There is no disputing the popularity of Final Fantasy. With a storied history of games lasting over thirty years, there is still momentum propelling the series ahead toward its bright future. The games wouldn’t be nearly as strong as they are now without the worlds and characters that bind them together.
Since the very first Final Fantasy released in 1987, we’ve seen characters from multiple backgrounds – moody mercenaries for hire, mischievous thieves, and amnesia-stricken heroines.
A game can’t be successful if the leading character isn’t developed and likable. Thankfully Square Enix has produced protagonists that mostly fit that bill – though there are some exceptions. There is much discourse with some leads getting more love than others. Overall, though, Final Fantasy characters, are celebrated. Here’s our ranking of all protagonists from the Final Fantasy series.
Warriors of Light – Final Fantasy
The Final Fantasy series started out as JRPG on the Nintendo Entertainment System. While it was ambitious at the time, the story and its characters in retrospect lack the depth that more recent ones have.
The main characters of the first Final Fantasy aren’t characters so much as they are avatars moving through a 2D space to view the world’s story. There are four nameless leads who are on a quest to restore light to their darkened crystals. It’s not groundbreaking and, frankly, they’re boring.
Luneth – Final Fantasy 3
The original Final Fantasy 3 originally focused on four orphans, but in subsequent remakes of the game, one was chosen and given a name while the other three were recruited later. While Luneth is much more developed than the Warriors of Light, he’s still one of the blandest Final Fantasy characters.
He is confident and sometimes reckless, but overall he’s fairly one-note. It’s still a step up from the game’s original outing. Thankfully, the remake of the game is still a fun romp thanks to the job-based battle system.
Firion – Final Fantasy 2
Again, the earlier Final Fantasy games hadn’t found their footing with character development, and Firion is another stiff lead. His beginnings are very similar to Luneth’s as they’re both orphans, but Firion is a little more interesting as he deals with his adoptive parents even being murdered.
Much of his personality and story check off typical hero narrative boxes. When compared to other characters on this list, he just doesn’t have a lot going for him.
Bartz Klauser – Final Fantasy 5
Bartz is a laidback guy. He is, you guessed it, an orphan, though, unlike Firion and Luneth, he didn’t lose both his parents at once. Bartz fancies himself a wanderer and goes out looking for adventure in Final Fantasy 5 mostly because his father thought he should.
While he isn’t particularly developed, at this point in the series, characters really began having more nuance to them. Bartz has some ever-so-slightly interesting traits like being afraid of heights and trouble talking about his emotions. It’s a big step up from the first four entries, but he’s still far from being one of the best Final Fantasy characters.
Vaan – Final Fantasy 12
Vaan is an interesting case for a lead character. He is a street thief looking to avenge his brother’s death, but he isn’t largely involved in the game’s main conflict. In an odd move, he exists instead as a character meant to view the main story rather than be a major player in it.
It isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but pretty much every other party member in the game is more dynamic than poor Vaan. Thankfully the game’s party system allows you to remove him from your party if you want and use others.
Serah – Final Fantasy 13-2
Serah isn’t a bad protagonist, there are just a lot more interesting ones besides her. She also has the unfortunate task of being the lead in a spin-off game when, frankly, there were better choices.
While it makes sense in the context of the story, Serah isn’t particularly dynamic and she wasn’t even a party member in Final Fantasy 13. Maybe that could be forgiven if she was more interesting. Her ability to see the future and her relationship with Lighting does make for some really good story moments, but in terms of Final Fantasy characters, she’s middling.
Tidus – Final Fantasy 10
There is part of me that wants to fill Tidus’s entry just with HAHA to get my point across, but he deserves a little more than that. Tidus is a bit all over the place. On one hand, he can be incredibly annoying, whiny, and thickheaded. On the other, it’s easy to feel sympathetic for him because of his past. He’s also stuck in the future where he doesn’t know anyone.
Tidus does evolve over the course of the game and cares deeply for everyone, especially Yuna. He does, mostly, grow out of his hardheadedness, and it’s hard not to like the guy by the end of the game.
Cecil – Final Fantasy 4
Cecil is kind of a badass. He’s a respected, strong, and gifted warrior in battle. To his friends, he’s loyal, forgiving, and kind. While he’s also an orphan (yes, another orphaned Final Fantasy character), he isn’t necessarily defined by the loss of his parents.
