The Best Version of Every Final Fantasy Game
The main line of the venerable JRPG series can be an endless labyrinth of formats, hardware and remakes. Here’s a guide to making the most of your playtime and purchasing power.
UPDATE 2020/02/04: New year, new look reassessments!
Notes: “every” denotes mainline games. There aren’t enough pixels on the internet to try to go down the sequel/spin-off rabbit hole. Also, there’s a heavy bias toward consoles here, both because I prefer consoles, and because Final Fantasy is much more synonymous with consoles than PC.
The granddaddy of them all, this 1987 last-ditch effort from Squaresoft took the world by storm and its progeny number in the dozens. First released on the Nintendo Entertainment System, it and the oft-forgotten second installment are often bundled together. There was a PlayStation re-release (a two-pack dubbed Final Fantasy Origins) that cleaned up some bugs and translation errors, but the definitive version is the 20th anniversary re-release that first saw the light of day on Sony’s sadly forgotten first handheld, the PlayStation Portable (PSP). I’d say that one, with its higher resolution and gorgeous redrawn sprites, takes the crown, but it’s inexplicably never been released digitally in North America for the Vita (despite other regions having it), so here in the States, it’s stuck on a defunct system. They’re not quite as good, trading buttons and a D-pad for slightly fiddly software touch controls, but given that few people probably have a PSP sitting around, for ease of access the iOS/Android ports of the PSP version are probably your best bet. If you want to really go old-school, try to find yourself a NES Classic Mini; it’s available in its OG form there. I have no nostalgia goggles regarding Final Fantasy I, so I can say booting it up in the NES Classic Mini and playing that original, unaltered version is an exercise in masochism in this, the year 2020. If you’re gunning for a punishing challenge, it’s the one you want, but…know what you’re getting yourself into. Fun fact: There are actually semi-canonical names for the characters in Final Fantasy! Originating from the Final Fantasy: Memory of Heroes novelization, they are: Zest the Warrior, Sauber the Thief, Floe the White Mage and Daewoo the Black Mage.
FINAL FANTASY II
Probably the most overlooked entry (though maybe V gives it a run for its money), Final Fantasy II took some heat for its opaque, esoteric leveling system, and it was never actually released in the US upon its debut (you may have played a game called “Final Fantasy II” on the SNES, but that was actually a re-titled Final Fantasy IV…more on that later). Like its predecessor, it got a beautiful upgrade on the series’ 20th anniversary, and also like its predecessor, it’s technically best experienced on the Sony PSP (well, super technically, like its predecessor it’s best experienced on a PS Vita tied to an EU PSN account). But once again, it got a serviceable iOS/Android port retaining the anniversary edition’s beautiful new art, so despite the software controls, that’s going to be the best combination of game quality and hardware accessibility for most people.
FINAL FANTASY III
Well…you’re not exactly spoiled for choice here. Final Fantasy III was, for the longest time, simply not available in English at all (once more, the SNES had a game titled “Final Fantasy III”, but that was actually Final Fantasy VI…again, more on that later). The original version of Luneth’s tale isn’t available outside of fan translation ROMs, but it was nicely remade in full polygonal 3D for the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP in 2006 (if you’re looking for a physical copy, you’ll only find the DS version, as the PSP disc never sold in North America, but it’s available for purchase on the PlayStation Network; conversely, if you’re looking for a digital copy for the DS, that’s unfortunately MIA on the Nintendo eShop). The nicer screen and ergonomics of the Vita hardware make that version the best, but if you don’t own a Vita, or don’t want to try to track down a used (or overpriced new) copy of the DS version, it also got an iOS/Android port. That version is outfitted with plain fonts and a rather garish touchscreen menu, but, uh, any port in a storm.
FINAL FANTASY IV
One of my favorites in the series, Final Fantasy IV also has the honor of having the most high-quality versions, and possibly the most confusing set of releases. First released in North America as “Final Fantasy II” (not to be confused with the actual Final Fantasy II) for the Super Nintendo, it got a phenomenal high definition graphical update in 2011 on the Sony PSP, titled Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection, featuring gorgeous redrawn 2D sprites and the addition of Final Fantasy IV: Interlude and Final Fantasy IV: The After Years. Neither are essential but they’re nice to have. Unfortunately, that version hasn’t been seen outside of the PSP, though if you have one, you can purchase the Complete Collection digitally on the PSN for PSP/Vita. For a different experience, the game was fully remade in polygonal 3D like Final Fantasy III, and released on the Nintendo DS. It adds some (OK…ish) voice acting too, if that floats your boat, and it saw a number of changes and additions that upped the difficulty level of the game. The two games feel very different, but I think you’ll mostly want to pick based on your preferred art style; I’ve seen people swear that the DS remake looks immeasurably superior to the 2D PSP version, and others (like, me, honestly) that feel the exact opposite. That DS version is the one that was ported to iOS and Android, so if you want to go that route, it’s an option. But if you’ve got a PSP or Vita and want to play FFIV, I definitely recommend opting for that.
