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Final Fantasy is one of the most recognizable names in video game history, and it’s for a good reason. The magical worlds, incredible visuals, imaginative attacks, amazing characters, and wildly creative stories all come together to create a package that is always an awesome time, regardless of which title it is.
It’s also one of the longest-running game series in videogame history. While there are technically only 16 base games, there are tons of spinoffs and other types of Final Fantasy as well.
My experience with the series started way back in 1997, and my first time playing Final Fantasy 7 was a bit of a watershed moment to me. Not only was I gripped by the intriguing story, but it was the first game I played that treated me like an adult.
Of course, I wasn’t an adult, but that didn’t stop the game from expecting me to solve its variety of challenges on my own with little help, and the mature language made the game feel more like a movie experience than any game I had ever played prior.
From there, I went back and played all of the prior games, and then, I worked my way through each game as it came out, with each one being as intriguing and addicting as the last.
The chronology of Final Fantasy is awfully complex because while some of the games are connected, others are completely separate from each other, and then there are the spinoffs to consider, and the whole thing gets awfully confusing. Let’s take a look into the long documented Final Fantasy history and chronology.
Final Fantasy History
The first game in the franchise’s history was released all the way back in 1987 on the original Nintendo. It was fairly well-received, and despite taking on aspects from other game series at the time, it paved the way for the second game to start generating momentum towards what would become Squaresoft’s flagship title. It was originally created by Hironobu Sakaguchi.
According to many game researchers and fans, Final Fantasy has a ton of different titles that could qualify as being the greatest games of all time. Final Fantasy has been an enormously successful franchise both critically and commercially as well. It has sold over 164 million units worldwide, and that number has made it one of the best-selling franchises in video game history.
Final Fantasy has a variety of signature features that differentiate it from other games in the genre. Its visuals are always top both, and their use of FMV videos were some of the first realistic visuals that gaming had ever seen.
Nobuo Uematsu was responsible for the music as well, creating a litany of songs that are iconic to this day, with full orchestras involved to create some incredible pieces of work.
While the JRPG was always fairly popular in Japan, Final Fantasy is most responsible for creating JRPG fandom throughout the entire world.
With over 20 titles in its lexicon, Final Fantasy has made some of the best games in the world throughout its illustrious history and continues to be one of the best-selling games today each time a new title comes out.
The recent Final Fantasy 7 Remake completely reinvigorated the franchise after going dormant for a while, and that resurgence has led to Final Fantasy 16 being one of the most anticipated games in quite some time.
Final Fantasy Chronology
Final Fantasy I (1987)
Final Fantasy debuted its first game in 1987 for the Nintendo game console. It was one of the first games in the mainstream to use a turn-based combat system, and that would go on to define the series for over a decade.
The original game was a rather basic story, but it introduced several things into the game that would become standbys that the series would go to throughout its history.
The story focused on the warrior of light, who each was chosen to carry the four Crystals. The villains were four Elemental Fiends who turned the Crystals to darkness, and it’s up to you to stop them.
While later titles would be known for their complex stories and multifaceted villains, the original just gave a typical good vs. evil story, and while it was groundbreaking as a game at the time, now it doesn’t exactly stand up alongside its more sophisticated brethren. Regardless, this was the beginning of a gaming legend that still is going to this day.
Final Fantasy II (1988)
Just a year after its iconic beginning, Final Fantasy II was released only in Japan. This game would not be released outside of Japan until many years later, and instead, Final Fantasy IV came to the US and Europe under the name of Final Fantasy II.
With the series being a year older, the game itself matured as well, and Final Fantasy II tells the story of four young orphan children who lost their parents to the horrors of war. This war happened when the Palamecia Empire suddenly appeared and destroyed their hometown, and as a result, the orphans joined a rebellion to take down the empire.
Final Fantasy II is famous for introducing a ton of mainstays to the series, such as Chocobos and the character of Cid. It also introduced an innovative leveling system that got rid of the basic XP leveling system and instead gave us a system that had us level up as we used skills throughout combat.
