallway game too linear for its own good, that its story is a nonsensical mess that boils down to proper nouns and buzzwords, and that the cast just doesn’t have much appeal. But if you’re willing to spend some time with it (both playing the game, and reading up on lore), there’s a pretty compelling Final Fantasy game to discover.

The Paradigm Shift battle system, which lets you switch your party’s role on the fly within set load-outs you make, is still one of the most engaging original features in any of these games, The soundtrack is a soaring, majestic suite of some of the most memorable themes in recent series memory, and even if it’s buried in jargon and a codex, interesting worldbuilding with Lightning and crew waits at the center.

If nothing else, I think Final Fantasy XIII is an awkwardly packaged Final Fantasy more than it is a bad one. Like Final Fantasy X, it is unapologetically linear and commits to its world, but lacks the same clarity in its writing to help players buy in. Its stellar battle system can carry all but the most dejected players through, but in the end, if its impact isn’t felt emotionally, no amount of sublime gameplay can make Final Fantasy XIII feel like a classic to people who aren’t invested. The sequels helped on this front, but for players who weren’t feeling it to begin with, that might not be enough. — Kenneth Shepard

14. Final Fantasy XIII-2 (2011)

Square Enix / Shirrako

Much like Final Fantasy X-2 before it, Final Fantasy XIII-2 feels like a reaction to criticism of its predecessor. From quality-of-life changes like allowing you to switch characters after your primary one is knocked out (instead of getting a game over), structural changes like letting you have more freedom over when you go to different areas, and investing hard in the lore it glossed over in the first game, the sequel clearly wants to make up for its predecessor’s perceived failings. In a lot of ways, it succeeded. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a much more lighthearted, experimental version of an already experimental game.

But despite all those changes, I think what makes Final Fantasy XIII-2 feel special is that it brings the emotional crux of the trilogy into focus (no pun intended). With a smaller cast, XIII-2 solidifies that these games aren’t really about these larger-than-life conflicts, but about two sisters separated by time and space, fighting for the chance to be together once again. XIII-2 makes Serah, Lightning’s sister, a heroine in her own right, where she was once just a crystalized afterthought in a larger war. In a series that has been pretty male-centric recently with Final Fantasy XV and XVI, the XIII games’ story of sisterhood stands out as a differentiating factor alongside all the other swings these games took. — Kenneth Shepard

13. Final Fantasy (1987)

Square Enix / FCPlaythroughs

Some might assume the original Final Fantasy an archaic fossil from the bad old days of 8-bit RPGs, but guess what? It holds up pretty well.

Final Fantasy’s a cool game. The art’s nice, Uematsu’s already putting out catchy melodies, and its quest feels lengthy and challenging. But perhaps most unusual is the amount of freedom it affords the player, both to wander a bit afield into danger and to choose their party’s class composition. The latter choice leads to endless algorithmic consequences, adding texture and often challenge to your journey and providing a strong basis for replayability.

Whatever the series turned into later, you can most clearly taste its inspirations here. The developers’ late nights of Dungeons & Dragons and Wizardry have never felt so close to the surface as here in Square’s first, fateful stab at the genre, and I find it more interesting for it.

Few games have ever seen so many re-releases. Each one tweaked Final Fantasy further, offering ever-differing levels of polish and difficulty. If the 1987 game feels too rough, odds are one of the revamps, such as the gorgeously redrawn PSP version, will strike the right note. — Alexandra Hall

12. Final Fantasy IV (1991)

Square Enix / NintendoComplete

Final Fantasy IV was an inflection point, arguably the game that contributed most to establishing the conventions for the series that would, within a couple more sequels, blow up into a near-mainstream phenomenon. It introduced the groundbreaking active time battle (ATB) system, swept players away with a tale of heretofore unseen levels of melodrama, and demonstrated the dazzlingly symphonic(-feeling, at least) potential of the just-launched SNES’ sound chip.

To say it made an impression on some of us is an understatement. For many years I considered Final Fantasy IV, one of my most formative RPG experiences, the series’ high-water mark. It was a hell of a ride back in ‘91 but it’s hard to access quite the same mindset today, and I’m sure trebly so for first-time players. Its gameplay feels simplistic compared to what followed, and its childish, predictable plot contrivances are just as likely to elicit scorn as awe.

