With Final Fantasy XVI finally out, newcomers to the series might be wanting to get into this long-running franchise and see what all the fuss is about. The easy answer might be to start with the first and work your way up a very long laundry list of sequels, remakes and spin-offs but thankfully, each game is standalone, featuring their own self-contained stories and gameplay mechanics. We’re going to look at the best games in the Final Fantasy franchise that might be perfect gateways for beginners.
As mentioned before, every game in the Final Fantasy series is its own self-contained adventure (unless it’s accompanied by a number, e.g. “X-2“). For that reason, you can pretty much start anywhere you want. However, there are definitely some entries that are far easier to get into than the rest, either because of its story, gameplay or complexity of its RPG systems. The list below will help you decide on the perfect one to start with in no particular order.
Best Final Fantasy Games for Newcomers to the Series
Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII is arguably the most popular game in the franchise that helped elevate the series to mainstream popularity back in to 90s. For many, including myself, it was their first experience with Final Fantasy. It’s a terrific starting point for newcomers because it helped so many fans today get into the franchise. On top of that, it features a very likeable cast of characters, an exciting turn-based combat system and an epic saga that, while not without its sometimes complicated storytelling, delivers a mostly easy-to-grasp narrative with fantastic world-building.
Furthemore, it also has all the usual hallmarks that make a Final Fantasy game what it is, including stories revolving around crystals or ancient magic of some kind, fantasy politics, a party, chocobos and a final boss that seemingly transcends into godhood. Don’t be put off by Final Fantasy VII‘s now dated PS1 presentation and visuals because it actually holds up surprisingly well today and is deservedly called a masterpiece.
I Wouldn’t Recommend: Final Fantasy VII Remake
In the same breath, I wouldn’t recommend Final Fantasy VII Remake for newcomers for reasons largely related to the remake’s story. The modern, updated gameplay and visuals are admittedly tempting but at a point, the story veers off-course from the original where it becomes clear that this isn’t simply a 1:1 remake. In fact, it kind of rewards you for already knowing the events of the original game. In every way except name, the remake plays out more like a half reboot/half sequel (a “requel”, Scream?) through very spoilery reasons. I would strongly recommend playing the original before dipping your toes into the Remake, though.
Final Fantasy XV
If you aren’t sold on the older games’ turn-based combat, Final Fantasy XV has you covered. Featuring a lot more emphasis on real-time action with some light role-playing elements, the fifteenth mainline game follows a more traditional “modern RPG” template with the series’ first true open-world and the usual sandbox activities that accompany them. For that reason, you might feel right at home with the game if you’re already familiar with other open-world RPGs like The Witcher or Dragon Age.
Older fans aren’t too kind to Final Fantasy XV because of its massive deviation from the past’s loosely evolving turn-based systems to straight-up action, though in many ways, it encompasses just enough Final Fantasy elements to serve as a perfect introduction into some of the franchise’s staple concepts. While it launched in a relatively barebones state, the widely available Royal Edition fills in the blanks and turns it into a more complete package for a great (and often underappreciated) gem.
Final Fantasy VI
Easy the best of the older Final Fantasy games – and for many, arguably the best game in the series – Final Fantasy VI is another fantastic entry point into the franchise, though that might run the risk of setting the bar too high, too early. What sets Final Fantasy VI apart from the rest is not only its masterfully told story but also its flexible gameplay and extensive customisation options, providing ample opportunities for incredible, overpowered builds and combinations. This is the best way to learn the intricacies of the series’ party mechanics, all on full display in the game.
Of course, beginners might have to overcome the barrier of its old-school presentation and pixelated graphics but once you do, you’ll appreciate every part of the experience. It’s a safe gateway into Final Fantasy that displays some of its core elements in their best forms. If anything, its phenomenal storytelling and wonderful character stories should be enough to immediately grab your attention. Play it today via the Pixel Remaster.
Final Fantasy XVI
I can already hear some fans screaming into the void for putting Final Fantasy XVI on this list but to be completely honest, it perfectly fits the bill for getting newcomers into the series. Sure, it doesn’t embody literally every element of the Final Fantasy franchise – this best exemplified in its action-heavy combat – but then again, every game released thus far in the series has tweaked something that has caused outcry from pockets of the community.
For Final Fantasy XVI, it mainly boils down to two crucial things that make it a great entry point: its action and story. The action completely ditches turn-based combat for real-time action akin to Bayonetta or Devil May Cry while significantly dialing back the RPG. As a result, some of the more challenging things that prevented newcomers from jumping into the series, including its heavy grind, is eliminated here for a more streamlined experience anchored by an incredibly cinematic and dialogue-heavy story that many modern AAA games have adopted.
All of this is punctuated by Eikon battles, grand-scaled spectacles that pit gigantic monsters against each other in epic brawls. They boast some of the best action direction in any Final Fantasy game to date and for beginners, it’s more than enough eye-candy to keep you hooked as you slowly unravel all of its defining Final Fantasy features that more often than not, aren’t just limited to the combat.