Final Fantasy III (1990)
As the new decade came, another Final Fantasy came to join the party as well. Final Fantasy III followed similar trends of Final Fantasy II in both story and graphics, but it introduced something very new.
The job change system was an inventive way to change up how your characters would play throughout the game. This system got rid of the stagnation that could happen during these long games for the time.
The story told here involves four orphans again, and they’re drawn to a light, Crystal, calling back to the first game. The Crystal, this time, gives them powers and tells them to restore the balance of the world.
The story wasn’t much to write home about again, but the job system was incredibly innovative and made all other JRPGs look pretty dull by comparison.
Check out our complete Final Fantasy III Guide.
Final Fantasy IV (1991)
Final Fantasy IV actually appeared in stores as Final Fantasy II, so it was quite a sophisticated leap from the first game. There are several remakes available for it currently as well.
Final Fantasy IV marked a noticeable change in the storytelling of the franchise. While the previous games would star children, Final Fantasy IV took on a much more mature tone.
It tells the story of the Dark Knight Cecil and his fight against Golbex, a sorcerer who is stealing Crystals in order to destroy the world. The cast of characters here had unique personalities, and the game was more graphically impressive than ever before.
Final Fantasy IV also introduced the Active Time Battle system that caused players to be more attentive to the game as the ATB bar being filled meant the enemy could attack them while they were choosing what to do. This game also threw away the job choosing system of the past and instead set the characters into specific jobs. This created a more concrete identity for the characters.
Final Fantasy V (1992)
Final Fantasy V came out in Japan for the Super Nintendo,t though it was later ported to the Playstation in the US as well as the Game Boy and several other consoles.
Emphasizing story more than ever, Final Fantasy V followed Bartz, a researcher, and adventurer who finds a fallen meteor. From there, you find out about the sorcerer Exdeath and go on a journey to stop him from destroying the world.
The story was interesting and had some really mature themes as well as some older characters that would join your party, which hadn’t really been seen before.
It also expanded the job system by adding many more classes to choose from. It was also the first Final Fantasy game to ever receive a direct sequel, although this was an anime series called Final Fantasy: the Legend of the Crystals and not an actual game that continued the game’s events.
Final Fantasy VI (1994)
The sixth game in the chronology of Final Fantasy actually was called Final Fantasy III in the western markets and debuted in Japan on the Super Nintendo. It’s a significant title for many reasons, but none the least was the fact that it was the first Final Fantasy not directed by the series creator, Hironobu Sakaguchi. Instead, Yoshinori Kitase took the reigns on this one.
Final Fantasy VI introduced the largest cast of characters in the series to date, with a whopping 14 playable characters being available to you throughout the story.
The plot was even more mature than the last game, and this marked the first time the series left the Crystals behind and instead, it was a mature tale about a rebellion against a military dictatorship. There is plenty of death and violence taking place in Final Fantasy VI, and its mature tone marked a big shift for the series.
The graphics and soundtrack of the game were huge standouts, and it also gave us one of the best villains in Final Fantasy history in the form of the maniacal Kefka.
Many claims to this day that Final Fantasy VI is the greatest game ever made.
Final Fantasy VII (1997)
The seventh game in the long-running series marked a landmark for the series. It was the first time in the series history that the game used 3D graphics. Though they aren’t too pretty now, at the time, this was a graphic apex you could reach, and the incredible FMV sequences gave us a glimpse of what games might’ve looked like one day.
The story introduced a world that combined science fiction and fantasy, and the result was a modern feeling game that had some of the most human characters in the series.
The plot followed Cloud Strife, embarking on a mercenary mission for an eco-terrorist group called Avalance in order to stop evil cooperation from draining the planet’s life force.
What starts out as an intense but low stakes mission spirals out of control into world-ending stakes against the series most iconic villain, Sephiroth.
Final Fantasy VII still used a turn-based system, and most of the series tropes remained intact, but its dedication to a modern feel helped contribute to its gargantuan success. It’s seen several spinoffs and other media that tell more of the story since.
