For a series that was supposed to end with its very first game, Final Fantasy has certainly defied expectations over the years. Creator Hironobu Sakaguchi intended 1987’s Final Fantasy to be his very last game before quitting game development altogether. Instead, it launched a multi-million dollar franchise that continues to captivate audiences across the world.
Thanks to the huge number of titles in the series, it can be difficult to know where to start or how they all differ. We’ve compiled a list of every numbered Final Fantasy entry in order to make things a little easier. Note that we won’t be including sequels on this list, even if they include a number in the title or any of the enormous number of spin-offs the franchise has seen over the years.
Most of the games don’t include common characters, so it’s possible to start just about anywhere on the list and experience a complete story.
The game that started it all. Released in Japan in 1987 and in the United States in 1990, Final Fantasy helped introduce the West to the trappings of JRPGs. As far as its story and mechanics go, it’s pretty standard fantasy fare: four Warriors of Light must defeat evil in order to save the world by defeating monsters in turn-based battles. It features the first appearance of many commonplace Final Fantasy characteristics, like jclasses and crystals.
It hasn’t aged particularly well, but it’s available to buy on Steam if you’re interested in seeing where the Final Fantasy franchise truly began.
Final Fantasy II
Final Fantasy II was released only a year after its predecessor in Japan, and as a result, the two games look very similar. This version removed the level system from Final Fantasy and instead displayed party members’ power potential via stats. It also featured the first appearance of chocobos, the adorable yellow birds that have become a series staple, and Cid, a character whose name would be re-used in just about every subsequent Final Fantasy game. It features the usual fantasy story of a maniacal villain trying to take over the world.
Final Fantasy III
Final Fantasy III looks dramatically different from its two pixel predecessors. This is because while the game was originally released on the NES in Japan in 1990, it didn’t see the light of day in the US until it received a 3D remake on the Nintendo DS in 2006. It introduced the job system, which gave a more defined purpose to mages and fighters from previous games and allowed players to switch character classes at any time.
It’s also known as the origin of the adorable Onion Knight class.
Final Fantasy IV
Final Fantasy IV is the first of the Final Fantasy games to feature unique, multifaceted characters and an interesting story. The game has seen numerous re-releases over the years, from a 3D edition on the Nintendo DS like III (which the above screenshot is taken from) to a pixel remaster on Steam that preserves the original graphics. The game’s story features Cecil, an ousted captain of the guard who sets off to save the world with a motley cast of friends and allies. Final Fantasy IV is tough, like many of the older Final Fantasys, but it’s worth playing for the story.
Final Fantasy V
No one envies Final Fantasy V. Getting stuck between IV and VI, two of the series’ most famous games and some of the best RPGs ever released, is a fate we wouldn’t wish on any game. Despite not being as famous as its surrounding members, Final Fantasy V is a fine example of series staples, including Active Time Battle combat, the job system, and plenty of crystals. Its story might not be as epic as that of VI, but it scratches that fantasy itch nonetheless.
Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VI is widely considered to be one of the best RPGs ever made. It stands next to Chrono Trigger as an example of Square Enix at its finest: engaging combat, dramatic story, and fascinating characters. Even its original SNES version still stands up today, though the game has been ported and re-released many times. It has such a devoted fan base that RPG lovers are calling for Square Enix to recreate it in the style of Final Fantasy VII Remake.
Final Fantasy VII
If Final Fantasy VI is arguably the best game in the series, Final Fantasy VII is the best-selling and probably most well-known. The story introduced iconic characters Cloud Strife, Sephiroth, and Tifa and gave fans a serious yet silly story to experience. It also brought the series into glorious 3D on the PlayStation, letting players view the towers and machines of the Shinra Corporation like never before.
The long-awaited remake sold over 3.5 million copies in its first three days.
