Even before Final Fantasy XV was released (29th November 2016), the franchise was a household name. The first game came out in 1987, as an attempted swan song from a dying company. But, it ended up being wildly successful and now, there are a total of 97 titles (including sequels, expansions, compilations, and sub-series) that carry the Final Fantasy label.
There might be some of those 97 you’ve missed over the years. And, if you’re hesitant to spend $60 for Final Fantasy XV, here’s a list of five less expensive, underrated alternatives that should still keep your attention for a solid chunk of hours.
1. Final Fantasy Record Keeper
PLATFORM: Mobile (Android and Apple)
RELEASE DATE: 26th March 2015
PRICE: Free, but with optional in-app purchases.
Record Keeper is great because it captures the essence of early Final Fantasy titles. You begin as a scribe named Tyro who has been tasked with restoring order in various Final Fantasy realms. Along the way, Tyro collects and fights alongside heroes from those worlds.
It’s this feature that makes this game shine—where else can you shove Cloud (FFVII), Dagger (FFIX), Kain (FFIV), Thancred (FFXIV), and Edea (FFVIII) together to wreck mayhem? And, as you gain characters, the customization, skills and equipment, and limit breaks only increase.
FFRK banks on nostalgia to ramp in the masses, and it succeeds.
Other exciting features include:
- Raids (multiplayer battles),
- Roulettes for legendary weapons (who doesn’t love random grab things?),
- Original songs from the soundtracks,
- Weekly, series-specific challenge dungeons
|My party, getting epically rocked by Cloud Strife. Poor Edea, didn’t know what hit her.||(LOOK AT ALL THE COOL LOOT YOU CAN GET IN THE ROULETTE! :D)|
Although clumsy at times, Final Fantasy Record Keeper is an easy-to-grab app that’s bound to entertain. DeNA (one of the developers/the publisher) is consistently listening for ways to improve the experience, so if there’s a feature you hate, it may not be there forever. With the convenience of it being on mobile, the versatility of your team, and the nostalgic elements, this is definitely one to check out.
Pros: FREE and chock-full of enough nostalgia to both drown you and make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Cons: Potentially frustrating if you don’t have enough characters to complete a dungeon and/or you never get good drops in the roulette.
2. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
If you love next-level tactical thinking (à la Fire Emblem) and adorable characters, this is one for you. Tactics takes all the loveable elements of Final Fantasy—the beautiful art, the engaging story, the chocobos, and the moogles (because where would the world be without them)—and wraps them all in a tactical-RPG bow.
FFTA takes place in the same setting—Ivalice—as the PS1 classic of the same name. The game begins in a modern world city called St. Ivalice and features the main character, Marche and his friends who find a strange book that transports them to a fantasy world. But, despite this, the plot is sort of… background noise? The appeal is really in the turn-based tactical bouts.
This game also features twenty-five iconic classes for your characters to cycle through depending on their race (ex. soldier, mages, dragoon, alchemist, sniper, thief, gunner, etc). And, as you continue to train, you can have primary and secondary abilities—i.e, you can have your badass swordsman shoving fireballs in someone else’s face mid-battle, which is always cackle-inducing.
However, FFTA can become somewhat repetitive as you send out the same trained, A-team units over and over again, so try not to burn yourself out on the game! (Learn from my mistakes!)
One last thing—if you end up enjoying FFTA and want a greater challenge, play the PS1 version, which features perma!death (as in, once your character dies, that’s it. They’re gone forever).
Pros: Customization of characters’ skills/abilities and a way to challenge oneself with thinking, planning, and strategizing. The excitement of Final Fantasy elements without the sixty to eighty-hour slog.
Cons: Frustrating if you can’t figure out a tactical solution and if you’re struggling to level up your characters.
3. Dissidia Final Fantasy
RELEASE DATE: 25 August 2009
Assuming we’re not counting Ehrgeiz (an… interesting experience on PS1), Dissidia Final Fantasy was the first Final Fantasy fighting game in the franchise. The game pulls ten heroes (fighting for Cosmos) and ten villains (fighting for Chaos) from the first ten Final Fantasy games and pits them against one another.
Cosmos and Chaos are duking it out, and everyone else has gotten pulled into the crossfire.
Rude, Cosmos and Chaos.
The play style is like every other fighting game ever—depending on your chosen fighter, you’ll play through their story and, only by playing everyone’s does the plot fit together.
