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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Why it's the best: lol
* 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.
* New Legend of Heroes on Vita! New Legend of Heroes on Vita!
Something new: Check out Adventure Bar Story, a neat little iPhone game that's part JRPG, part restaurant simulation.
Something old: How about the best Final Fantasy game?
Every week, I post several reader questions about JRPGs. Want to see your question featured in an edition of Random Encounters? Send it to me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reader Rehan Bolat writes:
I got into the RPG game late in my childhood and at that point I feel like JRPGs have shifted more to the handheld consoles and me being a console guy have been enamored by the WRPGs. Now I want to expand my gaming palette and seeing that you seem to be a knowledgeable source how do you recommend I get into them? Which are some core titles I should play? Thanks a lot for the help.
I recommend you pick up a Nintendo DS and start working your way through the expansive (and fantastic) library of Japanese RPGs that system has to offer. Radiant Historia, Dragon Quest IX, and Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light are all really good genre entry points.
If you want to stick with consoles, the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii both have excellent libraries of old JRPGs that you can purchase and download. A good starting point: Final Fantasy VI, Secret of Mana, Super Mario RPG, Phantasy Star IV, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy IX, and Suikoden.
Reader Joseph Fenton writes:
Do you plan on covering old games as well? One game I can think of, that happens to be my favorite oldschool JRPG is Legend of Legaia. I believe you could really bring the true positives and negatives of this title to light. If you were to ask me what words come to mind when thinking of this game..I'd have to say: obscure, unappreciated and underrated. Perhaps you could change what Kotaku readers think about this!
Those are some good words. I'd also throw "frustratingly difficult" into the mix. I never finished Legend of Legaia, but I really enjoyed the time I spent with it. I don't know how it's aged, as I haven't touched the game in over a decade, but it was very solid for its time. What do you think, dear readers? Have you played Legend of Legaia recently? How does it hold up?
Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG. It runs every Friday at 3pm ET.