In 1987, a small, fledgeling media company was running out of ideas and money - and fast. The head of the company at that time, Hironobu Sakaguchi, decided that he would not go down without a fight and put forth one last-ditch effort to make something of his company. Putting every last resource he had available to use, his company designed one last gaming product. It was to be the company's final good-bye to the gaming world

The company. Square. The game. Final Fantasy

In just over twenty-five years, Final Fantasy has gone from simply that - one person's last fantasy - to a video game franchise that is consistently re-inventing itself and constantly moving the gaming community forward. At last count (toward the end of 2012), there are 35 games in the franchise. It is one of only twelve video game franchises to sell more than 100 million units - beating out titles such as the Legend of Zelda, Call of Duty, and Madden NFL Football. Whether you like the series or not, you have to admit that it has been a game-changing series, and there are many innovations in gaming that would not be around, had it not been for Final Fantasy.

With all of this innovation, however, Final Fantasy has regularly changed the way gaming is done. I cannot think of too many series that can make that claim. Most games may make some subtle changes - updated graphics, side-scrolling or top-down to a more "3-D" feel, more weapons or equipment etc - but, for the most part, they stay the same basic game. Square (also formerly known as SquareSoft and now known as Square-Enix) has changed the way they produce a game in this series just about each and every time a new addition is released.

At this time, there are thirteen games in the "main" series, and only two of those have direct sequels (X and XIII) with a third part to Final Fantasy XIII tentatively planned. Final Fantasy VII had an entire compilation built around it with Crisis Core, Before Crisis, Dirge of Cerberus and Advent Children. None of the other games have any direct connection. There is one connection that some people claim between Final Fantasy X-2 and VII, but in my honest opinion, I think that's just fan service.

However, even with all of these changes, some things never change and hold this series together, and below is a list of the Top 10 mainstays in Final Fantasy.

A few notes before I begin:
To avoid as much confusion as possible during this list, the series will be called "Final Fantasy", while the first installment of the series will be "Final Fantasy I". Every other game will be listed by its roman-numeral name.
Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within, the Online games (XI and XIV) and most of the "spin-offs" (Ring of Fates, Crystal Chronicles, etc.) are not included in this list.

Ok, this is obviously not something that is specific to Final Fantasy. Just about every game that has ever been created that displays a battle between good and evil has an antagonist bent on destroy and/or conquering everything in sight. Final Fantasy I showed us Garland, a prince of the Kingdom of Cornelia, who got mad at his king and kidnapped his daughter. Turns out he actually created a time-loop, so he would never die and could send the four fiends of the world at any time to kill everyone. Nice guy.

Zemus from Final Fantasy IV hated humans and believed all humans should die, and his race, the Lunarians should rule the world. He hated humans being in charge so much that his hate actually left his body after his death and became its own creature. Final Fantasy VII's Spehiroth actually called on Meteor to come and destroy the planet, so he could suck up its healing powers. Vayne Solidor's was more of a politically-charged desire, but he still wanted his Empire to kick the tar out of everyone, so he alone could rule.

The most super super villain?

I know I'm going to get some people mad at me about this, but the honor of the baddest bad ass is the Emperor from Final Fantasy II. Once killed, he actually refuses to die and goes down to take over Hell, which is not something that most people can do. Most villains are perfectly happy with world domination, but I think he might the only one I've ever read bent on underworld domination. I think the only thing worse than a world-domination bent super villain is our next category.

Yes, you've made it to the end of the game. You know this is it. You've fought hard, beat up bad guy after bad guy, read line of script after line of script. This is it - the final showdown. Spells are cast, swords swung, people die ("Get a Phoenix Down over here!") until finally, the final blow. The enemy falls to the ground (or dissolves, depending on the game) in defeat. You have won. Until...

Son of a gun! Who's this character? Someone comes after the final boss? That sucks.

Granted, normally the post-final, final-boss fight is nothing to be concerned about. Most of the time, if you have made it that far in the game, it's actually hard to lose those battles, but there's just something aggravating about the whole concept that you have to fight something after the person you thought was the bad guy is dead. Final Fantasy VII had three fights against Sephiroth (though I will admit the last one doesn't count). Final Fantasy VIII had many fights against the sorceress. Vayne Solidor turns into that funky dragon thing. It has become so commonplace that I would be more surprised by a Final Fantasy game without a post-final-boss fight.