Still, this is another game in which the plot sort of hangs as a backdrop to the play experience. It’s easy to forget what you’re meant to be fighting for… not that that should stop you from beating the stuffing out of your opponents, which is really the whole point.
The grind/leveling element is a bit of a slog, although it’s worth it if you persist with it.
In summary, if the normal ATB system, random battles, and in-your-face plots aren’t your cup of tea but you still like Final Fantasy, this might be a game for you to try.
(And if you enjoy Dissidia, check out the prequel, Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy!)
Pros: The versatility of the characters’ fighting styles, an entirely voice-acted cast, and the ability to body-slam Sephiroth’s smarmy face through a wall.
Cons: Potential to be repetitive as you fight/train against the same enemies over and over and over and over and over and over…
4. Crisis Core – Final Fantasy VII
RELEASE DATE: 25 March 2008
Crisis Core is a prequel game to Final Fantasy VII, and as such, if you’ve never played VII, you’re going to be pretty confused. CC follows Zack Fair, a very important off-screen character in FFVII, and explores how his story leads into the events of Final Fantasy VII.
However, there’s an essence of how it’s told and how the story is developed that (a) makes its importance to the FFVII canon clear and (b) manages to tell the well-known story in a new and refreshing way. Even if you know what’s meant to happen with the plot, there are still moments of surprise and intrigue—stunning and enthralling in turn.
Also, Zack Fair is just a loveable puppy, a cinnamon roll who is too pure for this world.
All told, CC works (to an extent) as a standalone title, but it’s about 3000% better if you’re familiar with FFVII. There are character cameos, Easter Eggs for fans, and remixes of the original soundtrack—all of which aren’t necessary for understanding or enjoying the game, but which still heighten the experience.
|(Familiar faces~ :D)|
However, whether or not you’ve played FFVII, one of the pluses of CC is the battle system. Rather than being ATB, it has a play style more reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts. The iconic materia system has been retooled, and now, you can meld materia together to get more powerful skills. Additionally, because you’re playing as one character with limited materia slots, it requires increased tactical thinking—and perhaps, quite a bit more screaming and attempted-dodging as the enemy reigns merry hell on your health points.
PROS: ZACK FAIR ZACK FAIR ZACK FAIR, the battle system, 20-hour completion time, gorgeous visuals for a PSP game.
CONS: It’s very easy to get lost in the confusing morass that is Final Fantasy VII’s plotline and the somewhat rushed pacing (because it’s such a short game) can, at times, appear unfulfilling.
5. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
PLATFORM: Nintendo 3DS, iOS
RELEASE DATE: 3 July 2012, 12 December 2016
Undeniably, one of the greatest things about the Final Fantasy franchise is its stunning and inspirational soundtracks (check out my article on the best OSTs in the franchise if you’re interested). From Opening Theme, Bombing Mission (FFVII) to Theme of Suspicion (FFIV) to Sarutabaruta (FFXI)—to name a few—some of the most iconic scenes and experiences in these games are heightened by the music. And, if you’re like me, you’ve logged hours on YouTube and Spotify, listening to these tracks approximately eight million times.
Final Fantasy Theatrhythm swoops in like the dark knight and fills the OST void. It’s a music and rhythm game that boasts 70 iconic tracks from the original FFs, and allows you to play through three modes while listening to them. (Note: If you’ve ever been to a Distant Worlds: Final Fantasy concert, it’s a bit like that, except with more potential to murder your characters if you don’t pay attention.) The story, like Dissidia, features an ongoing battle between Cosmos and Chaos, because apparently those two can’t let it rest for even one minute. (Again. RUDE.)
The three main modes are battle, field, and event, and each features unique play experiences and nostalgia-inducing music. As with most other FFs, there are opportunities to level up your team, and a slew of other Easter Eggs that won’t be mentioned (because we’d be here until Easter if I tried to list them all).
|(Battle Mode)||(Field Mode)||(Event Mode)|
If you find yourself liking Theatrhythm, don’t hesitate to check out the sequel, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call (~$20).
PROS: FINAL FANTASY music. *screams* Also, cute chibi art!
CONS: When the game cuts off the song right at the best part, you fall just short of a perfect S-rank score, or you have to replay the same song 17 times.
So, what do you think? Which others of the 97 should we also check out? Sound off in the comments below!