There are tons and tons of reasons people all over the world love the Final Fantasy series. Dating back to the NES, this JRPG series paved the way for games to grow into the medium we know them as today. Games of that era typically reserved their “story” for a small paragraph that was tucked away in the instruction manual and largely inconsequential to the actual game. Final Fantasy bucked that trend by creating worlds, stories, and characters that you grew to know and love, or hate, as the game went on. They were some of the first true narrative-driven adventures in gaming, and a major component in the series’ continued success is delivering new and deep characters with each installment.
- Cloud Strife (Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VII Remake)
- Auron (Final Fantasy X)
- Noctis Lucis Caelum (Final Fantasy XV)
- Aerith Gainsborough (Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VII Remake)
- Terra Branford (Final Fantasy VI)
- Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VII Remake)
- Yuna (Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2)
- Kefka Palazzo (Final Fantasy VI)
- Cidolfus Telamon (Final Fantasy XVI)
- Zidane Tribal (Final Fantasy IX)
- Squall Leonhart (Final Fantasy VIII)
- Balthier (Final Fantasy XII)
- Ramza Beoulve (Final Fantasy Tactics)
- Tidus (Final Fantasy X)
- Torgal (Final Fantasy XVI)
- Moogles and Chocobos (Final Fantasy series)
With the main series closing in on 20 entries (and they don’t seem to be stopping anytime soon with Final Fantasy: Rebirth in the queue), not counting spinoffs, sequels, and non-numbered titles, the Final Fantasy series has introduced us to hundreds of memorable characters. From our heroic knights and reluctant saviors to devilish and downright mad villains, and all the party members met along the way, everyone has a favorite. Because there are just so many to pick from, and every gamer relates to something different, ranking the best characters would be an impossible task. Instead, we’ve compiled what we believe to be the definitive list, in no specific order, of the best Final Fantasy characters of all time. Heroes, villains, party members, and even NPCs are all eligible. Let’s see who makes the cut!
Note: There will be some spoilers for character arcs and story twists in this list.
Where else could a list of best Final Fantasy characters start, even an unranked one, but with the star of Final Fantasy VII, Cloud Strife? Basically the poster boy for the entire series, Cloud is one of the most iconic designs in the entire series. His spiky hair, slim features, and, of course, massive buster sword are more recognizable than just about anything else in the entire franchise. That is due, in large part, to him being the first fully 3D protagonist in the series. Yes, his overworld model is essentially a Lego figure, but in battle, and artwork, you can see him in his full glory. Beyond appearances, it’s who Cloud is that really drew people in.
Cloud is initially kind of an unlikable character. He’s a merc ex-SOLDIER who only helps out trying to take down the evil power company for the cash. However, and this is much better realized in the remake, there’s clearly something deeper going on with Cloud. His mysterious past and connection to Shinra and the villain Sephiroth are all set up masterfully. When we finally learn the truth, and learn that Cloud isn’t who he thinks he is, it turns everything on its head. His story is that of identity and breaking out of isolation, which are timeless themes that so many people playing these games can relate to.
Be honest, we all thought Auron was the coolest character in Final Fantasy X. This older character, with a touch of gray, awesome red coat, rad sunglasses, and tasteful scar over one eye, was basically engineered to be the most mysterious and cool character possible. Oh, and that’s not even mentioning the smooth, low tones of his voice that pull the entire character together. This was the first game in the series to implement voice acting, and say what you will about other casting choices (we certainly will later on), but Auron’s voice was about as perfect as we could imagine. Granted, his weird habit of tucking one arm inside his coat kind of like it’s in a sling rather than putting it through the sleeve is a bit over the top, but on the other hand, it is awesome to see him pull it free in dramatic fashion at the start of battle.