The first final, final fight

Back when I played Final Fantasy I for the first time on my NES, I was completely enthralled by the game. I would run home from school just to meet my friend at his house, so we could play the game. For what seemed like months (though likely only about ten days) we made our way through the game. We had the issue of Nintendo Power that contained that walkthrough, but we were determined to beat the game the first time through without it (a practice I still hold to this day). We raced through the final dungeon, destroying anything we came across - redefeating the four fiends of the world.

Then the moment came. We were face to face with Garland (again...). The battle raged on, and we were victorious. We slapped hands and cheered. That is... until Chaos showed up practically announcing he was going to whip our collective asses.

I think what makes this the best for me is the fact that none of the games I had played up to this point in my life had this type of ending. Once you beat the bad guy, you won - plain and simple. This was a new twist, and it has stuck with me ever since.

Starting from the beginning, Final Fantasy warriors have had some pretty intense weaponry. During battle, the "fighter" class in Final Fantasy I would pull, seemingly from nowhere, a large sword that probably extended about five-quarters of the length of the fighter's body. Final Fantasy VIII showed up a good view of the Gunblade, which according to what I've read did not actually shoot bullet but instead used gun powder to cause a vibration that would hurt more than a regular sword attack. However, the Gunblade was no small weapon. In Final Fantasy IX, Zidane had that weird dual-sided-"dagger"-type thing that he swung around in battle because you know, carrying knives that are the length of a human's body is a good trait of a thief.

During the PS2 days, the sword size may have shrunk a little while trying to maintain a more "realistic" approach. I guess the developers decided to go back to nice large swords in Final Fantasy XIII, where Lightning's Gunblade (which did shoot some type of bullet this time) seemed to start of at a decent, manageable size until she prepared for battle, and the Gunblade was again the length of a human being.

Main characters aren't the only ones with big weapons, either. Barret's Gunarm in Final Fantasy VII is pretty good-sized, as well as fellow VII-er Cid's spears. Steiner and Beatrix had large swords in IX, but I'll excuse them. They were actually soldiers. Even the daggers in Final Fantasy I seemed to be half the size of the user.

So, who takes the cake?

Subjectively speaking, the cover of Final Fantasy VII may be one of the most iconic images in all of video games. A lone man, standing, looking up at what appears to be a building of some sort, hand on his weapon, ready to fight. Strapped to his back, one of the longest, fattest swords in the history of video gaming. People have questioned how someone Cloud's size could actually wield a sword this size. Originally, it was brought up that graphical capabilities back then weren't anywhere near where they are now. Well, if that's the case, why does Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children still show a pretty scroungy Cloud still swinging the Buster Sword like it's my iPhone while I'm using my light saber app.

The sword itself has its own story - about how it came from a fallen comrade, and it even received an explanation in future additions to the compilation exactly how this massive sword stayed on the back of its user. This thing is one massive sword. Maybe the only sword to come close to rivaling the Buster Sword is the Masamune used by Sephiroth, but bad guys already got their own category in this Top 10.

In Advanced D&D, Bahamut is the Platinum Dragon and King of the Good Dragons. Bahamut has only gone missing from one Final Fantasy game, which in Final Fantasy II. Every other game at the least mentions Bahamut by name. Those familiar with the series know Bahamut as a powerful summoned creature who will aid your party in battle when needed. He is usually one of the most powerful summons in the game, and there are usually only one or two more powerful magical attacks than Bahamut's breath.

Final Fantasy XII broke the mold a little with this, as the normal summoned creatures from the series were instead the names of warships of the Empire, and Bahamut was the Empire's flagship. So, even as a "bad guy", Bahamut still rules the skies.

My personal favorite Bahamut

Of all of the items that are "mainstays" in the Final Fantasy series, Bahamut is one of the few to actually start with the first entry in the series. He has a very small yet important role though, as he send you on a quest in order to change your rag-tag party of amateur heros into full-fledged, world-saving warriors. This change is actually quite significant in the story, as the change allows your party members to learn new skills. The warrior turns into a knight, which opens up some of the white magic to him; thieves become ninjas and can learn black magic. All three of the mage classes turn into wizards, and this opens up some of the most powerful spells in the game.

