Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Top Ten Most Underrated Final Fantasy Games

With a new demo of Final Fantasy XV fresh in gamers' minds, I felt the desire to take a look back at the series. While counting down my favorite Final Fantasy games would take us all down already traveled roads, I figured that talking about the lesser appreciated games in the series would be a more worthwhile prospect. That's exactly what I've done with this top ten, one that delves into the Final Fantasy franchise's most underrated entries, whether mainline or spinoff.

10) Final Fantasy Explorers (3DS)

We begin this Final Fantasy focused top ten list with the most recent Final Fantasy to be released, Final Fantasy Explorers. The game is a beginner-friendly Monster Hunter-like action RPG where you create a character and embark on various monster-slaying, Eidolon-defeating, and item-collecting quests. With the materials and loot you earn, you can craft new armor and weapons for your character, thus enabling you to take on higher ranked quests. The longevity of Final Fantasy Explorers isn't anywhere near as deep as the series it was inspired by, but online play with up to three other buddies makes for exciting times.

9) Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call (3DS)

Probably my favorite rhythm game ever devised, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call, also on the Nintendo 3DS, combines three of my loves: Final Fantasy music, RPG gameplay, and rhythm-based inputs. Through tapping, touching, and holding the touch screen in time with the on-screen prompts (or utilizing the new button-based input methods), you deal damage to monsters or make your way through various environments. Level up your characters, learn new moves, unlock new songs and characters, and endure the fun quests that Curtain Call contains.

8) Final Fantasy Legend III (GB)

Perhaps the precursor to the wildly popular Chrono Trigger due to the game's fantasy and time travel elements, Final Fantasy Legend III has the main characters entering into the past, collecting over a dozen upgrades for their airship, the Talon, in order to stop a great flood from covering the planet. Take on various classes with different strengths and weaknesses as you battle foes to gain experience, earn new levels, and learn new magic and spells. Final Fantasy Legend III is by no means a complex game, but it hearkens back to a simpler time in gaming, and this title is a perfect example of that.

7) Final Fantasy V (SFC)

Originally a Japanese exclusive for the Super Famicom, Final Fantasy V got its first official Western release as part of the Final Fantasy Anthology for the original PlayStation, a two-disc compilation of Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VI. The game is known for introducing a high level of customization for characters thanks to the extremely beneficial job system. It makes multiple play-throughs of Final Fantasy V give the player a plethora of options for how they want to do a run of the game. This deep character customization would be utilized in various degrees in multiple future Final Fantasy games, most famously Final Fantasy Tactics. Being a game that was initially Japan-only, Final Fantasy V is one of the lesser talked about mainline entries in the long-running franchise.

6) Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (DS)

Let's get this out of the way first and foremost-- yes, Luso, the main character, looks ridiculous with his giant pizza cutter sword and wacky attire. However, if you can stand his out there fashion sense, what you get is a highly competent tactical RPG that, while nowhere near as serious as the original Final Fantasy Tactics, offers plenty of well designed maps, foreboding enemies, a high element of strategy, and numerous characters to grow attached to. What Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift doesn't have, though, is the mandatory law card judgment system that caused many a groan in the original Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.

5) Chocobo Racing (PS1)

The Final Fantasy series has visited numerous genres throughout its enduring lifespan. One such genre that Chocobo Racing took players to was the mascot kart racer, similar to Mario Kart. With a vast assortment of characters both already unlocked and unlockable, from Chocobo to Mog the Moogle, a White Mage to Bahamut, Chocobo Racing delivers plenty of variety in its roster. The tracks are themed after various Final Fantasy locations, and the modes are numerous, with the main attraction being Story Mode. While it's not the best kart racer out there, Chocobo Racing is indeed far better than the average reviews at the time would lead you to believe.

4) Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon (Wii)

Another game starring Chocobo, this time it's for a beginner roguelike in Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon. This game has the titular Chocobo entering the memories of the citizens of Lostime where labyrinthine dungeons filled with monsters and treasure lie. Chocobo can master various jobs that help him survive the challenges inside each dungeon. Chocobo's Dungeon features a gorgeous and pleasant-to-the-eye pastel style to its visuals, and many memorable themes from the Final Fantasy series made their way into the game. It all makes for a game that I really enjoy and wish more people had picked up.

3) Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers (Wii)

Moving from Wii game to Wii game, this next game features one of the coolest protagonists in a Final Fantasy game, the crystal bearer Layle. With his power, he can use his magic to "grab" enemies and objects and toss them into other foes to deal damage in the game's battles. That's not the main focus of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers, however. Instead, a greater focus is put on exploring the varied areas of the game as well as partaking in story progressing mini-games, such as piloting an airship through a narrow canyon and sneaking through the passenger cars of a secured train. Not only is Layle one of the cooler Final Fantasy heroes around, but the soundtrack is also one of the better ones for a Final Fantasy spinoff. All this adds up to a game that really deserves more attention.

2) Final Fantasy II (FC)

What does a group of four youths do when their parents are all killed during a military invasion? Why, they team up together and embark on an adventure to get revenge, rescue leading members of the military resistance, and take down key powers within the army. Final Fantasy II, the actual Final Fantasy II and not the U.S. numbered Final Fantasy II for the SNES, introduced many concepts into the Final Fantasy universe which would become mainstays for the series, including chocobos and various recurring enemies. The game uses an atypical and easily exploitable experience system where party member actions determine experience points given instead of gaining them from won battles. While Final Fantasy II has gotten more attention with its Western releases on the Game Boy Advance, PlayStation Portable, and mobile devices, it's still nowhere near where it deserves to be.

1) Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles (GCN)

A game that signaled the first time Square worked on a Nintendo home console since the Super Nintendo's Super Mario RPG, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles sports a rustic soundtrack (one of the series' best, for sure), old school stylings, engaging dungeon crawling, and remarkable multiplayer. However, the last point is only available by having four friends link up their Game Boy Advance systems to a GameCube. This took the wind out of many prospective players' sails. Nonetheless, if you could find three other friends with GBAs and link cables, then you'd find yourselves having a massively marvelous time, trekking through Crystal Chronicles's dungeons, facing off against familiar Final Fantasy foes and bosses, and working together to solve simple environmental puzzles. Even alone the experience is worthwhile, and that's why I have ranked Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles as the most underrated Final Fantasy game currently released.

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