Which Final Fantasy Game Should You Start With?

Cloud from Final Fantasy VII, the most popular protagonist in the Final Fantasy series

There are many installments in the Final Fantasy series and each one, aside from a few exceptions, are standalone games. The best Final Fantasy game to play first really depends on what you want out of the experience.

We’ve created an overview to introduce each game to help you decide which one you should start with.

Table Of Contents

    Final Fantasy I

    This is definitely the title you’re going to want to start with if you’re a purist and want to play in the order they came out, though that isn’t necessary, as the stories are not at all connected by narrative, only theme and sometimes setting. It’s also the one you’ll want to start with if you want to be able to choose your character’s class at all.

    The first installment of Final Fantasy is easily one of the most influential games of the twentieth century. Drawing heavily from tabletop fantasy roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons, Final Fantasy featured a turn-based combat system that required a strategic mind to master. It was also one of the first games to have a truly open-world design where, at a certain point at least, the player could travel just about anywhere in the game.

    The real draw with this first game, which is only really available in a handful of other titles in the series, is the variety of classes you can choose from at game start. Most of the other games in the series have storied characters who have their own preset classes, and abilities, and while those characters are often quite diverse in theme and tone, their abilities are less often as varied. The original Final Fantasy featured six unique character classes that the player could choose from, and each class itself had an upgrade that changed its sprite.

    Final Fantasy also had an exciting story, an amazing soundtrack, as well as beautifully designed characters, and monster sprites, especially considering the limitations of the Famicom and Nintendo systems at the time. All of these elements, along with the game’s popularity, set the trend for future games in the series.

    You can get a really great remake of the original on iOS and Android, which features updated graphics, and two bonus dungeons: The Soul of Chaos and The Labyrinth of Time.

    Final Fantasy II

    If you really enjoy building characters from scratch and meticulously deciding their abilities and skills as they grow and develop, this is definitely the Final Fantasy game you’ll want to start with.

    The second installment of the Final Fantasy series is one that rarely gets much love, even though it was the title that introduced the proficiency system, which improved the skills of characters the more they used them. This mechanic, while not as popular in the rest of the series as a whole, would be adopted and streamlined by later, even more influential titles, like The Elder Scrolls Series. Square was not one to get mired creatively, that’s for sure, and stalwart attempts at innovation like this game are definitely a testament to that.

    The story of the sequel moved away from questing to restore one’s former glory, and told a somewhat more grounded tale of a war between nations, with a global threat looming over the entire conflict. This plot aspect is also intrinsic to the series, as nothing screams Final Fantasy quite as much as a bunch of world leaders ignoring Armageddon because they’re too busy trying to kill each other.

    With Soul of Rebirth, and The Arcane Labyrinth, the current, updated version of this one on iOS and Android is a lot of fun, and also has improved graphics.

    Final Fantasy III

    If you are looking for a world-saving adventure with heroes chosen by destiny, or you simply enjoy having complete and utter control of every aspect of each character’s development, including being able to change their role on the fly, then this is the Final Fantasy installment for you.

    Final Fantasy III is one of the most lauded and universally loved games of the series. So much so that it got a remake for the Nintendo DS back in 2006. It introduced the job system, which gave players a whole new level of control over how each of the characters in the game developed. Three was also the first version of the game to give us Summons, which would become a mainstay of the series, and introduced both Shiva, and Bahamut (another D&D reference), who would appear in almost every single other title in the series.

    The story, which was quite involved, was drastically different between the two different versions, at least in so far as the characters themselves were considered. In the original story, the four characters were the Warriors of Light, who were nameless, faceless heroes. In the DS remake, while players could still give any of them any job they liked, and customize their role as they saw fit, the four heroes were now named characters, each with a unique and distinct history and personality. This update was meant to reflect the stories of later games, which traditionally featured fleshed-out, dynamic, disparate, and quirky characters.

    The remade version, which featured a slew of updates, not the least of which was a 3D graphics overhaul, was later made available on PC and Smartphones, and still is.

