Final Fantasy: Where to Begin for Newcomers

Square-Enix recently began releasing its Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster collection. Featuring Final Fantasy I — VI, this series features audiovisual upgrades of the original titles released across the NES and SNES back in the 80s and 90s. Faithful remasters of these original releases will be available for Steam this year.

Faithful remasters. Original releases. Sounds good at first.

Unfortunately, this means they will not host the hours of extra content available in the Advance releases of I, II, IV, V, and VI. This is an absolute bummer and a show from the developer to put less effort into re-releasing these titles yet again.

Square-Enix currently does not plan to release these on consoles.

For the record, Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls and Final Fantasy IV both came to PSP with their Game Boy Advance release content intact. This includes the extra dungeons and party members. Meanwhile, Final Fantasy V and VI came to Steam and Mobile with less-than-charming spritework.

While the boss and portrait artwork look fine, the sprites remain a washed-out eyesore.

With that being said, I can’t recommend in good faith to play these “pixel remasters” as the best way to get into the series. However, if you’re not bothered by content cut from the later releases, then don’t let me stop you. If you’re new to the Final Fantasy series, I want to recommend to you the best games to play in the series. As such, this also depends on if you want to try a 2D or 3D title first as well as what system you own.

Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4/PS5)

Perhaps the optimal way to get into the Final Fantasy series is through the latest release. This reimagining of the classic 1997 hit features a new battle system that includes real-time and turn-based options. But the level of depth within the battle strategies features deep yet simple customization options as well as an incredibly well-balanced pace for players of all skill levels.

Final Fantasy VII Remake, on its own, features some of the most gorgeous visuals of any game to date and a wondrous soundtrack to match. If you love strong worldbuilding and story, just as Final Fantasy VII did back in its day, the Remake redefines the genre and becomes a wonderful starting point for newcomers to the series.

For the record, I strongly recommend the PS5 Intergrade release if you want the optimal experience. It features minimal loading times, 60 FPS across the board, and includes the Yuffie INTERmission DLC campaign. However, if you cannot get a PS5, you will surely enjoy the game for your PS4 as well.

Final Fantasy VII, IX, X (PS4/Xbox/Switch/PC)

There’s a reason why Square-Enix’s heyday came largely from the 90s and early 2000s. The SNES and PS1 Final Fantasy releases are still considered to be among Square-Enix’s most famous releases. Thanks to their level of polish, Final Fantasy VII, IX, and X feature wonderful battle systems, storytelling, and high-quality soundtracks to match.

While the character models look like a hot mess, every aspect of the game still holds up well.

All three titles were released on modern consoles with X/X-2 HD Remaster being specifically remastered with content once exclusive to editions not released in the west. Along with a gorgeous HD-upscale with character remodels, you can also play them with the original soundtrack version intact.

One of the greatest and most defining games of its time fully remastered and still beautiful today.

I can’t in good faith recommend Final Fantasy VIII Remastered. I feel VIII fell behind in terms of the quality polish Square-Enix’s games of the time were known for. It ran into numerous pacing issues and a convoluted magic Junction system. Despite that, VIII does have its fans and if you’re interested in the game, do give it a try.

Final Fantasy IV, V, VI (Game Boy Advance/Mobile/PC)

While the I-III trilogy on NES have not aged as gracefully despite remakes and ports,Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI defined 16-bit JRPGs back in the 90s. Wondrous storytelling, soundtracks, and battle systems paced themselves well and were great introductions for fans of all ages and skill levels.

The Advance versions featured new dungeons and boss fights. This content also came to the iOS and PC releases.

In addition to various new content add-ons, Final Fantasy IV Advance allowed you to choose your party at the endgame. However, if you do not own a GBA or a DS/DS Lite, your only other option is to get the mobile or PC versions. This is where it gets complicated.

Based on the DS remake, Final Fantasy IV on Mobile/PC is the only version to offer an Easy mode.

Final Fantasy IV was remade on DS without the new Advance content but had full CG animated cutscenes and a new element called the Augment system. Unfortunately, this contributed to the DS version’s brutal difficulty. As such, the PC and mobile versions include a Normal mode which is easier than the DS version.

Based on the Advance release, Final Fantasy IV for PSP received a proper pixel remaster with extra content.

Despite Final Fantasy IV’s release on PSP, V and VI sadly never received such ports. They would not be ported until the PC and mobile releases which featured reworked, controversial spritework. If you’re not a fan of the PC/Mobile versions of V and VI and, you may have to find other ways to play IV, V, and VI Advance.

Honorable Mentions

On that note, I would also recommend the Bravely Default and Octopath series if you’re looking for similar titles. Both are developed by Square-Enix and, in turn, produced by Tomoya Asano who worked on several Final Fantasy titles.

You could also play Chrono Trigger which was developed by Square-Enix in the 90s and comparable to their best releases including Final Fantasy VI and VII. The best version of the title was released on DS but you could also get it on PC or mobile devices as well.

Another amazingly polished title. No grinding, no random encounters, and paces itself incredibly well.

It plays quite similarly to Final Fantasy but the battle system involves dual and even triple strike attacks. You’ll also spend a good bit of time traveling through time which changes your maps with new layouts, dungeons, enemies, and traveling across different story arcs.

Final Thoughts

Final Fantasy is known as a series with its ups and downs. From my experience, there’s scarcely been a game released since VII that did not have many detractors dividing the fanbase. Everything from X onward specifically seems to have drawn many critics in spite of their success.

Final Fantasy IX remains unanimously loved, and for good reason.

With that said, I do find value in a number of titles, such as Final Fantasy XV: Royal Edition. But while it’s a great game, I wouldn’t recommend it ahead of Final Fantasy VII Remake for newcomers. The latter feels like a phenomenally polished and improved game in comparison.

XV is a great game but not without its pacing and balance issues as well as some holes in the story.

Likewise, you can’t go wrong with classics like IV-VII, IX, and X. The main problem is trying to play the best versions of IV-VI on modern-day systems. Square-Enix seems to have gimped the 2D classics. Thankfully, it’s entirely possible to play the best versions VII, IX, and X — three of the best games in the series — on all current consoles and PC. Note that VII and IX are also on mobile devices.

Overall, I recommend VII Remake at the top. Otherwise, VII, IX, and X are your next best bets.

Finally, I swear by Final Fantasy VI being one of the best games in the series. If you don’t mind missing out on the extra dungeon content, feel free to try the pixel remasters. But if you’re looking for the best possible experiences, go with VII, IX, X, or VII Remake.

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Smash Ultimate Tips writer. SUPERJUMP contributor. Metafy coach. I also write game reviews!