While there is no single aspect of the Final Fantasy franchise that has made it one of the most beloved and successful series in gaming history, it has to be said that few JRPG franchises can compete with Final Fantasy when it comes to consistently incredible storytelling.
The Final Fantasy franchise has grown and changed quite a bit over the years, but no matter what direction the series goes in, it almost always offers a story that is worth the dozens (or, in some cases, hundreds) of hours that these epics typically demand.
Of course, there are just some Final Fantasy stories that are ultimately better than others. Before we dive into our rankings, though, please note that while we’re only covering the “mainline” Final Fantasy games for this particular list (meaning no sequels, spin-offs, or remakes), I have removed Final Fantasy 11 from the list (it’s an early attempt at a Final Fantasy MMO story that is…odd and kind of hard to fairly rank alongside everything else) and replaced it with Final Fantasy Tactics.
15. Final Fantasy
Final Fantasy’s age obviously puts it in a tough position as far as the scope and quality of its story go, but it must be said that this game’s simple narrative is honestly pretty great compared to most of the other console games available at that time. It’s hard not to respect a title from this era that features a demonic overlord, betrayal, and even a subplot involving time travel.
That said, there’s really not a lot to this one. The NES/Famicom-era Final Fantasy stories all obviously suffered from the limitations of their time, but the first game feels pretty lackluster compared to what would immediately come next.
14. Final Fantasy 3
Final Fantasy 3 honestly could have taken the bottom spot on this list, but I have to say that I kind of respect this title’s intentionally minimalist story and slightly more likable cast of characters.
Ultimately, though, the deliberate decision to make this game more about its job system and combat mechanics and less about its “epic narrative” means that the story itself is just kind of…there. A group of orphans on a quest to save the world is always a good time, but even this game’s remakes have struggled to sufficiently expand its story.
13. Final Fantasy 2
Final Fantasy 2 may be the worst (and weirdest) of the original Final Fantasy games, but it features what has to be considered the absolute best story of the NES/Famicom-era Final Fantasy games.
Final Fantasy 2 abandoned some of the more “traditional” sword and sorcery fantasy tropes that its predecessor relied on and substituted them with a more mature and complicated tale about an evil empire and the rebels trying to topple it. Honestly, the only reason it’s not a little higher on this list is that there’s just such a significant gap between the overall quality of the early FF game stories and what came next.
12. Final Fantasy 5
This is definitely where the rankings start to get a little tougher, but for as much as I love parts of Final Fantasy 5‘s story, I just couldn’t justify putting it above some of the other entries on this list.
The best aspect of Final Fantasy 5’s story is undoubtedly Bartz: the somewhat unlikely protagonist who is mostly interested in seeing the world and having an adventure. He’s a fun hero whose unusual characteristics compliment this game’s almost parody-like nature.
The big problem with Final Fantasy 5’s story, though, is that it ultimately ends up playing out like a fairly standard fantasy story despite its apparent awareness of that genre’s tropes and occasional deviations from the formula. It’s fun, but compared to its immediate predecessor and many successors, it just doesn’t measure up.
11. Final Fantasy 15
While Final Fantasy 15 initially presents itself as the story of a young prince who must reclaim his kingdom after it is invaded by an opposing force, this is really a game about a group of friends and how their relationships grow and change throughout their incredible quest. It’s a much more intimate Final Fantasy story in that respect.
However, the problem with Final Fantasy 15’s story is that it keeps trying to be bigger than it needs to be. There’s a ton of lore spread across this game’s massive world, DLC, and supplementary material, but a lot of it just isn’t that interesting on its own and is so awkwardly presented that the game still needs to rely on this strange exposition dump towards the end.
Final Fantasy 15 offers a massive and sometimes fascinating story, but it doesn’t really add up to much in the end.
10.Final Fantasy 13
Final Fantasy 13 follows a ragtag group of rebels who eventually discover that they’re united by a very strange fate. It features many of the basic ideas that we’ve seen in other Final Fantasy games, but it repackages them in a way that leaves you wondering where this sweeping epic is going to go next.
I actually like Final Fantasy 13 more than most, but I have to echo what many of this game’s critics have previously noted by saying that Final Fantasy 13 is too linear for its own good, filled with too many largely unlikeable characters, and far too slow. That last point really is the nail in the coffin. Some people try to defend this game by saying its story gets really good after about 20 hours in, but that’s obviously a tough sell.
The best parts of Final Fantasy 13‘s story offer some of this franchise’s best moments, but I’m not sure that the payoff is worth the effort it takes to get there.
9. Final Fantasy 14
Final Fantasy 14’s story is tough to rank. Compared to other MMOs (including Final Fantasy 11) it’s a stunning achievement that defies the notion that the size of those games makes it nearly impossible to use them to tell a coherent (much less genuinely fascinating) story. This game deserves all the credit it has received and will ever receive for the quality of its massive narrative.
Where things get tricky is when you try to compare Final Fantasy 14’s story to other Final Fantasy stories. As incredible as Final Fantasy 14’s story is compared to other MMOs, it’s still stretched somewhat thin across hundreds of hours of gameplay and suffers from some notable lulls (as well as a pretty slow start)
I love the spirit of Final Fantasy 14’s slow-burn narrative and where the whole thing eventually ends up, but its ranking ultimately comes down to the fact there are other Final Fantasy games I’d sooner recommend based solely on the strength of their overall story.