All of this is done by accomplishing Bahamut's one task in this game: conquer the Citadel of Trials and bring back the prize. A Rat's Tail.

Side note: starting with the Dawn of Souls re-release of Final Fantasy I, Dark Bahamut appears in one of the side quest dungeons that is unlockable late in the game and offers another quest for the Warriors of Light. This quest is to defeat a certain number of various colored dragons in the dungeon room.

His prize for this? Opening the door, so you can continue the side quest.

Since this is kind of the background basis of this Top 10, it make sense that this should be one of the items listed here. One of the greatest things about this series, to me at least, is the fact that it is always re-inventing itself. Each game in the series adds a little something different or changes things up just a little bit to keep the gamers interested and coming back for more later one. Of course, this style does not always win over fans, but it does make for an interesting time the first time you play the game to figure out "what's different this time." Certain series have made a killing off being pretty close to the same thing each and every time a new game is released (seriously, how many ways can a plumber jump on a mushroom's head?).

Final Fantasy I was a very basic turn-based game. Get into a fight, player makes choices, combat ensues. The first installment of the series even made the player think about how much damage each character would do because if an enemy was killed during a round, any sub-sequential characters targeting that enemy would automatically miss. I cannot tell you how many times my Fighter missed an attack because my White Mage killed the enemy first. Final Fantasy II added secondary characters who were controllable for limited times while the "main" party would split and introduced Chocobos to the series. Final Fantasy V was the first international release to introduce the "Job" system, and Final Fantasy VI introduced the popular "Active Time Battle" system, which was a step away from standard turned-based battle. Final Fantasy VII revolutionized the mini-game, which has been so popular in the series ever since, and Final Fantasy X was the first primarily over-the-shoulder game, as well as voice acting.

The biggest game changer?

Final Fantasy VIII, with the introduction of the "Junction" system, was by far the biggest change from any other game in the series in a single installment. Using this system allowed for some fantastic customizations, and to be perfectly honest, made it very easy to "break" the game. In almost every other installment, if you wanted to just go out and destroy every enemy you came across without a second thought, you grinded to gain experience and bought the best weapons. In Final Fantasy VIII, your enemies gained levels with your party, and if you were not prepared for what the higher-level versions of the enemies had, you could be in big trouble. However, through "drawing" magic, playing cards and transforming your enemies into cards, you could easily "junction" enough magic onto your Guardian Forces to create an unstoppable team.

This type of change did not make fans of the series very happy though. Most of the series had been pretty well forgotten between Final Fantasies I and VII outside of Japan, and a few of the games were not even released to the rest of the world until fairly recently. However Final Fantasy VII truly revolutionized the way gamers saw role-playing games. It was no longer just for D&D geeks who loved their turn-based combat systems. After the hugely successful entry into the PlayStation generation that was Final Fantasy VII, gamers were looking forward to Final Fantasy VIII, but many were very disappointed with the game. Many people did not realize that the Final Fantasy series was not a concurrent series, and the gameplay changed so much that many lost interest. Final Fantasy IX was released one year later and was probably the most acclaimed, and often regarded as the best, member of the series. Because of the drastic change in gameplay that was seen in Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy IX sold 3 million less copies than its predecessor and 4 million less than Seven.

Positive or negative, that's a game changer.

No Final Fantasy would be complete without something to distract the player from the main quest, and that is where side quests and mini-games come into play. If there is one other fairly constant thing within the series, it's a sense of impending doom. However, with rare exception, there's not a clock that you have to meet. I suppose the exceptions to this would be the few times when there is a five-to-fifteen-minute clock for a quick mission (seen in a few games) and Final Fantasy IX's quest to get Excalibur II, which requires making it close to the end of the game within twelve hours.

Of course, finding Excalibur II in Final Fantasy IX is probably considered a side quest in and of itself, since the reward for completing the quest is one of the things that makes side quests so important to the games: free stuff! To get some of the strongest weapons, spells, summons, armors, etc. that the games have to offer, it is necesary to complete these side quests and mini-games.

