Japan Correctly Voted on the Top Five Final Fantasy Games of All Time

XIII deserves more credit, but you can't have it all.

The NHK, Japan’s national broadcasting organization, has closed out its official Final Fantasy poll with a whopping 468,654 votes. The poll surveyed for four categories: the top titles, characters, bosses & summons, and music.

The top five Final Fantasy games were (correctly) ranked as follows:

  1. Final Fantasy X
  2. Final Fantasy VII
  3. Final Fantasy VI
  4. Final Fantasy IX
  5. Final Fantasy XIV

Why correctly, you may ask, dear reader? Well, let’s go over that. The number rankings don’t matter so much as the fact that it’s these five Final Fantasy games that made it to the top of the list.

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final fantasy xiv

Let’s start with the fifth-ranking entry: Final Fantasy XIV. As I mentioned in my review of Patch 5.2, I’ve played almost 1000 hours of this MMORPG in less than a year. With Shadowbringers, it’s Final Fantasy at its best — sprawling, fun to play, emotionally wrenching, and bold. It’s unafraid to use its depth and size to tackle social issues, take you to wildly different gorgeous settings, and give its players an experience genuinely like no other. It only seems to get better the further that it grows, which is at a steady rate since the development team is extremely committed to constantly delivering content.

Also, it feels like almost every major character is bisexual. It’s great. Except when you want to kiss all of them and aren’t able to because this is an MMO.

I’d say it’s the best Final Fantasy, but it feels unfair to compare a massive and ongoing MMO to its single-player counterparts, most of which were made before the age of DLCs and constant updates. I suspect many voters felt the same, too.

final fantasy ix

Editor in Chief John Warren once called Final Fantasy IX the series highest point, and I agree. I have two Final Fantasy rankings: my favorites and the ones that I (as unbiasedly as possible) think are the best. Final Fantasy IX isn’t #1 on the list of my favorites, but it’s certainly always been #1 in my list of The Best Final Fantasy Games. And no list of that sort will ever be the objective and true ranking, but Final Fantasy IX makes an extremely strong case for itself being the best in the series.

Most of its characters are rich with complexity and get a nearly equal amount of screentime. The way it uses bright colors and a youthful art style to mask the fact that it’s likely the darkest Final Fantasy is sublime. It discusses themes like death, existentialism, and our purpose in life in a way that still hits too close to home at times. The romance between Garnet and Zidane is one of the series’ best. The ending still makes me bawl and is one of the best endings to anything — any game, movie, book, show — ever. The music is fantastic, as is everything else about it. Good on Japanese voters for making sure it’s in the top five.

final fantasy vi

In third place was Final Fantasy VI, because of course it was. It’s a beloved classic and the origin of iconic scenes like the opening and the opera scene that is still so impressive all these years later. In my list of Best Final Fantasy Games, it ranks right below Final Fantasy IX.

At times, it feels like its cast is too large for everyone to get a nearly equal amount of screentime. But, it mostly works, making for one of the biggest and most memorable casts in the series. Also, up until Final Fantasy XIV‘s Emet-Selch, Kefka was my favorite villain in the series — and he still is for many people. This is an incredibly ambitious game that explores life before and after the world’s ruin. It touches on themes like identity, parenthood, the value of platonic love, and so much more. Some would argue its soundtrack is the best in the series, and it’s not an argument too many people will eagerly fight you on.

Final fantasy vii

It’s hard to think of a game that shaped the JRPG genre into what it is today more than Final Fantasy VII. It will always remain to be one of the best — if not the best — Final Fantasy. For some people, a large part of it is the nostalgia that comes with having experienced it at its release. For others, it’s that it genuinely still holds up as an emotionally resonant story rife with social commentary. It changed the series forever; without it, who knows if Final Fantasy might still be as popular as it is today or if it’d look remotely the same. An HD remake for this game has to be the most requested thing in gaming — and luckily, both old and new fans will be able to experience it in stunning detail very soon. It’s frankly surprising that it wasn’t voted #1.

final fantasy x hd

Ah, yes. Final Fantasy X. Remember when I said that I have two Final Fantasy lists and that Final Fantasy IX is #1 on the “attempt at objectivity” list but not on the “personal favorites” list?

Final Fantasy X is the first on my personal favorites list.

So I’m surprised but certainly happy that Japanese voters ranked this as the best installment in the series. It truly is a wonderful entry that I still think about all these years later. I remember crying for hours after the ending, even though I had seen the ending years before I played the game myself. I remember bawling so much over “To Zanarkand” (which also ranked as the best song in the series) during a Distant Worlds concert that I heard a woman behind me drag me for filth when she told her friend, “That poor girl…she’s been crying so much all night.”

It’s one of the most beautiful love stories in gaming. Its colorful cast of characters could’ve used more development proportionally to Tidus and Yuna, but they managed to be memorable despite the focus on the leading heroes. The Southeast Asian aesthetic of Spira was a welcome and gorgeous change for the series, for it hadn’t explored that kind of setting before it. It’s a story that touches on chosen families, abuse, freedom, and what we leave behind when we die. It has its flaws, but it’s hard for fans like me to focus on them when the highest points of this entry are as magical as they are.

So, good on you, Japanese voters, for placing extremely solid entries in the top five rankings of the NHK poll. I’d make a case for Final Fantasy VIII being in there, or log on as The Official Final Fantasy XIII Defender, but that’ll be for another day. It’s hard to argue with this list.

Unless you’d like to. Then, by all means, share your passionate Final Fantasy takes with us.