Of course, the developers themselves are players and fans of the Final Fantasy series too, and finding out their favorite Final Fantasy games may offer a few hints as to the inspirations behind the new game. So during a visit to Square Enix’s Tokyo HQ, we asked six members of the dev team to tell us their Top 3 Final Fantasy games. Let’s take a look!
Naoki Yoshida (Producer)
“I’ve been a player since the NES days, so for me the original Final Fantasy was a huge deal. Partly because of (Yoshitaka) Amano’s illustrations, I was mesmerized by the game's strong sense of fantasy. Above all, the timing of where the game’s title logo appears had a great impact on me. It only appears after you finish the first part of the story: While the characters are crossing a bridge, the title logo finally appears. It made me feel like I had just watched the prologue of a movie. The game’s cinematic approach to storytelling and presentation was very inspiring. It’s still a huge milestone that indicates what the series strives to be.
“The next title I would want to mention is Final Fantasy III. The player controls the four Warriors of Light, and their names have not been decided. Thanks to the job system, you can customize your own characters. It was also the first iteration of the Active Time Battle system. To me, Final Fantasy III solidified the series’ systems. The world is of a grand scale, and the game’s difficulty was something to remember as well. I think this title showed me that Final Fantasy is a series that needs to have both a great story as well as well designed systems.
“I also love Final Fantasy VII. This one is not about your own roleplaying experience, but a roleplay experience in which you stand in the shoes of the unique characters that are Cloud and his friends. The graphics had a great impact on me, and the game’s volume of content was almost unbelievable at the time. It had three discs, and the amount of mini games it included is almost reminiscent of the amount of content you find in an MMORPG. You can feel the incredible power of Square’s developers at the time, eager to put every interesting idea they had in there.
“Final Fantasy XVI is developed by Square Enix’s Creative Business Unit III. The Final Fantasy games that have stayed with the members on this team tend to be the titles they played when they were young. In that regard, I guess you can say that the worldbuilding of the more classic Final Fantasy games until VI or VII are by far the strongest original experiences for us.”
Hiroshi Takai (Director)
“In third place, I would like to choose Final Fantasy X. I think it was a high quality, very well made Final Fantasy.
“Final Fantasy VI gets my second spot. It was the last Final Fantasy to use sprites. The vibrant sprites really show Square’s development skills at the time. This one was also very well made, especially when you take into account that it was made for the SNES.
“My No.1 is Final Fantasy V. This was also the first Final Fantasy I worked on as a developer, and I love its battle system. I think within the Final Fantasy series it is an unshakable No.1.
“As for whether any of the traits of these titles live on in Final Fantasy XVI, I think my best answer would be that creating your own character build by choosing from a set of abilities is reminiscent of Final Fantasy V.”
Kazutoyo Maehiro (Creative Director)
“It’s a bit weird to say with Takai sitting next to me (since Takai worked on the game), but for me too, Final Fantasy V is No.1.
“I played it as a student. The battle system is great, and at the end of the game pigeons fly through a scrolling overworld. It made use of Mode 7, a graphics mode of the SNES. After seeing that scene of flying pigeons I said to myself, ‘I’m going to make games one day too’. The overall game was just so well made, and it really inspired me. It is indeed an unshakable No.1.
“It might sound a bit self-flattering, but my No.2 is Final Fantasy Tactics. While not a numbered title, it was the first big game I got to work on as a game designer. Through this title, I decided what type of game developer I was going to become, and that hasn’t changed since. It’s a title near and dear to my heart. Final Fantasy V is included in the Pixel Remaster series, but Final Fantasy Tactics can be difficult to play today. I hope to be able to resurrect it someday.
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“My No.3 is Final Fantasy XII, which – again – sounds like self flattery. I have worked on a number of Final Fantasy titles and worked in a different position each time. For XII, I was the Combat Director. Creating a new type of combat while making a Final Fantasy true to my own vision is something I won’t forget.”