Final Fantasies I and II didn't really have any side-quests, but later releases (Dawn of Souls, etc.) added additional dungeons that became accessible as you progressed through the game. However, for those who subscribed to Nintendo Power when Final Fantasy originally came out (this was much before the days of GameFAQs), there were mini-games in both that could be accessed by pushing the A and B buttons a set number of times at certain points in the game. Final Fantasy I had the "15 game", and Final Fantasy II had a version of "Memory".

Final Fantasy III introduced the ability to find and fight Odin, which becomes a somewhat recurring theme throughout much of the series, as you generally will fight some of the summons that you will eventually control. Final Fantasy VI brought us the Coliseum, which is simliar to the Battle Square in Final Fantasy VII. Final Fantasy VIII started the card game (Triple-Triad), which was the first time mini-games could be played with regular folks on the street and continued in Final Fantasy IX. This game made way for Final Fantasy X to introduce BlitzBall. Final Fantasy XIII, while known for being fairly linear in nature, had the ability to hunt down "marks" to help release trapped Fal Cie to a life without eternal pain.

Best use of the side quests and mini-games?

Final Fantasy XII really performed well in this arena. The game introduced the hunting system, which is among the most involved side quests in the series and was later used in a similar fashion by Final Fantasy XIII. For the hunts, you go and meet the Hunt Club owner and sign up for the club. He will then send you out to seek out and destroy various enemies. Thirty-one of the 80 hunts are "rare," which provide better weapons, armors, etc.

Beyond this though, there are many other quests and games in which to partake. There is a fishing game (similarly seen in Final Fantasy X) and a quest to find the true love for a lonely Vierra. There is a footracing minigame, similar to a racing game in Final Fantasy IX. There are eight Espers (summons) and three "super-bosses" that are only reachable by completing side quests.You can help the skyferry's chief steward deliver letters to seven sisters spread around the world.

Finally, there is the quest to find the Zodiac Spear. To do this, there are three treasure chests located seemingly randomly throughout the world, and the point of the quest is to not open any of these three chests. If you open any of the three, you cannot receive the Zodiac Spear. This is another one of those things that I'm not sure how anyone could figure out without a strategy guide or something. This quest was removed from a later, international release of the game.

Granted, this may be about the goofiest addition to the list, but in all honesty, is there really much else that says "Final Fantasy" than riding a fat, yellow bird? Starting with Final Fantasy II, Chocobos have graced every main game in the series, have been in (I think) every spin off to day, and have even spurned their own set of games. Final Fantasy VIII introduced an accessory for the PlayStation that enabled playing a Chocobo-based mini-game by itself. One of the happiest moments of my Final Fantasy life came while I was playing Final Fantasy XIII the first time, and I was finally able to ride a Chocobo to get across the open fields without having to dodge the enemies. Yeah... that's pretty sad; isn't it?

Chocobos are practical. They allow you to traverse much of the land without encountering enemies. During the days of random encounters, that was quite a feat. The Chocobo theme is always lively, which makes the game a little more fun when riding. Most of the series is centered around doom, gloom and the end of civilization as we know it, and it's a nice break to enjoy riding a big, yellow bird from time to time.

Chocobos also provide some of the most interesting side quests in the series, and often allow for access to some of the strongest weapons and attacks. In Final Fantasy IV, White Chocobos refills 500 MP when caught, and in Final Fantasy VI, Chocobo stables replaced the familiar Chocobo forest as the primary area to find Chocobos. Although a few colors were seen in some of the earlier games, Final Fantasy VII really nailed the color scheme by adding different abilities to the colors and also creating one of the most-involved side quests in the game. Finally, in Final Fantasy XIII, one of the main characters, Sazh, has a baby Chocobo that carries around in his hair that is intended to be a gift for his son.

Best use of the Chocobo?

Final Fantasy IX really incorporated Chocobos in a much better way in my opinon. The basis of this mini-game is pretty simple. Instead of catching various Chocobos throughout the world to use as temporary transportation, in this game you get to keep one Chocobo named Choco, and as you progress through the side quest, Choco changes colors and learns new abilities by meeting with the Fat Chocobo.