That’s not to say Final Fantasy IV is bad today. It remains a fun jaunt with a rousing score…just one whose shock and awe have been defused by some 30 years of subsequent art. — Alexandra Hall

11. Final Fantasy VII Rebirth (2024)

Square Enix / Shirrako

As the newest entry on this list, fans are still making their way through Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. While the game’s action-based combat system is easily an all-timer that manages to weave in RPG-like strategy in ways XVI doesn’t, it is an awkwardly paced game. Yes, this is because it’s the middle section of the original’s story. But it’s also because Rebirth can be meandering and overreliant on mini-games to pad time. When all is said and done, not a lot actually happens in the main plot.

That being said, it is one of the most joyful experiences on this list. All that extra time means you spend a lot of hours with the best versions of Final Fantasy VII’s characters, even if it’s sandwiched between dozens of mid-ass mini-games. Rebirth’s shortcomings will probably be easier to swallow when the third game is out, but for now, it exists in a weird limbo as we wait to see if the trilogy’s going to pay off. — Kenneth Shepard

10. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (2013)

Square Enix / Shirrako

While XIII-2 felt like Square attempting to rehabilitate the image of Final Fantasy XIII, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, the final game in the trilogy, feels like the company just throwing its hands up and saying, “fuck it, let’s make something weird.”

While, yes, Lightning does return to the starring role, she does so in a world unrecognizable from the one in which she began her journey in Final Fantasy XIII. Now she finds herself as the savior figure in a world that has been frozen in time for 500 years. This world is being replaced by a new one, and it’s up to her to help save as many souls as she can so they can migrate to a new world.

Despite the high stakes of Lightning Returns, our heroine spends a lot of time connecting with some of the most mundane parts of these people’s lives. Using a Majora’s Mask-style time system, you spend a lot of time in Lightning Returns rushing between areas and trying to bring grieving people to a place of peace so they’re ready to depart one life for another. But for every small moment of contentment, there are big, dramatic conflicts about the old cast’s love and loss. Lightning, who has always had trouble connecting with people, even allies, has to guide others through their centuries-long emotions, and it feels like a final culmination of a series-long arc for this woman to find that even when she’s put in positions of power, it’s okay for her to be human as well.

All of that acts as a stage for an action-oriented version of the Final Fantasy XIII battle system. As Lightning Returns is a mostly solo RPG, it replaces the Paradigm Shift system with numerous costumes that Lightning swaps between, each of which gives her different powers and abilities. This manages to marry both the modular aspects of the Paradigm Shift with the isolation Lightning experiences as the savior. While it still feels like a Final Fantasy XIII battle system, the focus on real-time action combat makes it distinct and feels like a final form for a series-best combat system.

Ultimately, while a lot of people were probably tired of Final Fantasy XIII by the time it came out, I still feel like Lightning Returns is one of the series’ most daring games, from a time when Square had nothing to lose. — Kenneth Shepard

9. Final Fantasy VII Remake (2020)

Square Enix / Shirrako

Despite the name, Final Fantasy VII Remake isn’t actually a remake. The modernized action RPG takes what was once a small slice of Final Fantasy VII and makes it its own game. As such, its pacing issues become apparent as forced side quest sections elongate the runtime. However, its perfect blend of strategy and action, excellent spin on iconic characters, and willingness to change things up that haven’t aged so well makes it a fresh, nostalgic trip down memory lane…until it’s not.

The ending of Final Fantasy VII Remake was divisive when it came out and has only gotten more fraught after Rebirth makes certain decisions about how to follow it up. But it was a bold declaration about letting go of the past and embracing an unknown future. It remains to be seen if Square Enix will make good on this promise by the end of the trilogy, but as a standalone entry in a larger story, Remake ends on a thought-provoking note. — Kenneth Shepard

8. Final Fantasy IX (2000)

Square Enix / Lacry

Final Fantasy IX takes the medieval high-fantasy globetrotting of the earlier games and refracts it through the prism of modernist emotional angst developed in the PS1 games that directly preceded it. A rogue, a princess, a knight, and a mage navigate airships and geo-political turmoil only to stumble into an extraterrestrial conflict that is as bonkers as any third-act reveal in the series’ history. Despite eventually going off the rails, it’s confidently playful and utterly charming with a carefully paced first half that excels at slowly pulling back the curtain on an ever-growing world of dramatic possibilities and comedic relief.