Final Fantasy VIII (1999)
Final Fantasy VIII was put in a tough position, having to follow what to this point was the best selling game in JRPG history, but it still puts an admirable effort up. Capitalizing on the more realistic graphics of Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII was the most graphically impressive game of its time and set a new standard for games, period.
Final Fantasy VIII utilized some incredible-looking pre-rendered backgrounds, which gave the environments an impressive and very realistic look to them.
The soundtrack here was incredible and became the first Final Fantasy to feature vocals in the soundtrack, which added to the gravitas of the game at certain points. There was also a new magic system introduced called the Draw system, which had you absorbing magic from FF enemies like an item and treated spells as an expiring commodity.
The plot here followed Squall Leonhart, a student at a military academy called a Garden. His mission starts out small, but soon, he’s thrown into conflict against a powerful sorceress and then is tasked with saving time itself from being destroyed. The game had a memorable cast of characters and some of the best animations in videogame history at that point.
It was also a lengthy affair that had tons of monsters to fight, side quests to take on, and secrets to unlock as well.
Final Fantasy IX (2000)
Final Fantasy IX was the first game of the new millennium for Final Fantasy, but instead of leaping forth into the future, the aesthetic of the game leaped into the past instead.
Debuting for the PlayStation, Final Fantasy IX brought back the high Fantasy of the older games and had characters like Black Mages returning as well. The graphics were still beautiful, though, and despite the human characters returning to a much more mini look than Final Fantasy VIII, the game looked incredible and had some of the best environments and attack graphics the series had seen.
The plot follows Zidane, a thief who accidentally kidnaps a princess and is thrown into conflict against the insane Kuja, an arms dealer who ends up being far more dangerous than initially thought. The plot spirals into entire other worlds and has you facing off against Final Fantasy villains of old in order to stop reality itself from being destroyed.
There were no unique additions to the battle system this time around, and instead, the characters controlled much like they would’ve in the older games.
Final Fantasy X (2001)
Final Fantasy needed a big splash when PS2 was initially released, and Final Fantasy X was just what the doctor ordered. Final Fantasy X was the first Final Fantasy game for a lot of players, and its return to realistic graphics combined with the new age hardware of the PS2 created a perfect mix that gave us one of the most visually impressive games ever at the time.
The plot was far different than any Final Fantasy before it. You play Tidus, a futuristic sports star who has his homeworld destroyed by a gigantic monster named Sin, and from there, you gather party members on a journey to discover your past and the truth about the purpose of the monster Sin.
Gameplay-wise, Final Fantasy X introduced a bunch of new elements, such as the skill tree. This lets characters progress in any direction you want to, and this made character customization incredibly varied. Characters could overlap each other on the grid, too, and you could create the exact kind of party you needed based on how you progressed in your skill tree.
Final Fantasy XI (2002)
Final Fantasy XI was a huge shift for the series as it was the first game in the series to introduce the online play. It was a massive departure from the single-player experiences of the past decade, but it still was able to deliver a solid experience.
The gameplay was no longer turn-based but rather a mix of real-time and turn-based combat. This style would be copied by many MMORPGs after including the absurdly popular World of Warcraft.
The plot revolved around defeating a demonic leader called the Shadow Lord, and your character for the first time was completely custom and could be any race you’d like.
Final Fantasy X-2 (2003)
Final Fantasy X was so popular that Squaresoft decided that it needed a sequel. This game is considered the official sequel to Final Fantasy X, so Final Fantasy X-2 is the first game in the series to be an official game sequel.
The reception was a bit mixed as the tone of the game was wildly different from past Final Fantasies. It was far more relaxed and even felt very anime-like at times, lacking the seriousness of the recent games for a more bubbly and over-the-top feeling.
Starring Yuna, you played as Yuna, Rikku, and Paine, a new character, as you journeyed to stop a massive weapon from being built to destroy the world. Along the way, you’ll also be searching for Tidus following the events of Final Fantasy X.