The Chocobo "Hot and Cold" game is probably one of the most addictive mini-games of the series, too. It's also quite rewarding, as you're not only looking for Chocographs, which are used to find buried treasure on the world map, but you're also able to dig up various treasures and gifts during the game itself. Once Choco has reached a relatively high level, each game of "Hot and Cold" can pay for itself with whatever it is you can find in the dirt.

This was a tough call for me, as I'm known for being quite partial to Final Fantasy VII's Chocobos, but in the end, Choco, the Hot and Cold game, and scouring the world for lost treasure are just much more fun than simply racing Chocobos. I like the ukulele music better, too.

Again, this is not something that is specific to the Final Fantasy series. Most games made with any type of story line have at least some type of spoiler that happens at some point during the game - sometimes earlier than others. In Final Fantasy I, after fighting all of the fiends of the world, it's revealed that Garland, the knight the you beat in the first ten minutes of the game, is actually controlling time and space, helping his buddy Chaos to reign forever in a 2000-year time loop. I've heard it mentioned before that Galuf's death in Final Fantasy V was the "Aeris dies" before... well... Aeris dies (Final Fantasy VII). The major spoiler is not always a death either. In Final Fantasy VIII, all of the team members (except one) knew each other prior to becoming a world-saving heros, and Final Fantasy XIII, Lightning's name is Clair.

Alright, so that last one isn't that much of a spoiler, but I can't give everything away now, can I?

One of the things that helps add to the effect of a spoiler is when you, the gamer, really fall in love with the character. I personally think this is why Aeris's death in Final Fantasy VII was so huge. It's not that the player couldn't see something coming, but Aeris was such a likeable character that her death does come as quite an emotional shock.

That's not the best though.

Biggest spoiler?

Final Fantasy X had a little bit of everything with its spoiler. Tidus is a nice guy, and he and Yuna share some very emotionally-charged scenes. For the first time in a Final Fantasy game (or so it seems), the two characters really seems to fall in love (or at least realize they're in love) before the end of the game. It's a building relationship that keeps the player's interest throughout. He just wants to have his home back the way it was.

However, toward the end of the game, it's revealed that Zanarkand really doesn't exist, which in turn means Tidus doesn't exist. He has been able to exist because the survivors from the original Zanarkand (destoryed by Sin) became "fayth" and were able to keep the memory of Zanarkand alive. However, as the fayth no longer need to believe in Zanarkand due to Sin's demise, Tidus fades as well.

After the final credits, we see Tidus swimming off into the distance, which of course leads to the series's first direct sequel.

#2: Cid

The name "Cid" is probably the most well-known name in Final Fantasy. With the exception of the original release of Final Fantasy I, Cid has appeared in every game. Though he is not always a playable character, he is always there, and he usually has something to do with flight. According to Hironobu Sakaguchi, Final Fantasy's creator, Cid was initially conceived as a character that could appear in all of the games in different forms, and he has done just that.

In Cid's first appearance in Final Fantasy II, he is a freelance airship pilot and was later re-added to the end of the game in the "Dawn of Souls" collection. The first time Cid is a playable character is Final Fantasy IV. In Final Fantasy X (and X-2), Cid is the leader of the Al Bhed tribe and has led them to a broken-down airship that is now the only airship in the game. Final Fantasy XII had two Cids (Doctor Cidolfus Demen Bunansa and Al-Cid Margrace) and introduced Cid (the doctor) as a villain for the first time in the series, and Final Fantasy XIII, Cid continues as a villain and is the youngest Cid in the series.

Cid is also one of the only things that is also consistent throughout many of the spin-offs and such. Cid has had mentions in Final Fantasy Tactics, a few of the Crystal Chronicles entries, Chocobo Racing and Final Fantasy Fables as well as being a character in Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within as Dr. Sid.

