Who Makes the Best Final Fantasy Games?

Who Makes the Best Final Fantasy Games?

We take an in-depth look at the men behind the long-running RPG franchise and ask, "Who does it best?"

We've looked at the numerous people behind the Mario games, the Sonic series, and even the various and sundry Batmen of the world. Next in our list of long-running franchises comes Final Fantasy.

But Final Fantasy is a little different than those other series. The main Final Fantasy games - the ones with Roman numerals at the end - are all developed internally at Square. And even most of the series' spin-offs are made there as well. Rather than switching from studio to studio, Final Fantasy has instead seen a remarkable number of directors and designers take the helm. In fact, just this week, the company announced a new director for the long-delayed Final Fantasy XV. It's quite the game of musical chairs.

So the question remains: Who makes the best Final Fantasies?

Hironobu Sakaguchi

Director: Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy V
Producer: Final Fantasy series through Final Fantasy X

Sakaguchi, also tragically known as "The Gooch" by the same people who call Shigeru Miyamoto "Shiggy," led the creation of the entire Final Fantasy series as an act of desperation to keep Squaresoft from going out of business. He directed the first five Final Fantasy titles himself, and remained as producer through FFX. When you think of classic Final Fantasy, you think of Sakaguchi.

Akitoshi Kawazu

Designer: Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II, The Final Fantasy Legend, Final Fantasy Legend II
Producer: The Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles franchise and Final Fantasy XII

Where Sakaguchi led the charge to define Final Fantasy, Kawazu has always been about making Final Fantasy weird. He designed the controversial combat system in Final Fantasy II, made the surreal Game Boy spin-off Final Fantasy Legend, turned Final Fantasy into an action series with Crystal Chronicles, and created the infuriating endgame in Final Fantasy XII. Final Fantasy has always been about experimentation, and no one is more experimental than Kawazu.

Hiromichi Tanaka

Designer: Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy III, Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy XI
Director: Seiken Densetsu 3

As one of the key designers of the 8-bit Final Fantasy games, Tanaka dabbled in the Mana spin-off series for a while before returning to refine Final Fantasy XI into the single most successful chapter of the entire franchise.

Koichi Ishii

Designer: Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy XI, Sword of Mana, Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu 3
Director: Final Fantasy Adventure, Secret of Mana, Legend of Mana

Like Tanaka, Ishii worked on Final Fantasy during the Famicom days, drifted over to Mana, then returned for Final Fantasy XI. However, he had a much greater role in developing the Mana series - originally called "Final Fantasy Gaiden" in Japan! - having directed three of the first four games in the series.

Kouzi Ide

Director: Final Fantasy Legend III, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest

You've probably never heard of Kouzi Ide, but you may remember his games with fondness. He directed the third Final Fantasy Legend, then reworked that game's mechanics into the beginner-friendly Final Fantasy Mystic Quest for Super NES, which offered many older fans their first glimpse into the Final Fantasy world.

Takashi Tokita

Designer: Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy IV: The After Years; Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light

If you love the 16-bit Final Fantasy games, you owe your gratitude to Takashi Tokita. His background in theatre and love of racing games helped Final Fantasy IV become a story-driven revolution in RPG design, with a brilliant semi-real-time combat system that became a mainstay of the series. More recently, he helped return the franchise to its 16-bit roots with The 4 Heroes of Light, which provided the foundation for this year's popular Bravely Default.

Hiryuki Ito

Designer: Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII
Director: Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy XII

Lots of people have had their hands in Final Fantasy's systems, but Ito created the series' most beloved and defining rule set: The Job System. A brilliant free-form class-change mechanic, the Job system alone would be an amazing legacy for Ito on its own. Oh, but he also worked on some of the best and most beloved games in the series.

Yoshinori Kitase

Director: Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy X
Producer: Final Fantasy XIII and its sequels

Kitase directed fan-favorite epic Final Fantasy VI right out of the gate and continued to guide the series through the PlayStation era into the modern day. While some see in Final Fantasy XIII a terrible misstep, its sequels demonstrate Kitase's determination to keep the series relevant and fresh.

Yasumi Matsuno

Director: Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII

While he only directed two Final Fantasy titles (and left partway through the second), Matsuno left a massive mark on the franchise. Final Fantasy Tactics remains a fan-favorite more than a decade and a half later, and the series is still trying to match the sheer scope and ambition of FFXII.

Tetsuya Nomura

Director: Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts II, Kingdom Hearts: coded; Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, Final Fantasy XV

Love him or hate him, Nomura has probably done more to shape the image and style of Final Fantasy over the past 17 years than anyone. He's gone from an anonymous pixel artist on the 16-bit titles to the designer behind characters like Cloud, Auron, and Lightning. On top of that, he also has been directly in charge of Final Fantasy spin-off Kingdom Hearts. His next project was supposed to be Final Fantasy XV, a game that will determine the future of the series in the HD era, but Nomura is instead focusing on Kingdom Hearts III.

Motomu Toriyama

Director: Final Fantasy X-2, Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Toriyama debuted by directing one of the most unfairly reviled Final Fantasy games ever, FFX-2. Then he directed the equally hated Final Fantasy XIII trilogy. But FFXIII's problems can largely be attributed to technical and high-level planning issues, and all of Toriyama's titles have been uneven but experimental and ambitious - making him a modern-day Akitoshi Kawazu.

Yuichi Murasawa

Director: Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Final Fantasy Tactics A2

It can't be easy to follow in the footsteps of Yasumi Matsuno, especially when you're given a mandate to make his dark, baroque plotlines kid-friendly. But Murasawa made the best of it, turning Tactics Advance's kiddie storyline into an interesting reversal that cast the protagonist as a sort of villain as well. Too bad about some of the underlying game mechanics, like the Judges...

Mitsuru Kamiyama & Hiroyuki Saegusa

Director & Designer: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Ring of Fate, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time

As Kawazu's key collaborators for Crystal Chronicles, Kamiyama and Saegusa helped transform Final Fantasy's RPG mechanics into a fast-paced Diablo-esque multiplayer loot grind. That's quite a feat!

Hajime Tabata

Director: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy Type 0, Final Fantasy XV

Tabata worked on Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy Type Zero. Apparently Square Enix liked his work on the first Final Fantasy XIII spinoff (Type Zero was originally called Final Fantasy Agito XIII) that they put him in charge of the other spinoff - Final Fantasy Versus XIII, now called Final Fantasy XV. It's a little early to call on this one, but Tabata's track record is certainly strong.

Naoki Yoshida

Director: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

The most recent addition to the Final Fantasy directorial pantheon, Naoki Yoshida. Though Yoshida has only worked on a single game, he's given a heck of a showing, almost single-handedly salvaging Square's single most disastrous game release of all time into something masterful with A Realm Reborn. We see good things in this man's future.

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