Final Fantasy X-2 was the first game to have multiple endings to it, and it also gave us a very interesting spell system to learn. Overall, it wasn’t looked at as a great success, and after this game, Squaresoft went back to the drawing board for its next title.
Final Fantasy XII (2006)
Final Fantasy XII took 3 years to make and was the longest the series had gone without releasing a title in that span of time.
When it was finally released, it was a much different Final Fantasy than Final Fantasy X-2, which fans were relieved at and instead took the fantasy worlds of old and combined it with bits of sci-fi to create an awesome atmospheric environment.
The battle system was different as well, combining the MMORPG type combat of Final Fantasy XI with the turn-based systems of old. There was also the License System that helped unlock skills and equipment for each character throughout the game.
Final Fantasy XII was also the first time that side quests really had their own storylines to them, and it would often lead to optional super bosses in the open world. There was no world map here, but rather massive open zones, and this started paving the way for a different style of Final Fantasy.
The story of Final Fantasy XII was a mature tale about warring nations and starred Basch and Ashe as a knight accused of killing his king and a warrior Princess that’s had her family disgraced. It had a great cast of characters and a long and twisting story that demanded your full attention.
Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core (2008)
Released solely for the PSP, Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core explored the past of the game and shows you how the events of Final Fantasy VII came to be.
It starred Zach Fair, the soldier that Cloud convinced himself he was in Final Fantasy VII. It also showed you the human side of Sephiroth, when he was the military hero beloved by all before he completely lost it. It’s a fascinating look into the past of the series and introduces some interesting new villains as well, like Genesis, a rival and partner of Sephiroth’s who goes off on his own rampage.
The combat system was completely real-time, utilizing a fully navigatable battlefield during fights, although you still had to select from a menu when you wanted to use magic or special abilities.
It was decently received, but the limited audience of the PSP made it so the mainstream wouldn’t be able to latch on like people normally would to a Final Fantasy title.
Final Fantasy XIII (2009)
Three years after Final Fantasy XII came Final Fantasy XIII, another huge change as the series found itself on the next-gen consoles of not only Playstation 3 but the Xbox 360 as well.
The battle system got changed up heavily here, and things moved more fast-paced than ever before. The Paradigm system was this game’s version of the class system, and that allowed for on-the-fly changes in the middle of contact.
This decidedly futuristic feeling title starred Lightning, the first female protagonist of the franchise, as a former soldier living in a world of Cocoon. She begins a quest to find her missing sister, and soon things go from bad to worse as citizens are killed by evil gods, and the fate of their world hangs in the balance.
Despite the weak fan reception, the game sold incredibly well and inspired 2 more sequels to this story as well. It’s not looked at as a true Final Fantasy by many fans because of its linear maps and bizarre battle system.
Final Fantasy XIII- 2 (2011)
Despite the fan backlash against Final Fantasy XIII, Square Enix went back to the well again and still decided to continue the story of Lightning and company. They actually teamed up with Studio Tri-Ace for this one, and the result was a much sharper game.
This time around, the game was led by Lightning’s sister, Serah, and it involved a time-traveling plot that played into gameplay heavily and felt almost like a completely different game at times.
The battle system was similar to Final Fantasy XIII with a few changes to make things flow better, and the party size was cut down considerably as well.
The story follows Serah as she searches for her sister Lightning, who is now lost in time following the events of the first game.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (2013)
The final game of the trilogy that nobody really asked for, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII made its debut in 2013.
The combat was completely unrecognizable for a Final Fantasy game as this time around, it was completely real-time and action-based. This led to a more high-paced style of combat that was exciting but felt totally different than anything fans had come to expect.
Governing the action was an ever-ticking clock that never stopped, and this made missions, as well as side quests, have time limits to them, which none were too happy about.
The story here concerns Lightning as she rises from her hibernation of 500 years to discover the world is about to end. She’s then chosen to be the world’s savior, and the ticking clock in the game is how long you have before it’s game over.
