10 Hardest Final Fantasy Games That Will Break Your Spirit

Final Fantasy, Square-Enix’s long-running flagship JRPG series isn’t overly tough, but there are several games that’ll have players casting Curaga repeatedly due to some particularly demanding enemy encounters.

It’s not just fearsome foes that can up the difficulty in a Final Fantasy game either. Some titles in the Final Fantasy canon test players with protracted side-quests, devilish minigames, and even emotional turmoil. Here are the hardest Final Fantasy games with boss battles, strategic combat, level grinding, and even minigames factoring into their various difficulties.

1. Final Fantasy XIV (2013)

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In a series as long and as storied as Final Fantasy, it comes as no surprise that the hardest adventure eschews the typically grand solo adventures the franchise is known for and instead sees players working together to combat all manner of evil in one of the greatest MMORPGs ever conceived.

While it wasn’t always the case, Final Fantasy XIV in 2024 is something of a marvel. The difficulty comes, not from just bosses harder than an Adamantoise in a crash helmet, but from the need for effective strategies and perfectly assembled teams of co-ordinated adventurers.

Raid bosses offer some of the greatest challenges across any Final Fantasy title, with even experienced parties struggling to take on some of the hardest foes Final Fantasy XIV and its many expansions have to offer.

While hardcore, veteran players will still inevitably struggle with the late-game content, it’s a slightly different tale of difficulty at the other end of the game, with new players often feeling overwhelmed and bamboozled by the myriad of options and a plethora of menus to learn, understand and keep track of.

2. Final Fantasy III (1990)

The World Of Darkness. Right there is why Final Fantasy III ranks so highly on this list. The final dungeon of Final Fantasy III is likely the point that most gamers will quit and never return.

What makes The World Of Darkness so imposing and so difficult isn’t one particular element but instead a combination of factors that conspire to undermine the progress of all but the bravest of players.

For starters, and this is an obvious one, The World Of Darkness comes at the end of the game, it’s normal that most games like to ramp up the difficulty on the home stretch, with even standard enemies threatening to derail players if they don’t pay attention to what they’re doing.

Next up, not only is The World Of Darkness filled with monsters, but it’s also home to five incredibly tough bosses. “Ah, that’s not so bad”, you might say to yourself, but here’s the kicker; there’s no save point…

Yes, entering Final Fantasy III’s final area requires players to traverse the hardest area in the game, overcome random battles against tough foes, and defeat several brutal boss encounters, all without resting and saving your progress. If your party falls in battle, that’s it, it’s time to start over.

3. Final Fantasy XVI (2023)

Having grown up in a household with a mother who wishes he didn’t exist, Final Fantasy XVI protagonist Clive Rossfield knows difficulty all too well, and that’s before his royal empire is invaded, his father decapitated and his brother ripped apart by the Eikon of Fire, Ifrit.

Eventually sold into a life of servitude, Clive has a truly rotten time at the start of Final Fantasy XVI and develops a (literal) burning hatred for those who have crossed him. Forgoing the series trademark turn-based battle systems entirely, Final Fantasy XVI allows Clive to dole out justice on the sharp edge of his blade in combat designed by Capcom veteran Ryota Suzuki.

If that name sounds familiar it’s because he famously acted as Design Lead for Devil May Cry V after applying his talents to Dragon’s Dogma, Monster Hunter, Marvel/SNK vs Capcom, and Onimusha. The rapid, electric combat of DMCV makes its transition to Final Fantasy XVI and brings with it a multitude of difficulty spikes across the game’s campaign.

Mastering Clive’s swordplay in real-time makes each fight an exciting ballet that will test even the most experienced hack-and-slash fans, let alone those players more accustomed to Final Fantasy’s typically slower combat.

Throw in unlockable harder difficulty modes, a New Game + that remixes enemy designs and their attack patterns, and a story set to punish the long-suffering Clive at every twist and turn and you have yourself one of the hardest Final Fantasy titles ever.