Ryota Suzuki (Combat Director)
“My No.3 is Final Fantasy V. I really loved the battle system. There is a job type called Freelancer, which allows you to keep the traits and statuses of other jobs. This is something that lives on in Final Fantasy XVI, as you can take mastered abilities to other builds. In that sense, I think that Final Fantasy V greatly inspired our battle system.
“Final Fantasy X is my pick for second place. When X was released, I was already working as a game developer, but I got totally lost in the game’s world and lost track of time. I don’t think there’s been another game in which I wanted to see what happens next in the story as much as in Final Fantasy X. I think that Final Fantasy XVI’s story is just as appealing.
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“Final Fantasy III is my No.1. It was the first Final Fantasy I played, and it gave me a huge appreciation for the RPG genre as a whole, and it encouraged me to delve into titles like Final Fantasy II. Final Fantasy III’s job system allows you to change jobs. For me, it’s the most iconic RPG out there. I think I was in elementary school at the time. I fondly remember wanting to play it as soon as I got back home from school.”
Hiroshi Minagawa (Art Director)
As a player, I like older titles such as Final Fantasy III and V. I entered the video game industry right after I moved to Tokyo, and Final Fantasy III was the first Final Fantasy I played after I started working. As a young developer, I was astonished by what the team had accomplished on the NES. Before that I was just a student, so I was only enjoying games as a player, and didn’t really realize how technically impressive they were. In that sense, Final Fantasy III showed me what I lacked as a developer at the time. I bought it right away and played it at the studio I worked at until late in the night.
“With its job system and abilities, for me Final Fantasy V established my idea of what the Final Fantasy series is.
“If I had to mention another title, I guess it would be Final Fantasy XII, a game I worked on myself. It was very challenging to develop, both in good ways and bad ways. It gave me a great sense of accomplishment, and I have a lot of memories from that title.”
Michael-Christopher Koji Fox (Localization Director)
“My favorite Final Fantasy of all time would have to be Final Fantasy V. It wasn’t the first one I played: I’ve been playing them since the first one came out in America. But V was the first one that really blew me away. Growing up in the United States, there were a lot of violent cartoons, but nobody ever died in them, at least not in the media that I consumed when I was young in the 1980s. But in Final Fantasy V – spoilers – there’s a point in which a main character dies. That got me thinking: You can do this in a game? From that point I thought this is the series that I want to stick with.
“The next one on the list for me would be Final Fantasy XI. That was the game that got me into Square Enix. I was up in Hokkaido teaching English, and when I came home at night I needed a release, which was playing Final Fantasy XI. I started playing with the beta version and I fell in love with it. It was while looking for tips for Final Fantasy XI that I found out that Square Enix was looking for localization staff, and so that’s how I got into the company. They were looking for someone to translate. I had fallen in love with Final Fantasy XI as a gamer and then was able to work on it, which was very exciting for me.
“Then I think the third title would have to be Final Fantasy XIV, just because of the natural progression of working on Final Fantasy XI and then XIV as well from the beginning. A lot of my ideas were incorporated and are still being used. I was excited to enjoy a game both as a player and a developer.
“We are using a lot of the terms of lore and terminology that we came up with in XI and XIV for XVI as well.”
As Yoshida points out, the team’s most popular Final Fantasy games are often the ones they grew up playing with. It was also interesting to learn the memories some of them shared about the titles they helped bring to life themselves.
With votes from five out of these six developers, Final Fantasy V is the team’s most popular title. Final Fantasy III gets three votes, while Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XII come in at joint third place with two votes each.
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According to director Takai, one thing should be noted when looking at these rankings.
“Final Fantasy XVI was obviously excluded in these rankings. If we were to include it, it would be the No.1 for all of us, which would be boring, right?” Takai says with a chuckle.
Final Fantasy XVI releases for PlayStation 5 on June 22.
Esra Krabbe is an editor at IGN Japan. His favorite Final Fantasy game is Final Fantasy X.