FINAL FANTASY V
The epic tale of Bartz (or Batz, or…Butz), Final Fantasy V was released for the Super Famicom (Japan’s version of the SNES), but it never made its way over to English consoles until it got a port over to the PlayStation as part of the Final Fantasy Anthology set along with Final Fantasy VI. It then appeared on the Game Boy Advance, like I, II, IV and VI, with unfortunately dessicated music due to the GBA’s lackluster sound hardware. Thne, in 2013, FFV was given an overhaul and ported to iOS/Android, featuring what Square Enix called “new high-resolution graphics” and what fans derided as “Vaseline-smeared sprites”. To say it wasn’t well-received is an understatement (though it was nothing compared with our next entry), so play that version if you absolutely must, but if you can, opt for the Game Boy Advance version, despite its sound chip’s shortcomings. Side note: like Final Fantasy VI, the PSOne Classic version suffers from inexplicably lengthy loading times when transitioning to battle, opening menus, etc., and while it’s not a deal-breaker, it is definitely noticeable. I have been told that this was fixed for the European release, which is another reason to snag a Vita and register an EU account.
FINAL FANTASY VI
Aaaaand here’s where the definitive version choices start to get…messy. Originally released on the Super Nintendo as “Final Fantasy III”, FFVI, like IV before it, has gone on to arguably be considered the best of the entire series, and possibly the best JRPG ever made (though Chrono Trigger, a sort-of cousin to the Final Fantasy series, also lays claim to that crown). Its releases have not reflected that prominence, however. The game’s original translation was quirky but truncated (due to cartridge space restrictions). This was improved upon in the next version (a port for the PlayStation, as part of that aforementioned Final Fantasy Anthology), but like FFV, it introduced massive slowdown when battling or accessing menus. The following version (for the Game Boy Advance) fixed that, and used the improved translation, but ruined the beautiful score by series mainstay Nobuo Uematsu, due to the GBA’s music chip not being up to the task. Then it was released for iOS and Android, but the smeary sprite style that debuted in the mobile port of FFV returned. Ugly sprites, poor UI design and bland font choices do not befit one of the greatest games ever made (to add insult to injury, the Steam port is just a port of the mobile version, retaining its chunky, hideous touchscreen UI). Until FFVI gets the Final Fantasy IV: Complete Collection treatment it so richly deserves, the Game Boy Advance version, Final Fantasy VI Advance, is probably the most definitive for right now. If you’re playing a ROM, there are easily-available patches to restore the music to its former glory, and Square Enix graciously dropped every Final Fantasy soundtrack onto Spotify, Apple Music, et al. a while back, so you can hear it as it’s meant to be heard. Barring that, the PSOne version on PSN is…fine, I guess. You’ll just be constantly wondering why it takes a SNES game so long to load a single damn menu screen.
Update 2018/04/15: I am reevaluating my distaste for the redrawn sprites of Final Fantasy IV. The more I live with them, the more I realize just how close they are to the original artwork. I personally still prefer the original sprites from the SNES version, but the overall aesthetic presentation is much more of a mixed bag than the complete disaster it initially seemed to me. The UI design and font choice are still disgracefully bland, and there are some slight changes I’d like to see to the sprites that would, I think, greatly improve them (like drawing them from a slight 3/4 perspective, like the ones from the 20th anniversary versions of FF and FFII, adding some darker lines inside the sprite rather than only having a bold exterior outline). But the portrait art is absolutely lovely (though there need to be more expressions, rather than just one stock picture per character), and the backgrounds and effects do look gorgeous. Basically, the redone art in the game is all phenomenal…except for the actual characters, which unfortunately is a major sticking point. I’d probably still recommend the GBA version (patched to restore the music), but the mobile version is a fairly decent alternative, particularly if you’ve got a controller and a tablet with a nice large screen.
FINAL FANTASY VII
The series leapt into the third dimension (and CGI cinematics) with its seventh installment, and blew a lot of young minds in the process. Nowadays, its blocky, primitive polygons don’t hold up, quite frankly, but the ubiquity of the game makes it the closest thing this anthology series has to a poster child. Think of it as the Tom Baker of the Final Fantasy franchise. Owing to the massive popularity of Cloud Strife, Sephiroth, Aerith and the gang, it’s been re-released frequently but Square’s never really messed with it (it’s getting a full and complete ground-up remake, arriving, at least in part, on April 10th, 2020, as it’s being split up over multiple releases). The original version is available on PSN for PS3 and PSP/Vita, but it also got a PS4, Switch, Xbox One and Steam version that added a few tweaks, like the ability to turn off random encounters, and rendered the whole thing in HD with upscaled textures (though not more detailed character models). If you want to play it now, the PS4 version is the definitive version of the original game, or you can pick it up for Switch to gain portability, or you can try to wait for the remake to come out.
