We’re counting down the days to Final Fantasy XV now that November is finally here. The next chapter of Final Fantasy’s 30-year legacy finally has the chance to establish itself, and I’m probably going to be writing about the series non-stop over the next 29 days in celebration. I wonder how many topics I can crank out in that time period. Today though, we’re just going with a basic question.
Who’s your favorite playable character in each Final Fantasy game? We’re not going to include the first three games since the concept of characters with real motivations and personalities didn’t establish itself as a mainstay of the series until Final Fantasy IV. For this reason, we’re also overlooking Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV since they are mulitplayer games with player-created avatars.
Final Fantasy IV – Rydia
We’re already starting off with an underdog victory. I don’t think you’ll find any Final Fantasy fan willing to talk bad on Kain Highwind. He’s one of the most iconic characters in the series, and he’s everything that you could hope for in a Final Fantasy character: conflicted, badass, and sporting a dark side/light side dynamic that defines his fluctuating loyalties. Final Fantasy games have a long history of being influenced by Star Wars, and Kain takes more inspiration from George Lucas than any other character in the series.
But my favorite has always been Rydia, the summoner girl Kain and protagonist Cecil find in the mountains. After leaving the story briefly and re-appearing as an adult, she becomes the team’s main black magic user and can call all the classic summon monsters into battle. I’ve always liked the idea of her growing up behind the scenes of the game, changing from a whiny kid to a headstrong leading female. I’m not sure a character undergoes such a transformation like that in many other games before.
Plus, she has green hair, which is awesome.
Final Fantasy V – Bartz
I’ve always liked Bartz because he’s just so boring. He’s a bland sap forced into the leading role of a grand adventure. He’s Tiz from Bravely Default. He’s Maxim from Lufia 2. He’s the prototypical JRPG hero. He lacks the personality of better written protagonists, yet he doesn’t have that projectable charm of a silent protagonist like Crono or the Dragon Quest heroes. He’s just… blah, and in a way, it’s endearing.
The best character from Final Fantasy V is clearly the sub-villain Gilgamesh, but we’re only talking about playable characters today. I can mention Gilgamesh though because his fate in the closing act of Final Fantasy V leads him to become a summon spell in many of the other games, meaning he is playable in some form.
Final Fantasy VI – Sabin
Final Fantasy’s largest cast also has the most winners to choose from. Locke, Shadow, Cyan, Edgar, Terra, Celes… the strength of this game resides in its players, and singling one out is tough.
I’m going to go with my childhood favorite, Sabin. The team beefcake has a softer side that the rough and tough heroes of today’s video games are too machismo to show off. He’s the immature younger brother of King Edgar, and he abandons his country for freedom just when they need him most. He spends much of the game coming to terms with his royal heritage and accepting his responsbilities as royalty, something I think we’re going to see a lot of in Noctis once Final Fantasy XV comes out.
Plus, he holds up an entire burning house to allow Celes to save children inside. What a guy!
He doesn’t provide the best gameplay options since his Blitz attacks target random characters and ultimately become useless by the end game once he learns Ultima. However, he provides many of the early attacks that can target every enemy without using magic points, and he’ll clean an entire battlefield with a well placed Fire Dance. And while it’s relevant, Bum Rush is a legit attack to use against bosses.
Final Fantasy VII – Yuffie
I don’t think any game has seen so many characters take on the role of “my favorite” more than Final Fantasy VII. Like every 13-year-old boy playing Final Fantasy VII for the first time, Tifa was my favorite, but I didn’t yet understand why. I was also a fan of the dark and brooding Vincent for a while, but upon further playthroughs as I grew older, Red XIII became my defacto favorite.
Nowadays, I prefer quirky and fun over dark and serious, obviously pointing to my favorite character of Final Fantasy VII, Yuffie! She takes part in plenty of the game’s most exciting moments, provides access to her unique hometown, unlocks one of the best sub-quests and the Leviathan Materia, and always brings humor to the party. Sure, she messes up your Materia arrangement at one point, but come on, you can forgive her, right?
Since Final Fantasy VII’s mechanics don’t really matter when comparing character to character, Yuffie is just as fun to use as anybody else. It’s a game where you pick personality over mechanics, and Yuffie wins every time here.
Final Fantasy VIII – Laguna
Ugh, do I really have to pick? I didn’t like any of Final Fantasy VIII’s characters the last time I played it, nor do I really remember any of them to give an educated decision.