The sprawling adventure and unexpected turns make for an exciting but uneven game with highs that outweigh the lows but don’t completely outweigh the nagging feeling that maybe just a bit too much is going on. A motley cast of characters reverts to the archetypal roles of earlier games but with more nuance, even if the combat system built up around learning abilities from equipped gear feels more like a gimmick than a clever re-thinking of earlier class systems. The art is incredible though, and Final Fantasy IX remains the best-looking chapter on the original PlayStation hardware. — Ethan Gach

7. Final Fantasy X (2001)

Square Enix / Weiss Network TV

History hasn’t been kind to Final Fantasy X, because when you get memed as a game that’s too linear and people like to post the laugh scene out of context, it’s hard to come back from such a bad faith framing. But to this day, both it and its sequel feel like the last time Square really knew what it wanted a Final Fantasy game to be.

Final Fantasy X is unapologetically structured like the pilgrimage it is. This is a non-stop walk through the world of Spira, and you’re meant to feel this fleeting sense of just passing through every city and village Tidus and Yuna visit. But on the way, you play through one of the series’ best battle systems, which leaves behind the “ATB” stylings of the previous six games for a more traditional turn-based format. It mixes things up with a party of specialized characters you can switch in and out of battle at will, making fights a series of if/then statements that is strategic, and helps keep fights fresh many hours in.

The world of Spira is one of Final Fantasy’s best-realized, as it illustrates the dangers of a religion-dominated society in which those in power use fearmongering and tradition to hold the society hostage, sacrificing their young to fuel a never-ending cycle of death, suffering, and manufactured shame. Final Fantasy X is a confident, unapologetic commitment to a world and design philosophy that, while divisive at the time, still stands tall as one of Final Fantasy’s most concise, well-understood games. Honestly, it hasn’t felt like a mainline game has lived up to those ideas since. – Kenneth Shepard

6. Final Fantasy X-2 (2003)

Square Enix / Richard Halloran’s 100% Walkthroughs

If Final Fantasy X was an exploration of how a society could be beholden to oppressive systems and beliefs and freeing yourself from them, its sequel, Final Fantasy X-2, is all about deciding for yourself who and what you are now.

While valid criticism can be thrown at this first direct sequel in the Final Fantasy series for reusing a lot of assets from its predecessor, it’s fascinating for completely recontextualizing the familiar world of Spira. Having banished the perceived linear progression, rigid combat styles, and oppressive power structures of Final Fantasy X, X-2 injects its characters’ newfound freedom into every story beat and design decision. Now, you can explore Spira freely and come and go as you please. Characters aren’t beholden to different archetypes like they were in the original edition of X, and can use the Dressphere mechanic to change abilities on the fly. On top of all those design changes, Yuna is free to explore who she is now that she’s no longer being offered up for slaughter by the religion that has shackled the people of Spira for so long.

Final Fantasy X-2 has so many great things going for it. Its fast-paced battle system is fun and frenetic, its poppy, melodic soundtrack injects a flamboyant flair into every moment, and even in its departures, it feels calculated in how it builds upon the original game to create a natural expansion on its world and characters. It started what became a trend for Final Fantasy by being the first sequel, but unlike the expanded universe nonsense Square Enix is attaching to the Final Fantasy name these days, Final Fantasy X-2 answers the “what comes next” question with thoughtfulness and a desire to do right by what came before, rather than just expanding on a franchise because people will buy it. — Kenneth Shepard

5. Final Fantasy V (1992)

Square Enix / iPlay Retro

Final Fantasy V was the last Final Fantasy game we westerners missed out on back in the day. Square USA simply didn’t release it. In fact, it retitled both IV and VI to pretend the one between them didn’t exist. But between an early fan translation in 1998 and 1999’s popular if flawed Final Fantasy Anthology for PlayStation, we finally got to taste the forbidden fruit. It was pretty tasty, but not without its quirks.

