I’ve mentioned this before, but I would like to expand on it a little bit. Final Fantasy has such a wide assortment of styles, systems, and entries levels that it is impossible to pin down any consistency in the series when it comes to the difficulty curve of the series.
The series’ most popular games, with longtime fans and mainstream audiences alike, tend to be the most approachable ones. These deliver simple enough mechanics for even inexperienced gamers to solve, and they also put up the best sales figures because of it. In between these mega-hits though, Final Fantasy often tumbles into far more complex mechanics, allowing for deeper experiences that tend to be favored by long-term fans of the series.
We’ll just run through the main games today and place them in the categories of “easy” and “hard.” Not so much in terms of difficulty but rather, how complex the games can be for those willing to dig.
The original Final Fantasy was a huge hit in Japan for helping make the mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons and complicated PC games like Wizardry accessible to those who had experience primarily with simple console games. That was 30 years ago though.
Today, it is still a relatively complex game with hundreds of ways to approach it. The game has moments in which players much seek out the next path without a story to lead them, this is true, but the true replay value comes from the very first choice you make: your party. With six job classes and four slots to fill: Fighter, Black Mage, Monk, Thief, White Mage, and Red Mage… the possibilities are endless. Let’s not forget spell builds and weaponry either!
In terms of difficulty, the NES version is best for those looking for a true challenge, and the Game Boy Advance version is better for those looking for something easier. The PSOne Classic Final Fantasy Origins also provides a nice balance between the two. No matter how you spin it, this is still a challenging game.
Final Fantasy II
It’s strange that this should end up easier than the original, given how its leveling up system is often the most derided aspect of the game. However, Final Fantasy II lacks the customization of its predecessor, offering three blank slate characters and the occasional guest character in return.How these characters gain abilities and stats in battle is a whole other
How these characters gain abilities and stats in battle is a whole other matter, giving players the choice on whether they want them to specialize in swords, axes, magic, spears. This choice doesn’t come through a specific class but rather by how much these weapons or spells are used in battle. It’s simplistic in how these characters ultimately level up though, which merely boils down to spamming your favorite weapons.
For difficulty, the Famicom version is blisteringly hard, but the Game Boy Advance and PSOne versions turn it into a tolerable game that is actually pretty easy to swallow.
Final Fantasy III
If three blank slate characters weren’t enough in Final Fantasy II, then the four in Final Fantasy III make up for their misstep. I don’t have too much experience with Final Fantasy III, the Japanese original or the 3DS remake which I’m not a fan of, but I do know that this game provides a lot of depth thanks to it basically laying out the floorplans for Final Fantasy’s job system.
It would go on to be perfected in future games, but the Onion Knights and their quest are still one of the hardest that the series has ever produced. The battles will kick your butt, and the options to creating ultimate warriors are endless.
Final Fantasy IV
Final Fantasy IV was the first game for the Super Nintendo, and also the first one to let the story guide the players rather than the gameplay. Final Fantasy IV’s journey is highly regarded by fans, and the game is known for following a very linear path throughout its world.
In terms of customization, you’ll find very little here, perhaps the least of any game in the entire series. Each character fits the role of a job class, but those jobs have set abilities and weaponry, meaning that you’ll have a very small amount of influence on your heroes. Final Fantasy IV also introduced the ATB battle system, and the challenge comes from picking up on cues of when to lay in that perfect strike against a boss.
Needless to say, with just a bit of practice and memorization, Final Fantasy IV is the shallowest of the whole series. A really solid entry, yes, but also the easiest. The GBA port and especially the Nintendo DS remake provide more options and a steeper difficulty curve, but the original is what matters most.
Final Fantasy V
There is no question about it. Looking back on the Super Nintendo era, Final Fantasy saw its depth come to a peak in the fifth entry. It’s just a shame we missed out on it when it was cutting edge.
Final Fantasy V improves upon the job system of Final Fantasy III, adding new classes, abilities, and methods of leveling up. Even to this day, this is a popular game for speed runners and other fans who enjoy setting handicaps on their playthroughs. This group forbids certain job classes, challenges themselves by running the weakest job classes, and comes up with the most imaginative experiences possible.
All of this done with what the basic game offers. Final Fantasy V is the king of depth and one of the most replayable in the entire series. It’s not overly difficult, but that’s not the point. It’s a treasure trove of RPG customization, one to be played until the end of time.
Final Fantasy VI
This classic clearly remains one of the most popular games in the series, and as I mentioned before, it’s often the easy ones that struck the deepest chord with fans. Final Fantasy VI is in the running for the simplest that the entire franchise has to offer. With 14 characters, the largest roster the series has, you would expect a lot of options on how to tackle this game, and those are certainly there.
However, with even the minimal effort, most gamers can and often do level up these characters into the same indestructible gods. Either magic users or weapon users, it doesn’t matter. By the game’s end, normal attacks will win every random fight, Ultima kills ever boss, and the unique abilities that most characters have become utterly useless.
Great game, wonderful story, brilliant character, but Final Fantasy VI is about as easy as the series gets.
Final Fantasy VII
Woo boy, here we go. Remember how I said the popular ones were often the easiest. Nowhere is this more proven than with Final Fantasy VII. While I would argue that its Materia system provides minimal more customization options than Final Fantasy VI‘s Espers, Final Fantasy VII’s cast brings absolutely nothing into battle. Apart from Limit Breaks and long-range weapons, there is very little to distinguish these characters apart from one another when it comes from a purely gameplay perspective.