Final Fantasy VIII
Like V, Final Fantasy VIII often gets forgotten thanks to its proximity to the legendary VII. The game takes a few conventions from previous titles, like the Active Time Battle system and some very spiky-haired protagonists, but it also stands out thanks to its more real-world setting and dialogue. At this point, Final Fantasy was moving away from the pure fantasy world of its earlier titles and finding its own niche somewhere between the fantastic and the real. VIII received a remake that dramatically increased its graphical prowess.
Final Fantasy IX
If Final Fantasys VII and VIII were Square Enix experimenting with new settings and new storytelling methods, Final Fantasy IX was a return to classic form. The game featured plenty of classic Final Fantasy iconography and tropes, as well as a pure fantasy setting and a more fantastic story. The game was announced at the same time as Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XI with the intent of giving players a variety of experiences to choose from. As such, IX is the last of the truly “old-fashioned” Final Fantasy titles.
Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy X continued the more realistic trend started by VII and VIII: a more modern setting, gameplay updates, and a fresh world for players to explore. It’s one of the most loved games in the series thanks to its classic scenes, beautiful visuals, and strong storyline. At this point, Final Fantasy was well known for its intriguing stories and characters that made players want to find out what would happen, not just destroy every monster and creature they came across. The game has a direct sequel in Final Fantasy X-2.
Final Fantasy XI
While many people rightfully think of Final Fantasy XIV when they think “Final Fantasy MMO,” Final Fantasy XI was actually the series’ first MMO. It’s still active and receiving updates today, though it’s not quite as flashy as its modern counterpart.
The game is notable because it displays Square Enix’s willingness to try new things and take the series in a new direction.
No longer strictly a JRPG, Final Fantasy was by this time not synonymous with any one genre.
Final Fantasy XII
Final Fantasy XII tossed all the previous games’ conventions out the window. Rather than including what by this time were JRPG conventions, including random encounters and strictly turn-based combat, XII once again took the series in a completely new direction.
The Active Dimension Battle combat system allows players to control one character at a time and grants bonuses and combos based on their proximity to other characters. Players can choose whether they want to interact with enemies rather than being forced into random encounters while exploring the world of Ivalice.
These modern updates, alongside interesting characters and a great story, made for a winning title.
Final Fantasy XIII
Unlike many previous series entries, there’s nothing too special about Final Fantasy XIII‘s story. In fact, it’s downright incomprehensible, leading many players to ignore it altogether. Where the game really shines is its Command Synergy Battle system, which is faster-paced and more engaging than traditional games’ Active Time Battle mechanics. While its reviews are more solidly mixed than other Final Fantasy games’, it’s a good example of how the series has been brought into the modern era.
Final Fantasy XIV
This is the Final Fantasy that most modern players are probably familiar with. Final Fantasy XIV has exploded in popularity in the last few years, bringing Square Enix a significant amount of money and notoriety. While the game has certainly had its missteps, it’s still incredibly special for the way it combines traditional Final Fantasy archetypes like jobs and chocobos with modern-day MMO raids and community activities.
Final Fantasy XIV is one of the franchise’s true triumphs.
Final Fantasy XV
Final Fantasy XV caught a lot of flak after it was revealed for its scenes of several guys in a car apparently having a “bro road trip.” The game ended up exceeding expectations, though: players came to care about main character Noctis and his band of merry men. Like Final Fantasy VIII, XV focuses on a more realistic setting and attempts to explore its characters more deeply than previous series entries. While it’s different from almost every other title on this list, it’s once again indicative of the series and Square Enix’s ability to mold itself into many different forms.
Final Fantasy XVI
Final Fantasy XVI is the series’ latest numbered installment.
It hasn’t been officially released yet, but Square Enix has maintained a steady drip-feed of information for curious fans. A press release shared during the 2022 PlayStation State of Play revealed that players can expect “high-octane battles featuring our protagonist Clive Rosfield” and a variety of summonable creatures known as Eikons. Players will be able to use the power of these Eikons to take on foes.
The game is expected to release in summer 2023.