Honestly, I found it kind of mid in some ways. The story was whatever, its graphics were SNES generica, and its soundtrack wasn’t Uematsu’s best. Where Final Fantasy V made its mark was its gameplay, with a wonderfully flexible “job” system that let you train your characters in one of 22 roles (26 in later releases) and then mix and match gained abilities between all your mastered classes. It was a beautiful evolution of the more constrained, less interesting system introduced in Final Fantasy III (incidentally, another game denied us for years). This granted Final Fantasy V remarkable replayability that was reminiscent of the original, more free-form Final Fantasy but on PEDs.

As such, this fifth game has a reputation as the Final Fantasy fan’s Final Fantasy, and it’s one of the developers’ favorites, too. Perhaps most impressive is how fans keep it alive today with an annual charity event, in which players sign up to complete runs of the game after being assigned four random, often inharmonious character classes. That sounds like so much fun.

In our 2016 retrospective on the game, former Kotaku staffer Jason Schreier wrote, “I wish I had played Final Fantasy V in the ‘90s, so I’d remember it as fondly as the Final Fantasies that came before and after it.” I feel similarly. I respect Final Fantasy V more than I love it—perhaps that will change, when I play it more in the future—but its fans will attest that it deserves a high placement in any series ranking. We feel pretty good about putting it here. — Alexandra Hall

4. Final Fantasy VIII (1999)

Square Enix / Lacry

Final Fantasy VIII was a resonant tale of youthful love, friendship, and the frailty of early memories. It was also a story about space witches who travel back in time and featured a magic system that seemed designed specifically to be broken (and made it very fun to do just that).

You take on the role of Squall, a teen enrolled in a mercenary boarding school who winds up in a strange time- and consciousness-bending conflict. The details of the lore are fascinating to try and piece together, as is the relationship between each of the characters, some of which remain forever uncertain. Play Final Fantasy VIII and you’ll immediately know exactly what its story is about while also feeling like you’re too deep into something that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. It is an endless sci-fi fantasy knot of troubled kids trying to find purpose and meaning.

I love that Final Fantasy VIII is a game I think I know, but then realize I don’t. One second I understand the lore, but the next I’m thinking about an entirely different way to interpret it and how it relates to the characters. It’s almost as if the game is telling me that lore and worldbuilding, fact memorization, is secondary to the emotional journey the characters pull me toward. I love it for that.

It also features a dense world whose cities and technology feel relatable, but never lose the fantasy of spellbinding magic, sorcery, and imaginative high-tech. The well-done visuals make me truly mourn the loss of intentional, pre-rendered backgrounds populated by simple 3D characters, which when viewed on the intended CRT displays, suggest a world far grander than anything actually portrayed by the scant pixels. No technological advancement will ever match the scale of this game’s world that exists in my head, all achieved with spirited, carefully calibrated art and presentation engineered around the limits of the PlayStation.

I’ve been trying to re-acquire a CRT lately. And when I finally do, Final Fantasy VIII will be the first game I’ll jump into, blissfully shutting out the real world to go on a journey with these beloved characters once more. — Claire Jackson

3. Final Fantasy XII (2006)

Square Enix / Lacry

Guinness World Records once awarded Final Fantasy XII the dubious distinction of having the longest development time of any video game. It was less an achievement and more an indication of how troubled was the twelfth entry’s development, a harbinger of the turbulence to come over the franchise’s next decade. It’s a wonder, then, that Final Fantasy XII turned out as beautiful, playable, and evocative as it did, taking chances in gameplay and presentation that felt huge even for a series already known to rock the boat with each installment.

Final Fantasy XII was made by a team of series outsiders. The unusual world of Ivalice, imported from their previous projects Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story, provided a fascinating new backdrop for a tale of warring kingdoms. But plotting wasn’t the game’s strong point. No, I love Final Fantasy XII for its unusually fungible gameplay, its charming characters, its vividly rendered settings, and above all its impeccable vibes.

Unlike the decade’s worth of Final Fantasy games that preceded it, Final Fantasy XII felt wide open. You could explore. You could bite off more than you could chew and get your ass kicked, and finding out what lay beyond your current limits felt exciting. You could see the enemies before you engaged them, and programmatically perfect your party’s strategies ahead of time. And you could develop your characters any way you liked as you luxuriated in the Dalmasca Estersand to a gloriously grand, adventurous Sakimoto score. This game didn’t even sound like a normal Final Fantasy.