    Final Fantasy IV

    If you want a more serious story experience, dealing with more mature themes like betrayal, love, redemption, and real justice, then look no further. This is also the title you’re going to want to try if you enjoy a more fast-paced, yet still tactical, and strategic style of gameplay.

    Ever a series of innovations, Final Fantasy pushed the envelope much further with its fourth installment. It features not only a rock-solid story with relatable, and memorable characters that are still considered favorites by many of the series’ fan base, but also a new combat system. The system, called Active Time Battle, is a mixture of turn-based combat, which up to then had been a staple of the series, along with real-time elements, and creates a unique play experience.

    The story itself revolves around the Knight, Cecil, who upon receiving orders to do something he knew was wrong, questioned them, and found himself stripped of his rank and title, ostracized, and practically banished from his home. It is the first of the series to truly tackle more adult situations and themes, and approaches the events of the story from a more grounded perspective.

    Not only does the 3D updated version, available on Android, iOS, and Steam, feature a jukebox that allows you to listen to the game’s amazing soundtrack whenever you like, but it’s also voice acted, which is just awesome.

    Final Fantasy V

    Those who wish to have an even firmer grasp of control over the builds of individual characters, but also want a fast-paced, dynamic combat experience will find a lot to love with this title.

    While Final Fantasy V didn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table, it absolutely continued to innovate by streamlining and expanding two previously popular game elements. The ATB system features again, but now with well over twenty different jobs to choose from, making the entire experience far more nuanced and customizable.

    The story hearkens back to the kind of storytelling once found in Final Fantasy III, where the world and its stability are governed by crystals attuned to the cardinal elements. The power of these crystals is beginning to fade from the world and a band of unlikely and disparate heroes is thrown together by fate to save the world.

    There is a version of Final Fantasy V available for Android, iOS, and Steam which includes a slight update to the graphics, along with The Sealed Temple zone, and Enuo, a game boss designed by Tetsuya Nomura.

    Final Fantasy VI

    Players who enjoy large, ensemble casts of different characters with varied and unique personalities, or deeply hate-inducing villains, will definitely enjoy this entry in the series.

    Final Fantasy VI MIGHT be the most beloved installment of the series, though some of the later games definitely contend with it for that title. The game didn’t necessarily break any new ground in the way of mechanics and, in point of fact, opted for a somewhat simpler style of gameplay than previous titles.

    Where this installment really shines is its sheer number of different characters available, fourteen to be exact, which is reminiscent of many of the jobs from previous games. All of whom also have their own unique story and motivations for being embroiled in the conflict that is the story’s main set piece. Players can swap out characters for their party at just about any time in the game, and at only a handful of spots are any specific characters required for the game to progress. So players can go through different areas, and have vastly different experiences, depending on who they bring along. It’s also easy to do because any of the characters can wear just about any type of equipment, making using many different characters without having to change one’s playstyle pretty simple.

    The story itself is easily one of the best to be found in the entire series of games and is set in a world where magic has been forgotten, abandoned, or perhaps itself has abandoned humanity, and so humanity has embraced industry and the machine. Gunpowder weapons and steam-powered technology feature heavily, and the only magic at all left in the world is possessed by a single individual, who themselves are a slave to a despotic empire. Their encounter with an Esper (a magical creature that facilitates the magical mechanics in the game), and escape from this empire is the catalyst for the rest of the story.

    One other point to mention here – Kefka – the game’s overarching main antagonist is easily the best villain in the entire Final Fantasy series, and debatably one of the greatest villains in video gaming history. If you like villains that you can love to hate, play this game.

    Originally released on the Super NES, Final Fantasy VI had rereleases for the Playstation and the Gameboy advance, but also has more contemporary versions available on Android and iOS, along with a version available from Steam.

    Final Fantasy VII

    If you want just a solid play experience, you can’t go wrong here, but if you also like stories about environmentalism, questions of personal identity, amazing music, a ruthless, yet charismatic villain, and Shinto-style anime…ya know, check it out.

    The critically acclaimed masterpiece that RE-started it all, Final Fantasy VII is not only one of the best games in the series, but it might be one of the best games ever created, especially for its time. For many, this installment was the first introduction to the series, and will forever be what Final Fantasy truly means to a legion of loyal fans. The game was so influential that it spawned not one, but two spin-offs, and a top to bottom remake.