His prowess in battle comes at a price as he takes on the job of a Dark Knight. Over the course of the game, he struggles and feels that some of what he does for the King in this role is bad as he steals from innocent people. It’s a nice change of pace, especially this early in the series, and seeing a protagonist outwardly struggle helps players care about what’s going on, too.
Lightning – Final Fantasy 13
Even if you fall into the camp that doesn’t enjoy Final Fantasy 13 for its linearity, it’s hard not to root for Lightning. She’s independent and, at first, cold. So much so that she’s willing to leave others behind in order to get ahead in rescuing her sister. Lightning’s drive is admirable. Nothing stands in her way.
Like most protagonists on this list, she is also an orphan. That causes her to care deeply for her sister since she, being the older sibling, had to care for Serah. She also becomes a mother-type for Hope and often scolds Snow for his behavior, especially when it concerns Serah, to whom he is engaged.
Noctis – Final Fantasy 15
Noctis is the heir apparent to the Lucian throne. Despite his royal lineage, he treats his friends and those he meets as his equal. Overall, he’s very level-headed, but he fears losing those close to him. The best part about Noctis, though, is his relationships with Prompto, Gladiolus, and Ignis.
While the party size stays small, their bonds are already established since they’re old friends. Seeing Noctis and his friends’ relationships continue to grow, even into middle-age, is something that isn’t seen in many games, and by the end of the game, it is easy to care deeply for them.
Terra – Final Fantasy 6
While Final Fantasy 6 doesn’t really contain any one main character, Terra is the first character players meet and control and she’s featured on the cover art so she’s designated that lead status. Terra was also the first female protagonist in the series, opening the door for those that would come later.
Terra’s amnesia and inner struggles with her past craft some great character moments. She’s fearful of her powers and capabilities to the point she doesn’t want to use her powers. The amnesia plot could easily have fallen into expected territory but FF6 handles it well and allows Terra to grow.
Squall – Final Fantasy 8
Most think of Squall as the cold, distant, and lackadaisical protagonist of Final Fantasy 8, and, in part, that’s not inaccurate. If you define him solely by these traits though, you’re doing a disservice to his past and the character arc he has over the course of the game. He can be difficult, but he also gets things done and is very responsible.
Much of his distance and whatever attitude can be pointed back to his childhood trauma. He is distant because of just how taxing losing his parents and sister was on him as a kid. He’s afraid to get close to others and form attachments, but part of him does want these connections. It’s a welcome addition to the orphan storyline that so many Final Fantasy characters have.
Zidane – Final Fantasy 9
After several futuristic game entries, Final Fantasy 9 goes back to its fantasy roots and is arguably the best entry in the series. Zidane is quite the departure from previous protagonists. He’s a happy-go-lucky thief and actor who has a penchant for chasing girls. Zidane is loyal and cares for his friends deeply.
What makes Zidane one of the best Final Fantasy characters is his light-hearted attitude. Many leads in the Final Fantasy series are sullen and/or annoying, but Zidane is mostly just a cheerful guy. There are later central, game developments that challenge him but he remains dedicated and loyal. He never really become irritating.
Yuna – Final Fantasy 10-2
Yuna’s first appearance in Final Fantasy 10 already ranks her among the best Final Fantasy characters, but her lead role in the sequel shows she can headline a game, too. In her first outing, she’s willing to sacrifice herself to briefly give peace to the world. That kind of resolve takes much dedication and guts.
In Final Fantasy 10-2, her life is a bit easier. While she’s still kind and thoughtful, she’s also more fun and free-spirited without her death threatening her. She is determined to live life for herself and not others.
Cloud – Final Fantasy 7
Cloud truly is one of the best Final Fantasy characters in the series and also the most recognizable. As the protagonist, he has a heart-wrenching backstory where he more or less doesn’t know who he is anymore. We also get to see the way he changes from stoic hardass to emotional lead as he grapples with Aerith’s death and the Planet’s looming destruction.
His struggles with his mental health are some of the most profound in the series. Cloud is eventually able to fully realize who he is thanks to help from Tifa. He’s a broken person with flaws, but it’s hard not to root for him. He’s sometimes socially awkward and fearful of looking stupid, but he’s also loyal to his friends to the very end.
If you’re a fan of Cloud make sure to check out our list of the best Final Fantasy 7 Remake mods. There are a couple of them that center around the protagonist.
Who are your favorite Final Fantasy protagonists? Do you agree with our ranking? Let us know in the comments below!