When people talk Japanese roleplaying games, there's one question that comes up quite a bit: Which is the best Final Fantasy?
Plenty of JRPG fans have wasted hours debating this question, each making his or her own case for which of Square Enix's ubiquitous roleplaying games is the cream of the crop. It's a stale conversation that always comes down to a matter of personal opinion. No matter how reasoned or passionate your argument, you're never going to convince people to change their minds about their favorite games. And what would even be the point? There's no objective answer, and there doesn't need to be.
Plus, there's already plenty of negativity in the video game community. We should all try being a little more positive.
So in this week's issue of Random Encounters, we're going to do something a little unique. We're going to make a case for all the Final Fantasys. Need a quick argument? Want to stir the pot a little? Just take one of these ready-made bullet points:
Why it's the best: Because it started this whole damned genre. Without Final Fantasy, we might have never seen the ensuing eras of wonderful Japanese roleplaying games like Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, Suikoden, Illusion of Gaia, Lunar, the rest of the Final Fantasy brigade, and many, many more. The first Final Fantasy set the framework for an entire era of excellent experiences. (Note: Yes, the first Dragon Quest came out before the first Final Fantasy. But without the innovations Square's series brought to the table, the JRPG landscape would look drastically different.)
Final Fantasy II
Why it's the best: Because it had some really cool mechanics. When talking to NPCs, you'd learn various keywords. You could use those keywords to start conversations with other NPCs, almost like a primitive version of the dialogue trees we'd later see in point-and-click adventures like The Secret of Monkey Island. I don't know why Square has never revisited this system. It had a lot of potential.
Final Fantasy III
Why it's the best: Because it mastered the job system. While the idea of bringing classes like Fighter, Ninja, and Black Mage to roleplaying games was hardly new, Final Fantasy III added a whole new twist to the genre by forcing you to use certain classes to bypass certain areas and enemies. It's a system that would go on to be an integral part of more advanced, more beloved games like Final Fantasy Tactics.
Final Fantasy IV
Why it's the best: Because it brought drama to video games. Before the fourth Final Fantasy, stories in video games were more like rudimentary ideas. Go save the princess. Watch out for the black knight. Go get this key. With its twisty, intricate, long plot-line, Final Fantasy IV threw a serious emotional punch before that sort of thing was the norm.
Final Fantasy V
Why it's the best: Because it was a hell of an adventure. More than any other game in the series, the fifth Final Fantasy felt like a childhood fairy tale brought to life, a single hero's journey against near-impossible odds. It's classic and fresh. Like really minty toothpaste.
Final Fantasy VI
Why it's the best: Because it has the best characters. If you've played Final Fantasy VI, it's tough to forget the stories of Celes and Locke and Edgar and Terra and all of the rest. Even today, few games come this close to making its characters feel human.
Final Fantasy VII
Why it's the best: Because it made you cry. Don't lie. If you played the game unspoiled, you sniffled up a little bit when Sephiroth stabbed Aeris in the chest. And that song played. That song!
Final Fantasy VIII
Why it's the best: Because you got to fly a school. To this day, I have not played any other games that allow you to pilot a school.
Final Fantasy IX
Why it's the best: Because it was a total throwback. From its Shakespearean dialogue to its random references to older games in the series, Final Fantasy IX exuded pure nostalgia.
Final Fantasy X
Why it's the best: Because it nailed battle mechanics. You could swap characters at any time, play around with turn orders, prepare for tough boss fights ahead of time by charging up your summon beasts, and tailor your characters with a higher level of customization than any game in the series, thanks to the level-free Sphere Grid that let you give pretty much any skill to any character.
Final Fantasy XI
Why it's the best: Because it... umm. Well, I never actually played this one. It's all online and junk. Let's move on.
Final Fantasy XII
Why it's the best: Because its scope is incomparable. Its cities and landscapes are absolutely gigantic, and exploring them all is an absolute pleasure.
Final Fantasy XIII
Why it's the best: Because it has some rocking music. Final Fantasy XIII has the best combat theme of the series and a whole bunch of other bouncy, addictive tracks.
Final Fantasy XIV
Why it's the best: lol
This Week in JRPG News
* Andriasang has some details on jobs and characters in the upcoming MMO Dragon Quest X, which seems like it will boast a gorgeous world. Too bad it's an MMO.
* Japan is getting a new RPG called Sol Trigger. Its scenario will be designed by Kazushige Nojima, who also wrote Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy VII. In other words, it'll be super confusing.