4. Final Fantasy Tactics/War Of The Lions (1997/2007)

Seb holding Final Fantasy  Tactics War of the Lions for the PSP

As the title implies, Tactics requires players to engage their grey matter as much as their magic and strength stats and features a lengthy campaign full of emotional twists and turns you’d expect from the series. With difficulty spikes pointer than Cloud Strife’s bonnet, there’s no denying Final Fantasy Tactics is one of the hardest games in the series.

Final Fantasy Tactics has no issues with throwing exceptionally tough enemies at players from seemingly out of nowhere. Cruising through several battles before coming to a sudden halt in the face of one incredibly powerful foe requires players to exhibit restraint and not launch their controllers across the room like they’re casting Firaga.

Despite the aggressive, and sometimes egregious, enemies, Tactics remains a firm fan favourite in the Final Fantasy series and one that players with an open mindset will cherish. 10 years after the original release date, players got a portable remake of the game for the PSP, an almost identical version with the same gameplay but some flaws removed. It ran perfectly and is an amazing game to keep your little grey cells flexed when away from home. Lots of gamers prefer the original, but there will always be a special place in our hearts for War of the Lions (and not just because it has an amazing name!).

5. Final Fantasy XIII (2009)

Protagonist Lightning cut onto the scene in 2010’s Final Fantasy XIII, a game I believe was unfairly criticised for its linear opening half but provided a wealth of entertainment and spectacular battles along with a battle theme energises anyone fortunate enough to hear it.

Final Fantasy XIII once again revised the battle system for the series with a fresh spin on the traditional Active Time Battle system that incorporated elements of Final Fantasy’s legacy jobs systems in the form of Paradigms that gave each non-playable character a specific role within combat. Additionally, each enemy came equipped with a stagger bar, bringing an extra layer to the Final Fantasy XIII combat onion.

The shift introduced a level of complexity to combat that made even standard encounters tense, hard-fought skirmishes that required players to first assign their party Paradigms correctly before battle, before quickly reacting and adapting to developments as they happen.

Encounters became thrilling affairs although several boss battles, including the final boss that must have its stagger bar depleted to receive damage in an epic confrontation set against the clock.

6. Final Fantasy VII (1997)

Brandon holding a copy of Final Fantasy VII

The enduring classic that is Final Fantasy VII has some absolutely wild optional bosses that are sure to test even the most experienced of RPG fans.

For starters, Ruby Weapon. This fearsome creature bent on protecting the planet after the evil Shinra Electric Company drains it of the Lifestream, resides in the deserts surrounding the Gold Saucer. Ruby Weapon is a towering crimson super-boss capable of ejecting party members from the battle, resulting in your party leader having to face this planet’s defender on their lonesome.

Emerald Weapon also leaps to the planets’ defense in Final Fantasy VII and proves another challenging enemy that will demolish most players on their first encounter. As if fighting a monstrous building-sized creature isn’t enough, Emerald Weapon lives underwater and is only found by exploring the depths in the submarine. Once engaged in battle, players will only have twenty minutes to defeat Emerald Weapon before their oxygen depletes and the party drowns.

7. Final Fantasy XII (2006)

image credit: square-enix/moby games

Parting with the Active Time Battle system of its predecessors, Final Fantasy XII took players back into the world of Ivalice with a brand new Gambit mechanic that saw players layering complex commands to create the ultimate automated fighting party.

With players able to tailor the actions of their party members with specific nuances to suit any encounter, the main campaign can become slightly trivial, especially to those who enjoy grinding and overlevelling. I’m one of those players and invested over one hundred hours into Final Fantasy XII upon its release on the PS2 back in 2006.

I had crafted the perfect war machine, with each of my party members rocking a high level and carrying an assortment of weaponry and Gambits that made any enemy a pushover. Until I discovered Yiazmat that is.

Hidden within the Colosseum at the Ridorana Cataract, this holy dragon is the ultimate mark in Final Fantasy XII’s hunting side quests, and sports over fifty million hit points. Even for seasoned adventurers, Yiazmat is a formidable and powerful foe, one that requires an elite party and incredible patience to defeat, with even the strongest of players taking over an hour to conquer the beast.