Final Fantasy XII was a game and a world and a vibe first, a linear narrative second. That is my preferred order for such things. Given the game’s fandom, I suspect that is a lot of people’s preferred order for such things. I keep hoping for another Final Fantasy game that can make me feel this sort of way.

If you’re looking to play it today, the original release was flawed, and most players will default to the 2017 Zodiac Age remaster. But spare a thought for 2007’s International Zodiac Job System edition, which I find the perfect midpoint between addressing the original’s oversights and the overtweaked, overly easy modern release. — Alexandra Hall

2. Final Fantasy VI (1994)

Square Enix / NintendoComplete

Final Fantasy VI didn’t just perfect the 16-bit turn-based RPG, it elevated it to a whole new level with characters much bigger and multi-dimensional than their pixel-art sprites might initially suggest. It begins with a group of revolutionaries attempting to rescue a brainwashed magician from an evil empire and ends with a varied cast of post-apocalyptic survivors fighting together to overthrow god. The Esper system taught characters magic while also letting you tinker with their stats, powering a combat system that was both meaty and elegant. Every character could learn any spell, double casting flare or dual-wielding the most powerful swords in the game, nailing a free-form sweet spot between Final Fantasy IV’s rigid classes and Final Fantasy V’s sprawling job system.

16-bit Final Fantasy has always been praised for its music and storytelling, but Final Fantasy VI was a watershed moment for the series, with every piece of the game’s design aligning to produce a cinematic and touching journey that felt unbounded by the hardware it was limited to at the time. It branched out beyond its archetypal warriors of light more than any prior game in the series to tell a tale of friendship, despair, and ultimately, triumph. That Kefka guy was pretty memorable, too. — Ethan Gach

1. Final Fantasy VII (1997)

Square Enix / NintendoComplete

Look. First of all, there is no one right answer to the question, “What’s the best Final Fantasy?” Whichever one speaks to you the most, whichever one you find the most beautiful or stirring or meaningful, that’s the best one. This is not to say that you’re wrong if you disagree. It’s just to say that for me, for many of us, that one is Final Fantasy VII. Trying to explain why in a few paragraphs is a fool’s errand. But nonetheless, here we are.

Final Fantasy VII creates a breathtakingly original world, with its fusion of fantasy and sci-fi, its modern cities, its evil corporations, its giant swords and magic. And then it populates that world with so much detail. Every little environment you step into has little touches that give it a sense of history, of culture, of life and struggle. The world is so vast, and so varied. By the time you reach the game’s final confrontation, having been to sunny resort towns, to urban slums, to snowy villages, to meccas of gambling and excess, and so many other kinds of places, you have the feeling that you’ve truly been on an epic journey across a rich, textured, beautiful world.

It has an impeccable sense of drama, grabbing you immediately with its in media res opening, its mysterious protagonist, its thrilling sabotage operation. From there, its narrative web only pulls you deeper and deeper in, as tender moments bring you closer to its characters, as its unforgettable, larger-than-life villain cuts a swath of destruction across the planet, as its hero goes on a twofold journey, fighting on one hand to stop Sephiroth and save the planet, and on the other to untangle the twisted threads of his own identity. Often these kinds of metaphysical quests in RPGs can feel underbaked and lacking in real insight or meaning, but Final Fantasy VII commits wholeheartedly, making Cloud’s internal journey as compelling and revealing as the external quest he and his unforgettable companions undertake.

It’s also unabashedly political, aligning us with a group of activists (or eco-terrorists, depending on who you ask) doing what they feel must be done to save the planet from environmental catastrophe. In Shinra, it gives us a corporation that, like so many actual ones, truly deserves to be hated and fought against, and it does so not just by beating a thematic sledgehammer but through writing and character development that grants us insight into the people who make Shinra so reprehensible.

Finally, Final Fantasy VII is a game of rare generosity, packed with minigames and side activities that keep your journey lively and surprising. The developers took an adventurous approach here, one where I’d argue that even the rough edges make the game better. That snowboarding minigame may not be great on its own terms, but the fact that it exists, that it’s part of your journey, lends that journey more character. In terms of narrative scope, worldbuilding, and game design, Final Fantasy VII is a game of staggering ambition, and in its striving to break free of the series’ 8- and 16-bit limitations, it gave us one of the most daring, moving, memorable, and meaningful role-playing games of all time. — Carolyn Petit

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