    Final Fantasy VII probably innovated more than any of its predecessors combined. Not only did it feature one of the most epic, emotional, and moving stories in the series, it’s also the first game to feature 3D graphics in the series historically, and allowed players to see their characters, in a way they never could before, at least during fights and cut scenes. All of that, along with an extremely resonant soundtrack, and the inventive materia system, which allowed players to access magical spells and other abilities by placing the different materia into equipment, and one of the most memorable cast of characters ever, just goes to show how much work, passion, and love went into this game.

    The story is one of loss, regret, redemption, questions of personal identity, and existential angst. It’s also a story about resisting the greed of commercialist corporatization and understanding that one needs to care about the planet on which they live. It revolves around Shinra, a corporation that does what a lot of corporations do in stories, completely ravages the environment without a thought to the cost. The main character of the story, Cloud Strife, along with a band of saboteurs attempt and succeed in blowing up one of Shinra’s Mako reactors. What follows puts him on the path to right the wrongs of Shinra…whatever the cost.

    There is a version of the original game on a multitude of platforms, including Android, iOS, and Steam, but is also available on several current-gen consoles, like Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and X-Box One. The remake that was released in 2020 is available only on Playstation 4 and 5.

    Final Fantasy VIII

    Classic romance and the Hero’s Journey are central themes to this installment, and it arguably features one of the best soundtracks in the whole series. So if you like beating the bad guy and getting the girl, all to some epic background music, look no further.

    The quintessential “Hit, or Miss” of the entire series, all of those who played Final Fantasy VIII either really liked it, or really didn’t, though there was a whole slew of folks that just never played it. Even though the game was incredibly innovative, both graphically and in terms of gameplay, the eighth installment of this beloved series is one that tends to be forgotten, or lost in the jumble of other amazing titles. Still, its fans are vocal and fervent, and anyone discovering the title for the first time always finds a lot to love.

    One of the reasons that it was so memorable and important at the time, is also one of the reasons that it’s so forgettable. Nowadays, beautifully rendered characters is expected, if not outright demanded by consumers, but back then, the cascade of a character’s hair in a cut scene, or how they looked proportionately accurate throughout the entirety of the game completely blew players’ minds. That said, EVERYONE was trying to push that envelope, so there were quite a few games that had innovative graphics, but few that did so while still having a compelling story, and engaging gameplay. The gameplay itself was the most accessible in the series so far, since all of the magic in the game revolved around the draw ability, which allowed players to pull magic off of most monsters and junction it to a character, increasing their ability scores. Being able to use what would not be deemed Quick Time Events to boost damage was also amazing back in the day, but is considered almost annoying by today’s standards.

    Speaking of the story, Final Fantasy VIII’s is, while somewhat confusing at points, an epic tale of love, courage, honor, true friendship, and never backing down in the face of adversity. Our hero Squall is a member of SeeD, an elite mercenary force headquartered at a pseudo-utopian garden that has been tasked with engaging the nation of Galbadia, to stop them and their new leader, the sorceress Edea from taking over the world. In the midst of this, Squall meets and begins having feelings for a woman named Rinoa. He also starts dreaming the memories of a Galbadian soldier named Laguna. As stated…it does get confusing, but it’s absolutely worth it!

    There is a remastered version of Final Fantasy VIII that includes better visuals, additional, useful boosters, and a speed-time feature. It’s available now for the Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox One, which is also available on Steam.

    Final Fantasy IX

    Those who enjoy complex stories about how relationships between nations and relationships between people can be interestingly similar, that also ask the question of what it means to be human, all coupled with a touch of whimsy throughout will definitely enjoy this entry into the series.

    Filled with both a childlike sense of wonder and playfulness, but couched in a serious story about warring nations and the reality of the fact that life is intrinsically finite, Final Fantasy IX is often considered simultaneously the most kid friendly, and the most mature of the whole series. The concept of the meaning of life, what it means to be alive, and why life is often beautiful because it ends are palpable throughout but are also delivered to the player by a boy with a monkey tail, and an adorable little yellow-eyed character with a pointy wizard’s hat.