Alas, to this day, I have yet to beat Yiazmat myself. Vanquishing this legendary enemy remains high up on my gaming bucket list though.

8. Final Fantasy IX (2000)

image credit: square-enix/moby games

Final Fantasy IX was the final mainline entry for the series on the original PlayStation and makes its way onto our list not for its overall difficulty, which is relative soft compared to other titles represented here, but instead, for one of its mini-games; Jump Rope.

The playground favourite appears as an optional game in the city of Alexandria near the beginning of the game and sees players taking control of Black Mage Vivi as they attempt to repeatedly jump over the rope a set number of times in exchange for rewards.

Sounds simple enough, however, for completionists, Jump Rope poses the hardest challenge to Final Fantasy IX players looking for that coveted 100% completion. Jump Rope is played by pressing the jump button in time to the rhythm of the rope swings, however, consecutive jumps result in the rhythm becoming faster, with button presses requiring expert timing to prevent failure.

The aforementioned completionists will weep with despair upon learning that the rare key item ‘King of jump rope medal’ is only unlocked after nailing a staggering one thousand jumps in a row. Better get practicing!

9. Final Fantasy X (2001)

Square-Enix, hot off the back-to-back successes of Final Fantasies VII, VIII, and IX on PlayStation, released the next chapter of their flagship series on Sony’s second home console in 2001 and delivered an adventure that has endured in the hearts of many players for years to come.

While perhaps best known nowadays as the game that birthed that Tidus laughing meme, Final Fantasy X is deeper than a Blitzball pool, with a seemingly never-ending list of quests, mini-games and battles to undertake.

What cements Final Fantasy X on this list however is just how insanely difficult its side-quests are, with several ludicrous challenges sure to test the patience of even the most stoic of gamers. Gaining each party member’s Ultimate weapon will see players having to beat the notoriously fiddly Chocobo racing mini-game with a time of exactly zero seconds, a feat reserved for only the most tolerant of people while black mage Lulu’s Onion Knight weapon only becomes available after players successfully dodge two hundred lighting bolts in a row while navigating the Thunder Plains.

Oh, and then there are some of the optional bosses that pose the biggest threat to Tidus, Yuna, Wakka, and co. in the game, with the Dark Aeons capable of wiping off parties easily and super boss Penance holding a whopping twelve million HP!

10. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy (2007)

image credit: square-enix

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is a prequel to Square’s 1997 Final Fantasy VII and follows protagonist SOLDIER First Class Zack Fair as he uncovers mysterious goings-on concerning his colleagues, mentors, and heroes.

In the build-up to the events of Final Fantasy VII, Zack’s cheery demeanor enamours him to the player, with even the dourest of situations leaving the young swordsman with an uplifting determination.

It’s that ‘can-do attitude’ that ultimately marks Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII as one of the hardest Final Fantasy titles, although the exact reason why is below, with humongous spoilers for Crisis Core and Final Fantasy VII to follow.

As eluded to in the opening of this article, difficulty isn’t always based on overwhelming button dexterity or challenging quests. On those fronts, Crisis Core is rather manageable and its moment-to-moment gameplay, which sees real-time combat punctuated with a fun and novel “Digital Mind Wave” system granting players access to special moves and abilities, makes the majority of battles here a breeze.

Instead, Crisis Core packs an emotional punch that only players with hearts touched by Shiva won’t shed a tear over.

Zack’s exceptional likeability throughout Crisis Core cements him as one of the most beloved Final Fantasy characters of all time. Towards the end of this adventure, having fled Shrinra and the destruction of Nibelheim at the hands of Sephiroth, Zack’s luck ultimately runs out, and he’s brutally gunned down by the Shinra Army as he attempts to protect a comatose Cloud Strife. It’s a truly harrowing and traumatic scene and while Final Fantasy VII fans will know what’s coming, that knowledge doesn’t soften the impact of seeing Zack return to the Lifestream in this manner.

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