They are just empty shells, manufactured to carry Materia from point A to point B. Unlike Final Fantasy V, which also provides characters indistinguishable from one another, your choices are permanent either. Don’t let your move set, well, but unequip everything and rearrange it as you like. Nothing in Final Fantasy VII sticks, so your choices don’t matter either.
As the best-selling and easily most popular game in the series, Final Fantasy VII provides one of the most accessible experiences of them all. It’s a revolutionary game, but I am looking forward to the sequel to shake it up a little. This is why a simple HD overhaul would not be in its best interest. The game would be astonishingly easy.
Final Fantasy VIII
Final Fantasy VII’s ease also set a bad precedent which is finally starting to fade two decades later, and that’s the fact that it set up a bad stage for Final Fantasy VIII to perform on. For as easy as Final Fantasy VII is, Final Fantasy VIII is equally difficult. No question, this is the most expensive experimental video game ever made, irreverently tossing aside everything that the series had established up until its release and turning it on its head.
The depth of Final Fantasy VIII is still something gamers are exploring to this day from its complicated storyline to the infinite depths of its Guardian Force system. Everything about this game begs to be dug through and even broken. Players have been able to make the most indestructible teams by retooling the wiring of the Guardian Forces, and stumbling across these ideas are by no means easy.
Its characters might be insufferable, but from a gameplay perspective, Final Fantasy VIII is one of the most fascinating out there.
Final Fantasy IX
Final Fantasy IX drops back down a peg or two, taking inspirations from the older games in the series. The entire point of this entry was to recapture the spirit of a ten-year-old franchise with modern graphics, and that’s just what you get. A charming game with old-school sentiments and a shallow customization system. Characters don’t often break from their set path, and their abilities fall right into place.
The biggest questions reside in choosing which characters to fill up your roster with, and even then, the game wont’ break your imagination. Just sit back and enjoy the ride on this one.
Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy X dances along the border thanks to its innovative Sphere Grid level-up system. Up until 2001, we hadn’t seen anything like it, and it provided a look into the future of skill trees that would eventually dominate the RPG genre on both Japanese and Western shores.
Final Fantasy X provides a blueprint for how to advance your characters properly, but the incentive to break away from that blueprint doesn’t raise its head until later in the game. Its linear world eventually opens up in the closing hours, and the post-game is where you’ll find all the fun digging.
For the main game itself, I’m leaning a bit towards easy. It’s one of the most successful in the series thanks to an approachable love story and relatively simple battle system.
Final Fantasy XI
The first MMORPG in the series, and one that used to show Square Enix’s inexperience in the genre. I’m not the best person to write about this game as it exists now. I played it in the early days, back when it was a spine-crushing experience. How many RPGs do you know will force your to lose levels when you die? Not many, but that’s what Final Fantasy XI used to do.
I also remember grinding for hours, looking for a specific goblin creature that rarely appeared and rarely dropped a necessary item for dual-classing. Finding that was one of the happiest moments of my gaming life.
It’s often said that you can’t beat Final Fantasy XI, but Final Fantasy XI certainly can beat you. No mercy!
Final Fantasy XII
Another unique Final Fantasy game that even rivals Final Fantasy V and VIII with its options. This complicated game asks you not only to play it, but also to program your own battles. You see, Final Fantasy XII’s Gambit system runs like a computer program
“If enemy’s life is at Max HP, then Steal” “If your allies life is at 10%, then heal.” Computer programmers will obviously see the infinite levels of depth that can be pumped into a single battle. Those willing to explore for the secret bosses scattered across its open world will really have to tackle this Gambit System head on if they want to stand a chance.
Toss in the License Board, the open-world exploration, the guilds and missions, the exceedingly long dungeons, and the complex political story. Yeah, Final Fantasy XII is not an easy game to break into.
Final Fantasy XIII
Okay, here we go. Final Fantasy XIII actually has a lot more in common with Final Fantasy IV than any other game in the series. Its an RPG that revolves entirely around timing, knowing the exact moment to strike and change up your Paradigm alignments. Visual cues, the flow of battle, Final Fantasy XIII is a game that forces you to learn its battle system or else you don’t stand a chance.
It’s like a 20-hour tutorial preparing you for the good stuff at the end, and it never gets easier. You just slowly soak it all in. Unlike Final Fantasy IV, you do have the ability to shape your character too.
Love it or hate it, Final Fantasy XIII is a game that will push you to learn all that it has to offer, or it will drop you off along the way.
Final Fantasy XIV Online
We jump from one of the most brutally difficult MMORPGs of all time to one of the easiest and most accessible ever. Final Fantasy XIV is like a rain shower of sugary candy. Characters level up easily, complete missions easily, don’t have much to worry about in death, and run through a magical world of nostalgic bombs. No game since Final Fantasy IX better captures the spirit of the earliest entries.
It’s also one of the few MMORPGs designed to allow players to enjoy it by themselves, so soloing boss battles is entirely possible in the earliest parts of the game. Don’t worry about making friends. Just hire a few guests, and blast through this game solo if you like!
Where will Final Fantasy XV end up?
It’s the biggest question of them all. We’re a week away from the next entry in the series, and the judgment is still out on how Final Fantasy XV will stack up on this list. Some are saying it will be a mindless hack ‘n slash, obviously making it an easy game, but from all that I’ve seen and played, those people couldn’t be further from the truth.
This game is loaded with systems and combat options that the average action game couldn’t possibly handle, and it will leave its mark as one of the most liberal and forward thinking of the best.
Final Fantasy XV will be released for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on Nov. 29.