    Another theme that is felt throughout the series is its paying homage to the Final Fantasy titles of yesteryear, and the game is absolutely bursting with hundreds of nods and references, both large and small, to the series titles of the NES era. Sure enough, one of the biggest references is the cute as a button Black Mage, Vivi, who has absolutely stolen the heart of many a player. The game as a whole is a departure from the sci-fi and modern themes of the last three games, and a return to the fantasy roots that gave the series its name.

    Continuing with a trend set by Final Fantasy VII, IX features characters being able to perform feats of extreme prowess when under pressure, or in a desperate situation. In this game, it presents itself in the Trance mechanic, where each time a character is struck, their Trance Gauge fills somewhat. Once a character’s Trance Gauge is full, their appearance changes to a degree, and they gain access to new abilities or a completely new set of abilities. Trance has often been praised, even over the previous limit-breaking system, for its ability to truly turn the tide of a desperate battle in the player’s favor when the chips are down.

    A version of the game can be acquired for the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and Xbox One consoles and is also available from Android, iOS, and Steam.

    Final Fantasy X

    Another classic tale of romance and heroic adventure, this installment also features one of the most customizable character progressions systems in the series, so if that’s your bag, check it out.

    The tenth installment of Final Fantasy features a truly unique progression style called the Sphere Grid System. Instead of a character simply leveling up when they reach a certain amount of experience points, they now use the ability points that they collect from winning battles to manually purchase increases in the stats that they choose. While a bit overwhelming at first, it allows for the most customizable progression experience in a Final Fantasy game to date, and allows for interesting mixtures of different tactics, like a character that is equally as talented at attacking with a weapon, as they are at healing.

    Final Fantasy X is a slight departure from pure fantasy, and lives in this wonderful ambiguous place between weird fantasy and bizarre fiction, at least with respect to the theme and world of the game. One new aspect of the world is the introduction of Blitzbal, which is the first instance of an original sport in Final Fantasy unless one counts Chocobo racing. The journey of Tidus and Yuna, and their blossoming love while on their quest to rid the world of Sin, coupled with the total broness between Tidus and Wakka, and the pupil/mentor relationship between Auron, Tidus, and Yuna, all make for some darn decent story elements as well, while also being totally, and beautifully strange.

    While several of the previous titles have featured spin-offs, and there have been some unconnected stand-alone games, like Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy X is the first game in the series to feature a direct sequel, and while the author of this article would never be so crass as to bandy spoilers about, let it simply be said that Final Fantasy X-2 continues the story begun in its predecessor.

    The collection, Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster can be acquired for current-gen consoles Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and Xbox One, and updates the game’s graphics and soundtrack, and includes bonus material and extras. It’s also available on Steam.

    Final Fantasy XI

    If you like your MMO’s vast, slow-paced, and difficult, then this is the Final Fantasy you’ll want to start with. Veterans of games like Everquest and the original World of Warcraft will find a lot to enjoy here.

    One of the biggest departures of the series bar none, Final Fantasy XI is not only the first multiplayer title in the series, but dove headlong into the MMO craze of the early 2000’s. Gone are the days of managing an entire party of even four characters, let alone the fourteen of Final Fantasy VI. Instead, players must team up with other players to create adventuring groups needed to overcome challenges that cannot be tackled alone. One aspect that does hearken to a previous era of the series is the job system in eleventh installment. There are now twenty two jobs accessible in the game, and players are not limited to only a single job per character, but must start as one of six basic jobs, and unlock the others through play.

    As for story, the game is set in the world of Vana’diel, twenty years after the end of the Crystal War that almost destroyed the planet. The three main nations of Vana’diel: Bastok, San’ d’Oria, and Windurst struggle against the aggressors of said war. These Beastmen are far from their full strength, but have reorganized, and are again harassing the people of Vana’diel. With their own standing forces having been devastated by the Crystal War, the three strongest nations of Vana’diel turn to adventurers to meet this threat, as well as assist with other troubles plaguing the land. That’s where the player’s newly created character comes in.