FINAL FANTASY VIII
Once thought lost to the ages, Final Fantasy VIII finally arrived on modern consoles! Though the original code was reportedly lost, Square Enix was finally able to gussy up this entry and assemble a “remastered” version for release on PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. It’s mostly intact from its original release (including the incongruously low-res backgrounds), but the character models are now greatly improved (see below), and it comes with the same optional perks as the rest of Square’s PlayStation-era FF re-releases: 3x battle speed, no random encounters, and health/GF boosts. Like Final Fantasy VII, the new Nintendo Switch port is the version to beat, marrying the upgraded visuals with total portability, or grab the PS4 version for the absolute highest resolution.
FINAL FANTASY IX
I’m glad to see this one getting a nice resurgence. This back-to-basics entry eschewed the moody, broody bishonen of VII and VIII and returned to an accessible world, charming characters, and an old-school obsession with crystals. Coming at the turn of the millennium and saying farewell to the original PlayStation, this game also gave the world the gift that is Vivi Ornitier. There’s the original version up on the PlayStation Network that can be played on the PS3/PSP/Vita, but it’s recently gotten the VII treatment and has been upgraded for direct compatibility with the PlayStation 4, higher-resolution textures, gameplay tweaks, and all. Unlike FFVII, its art style still holds up marvelously, with the addition of HD textures and filtering effects just enhancing its natural beauty. Get the Nintendo Switch version for travel, or the PS4 version for maximum resolution. One oddity is that the Switch version (and I presume the Xbox one as well?) removes the colored bar highlighting the active team member in battle, which is a weird choice, but mostly non-detrimental. Oh well.
FINAL FANTASY X
The introduction of the series to a new generation, both of consoles and of players, X was a perfect combination of charming old-school mechanics and quality-of-life enhancements, with memorable characters, a stunning score, a great upgrade system and top-notch cinematics (though the less said about some of the voice acting, the better). As befits one of the more marquee entries in the franchise, X was remade in high definition for the PlayStation 3, and later for the PlayStation 4 (as well as getting its own Vita version that supports cross-play saves). As a nice bonus, all of the remakes also come with a remastered version of the direct sequel (the first in the series’ history), Final Fantasy X-2. Like its immediate predecessors, the Nintendo Switch version lets you take the best version of the games on the go. Praise be to Yevon.
FINAL FANTASY XI
Here we venture into the world of online gaming. Final Fantasy took its first steps into the land of MMORPGs in the wake of EverQuest’s success. I wasn’t a fan, but it was notable for several reasons, including being the first MMORPG that supported console cross-play (it was available for PC, PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360). Astonishingly, it’s still going 16 years later (though the console support was nixed in 2016, owing to the deprecation of those consoles). Its launch actually predates the Square-Enix merger, and reportedly, a mobile port is even in the works! But for right now, if you want to jump into the world of Vana’diel, grab it for the PC.
FINAL FANTASY XII
This one came out of left field. For a generation whose previous experience was X and X-2, criticism for XII mostly centered on the sense that the game “played itself,” with its strategic character setups and battle scheme that only controlled one character at a time. I’ll be honest, I overlooked it when it first came out, as my wife, who adored X, didn’t take to it, and from the series’ return to its more common gameplay style in the next installment, I take it she wasn’t the only one. However, in 2017 it was remastered and rereleased for the PlayStation 4 as Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age as part of the series’ 30th anniversary celebration. I decided to give its remaster a go, and absolutely fell in love with it. It doesn’t hurt that it takes place in Ivalice, my favorite FF world (other games set in various versions of Ivalice include Vagrant Story and the Final Fantasy Tactics series). Also, they fixed Vaan’s creepy abs in the remake, so…that’s definitely a plus. This remixed version got a Switch, Xbox One and PS4 release, so take your pick. My recommendation here is a little less effusive for the Switch over the PS4, only because XII is the first time that games start to get pretty enough to really benefit from the PS4’s higher resolution. Personally, I prefer the Switch version’s tradeoff for portability, but you can’t go wrong with either the Switch or the PS4 versions.
