The 10 Best Final Fantasy Protagonists, Ranked
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Over three decades after the first Final Fantasy took the world by storm, the iconic franchise hasn't quite lived up to its namesake. With a total of fifteen mainline entries--some with sequels of their own--and a myriad of spin-off games, anime, and other media, the series is anything but final. And with the success of Final Fantasy VII Remake and the hype surrounding PlayStation 5's upcoming Final Fantasy XVI, it's clear that fans' love of the property isn't going away anytime soon.
You could argue that Final Fantasy's excellent storytelling, vibrant settings, and engaging gameplay is what has kept fans interested all these years later--and you wouldn't necessarily be wrong. But most players would agree that the most memorable aspect of each entry has consistently and overwhelmingly been its diverse collection of party members, who capture our hearts and stick with us long after the credits have rolled. And the characters that tend to get much of that spotlight are the primary protagonists.
There's no denying that, as our party grows in each installment, we discover new favorite friends to adore--but it's the main characters that we begin our journeys with. It's these primary protagonists who we largely play as throughout the adventure and thus rely on to steer the game's core narrative. And as such, it's easy to grow attached to them as we watch them bare their emotions, develop relationships, and prevail against evil. Of course, it helps that they're usually pretty damn cool, too.
There are a lot of phenomenal main characters throughout the long and storied history of this beloved JRPG franchise, but rather than rank each and every one of them, we've compiled a list of the 10 best mainline Final Fantasy protagonists so far.
An orphan with aspirations of becoming a sky pirate, Final Fantasy XII's Vaan spends his days dreaming of how he'll someday escape the grip of an empire that looms large over his homeland. Headstrong but empathic, Vaan is a likable protagonist who knows when to step out of the spotlight and let other characters shine. He may be the game's main character on paper, but it's his party members that really take the lead here, and Vaan's perspective is a perfect lens for us to view their stories through.
From Final Fantasy XV's opening moments, it's easy to see that the bond between Prince Noctis and his trio of best friends is nigh-unbreakable. You could even argue that the real main character of FFXV is their relationship--but in truth, Noctis heads up the charge here as the stubborn and stoic archetype the series has tended to embrace over the years. As the game's story unfolds, though, Noctis proves himself a loyal and likable lead with depth and layers beyond our initial understanding.
The perpetually enthusiastic Bartz takes on the leading role in Final Fantasy V, and fans have long appreciated the character for his lighthearted demeanor and penchant for encouraging words. He's not the brightest of the bunch and is often slow on the uptake, giving him an endearing quality that sets him apart from some of the more mature or mysterious protagonists in the franchise. But if anything, it only proves that you don't have to always be quick-witted or sullen to be a lovable leading man.
Final Fantasy X features one of the most interesting collections of party members in the series, each with their own backstory worthy of emotional investment, but its main character Tidus is undoubtedly the core focus here. A teen with family trauma that has greatly impacted the direction his life has taken, Tidus finds himself wrapped up in something much larger than himself, but which might finally provide him the answers for which he's long searched. Relatable as he is occasionally annoying, Tidus is a charismatic lead who puts his friends first, isn't afraid to be vulnerable, and can play some mean Blitzball.
Squall begins Final Fantasy VIII as one of the series' most aloof main characters, showing limited ability to process his friends' needs and a strong distaste for the responsibility that falls on his shoulders early in the adventure. Despite his reserved demeanor, Squall possesses a strong sense of justice and desires to do what is right by himself and others. We eventually discover that his traumatic childhood has caused him to distance himself emotionally, allowing us to empathize with him as he learns to trust and embrace the love of his companions--and give it in equal measure.
Though the three previous games certainly had their own memorable casts, it was Final Fantasy IV which first introduced a main protagonist that would truly enthrall fans around the world. Cecil begins the journey as a Dark Knight, blindly following the orders of a king despite his growing suspicions that all is not as it seems. As the story unfolds, however, we witness not only Cecil's transformation into a more fitting Paladin but his unwavering bravery, compassion, and devotion to his friends.
Surprising almost no one, Final Fantasy XIII's protagonist initially checks all of the boxes as an impersonal, independent main character. Indeed, Lightning isn't the most approachable leading character at first, caring little about how her actions impact others. But equally unsurprising is her development into a more compassionate and loving companion as she develops bonds with her party members. In particular, the relationship she develops with the young and naive Hope--who clearly views her as a mother figure--softens her and helps her to realize she can make room in her heart for her friends and still be the badass she's always been.
Final Fantasy VI is unique in that it doesn't necessarily have a true main character, but it could nevertheless be said that Terra fits the role better than anyone else in the cast. Like many characters in the franchise, Terra begins the game on the wrong side of a conflict and soon finds herself joining a resistance to turn over a new leaf. Over the course of the game, we get to watch Terra evolve from a scared and uncertain protagonist into one filled with confidence and an overwhelming desire to leave the world a better place than she found it.
Final Fantasy IX eschews the previous two games' dark and brooding main characters for a more straightforward and friendly fellow named Zidane. This crafty thief may start off with some questionable morals in the opening hours of the game, but he quickly shows his true colors as a deeply affectionate person who will do anything for his friends. Thanks to his affable nature and undying courage, Zidane has secured his spot as a true hero's hero and one of the franchise's most unforgettable protagonists.
Few casts are as recognizable in the gaming world as that of Final Fantasy VII, offering some of the series' most beloved characters--from the pure-of-heart flower girl Aerith to the mysterious and murderous villain Sephiroth. But from the opening moments of the game when the train first rolls into Midgar and we see the spiky-haired Cloud lead from the roof, we know exactly who the star of this show is. Not only do fans love Cloud for his edgy looks and iconic Buster Sword, but his affecting tale of perseverance in the face of repeated grief and loss makes him a relatable character that players have been strongly attached to for over two decades. This tortured soul may not always sport the brightest or cheeriest personality, but his unshakable coolness and widespread fan impact have made him the definitive Final Fantasy protagonist.