Auron fills the role of mentor for Titus, and later Yuna as well. He is a warrior monk who accompanied both Titus and Yuna’s fathers on the previous pilgrimage to defeat the giant kaiju that terrorizes the world, known as Sin. He’s the wisest character on the team but doesn’t give any more information than necessary. When he does speak, it’s usually short and to the point. Like many of the best characters, Auron has a secret that is revealed around halfway through the game. He is actually dead, and only remains in their world because he promised Titus’ father he would look after his son. Rather than relate to Auron directly, this is a character many people admire and aspire to be like. He’s honorable, dependable, and never compromises on his morals. While a bit distant, he’s very much a father figure type to many people.
Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum is an interesting story. Setting aside what he was supposed to be, the character we got is only somewhat comparable to one other Final Fantasy character on this list, that being Squall. Their similarities are only surface level, though, and his past and personality are all his own. When we first meet Noctis and his sworn brothers, he comes off as the typical spoiled royalty type. He complains about just about everything and is pampered and has everything taken care of by his three friends. As we get to know him more, his personality begins to make more sense, as well as what his relationship with his three companions really means to him.
It might be cheating a bit, but Noctis’ character is only so strong because of the relationship he has with Ignis, Gladio, and Prompto. Final Fantasy XV is arguably more about brotherhood and bonds than it is about saving the world. Noctis, like so many of us, is kind of a shy kid who doesn’t really know how to interact with the world. Thanks to his friends, he begins to find himself and starts to let his personality come through. The camaraderie of Noctis and his friends camping out, eating meals, and even their banter in fights is just impossible to not be envious of.
Aerith, and we don’t say Aeris here, shares a lot of similarities to Yuna, but the way they each formed their personalities and attitudes around their roles in their stories couldn’t be more different. Aerith is introduced as the flower girl, selling her delicate plants on the dirty streets of Midgar that she grows in her secluded church. At first, she seems just as fragile as her flowers, but once Cloud comes falling through her roof, and some Shinra goons arrive to harass her, Aerith’s true personality starts to emerge. She wasn’t some innocent, happy-go-lucky dolt that she might’ve appeared to be. Instead, we found a woman who knew how to play off people’s perceptions of her and completely subvert them.
Aerith is a fantastic example of a strong, well-realized female character in gaming’s early years. She rejects the role of being the damsel in distress, despite a good chunk of the game focusing on rescuing her, by making it her choice to go with the villains to save others. And, here’s the big spoiler that just about everyone knows, she ends up making the ultimate sacrifice trying to save the world. That moment really cemented something people didn’t even realize was happening. We were falling in love with Aerith, not just Cloud. It just didn’t occur to us, because she was a party member so she couldn’t actually die, right? It’s just a shame that, unless Final Fantasy VII Remake intends to subvert this plot point, it has been spoiled for so many people.
While we’re talking about strong female characters in Final Fantasy, it would be criminal to ignore the protagonist of Final Fantasy VI, Terra Branford. Terra was Square proving they could write believable and non-stereotypical women in their games, leading to more representation in characters like Aerith and Yuna, to name just two. They didn’t just make Terra a power fantasy, or Mary Sue, even though it would have been so easy to do. Terra is a rare mix of a human and Esper, allowing her to use magic but also literally splitting her between the two warring forces of the world. While the rest of the cast of Final Fantasy VI is quite strong, especially the villain (hint hint), none can compare to the love poured into Terra.
Making a character a mix of two races could so easily be handled poorly, but Square focused her character on all the right aspects. Her story is about rejecting the path laid out before her, and even her own nature in some aspects, and being her true self. Yes, the game wasn’t as subtle as it could’ve been in this regard, having literal mind control playing a role early on, but with that aside, Terra’s story of coming to terms with who she really is speaks to real-life experiences very directly. Her journey is just as much internal as it is external, but both play off one another to make her the top pick for best female protagonist in any Final Fantasy game to date.