    Final Fantasy XI is currently available on Steam and still going strong, and while the popularity of Final Fantasy XIV has far surpassed that of XI, there are still many people who play and enjoy the previous game, which is a testament to just how good a game the earlier title is.

    Final Fantasy XII

    If you dislike random encounters, and battle screens, and would love to not have to micromanage the actions of all of the characters, and instead focus on one, this is the final fantasy for you.

    True to the spirit of the series, Final Fantasy XII makes massive inroads in the innovation department and, in some ways, turns the entire series, and even the genre of adventure RPGs on its head. Gone are the days of constantly being bombarded by random monster encounters on the world map – indeed – gone are the days of the world map in its entirety. Players can now actively choose to avoid monsters and just explore the world with little fear of being harassed. What’s more, the game’s sophisticated Gambit system allows players to program different characters’ behaviors, allowing them to act freely, attacking and using abilities automatically in combat. This amazing feature allows players to focus on both the story, and the beautiful world of Ilvalice.

    Speaking of Ilvalice, Final Fantasy XII also brings significant innovation in the story department as well. Remember that game I mentioned a little earlier, Final Fantasy Tactics? It’s actually the first game to take place in the shared world of Ilvalice, though it takes place in a completely different time period than XII. Another interesting aspect of Ilvalice is that all of the stories told in it are told in narrative. Tactics, and the non-Final Fantasy game Vagrant Story, which is also set in the shared fictional world, are all presented to the player as being told by a third party, disconnected to a degree from the actual events in the story. In Final Fantasy XII Halim Ondore IV is shown to be relating some aspects of the story from his own memoirs. Pretty cool, right?

    Like Final Fantasy X, XII received a sequel in The ZODIAC AGE edition of the game, which expanded customizability with even more gambits and an updated job system. It also included a remastered soundtrack, improved HD visuals, and the speed time feature from previous remasters.

    Final Fantasy XIII

    Those who enjoy fast-paced, tactical combat that makes you have to change strategies on the fly, will deeply enjoy this game. So will any players who like stories about wrongfully accused heroes, trying to save the world, while also trying to clear their name, and anyone who likes strong female leads.

    Final Fantasy XIII is, as one might expect, beautifully rendered and deeply pleasing to enjoy from a visual perspective. Most Final Fantasy games tend to be since pretty much the seventh game. It also returns to but adds to the Active Battle System with a new battle mechanic called the Paradigm System, which requires players to constantly switch up character rolls and adapt to continuously changing combat situations.

    The story of Final Fantasy XIII is one of the aspect of an unfair, and unwanted fate, and the resistance thereof, with the main characters often struggling just to be able to survive, while trying to do what they think is right. The main character, Lightning seeks to save her sister, and save her people, amidst the authorities of her home of Cacoon branding her and her allies traitors and enemies of the state. The that is revealed to her about what is happening, the more it becomes clear that not all is what it seems and she and her friends, including her sister’s fiancé Snow, must flee from those set on their deaths, while trying to find a way out of their deepening unfair circumstances.

    Even though Final Fantasy XIII was often criticized for it’s story’s linear nature, fans must have found something to love, as the game spawn not one, but two separate sequels. These, along with the original game are available on Steam, and can also be played on Xbox One with backwards compatibility.

    Final Fantasy XIV

    Anyone who is a fan of slightly less punishing, modern MMORPGs will find a lot to love about this installment of Final Fantasy, and will also find a vast and welcoming community to play with, not to mention hundreds of hours of content.

    Final Fantasy XIV is the second MMORPG title in the series, and is also one of the most popular titles in the whole of the series as well, or at least it BECAME thus. Truth is, the story of the release and development of the game is almost as captivating as the story of the game itself. When Final Fantasy XIV was first released in 2010, it was met with massive fan criticism. This was largely due to, in large part, to a lot of technical issue, but also some thematic ones like certain races only having one gender. The backlash was so bad that Square Enix released a public apology to their fans, replaced the entire development team, and promised to completely rebuild the game from top to bottom, keeping only the story, art and lore from the original. They kept their promise too, and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was released just a year later to massive praise. The servers for the original version of the game were shut down just a year after that, and the relaunch has been going strong ever since, with constantly updated features and several expansion packs.