Fans had tired mightily of Lightning’s story at this point, and although the game was fun, it was nothing like Final Fantasy titles of old.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (2013)
Final Fantasy went back online once again, and despite the failure of the initial Final Fantasy XIV, A Realm Reborn completely changed up everything in the game and completely erased all the bad that was done by the 2010 version.
There was tons of new content, an entirely new game engine, and the story, gameplay, and even the interface all were changed up considerably.
The gameplay was that of your standard MMO with some Final Fantasy tweaks to it. Combat was real-time with cool down attacks, and while it starts very slow, as you unlock more skills, the combat opened up considerably.
Supporting the combat were tons of side quests, raids, super bosses, and an endless amount of content, including several amazingly reviewed DLCs.
Currently, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is one of the highest-rated MMORPGs out there and enjoys a massive player base to this day.
Continue reading related XIV Guides:
Final Fantasy XV (2016)
Final Fantasy had to go back to the drawing board after the less than stellar reception of their previous single-player trilogy of Final Fantasy XIII. The developers at Square Enix took careful note over the tropes that had filled the RPG world over the past decade and finally completed a game that was 10 years in the making.
For the first time, Final Fantasy featured an open world with side quests, fast travel, and everything that’s been expected by modern RPGs.
Combat was now a full-action action RPG, and the main character Noctis had a wide variety of weapons and moves available to pull off. You could also combine attacks with your party members to create the classic Final Fantasy special attacks, and summons and magic were involved as well.
The story tasked you as young prince Noctis on a mission to find your childhood love Lunafreya and restore peace to the nation after the evil Niflheim empire steals your kingdom’s Crystal and throws the nation into war. Meanwhile, the mysterious ambassador Ardyn plotted more chaotic machinations in the background.
The party remained at four characters throughout the game, and you could only control Noctis directly at any time. This was disappointing to fans of the game because the other characters all had very unique combat styles.
Luckily, Final Fantasy XV: Royal Edition was released a year later and with it came not only all of the released DLCs to that point but also the ability to play as any character throughout the entire story.
The reception was generally pretty good for the game, though it got some flacked for having some parts to it that felt unfinished or dumbed down from what tech demos had shown previously.
Final Fantasy XV also had a multiplayer mode completely separate from the main story as well.
Final Fantasy VII Remake (2020)
Although fans could hardly believe it was actually happening, Final Fantasy VII Remake was released after years of teases in 2020. It was not a complete retelling of the whole story, though, as it only covered the Midgar segment of the game.
The title was a clever play on words because while it’s very similar to the original game, it’s not exactly a retelling of the story. This time around, forces are trying to push things to happen as they did with Final Fantasy VII the first time around, which leads to a story that is both familiar and different at many parts, including the involvement of Sephiroth in a much different way than ever before.
The gameplay was the highlight as the combat system improved upon what Final Fantasy XV had, and the full control over all the party members from the Midgar segment of Final Fantasy VII worked flawlessly.
There were also side quests that added new storylines to the Final Fantasy VII lore, and the ending made huge changes to the possibilities of what will happen with the future of the franchise.
Final Fantasy VII Remake was Square Enix’s biggest hit in years.
Question: Are the Final Fantasy games all connected?
Answer: Although they sometimes share different themes and combat similarities, most of the games take place in unique universes, although some are directly linked through sequels or remakes.
Question: How long are Final Fantasy games?
Answer: It varies from game to game, but most Final Fantasy games can take from 50-80 hours to beat, with tons of side content in each, making that amount even longer.
Question: Can I still play the older Final Fantasy games?
Answer: Luckily, many of the older Final Fantasy games are available on all mobile devices and PCs. There are even 3D remakes of several of the 2D Final Fantasies as well, adding a whole other dimension to those classics.
Final Fantasy is one of the most special videogame franchises around period. I hope you enjoyed taking this journey with me through their impressive catalog, and hopefully, this franchise will continue its epic traditions.