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How to get into Final Fantasy

Squall and a flaming gunblade
(Image credit: Square Enix)

The Final Fantasy series is over 30 years old, which can be pretty daunting for a new player. How are you ever supposed to catch up? Well, the good news is that every mainline entry in the series tells a standalone story. So that makes things slightly easier. But even so, where do you start? This isn't a list of every Final Fantasy game. Some of the really old ones, while great games, are best played by people already familiar with the series. Instead, here's a selection of what I think are the best ones to play today on PC.

Play first

Final Fantasy XII (12)

(Image credit: Square Enix)

A scrappy street kid who dreams of one day becoming a sky pirate teams up with a motley crew of adventurers and joins a resistance movement rebelling against the mighty (and mighty evil) Archadian Empire. There are better Final Fantasy games, but this is a great introduction to the series for a newcomer. It's polished, playable, and gorgeous to look at—and you won't have any problems getting it running on a modern PC.

+ An incredibly beautiful game, with a refined, elegant, and tasteful art style that really brings the world and characters to life.

+ Joyously easy to play, but with enough complexity hidden in its combat and RPG systems for anyone who wants to go deeper.

+ The 2018 remaster runs very nicely on PC, with built-in support for gamepads, ultrawide monitors, and high resolutions.

- Some of the dungeons are pretty dull and repetitive, with a few too many long, empty corridors filled with enemies to slog through.

- The story is good, but not quite as memorable as some other entries in the series. And honestly, lead character Vaan is kinda annoying.

Must play

Final Fantasy VI (6)

(Image credit: Square Enix)

In a dark, industrial fantasy world, a team of adventurers—including former slave Terra, treasure hunter Locke, and martial artist Sabin—rebels against a military dictatorship locked in a magical arms race.

+ Tells a memorable story with real emotional depth, and features a massive cast of 14 weird and wonderful characters.

+ The music, composed by series regular Nobuo Uematsu, is among the best he's ever composed. I mean, just listen to Terra's Theme.

+ The turn-based combat is simple compared to other games in the series, but it's fun, tactical, fast-paced, and very easy to pick up.

- The current Steam release is a travesty. The art has been redone and it looks utterly hideous. Emulate the SNES or GBA version instead.

Final Fantasy VII (7)

(Image credit: Square Enix)

A team of eco-terrorists battles Shinra, an evil corporation draining the planet of its lifeblood for profit, and Sephiroth, a guy with severe emotional problems who wants to destroy it by slamming a meteor into it.

+ A vibrant cast of interesting, memorable, and eccentric characters to fall in love with. Arguably the series' greatest ensemble of heroes.

+ An unforgettable story that is surprising, funny, and emotional. As good at telling small stories as the big planet-ending ones.

+ Loads of great sidequests and minigames, including breeding a stable of chocobos (giant chickens, basically) and racing them.

- Has an unfortunate tendency to get melodramatic and overly self-indulgent at times—especially towards the end of the game.

Final Fantasy VIII (8)

(Image credit: Square Enix)

A ragtag squad of emotional, flawed teenagers, recently graduated from mercenary school, embarks on a dangerous mission to stop an evil sorceress (from the future) who is trying to destroy time itself.

+ One of the series' best settings, with a stylish, mature near-future aesthetic and some of Tetsuya Nomura's best character designs.

+ A unique, customisable magic system. Collect spells from draw points, then junction them to your character to boost their attributes.

+ Prominently features a strategic, wildly addictive collectible card game called Triple Triad, one of the greatest minigames ever made.

- Some story beats that'll have your eyes rolling, including an infamously dumb plot twist that is rightly mocked by fans and non-fans alike.

Final Fantasy IX (9)

(Image credit: Square Enix)

As two nations go to war, a thief, a knight, a princess, a mage, and other good-hearted oddballs team up to stop the scheming Queen Brahne, who started the war and threatens to escalate it even further.

+ The quirky medieval setting is brought to life beautifully by richly atmospheric backgrounds and expressive character art.

+ The story is wonderful, and a real emotional rollercoaster, making you laugh one minute, then snapping your heart in two the next.

+ It's the last game to be fully overseen by series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, who always brought a special kind of magic to the series.

- Card-battling minigame Tetra Master is overcomplicated, and nowhere near as good as Final Fantasy VIII's Triple Triad.

Final Fantasy X (10)

(Image credit: Square Enix)

A star athlete is transported a thousand years into the future and joins a team of adventurers, including a summoner named Yuna, to defeat Sin, a giant monster that destroyed the world he came from.

+ The sphere grid system lets you create interesting, unique character builds, in a more interactive way than in most Final Fantasy games.

+ The world is vividly realised, coloured by interesting culture and history. It's just a really nice place to hang out, especially Besaid Island.

+ If you really love the world and characters in FFX, there's a great sequel, Final Fantasy X-2, which continues the story brilliantly.

- Ditching the explorable world map for the first time, and a heavily story-led structure, means FFX can occasionally feel quite linear.

Maybe play

Final Fantasy XIII (13)

(Image credit: Square Enix)

In a floating world called Cocoon, a former soldier goes up against the ruling Sanctum government and, along with a band of allies including a guy who keeps a chocobo chick in his afro, fights to save her sister.

+ If you want more story, there are two sequels—FFXIII-2 and Lightning Returns—which have developed something of a cult following.

- The most stiflingly linear mainline Final Fantasy. A few open areas aside, the whole game is essentially just a load of narrow corridors.

Final Fantasy XIV (14)

(Image credit: Square Enix)

After an apocalyptic event destroys much of the world, a hero blessed by the gods (that's you) escapes the calamity by travelling five years into the future, where the Garlean Empire is staging an invasion.

+ FFXIV is the best MMO on PC, with a sprawling story many consider to be up there with the best of the singleplayer games.

- Being an MMO, it's much more fun with friends. Also, it's incredibly slow to start, with some truly tedious, mind-numbing early quests.

Final Fantasy XV (15)

(Image credit: Square Enix)

A young prince and his buddies go on a road trip across Eos—one of the most contemporary-feeling Final Fantasy worlds yet—on a mission to recover a magic crystal stolen by their enemies, the Niflheim Empire.

+ Driving across the world with your pals, stopping to camp and cook dinner together, gives the game a really chill, pleasant vibe.

- Features some of the worst sidequests in Final Fantasy history. They're like something out of a particularly unimaginative MMO.

Andy Kelly

If it’s set in space, Andy will probably write about it. He loves sci-fi, adventure games, taking screenshots, Twin Peaks, weird sims, Alien: Isolation, and anything with a good story.