Picking Laguna feels a bit like cheating since he’s not really part of the main team. However, his flashback scenes are the highlight of Final Fantasy VIII’s convoluted storytelling, and the reprieve his humor brings from Squall’s loathsome, intolerable teenage angst is always welcome. And yes, he’s a genuinely enjoyable character as well with a great relationship with his two cohorts, Kiros and Ward, two more characters who shine over Final Fantasy VIII’s dorks.
If I had to pick one of the main crew, it would be Quistis. Blue Mages are always my favorite job class in Final Fantasy, and I love tracking down enemy skills. Plus, she is also the least annoying, beating out Zell, Irvine, and… Squall. Boring beats out obnoctious any day.
Final Fantasy IX – Vivi
I’ll follow that half-hearted justification with a whole-hearted endorsement. Vivi is a pure and perfect Final Fantasy character all the way down to his design. Final Fantasy IX makes brilliant use of the classic Black Mage trope, and Vivi spends a majority of the game coming to terms with the nature of his creation and the short time he has on this planet.
Toss in the innocence of a young boy and the miraculous hidden powers hiding beneath his soft personality. Square really knew what it was doing with this character, and it shows when it slapped him on all the advertisements back when it first came out.
He’s a Final Fantasy hall-of-famer and easily one of the top-tier characters to ever emerge from the franchise.
Final Fantasy X – Yuna
We’re shadowing Final Fantasy IV here with the obvious favorite who embodies everything that is great in the series being put against the summoner girl. And once again, after a tough choice, I’m picking the summoner girl. Just to clear it up, Auron is another high-point in the series, one of the greatest accomplishments in character building that Final Fantasy has ever achieved.
However, I just love Yuna. As a boy, I had a heart-breaking crush on her, and nowadays, I still can recognize all the high points of her character. In a lot of Japanese stories, the idea of an empathetic “strong woman” hasn’t been so much in her physical strength or dominating personality but rather, her perseverance while taking the world’s problems on her shoulders.
Yuna captures this trait perfectly, leading a group of people to save the world and willing to lay her life down for the good of everyone. Once upon a time, I remember Aeris being pointed to as the “innocent flower girl,” and that, for some reason, made her the series’ most endearing female lead. Once Final Fantasy X came out, there were no more comparisons to be had. Yuna stole the show, and hasn’t been upstaged yet.
Plus, yeah. She’s just super cute.
Final Fantasy XII – Balthier
Just so we’re clear, Final Fantasy XII is, down to its very core, a direct retelling of Star Wars. A princess escapes with an elderly general from the heart of a major civil war. The two accidentally stumble across two bumbling sidekicks and enlist the aid of a pirate and his furry friend to escort her to safety. Of course, the plan goes wayside, and everyone involved finds themselves wrapped up in a battle with an all-powerful empire.
And if we’re going with that logic, Balthier is essentially Han fricken Solo himself. He’s a sky pirate, aka smuggler, uses pistols as his default weapon, and hangs out exclusively with his furry copilot. I’ll leave it to you who is more endearing, Fran or Chewbacca. Hint, Final Fantasy loses 10 out of 10 times in this situation.
Balthier’s personality mirrors that of James Bond more so than Han Solo though, and his suave confidence and heartless logic when it comes to crime lead him to commit many questionable but successful decisions in the game. Ends definitely justify the means for Balthier, and that makes him a great character.
Final Fantasy XIII – …
Once again, I’m pressed with making a decision I don’t want to make, but unlike Final Fantasy VIII, I can’t cheat my way out of this one. Final Fantasy XIII’s cast of rogues are the least endearing of the entire franchise, even less so than Final Fantasy VIII’s disgruntled teens.
So, I’m not going to bother. I’ve looked over the choices, and I can’t really justify any of them. Sazh has the empathetic dad thing going for him, and Fang has streaks of coolness to her. On the flip-side, I can’t think of a less tolerable dork than Snow, and Lightning has never done anything for me as a Final Fantasy leader.
Final Fantasy XV is coming soon
Sorry to end on a low note like this, but hey! Final Fantasy XV is coming out soon! Who will be the favorite to emerge from our upcoming dude-bros? Hint: it’s not Prompto. Ignis seems like an early frontrunner, but I also have a feeling that Gladiolus is going to shock fans. He’s clearly more than just a the muscle of the group, a regular Sabin if I want to give him a compliment.
And maybe even Noctis will turn out alright! If you noticed, none of the characters I picked are leading protagonists! Well, except Bartz, but that pipsqueak doesn’t count. I like Tidus, Cecil, Terra, Zidane, and Cloud, but Final Fantasy has always seen the supporting cast outshine the central figures. I’d like, for once, for the leading character to not let his cohorts steal the limelight. If Noctis turns out to be Final Fantasy XV’s best character, I’ll be happily satisfied.