It is somewhat fitting that the only other character in the Final Fantasy series that could compete with Cloud for most recognizable is his own villain. Sephiroth and his massive katana carved out a massive space for himself when he debuted in Final Fantasy VII, and his presence still sends ripples through gaming to this day. His long silver hair, aforementioned sword, and cold features alone make him an intimidating figure, and that’s before you see what physical and mental feats he’s capable of. Sephiroth’s introduction is a masterwork of building tension and mystery. Cloud knows who this person is before we do, following his path of destruction until we see his story play out.
Again bucking the trend of games that didn’t bother putting much effort into their narrative, Sephiroth is not a static character. We learn more and more about who he was, how he became who he is, and then watch how he reacts to Cloud and his party attempting to stop his plans. What’s so compelling about Sephiroth is the combination of his plans and justifications, as well as the trigger for what caused him to reach those conclusions. The revelations about his origin are not too dissimilar to other characters on this list, only Sephiroth’s tragic history pushed him further from humanity. While we’re not meant to agree with him, the writers made sure we understood and could follow why Sephiroth became the way he was, which is the mark of a fantastic villain.
If you just removed the opening segment where you play as Tidus, there would be no reason to say Final Fantasy X’s main character was Yuna instead. In fact, many people argue that should’ve been the case. The entire plot revolves around her, and she has just as much agency, perhaps even more when you think about it, than even Tidus does. She’s a summoner, a person with the exceptional responsibility of embarking on a pilgrimage across the world, learning new summons, until she can perform the final summon and defeat Sin. To do this, Yuna and any other summoner attempting this feat are accompanied by guardians to protect them. That may seem like Yuna is too fragile to make the journey on her own, and at first, she even appears to be, but the truth is so much deeper than that.
Yuna is a soft-spoken and kindhearted person who befits the typical Japanese stereotype of a shrine maiden at times. Her bravery doesn’t really click until the major revelation in the latter portion of the game becomes known. Once you learn the context that defeating Sin with the final summon only brings peace for a few years and results in the death of the summoner, her attitude and actions through the game up until then suddenly take on new meaning. Yuna is willing to knowingly sacrifice herself for just a moment of peace for the world from Sin. To her, that’s a fair trade. Thankfully that didn’t come to pass, and she was able to overcome that fate and officially star in Final Fantasy X-2. There are some who consider this sequel a step back for her character, but we think the evolution from her more reserved demeanor to a confident star tracks for where her arc was taking her.
The insane clown or jester trope may be a little over-saturated today, but back in the day, Kefka Palazzo was second only to the Joker, or maybe Pennywise, in terms of pure, chaotic evil. Unlike the Joker, Kefka actually does begin as a true clown, but his determination to fulfill his twisted desires is strong enough to lead him into becoming a world-destroying demon. That’s right, Kefka is a villain who, partway through the game, essentially wins and nearly kills everyone on the planet with his power. He is truly despicable, but in that perfect way where he’s so captivating every time he shows up that it’s impossible to not be glued to the screen. Even his sinister laugh is enchantingly sinister in all its compressed glory.
Sometimes, the reason we appreciate a character is just based on how much we want to take them down. Kefka is the perfect example of a villain who no one would feel any regret taking down. He is quite literally the cause of the end of the world, and his motivation is just based on his psychotic nature. Sure, we suppose his twisted sense of determination to achieve his goals is something we can admire, but there’s really nothing about this character people relate to. He’s basically what a cartoon villain would look like if they actually achieved enough power to do what they wanted. We all loved to hate Kefka from beginning to end.
There are over a dozen Cids we could pick from across all the Final Fantasy games, but if we had to choose the best Cid then we have to go with Cidolfus Telamon from Final Fantasy 16. The Cid character is unique in each mainline game, with only his (or her as is the case in Final Fantasy XV) name being the consistent element. In Final Fantasy 16, Cid is a fellow Dominant and leader of a band of outlaws. Like most Cids, he has a scientific mind and will join up with you as a party member for a duration of time.