Everyone's favorite Cid

Alright, maybe he's not everyone's favorite Cid, but the foul-mouthed, spear-welding, pilot-turned-astronaut-turned-floating-plane-owning Cid Highwind from Final Fantasy VII is definitely among the most popular. When the party first meets Cid, the only thing he wants is to display his hospitality by offering the team some tea (though his wording is a little more forceful), and within minutes, the plug is pulled on the space program, the party is stealing his plane, the "Tiny Bronco," and dragging Cid along for the ride. From that point on, Mr. Highwind adds comedic spice to just about every other scene in the game. His rapier wit and interesting leadership style make him a perfect complement for the rag-tag bunch of misfits already gathered together on the quest for world salvation.

When I buy a new Final Fantasy game, there's one thing that I am not even concerned about: the music of the game. The music of any game can set the mood of a scene. I will listen to the soundtrack again and again, and each time I listen, I relive whatever is happening at that point in the game. Most games that I play I will actually mute the sound or turn it very low, so I do not disturb anyone else with my gaming. But, I cannot bring myself to do this with any Final Fantasy game. The music really makes the game, and at the middle of this musical magesty is primarily one man: Nobuo Uematsu.

Uematsu was hired by Square in 1986, and after some of the projects that the company was working on failed, he wrote the entire score for Final Fantasy I. This is not his landmark soundtrack, but it set the stage for greater things to come. Even after leaving Square Enix in 2004 to open his own label, Uematsu still would work for the company to provide music for the series. He even started a band with several colleagues, which plays rock versions of his Final Fantasy songs. Uematsu has had more of an outside interest in the last couple of games in the series, but it is obvious that his influence is still at work with Square Enix.

The greatest music ever?

It is so hard to narrow down a single soundtrack to be labeled as "the best of the series," so the honor goes to the entire series. A few of the songs are mainstays of the series itself. The quiet and sensual "Crystal Theme" (often called "Prelude") and the triumphant "Victory Song" have, in some form, been a part of every game of the series. Final Fantasy I's soundtrack consists of six songs, but later installments of the series have had more than 100 songs in each release. Every town and dungeon has its own music, and nearly every character has his or her own theme song.

A few of the highlights from the series are the Victory Theme originally seen in Final Fantasy I. This is one of the few songs that I can think of that I might hear hundreds of times during any given playthrough of a game, but it never gets old to me. I look forward to hearing this song in each Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy VII gave us "Aerith's Theme," "One-Winged Angel" and of course the theme from Final Fantasy VII, all of which have been showcased during live-orchestral performances showcasing Uematsu's talent. Though "One-WInged Angel" had lyrics, Final Fantasy VIII's "Eyes on me" was the first time a lyrical song was used during the game, and Final Fantasy X's Zanarkand is just simply among the best theme's in gaming.

The music is recognizable and sets the scene for anything that is happening on screen. You really cannot ask for anything more than that. Even though the soundtrack for each installment of the series is different, it is clear to me that the music has helped create this series and give it its spot among the greatest series of all time, which is why the consistency of great music takes the number one spot on this list.

Well, there it is. The top 10 things that keep the Final Fantasy series together. To honestly find ten things that tied this series together was not as easy as I thought it would be. Square has re-invented this series time and time again. That's one of the things that makes people the most upset with the series, but I think it's also one of the things that draws people back each time. Even though these are the top ten, there were some others that I thought might be of notable interest to some.

Some honorable mentions are:
Sara/Sarah/Serah - Sara was the princess in Final Fantasy I. The name is also mentioned many times throughout the series, probably most notably as Dagger's real name in Final Fantasy IX.
Summons - I kind of touched on this with Bahamut, but every game from Final Fantasy III onward had summonable creatures (Aeons, Summons, Espers, Guardian Forces) to help in battle. My personal favorite is Final Fantasy X, which is the first time the player controls the summons.
Crazed fans - Again, not something specific to Final Fantasy, but they're there all right.
Same items - Potions, Ethers, Hi-Potion, Elixirs and of course everyone's favorite, the Phoenix Down
Main character with goofy hair - From the first Fighter through every main protagonist in the series, Square has a way of messing up the stars' hairdo.
Allusions to other games in the series - Throughout the series, many of the previous games are alluded to. It's kind of fun to try to find the allusions sometimes.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing it. It's been fun to relive some of the moments of Final Fantasy history that I forget about until I go back and play the games again (or read wikipedia articles about them).

List by gmo7897 (05/10/2013)

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