    The character progression system in Final Fantasy XIV is one of the most player friendly, and freeing in the series. The Armory system is a job based system, where classes are divided between four base discipline: the physical combat based Disciples of War, the magical combat based Disciples of Magic, the crafting based Disciples of the Hand, and the gathering based Disciples of the Land. Each class uses a specific weapon type, and it is as simple as equipping the appropriate weapon or tool to change one’s class. The only time players aren’t allowed to change their class, and thus their role, is during combat, which is an almost 180 degree departure from the series last installment, which literally had players switching up roles on the fly.

    Another great feature of this game, which allows players who want to experience the fourteenth installment of the series, but aren’t as into MMOs was released in one of the most recent expansions. The Trust System, released with the Shadowbringers expansion, allows players to recruit up to three NPC cohorts and take on challenging duties, rather than having to connect, and play with other players on their server. There are eight NPCs that can be recruited in the Trust System, all with different strengths and weaknesses, background and characteristics.

    As for story, Final Fantasy XIV returns to its roots and the player character is once again, the Warrior of Light, in name if nothing else. They take on the roll of an adventurer-mercenary in Eorzea, who joins one of the three Grand Companies during the Seventh Umbral Era to combat the threats of the Beast Tribes, and the Garlean Empire. They become a key member of a group called the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, and fight to restore peace to the land. Players get to choose between eight different races, and three different Grand Companies, adventuring guilds created by the different City-States of the land. The Companies themselves are meant to keep the mercenaries, who were integral to their last campaign against the Beast Men previously, occupied and keep their attention focused on helpful endeavors.

    If you want the most content, including the new Shadowbringers expansion, FINAL FANTASY XIV Online Complete Edition’s the way to go, but for newcomers who want to dip their toe in first, we’d recommend the FINAL FANTASY XIV Online Starter Edition.

    For players who want to try out the Final Fantasy XIV experience before they fully commit to it, try the Online Starter Edition. Folks who want to get the most content available, and thus, the most bang for their buck, check out Final Fantasy Online Complete Edition, which will also get you the new Shadowbringers expansion. Both are available on Steam and Playstation 4.

    Final Fantasy XV

    If you enjoy a good action RPG, with a great story, and don’t mind a break with convention, you’ll love this installment in the series. So go ahead and check it out.

    Breaking with tradition further than any other title in the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy XV is a pretty hard departure from the turn based, and Active Time Battle systems of previous games and features the “Active X Battle” System which basically switches the combat to more of an action RPG style. One other interesting, if odd feature is a whistle that allows the player to respawn monsters in a given area. This was included in the Day One patch for the game, and is clearly meant to help industrious players with grinding, but it’s also a neat way of allowing players to deal with constantly being attacked, or not.

    The story of this installment is where the game really shines, frankly. Set in a pseudo-futuristic world where magic and technology exist, side by side, the game tells the story of a young prince, Noctis of Lucis, who has recently been betrothed to the princess of the far away Niflheim. This marriage will cement the soon to be signed armistice between their two nations in the hopes of crafting a lasting peace. The story opens with Lucis and his three companions and bodyguards, on a road trip to meet Lucis bride to be, but along the way they encounter danger, difficulty and news of something terrible that has happened to Lucis family in his absence.

    Final Fantasy XV initially opens with a statement of intent, “A Final Fantasy for fans, and first timers.” and in this instance, the developers struck a good balance. The game is a modern one, and adopts the “Games as a Service” model, which, love it or hate it, seems to be the way things are going. It’s also easily accessible to the layperson, and doesn’t require learning a complicated combat system. That said, it still retains all of the hallmarks that make a good Final Fantasy game: Epic story and world setting, fantastical creatures, people and events, all wrapped around an exciting adventure for the player to embark upon.

    The standard version of the game was released for the Playstation 4, and the Xbox One, and is also available on Steam. There is also a Pocket version of Final Fantasy XV that is available on Android, iOS and Nintedo Switch.