is, without a doubt, one of the most iconic series in gaming. With a storied history stretching back all the way to the Nintendo Entertainment System, and with Final Fantasy XV looming in the distance, now is the perfect time to get caught up to speed on this seminal series. Fortunately, doing so is easier than ever as Square Enix is dedicated to bringing many of their vibrant worlds to iOS. Unfortunately, while there are some entries deserving of your time, more than a few of Square Enix’s forays onto mobile have ranged from disappointing to downright disastrous. If you’re dying to see what the fuss is all about or want to relive the glory of the franchise, here is the good, the bad and the ugly of Final Fantasy for the iOS.
Final Fantasy IV
Final Fantasy IV is an amazing game, and if you want to get started with the franchise, you couldn’t pick a better place to start. Notable for being one of the first games in the series to tell a gripping story, Final Fantasy IV is dark and affecting. IV also pioneered the Active Time Battle system, adding a sense of immediacy to each fight as monsters can take their turns while you decide your next move. The iOS version sports the 3D makeover and voice acting implemented in the DS version, and whether you play on your phone or iPad, the game looks great. Colorful and detailed characters, a sweeping soundtrack and a story that broke the mold for role-playing games make this one a must have for the iOS.
Final Fantasy VI
If Final Fantasy IV is notable for being the first to tell a nuanced story, Final Fantasy VI is the game that took all those lessons and built a masterpiece. Rising above the tropes that had come to dominate the genre, Final Fantasy VI is a sweeping epic of war, religion and destiny. If any Final Fantasy is deserving of being considered literary in nature, VI is the strongest contender. Things aren’t all sunshine and rainbows, however. In bringing this wonderful game to iOS, Square Enix attempted to update the graphics from the original SNES version, a controversial move that many would argue hinders the experience. But if you can stomach the changes, Final Fantasy VI is sure to enchant.
Final Fantasy III
Final Fantasy III was originally never released to western audiences until the DS remake that arrived back in 2006. That remake is now available on the iTunes store, and is worthy of recognition, even if the game represents a step down from the narrative aspirations of IV and VI. Instead, Final Fantasy III’s strength lies in the diverse job system. As the game progresses, you are able to change the classes of your four heroes from series icons like white and red mages to warriors, thieves and much, much more. The graphics, like IV, are colorful and charming, but it’s the battles and expansive job system that really make this one a memorable experience.
Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions
Departing from the traditional gameplay of the main Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy Tactics is Square’s adventure into the world of strategy role-playing. Though Tactics went through a troublesome release on iOS, the game is in better shape than ever and a must have for those looking to sink their teeth into an enticing adventure that can absorb hundreds of hours. Doubling down on military and political themes, Tactics is the deepest RPG on this list, but buyer beware: it also hasn’t aged as gracefully. The touch controls can be finicky, and you would be best served by playing along with a guide due to some wrinkles in the gameplay that can lead to serious frustration. Regardless, Final Fantasy Tactics is a worthy investment for those wanting extra depth and strategy.
Final Fantasy V
The other side of the Final Fantasy III coin is Final Fantasy V. Returning to the malleable job system of its predecessor, Final Fantasy V also forgoes the epic storylines of IV and VI and is ultimately more forgettable. Unlike Final Fantasy III, however, this title didn’t receive the 3D makeover. Square Enix did update the sprites to look a little more current that those originally found on the SNES, though. Overall, Final Fantasy V is the game to go for if you’ve already played the others. It isn’t bad, but feels a little less exciting, and the lack of polish makes III the superior title.
Final Fantasy Dimensions
Dimensions is the first traditional Final Fantasy game developed entirely for iOS. Don’t be fooled by the in-app purchases—this is a Final Fantasy through and through. That said, while Dimensions is a very suitable candidate for anyone hungry for some turn-based battling, it should really only be recommended if you’ve played the other games and are looking for an entirely new experience. Dimensions isn’t cheap, but it does come packed with the same job system that made III and V such great games to play, so it makes it on the list—but just barely.
Here it is, the seminal game that was intended to be Square’s swan song before going belly-up in the videogame industry. Unfortunately, despite a makeover, Final Fantasy is just too old to really recommend for those looking for a portable RPG experience. The combat is slow and the story is paper thin, acting only as a catalyst for battles instead of motivating players onwards. If you’re looking to see where the series got its start, Final Fantasy is serviceable, but few will find it as appealing standing next to its more refined successors and their more memorable characters.
Final Fantasy II
Final Fantasy II, like Final Fantasy, should mostly be played for academic reasons. That isn’t to say that II doesn’t do some interesting things, like a system that upgrades your stats based on how often you use them, but overall the game is too firmly rooted in a less player-friendly time. Random battles are so numerous it’s infuriating, and the combat crawls along without a powerful story to motivate you. If you want to measure how the series has grown, II will do the trick, but you’ll be glad that Final Fantasy has evolved since then.
Final Fantasy: Record Keeper
For diehard fans of the genre, Record Keeper sounds like the perfect love letter. The truth is that Record Keeper, despite having its charms, feels more like a cheap cash-in than the fan service so many players desire. Leading you on a tour through the greatest moments in the Final Fantasy franchise, Record Keeper falls short as each boss battle is disappointingly one dimensional, and the ensemble cast you collect lacks all of the heart that made them appealing in the first place. There are brief moments of nostalgia, but Record Keeper fails to recapture the magic.
Final Fantasy IV: The After Years
Final Fantasy IV sits at the top of this list, so surely its follow-up is more deserving? Nope. It turns out that The After Years is Final Fantasy IV’s awkward reunion episode, as this visit back to the seminal world and characters of IV is largely hollow and rife with been-there-done-that syndrome. The After Years doesn’t provide an extended closure to the climactic events of the original as much as it drags you through the same boss battles and rehashes the same plot points over and over. This one should be swept under the rug.
Final Fantasy: All the Bravest
If you were looking for the worst Final Fantasy ever, well, we’ve finally arrived. All the Bravest barely captures the essence of Final Fantasy and then infuses it with a shockingly aggressive free-to-play business model. All the Bravest bears a resemblance to the beloved franchise on the outside, but within houses an evil that is better off never touching the precious storage space on your phone. Rife with microtransactions, poorly designed and a soulless attempt to appeal to fans of the franchise, do yourself a favor and stay far away. You have been warned!
Steven Messner is a writer living in Alberta, Canada. When he isn’t hibernating, he is fervently writing about videogames. You can find him podcasting at PixelAttack.net or you can follow him on Twitter at @Stevenmessner.