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Which Final Fantasy Should I Play First? (Part 3)

In this final (see what I did there?) installment of our three-part series, we will go over the most recent mainline FF games and discuss how suitable they are as a gamer’s first entry in the series. FF XI through XV elevate the settings and themes from previous games of the series. FF XI and FF XIV are both online MMOs that handle differently than every other “traditional” FF game. And in some ways FF XII plays kind of like an offline MMO.

FF XIII and FF XV also feature thematic similarities with each other as they were originally related. They were part of the same project/collaboration known as “Fabula Nova Crystallis”. FF XV was originally titled Final Fantasy Versus XIII before it got delayed into oblivion and the game was reworked into a new mainline game along with a name change. Now that we got that exposition out of the way, let’s wrap this up.

Final Fantasy XI

FF XI is the only FF game that I have very little experience with. It originally came out on PS2 and PC way back in 2002. I haven’t played it in over 13 years and that was on the Xbox 360 when it came packaged with the Treasures of Aht Urhgan expansion. I only played it for a month though as I only paid for one month (It was an MMO so it had a monthly subscription). What I do remember is that it kind of celebrated the series as it carried over a lot of themes and mainstays of the earlier FF games. You can choose a character class/job and go on an epic quest to unite these nations against an ancient threat.

Today the PS2 and Xbox360 versions are technically offline, but there are 3rd party work around for the PS2 version I believe. In 2015 the fifth and final expansion came out and wrapped up the entire story campaign for good. You can STILL play it online on PC despite it being a 20 year old MMO at this point. Probably not the best representative of the overall FF franchise, at least not as your first.

Final Fantasy XII

FF XII (2006) is in my top five FF games of all time. It is a fantastic FF game and a great example of where JRPGs were back in the mid 2000s.

FF XII does a few novel things with it’s gameplay. It introduces the License Board which is very similar to the Sphere Grid from FF X. In FF XII it isn’t enough to simply purchase weapons and magic to use them. Your party members must possess the proper license to use such tools. This is done by purchasing licenses with LP that is in turn earned from battles alongside experience points. In the “Zodiac Age” version of the game each party member can choose from 2 classes and are locked into those classes for the remainder of the game. The original release of FF XII allows players to share the same abilities and license boards and build your jack-of-all-trades party members.

Since you only control one character at a time FF XII implemented an A.I. mechanic known as the Gambit System. The Gambit System allows you to set different priorities to you’re A.I. party members. For example, you can set one of them to heal any party member that has their HP drop below 40%, or make them target the same enemy that you are targeting. It’s not a perfect system as you can mess it up sometimes by not putting the priorities in the right order, but I think it helps automate and streamline a lot of the combat.

FF XII is a solid entry and while the Zodiac Age edition of the game does make a lot of improvements and balances enemies and abilities, the regular version of this PS2 game is easier for the average gamer and therefore  recommended.

Final Fantasy XIII

FF XIII debuted back in 2009 and made the first leap for the series onto the PlayStation 3. FF XIII follows Lightning and a group of misfits who are branded as heretics. Together they must embark on a trip to save their loved ones before their pre-determined deaths. While the game still uses the ATB system that has been in use since FF IV, it does have more active elements onscreen during battle like deciding when to attack (your ATB bar can be used even as it is filling up for shorter attacks) and changing classes in an instant.

The big combat mechanic in this game is the Paradigm Shift. If you see a big attack coming you can “Paradigm Shift” and have your party members switch to Sentinel classes and tank the hit, and then shift back to offense right after. This dynamic/active mechanic keeps you engaged in the combat in a way past FF games haven’t. You can set up premade combinations called formations to switch on the fly!

FF XIII also uses the Crystarium, which is very similar to the Sphere Grid from FF X. You use the Crystarium to learn new abilities and stat boosts for each individual party member and it has a soft cap lock for each chapter in the game. XIII gets some flak from players for being very linear in nature (there are not many side quests until Chapter ten) but the game really opens up after chapter ten. Personally, I think it is tied with FF VIII for best soundtrack in the series. You could do worse than this for an entry point to the series, that said I think it is a suitable first FF to play.

Final Fantasy XIV

Much like FF XI, FF XIV is an online MMO. When it first came out it was really rough. There were incomplete features and a very shallow gameplay experience. Since then the game has made a complete 180 turn with the soft re-launch with A Realm Reborn. It is considered one of gaming’s biggest comebacks.

Having completed the main base game/scenario I can fully say that XIV is fantastic! The game is well designed for solo playa s well as group play, pretty much 90% of the core main base game can be done on your own with a handful of quests and bosses requiring you to que up with other players.

XIV is wildly successful compared to XI and has been such a financial juggernaut for Square-Enix. It was so successful  that at one point you could not even buy a digital copy of the game. The game celebrates the entire series and is essentially a victory lap of the 35+ year old series! There are four main expansions to the MMO and they each add dozens of hours to the gameplay experience. Again, much like XI, it is hard to recommend this as a proper FF game, but it is certainly better than XI. In fact I think this might just be an acceptable first FF game for a newcomer, it’s that good! It’s even better if you have friends to play it with.

Final Fantasy XV

Lauded as “The Bro Road Trip” FF game, XV is the latest mainline FF game to be released. It also the first to be released only on PS4 while ditching the PS3. The game experienced a very tumultuous development cycle and almost took a whole decade from announcement to release! It started off as Versus XIII and then got scrapped a few years in and reworked as new team members came in and re-hauled everything.

XV puts the ATB gauge on the backburner but doesn’t get rid of it. Your regular attacks happen in real time, but your abilities and such require the ATB to be recharged so you’re not defenseless while the bar is filling up. XV features an all-male party who are trying to get one of their own, the royal prince Noctis, to his wedding while also contending with the invasion of their home country by an aggressive empire. The game is mostly complete now but was rough at launch. There are several DLC installments that help fill out the gaps in the story that focus on individual characters such as Ignis and Ardyn’s own stories.

FF XV is clearly the best-looking entry in the game and the most modern, but it feels so far removed from the rest of the series from a technological standpoint but also a thematic one. It also isn’t that difficult as you can really abuse the way exp points work. With the proper setup you can rake in massive amounts of levels early on. It is not my favorite, but I think if you wanted to go with this one first you will still have a good time.

Closing Thoughts

The Final Fantasy series is dear to me and my favorite video game franchise of all time. For those of you who have never played one I strongly urge you to check them out. You may be surprised about what you may find and enjoy in one of them. If you have played them what are your thoughts? Which one is your favorite? Which one do you like the least? If FF VII truly overrated? Are you a person of culture who thinks FF XII is underrated? Is FF II truly the weirdest of them all? Sound off in the comments section. I would love to pick your brain for thoughts!

If you somehow missed the earlier entries of this guide do not fret. You can find part one here, and part two over here. For all things geeky be sure to subscribe to, and follow, GeekNewsNow! For more of my video game takes you can check out my author page here. I just recently wrote a piece on what your gaming room should have to make it truly one-of-a-kind! Lastly if you are into videogames be sure to check out my podcast, Duosense. On Duosense my co-host and I cover the weekly gaming news and what we’ve been playing.

As always stay geeky out there!

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