8.Final Fantasy 8
I’ve been sitting here trying to find a way to summarize Final Fantasy 8’s basic storyline, and I honestly don’t know where to begin. I suppose that the “elevator pitch” for this game is that it follows a group of military students who soon find themselves battling ancient evils, but that doesn’t come close to capturing just how strange this game is.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Final Fantasy 8’s story. It’s the kind of “too weird to live, too rare to die” narrative that you don’t see a lot of in modern gaming, and it’s almost impossible to not respect it on its outlandishness alone. This game goes in directions that are not on any map.
However, when it comes to rankings, it has to be said that Final Fantasy 8’s story is fairly inconsistent and dragged down by some unlikable/unmemorable characters. It’s Final Fantasy’s weirdest (and sometimes most interesting) narrative hour, but not its best.
7. Final Fantasy 4
Final Fantasy 4 tells a relatively simple story (at least by this series’ standards) about a dark knight named Cecil tasked with preventing the sorcerer Golbez from destroying the world. On the surface, it looks shockingly similar to a lot of other early Final Fantasy stories.
When you take a deeper look at this game, though, you realize that it’s so much more than a good story for its time. This is a heartfelt Final Fantasy adventure that nails its biggest emotional moments and features an incredible cast of characters. It was Final Fantasy‘s first truly great story, and it’s still the one the series “returns to” from time to time for basic ideas and direct callbacks.
Maybe Final Fantasy 4 was eventually outclassed by some of the later games in the series, but this is a complete triumph of early JRPG storytelling that more than holds up today.
6. Final Fantasy 10
Final Fantasy 10’s story follows a young man named Tidus and his group of companions as they try to protect a summoner named Yuna on her quest to destroy the entity known simply as Sin.
Final Fantasy 10 is certainly a bit of a slowburn, but it does a magnificent job of gradually revealing its complex narrative in a way that keeps you emotionally invested throughout. It also benefits from a tremendous cast of characters and one of Final Fantasy‘s most interesting love stories.
Final Fantasy 10’s questionable voice acting and the ways that you can sometimes see the team struggle to make a more cinematic game during the PS2’s earliest days arguably hold it back a bit, but this is a brilliant overall tale that certainly deserves to be experienced.
5. Final Fantasy Tactics
Final Fantasy Tactics offers a much more military-driven narrative that focuses on various factions and warriors competing for the throne during a conflict known as The Lion War.
I love Final Fantasy’s political and military-driven stories, and while I think that there’s another game that does a better job of utilizing similar concepts, this is a simply brilliant story about an epic fantasy war and all that it consumes.
Final Fantasy Tactics‘ deserves to be considered one of the great games for its strategy gameplay alone, but its that story that elevates it to the top of its genre.
4. Final Fantasy 7
Final Fantasy 7 is rightfully credited for millions of gamers discover that they’re actually JRPG fans, but there are times when this game’s popularity makes it easy to forget that Final Fantasy 7‘s story took this franchise (and this genre) to another level.
Essentially the story of a group of rebels trying to take down a megacorporation, Final Fantasy 7’s strength is its all-time great cast of characters and the way they fit into this game’s wonderful sci-fi world. This game just makes you fall in love with everything about it, which also means that every triumph and defeat just hits that much harder.
Final Fantasy 7’s story is obviously best remembered for that moment, but anyone who revisits this game will find one of the truly great emotional epics in JRPG history.
3. Final Fantasy 6
I don’t know if any JRPG has been held in higher regard for longer than Final Fantasy 6. Much like Final Fantasy 7, though, there are times when you wonder whether Final Fantasy 6 can possibly live up to its considerable reputation.
Story-wise, this game really is just that good. Final Fantasy 6 manages to tackle everything from what is essentially a nuclear arms race to the complex social dynamics of the industrial revolution while still finding time to build a massive cast of characters in a way that leaves you feeling as invested in their personal dramas as the many sweeping issues that impact this compelling world.
In terms of balancing epic and intimate conflicts, Final Fantasy 6 may just be the peak of this series’ considerable storytelling efforts.
2. Final Fantasy 9
There are times when fans’ cries to go back to what worked before are shouted loudest by those who are afraid of change. In so many ways, Final Fantasy 9’s return to a medieval fantasy setting and this series’ longest-running tropes should have been an example of the consequences of resisting innovations.
Instead, Final Fantasy 9 turned out to be an almost undisputed narrative masterpiece. This tale of a thief named Zidane who ends up kidnapping a princess and is accidentally dragged into a war is one of the most emotionally satisfying and surprising stories you’ll ever find in an RPG (or any other video game for that matter).
Ultimately, though, it’s Final Fantasy 9’s cast of characters that elevates this story past the high standards of its PlayStation predecessors and turns it into something truly magical.
1. Final Fantasy 12
I previously called Final Fantasy 12 the best story in this franchise’s history, and I’ve found very few reasons to deviate from that declaration here.
Final Fantasy 12 offers a simply brilliant story about a war between nations that expertly explores the political intrigue and military might that has consumed this game’s compelling world. While I do think there are other Final Fantasy games that offer a better overall cast of characters, there’s something to be said for how these characters fit into this game’s amazing universe and grand conflicts in such a way that makes you learn to love them as you discover the complicated nature of their ambitions, fears, and relationships.
Final Fantasy 12 manages to subvert most expectations for what a mainline Final Fantasy story should be while still offering a tale that feels unique to this franchise. That’s an incredible accomplishment that deserves more respect than this game has always received.