FINAL FANTASY XIII
The beginning of Square-Enix’s infatuation with their seemingly never-ending “Fabula Nova Crystallis” series, Final Fantasy XIII introduced the world to Lightning (whose aggressively taciturn demeanor unfortunately comes across as little more than “distaff Cloud”) and began a tepidly-received multimedia project that eventually wheezed across the finish line with the release of Final Fantasy XV. The Fabula Nova Crystallis subseries ultimately encompassed eight games (two of which were for mobile devices), manga, novellas, an anime, and a feature-length CGI OVA, all tied together “thematically.” Clearly, XIII isn’t one of my favorite entries; I find it an impenetrable tidal wave of proper nouns masquerading as pseudo-profundity, dropped into a VII wannabe setting. That said, while Final Fantasy XIII (and its two direct sequels, titled Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII because Square-Enix’s developers are apparently not nearly as anal-retentive about their title nomenclature as I am) are available on the PS3 and Xbox 360, only one of those systems offers them backward compatibility with modern-day consoles. The Xbox 360 versions (available digitally on the Xbox store) of all three games are able to play on Xbox One, so there’s your clear winner.
FINAL FANTASY XIV
I ignored Final Fantasy XIV upon initial release, owing to my distaste for the previous MMORPG installment, but recently my wife and I picked it up for the PlayStation 4 and are having a blast (and this is after dropping all MMORPGs years ago). The world of Eorzea (which seems to draw inspiration from Ivalice, and in fact features a version of Ivalice in one of its expansion packs) is stunning, and it runs like a dream on the console. What’s additionally shocking about it to me is just how much this open world and player-made character still feel like they truly are in a Final Fantasy tale. You can grab this one for PC or PS4, depending on your preference. I’ll say I never expected a console version of a MMORPG to be playable, much less fun, but the gameplay for XIV feels great with a controller (though you’ll need to tweak your HUD to clean it up some), so I personally recommend the PS4 version, but it’s down to your personal playstyle. More social types will want a keyboard, and if you don’t want to break your PC MMORPG gaming habits, that version’s fine too. This is a six-of-one situation, which makes the PS4 port all the more impressive.
FINAL FANTASY XV
And now, the final Fantasy (until the next one). The most recent installment of Final Fantasy features a four-man boy band and is yet another arm of the tedious Fabula Nova Crystallis sub-line of games. But it’s readily available for however you want to play it: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, or Windows. A version containing DLC was just released, dubbed Final Fantasy XV: Royal Edition. Grab the Royal Edition for the console of your choice, PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, though again there’s a Windows port that seems to have been a swing and a miss. Both the PS4 and the Xbox One versions have their pros and cons, so they wind up evening out pretty well, though I give Sony’s console the edge because I’m old enough to feel like Final Fantasy being on a Microsoft console is just weird, like when Sonic the Hedgehog started popping up on Nintendo systems. There’s also a mobile port(!) with a simplified art style called Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition. YMMV on whether you think these character designs are cute or creepy. I think I lean toward creepy.
UPDATE 2019/04/06: FFXV Pocket Edition was released a while back for the Nintendo Switch, so if you want to play that version and prefer real controls, that’s your best bet. There are persistent rumors that Square-Enix is trying to find a way to get the full version of FFXV onto the Switch. Fingers crossed.
Final Fantasy: iOS/Android (PSP if you have one)
Final Fantasy II: iOS/Android (PSP if you have one)
Final Fantasy III: PSP/Vita or 3DS
Final Fantasy IV: PSP/Vita
Final Fantasy V: Game Boy Advance
Final Fantasy VI: Game Boy Advance
Final Fantasy VII: Nintendo Switch
Final Fantasy VIII: Nintendo Switch
Final Fantasy IX: Nintendo Switch
Final Fantasy X: Nintendo Switch
Final Fantasy XI: PC
Final Fantasy XII: PlayStation 4
Final Fantasy XIII: Xbox One (via backward compatibility)
Final Fantasy XIV: PlayStation 4 (or PC, depending on your play style)
Final Fantasy XV: PlayStation 4 (or Xbox One)
And for shits and giggles, some Final Fantasy-adjacent titles:
Chrono Trigger: Nintendo DS/3DS
Final Fantasy Tactics: PSP/Vita (The War of the Lions remake)
Kingdom Hearts 1.5 and 2.5 HD ReMix: PS4
Secret of Mana: SNES Classic Mini
So…there you have it. My take on what the best versions of each mainline Final Fantasy title are, balancing quality, cost, and accessibility. As I wrap up, I would honest recommend any serious Final Fantasy fan find themselves a PS Vita…all told, it’s the best machine for Final Fantasy, boasting accessible versions of everything from I through X, along with Tactics, World of Final Fantasy and more, with many of the games’ definitive versions being exclusive to the platform. Perhaps one day that’ll change (I would love for the PSP versions of I, II, III and IV to come over to the Nintendo Switch, along with the original versions [or actual high-quality remasters] of VI and Chrono Trigger), but for now, it’s the most bulletproof way to play.