In this incarnation, Cid is a former soldier of the Royal Army of Waloed who has deserted the army in order to try and create a safe haven for all the persecuted and exploited people in the world. His personality perfectly compliments Clive’s, but unfortunately sacrifices himself for the cause in the end.
After a long stretch of more serious and brooding main characters, Final Fantasy IX took the series in a different tonal direction with Zidane Tribal. Unlike his predecessors, Squall and Cloud, Zidane is much less self-serious, despite having an equally troubled past. His only goal for the beginning portion of the game is to find his home again, and he sets off on every adventure with an optimistic attitude and joy. This was a great refresh from a long line of heroes who took hours to warm up and even accept the adventure ahead of them. While neither is necessarily better than the other, a lot of fans were glad to have a hero who was more gung-ho about the quest.
We glossed over it earlier, but Zidane’s history doesn’t exactly lend itself to creating a character as upbeat as he turns out to be. Without spoiling it, just know that it is as dark and heart-wrenching as any other in the series, and yet Zidane doesn’t come out of it like most other protagonists do. Instead of closing himself off to others and hiding away inside himself, he chooses to do the opposite and be more outgoing. He strives to make more connections, help more people, and use his history as an inspiration to make the future better. Most other characters spend a long time learning this, so it’s interesting to follow Zidane as he imparts his own ideology onto his equally interesting party members and, by extension, the player. At the very least, people will be drawn to his optimistic attitude toward life, regardless of what came before.
Let’s all just be open and admit that we had that edgy phase in our lives. That point where we were too cool to smile or crack jokes anymore. Well, Squall Leonhart was right there with us. There are some out there who write Squall off as being shallow. They say his only character trait is being angsty or too standoffish. To their credit, he does push this line a little harder than Cloud did, to the point where “whatever” became a meme for how he responded to most situations, no matter how serious. While his cold demeanor never thaws to the point we see in other initially distant protagonists, that very solitary, brooding nature was more than enough to earn him a dedicated fan base.
Squall Leonhart isn’t so much a hero as he is an anti-hero. That alone will create strong feelings for the character in both directions. So, yes, there are some who hate his self-serious attitude and apparent lack of empathy, while others will find his persona very relatable as a person with emotional (and physical) scars who just wants to protect himself. Then, of course, there’s the relationship between him and Rinoa. She slowly warms Squall’s (Leon)heart throughout the game until he begins to realize it’s OK to open up to people who care about him. Learning to not use the past as an excuse to shut out the future is a tough lesson, and the fact that Squall seems to still be learning it by the end of the game makes it a more believable, and relatable, arc.
One short note here is that, according to internet people, Vaan wasn’t supposed to be the protagonist of Final Fantasy XII. Balthier was the original pick for the main character, but Vaan was inserted because he would be a more marketable character. The result was a main character who felt secondary for most of the game. Regardless, Balthier steals the show back from Vaan in every scene he’s in, even to the point of calling himself “the leading man” on multiple occasions. The entire plot of Final Fantasy XII is often compared to Star Wars, and there are plenty of similarities, and Balthier himself bears a lot of similar traits to one of that franchise’s best characters: Han Solo. A sky pirate by trade who reluctantly gets tangled up in a war, he’s aloof, smooth-talking, and just the right amount of scummy. He felt way less like a stereotypical JRPG character than most characters in Final Fantasy.
With the charisma and charm of Jack Sparrow or, as mentioned, Han Solo, Balthier is always the most interesting and entertaining character on screen. Like Zidane to some extent, Balthier was immediately attractive because of how different he was from basically any other character in the franchise prior. He’s, as mentioned, a charmer who is just cocky enough to be interesting, but not annoying. What really makes his character so appealing is his heart of gold and selfless nature toward his friends. We learn that his antics and attitude mostly are defense mechanisms he uses to hide his insecurities. Whether it’s because of how entertaining he is on the surface or the deeper reasoning behind his actions, Balthier is truly the dashing rogue everyone loves.
The biggest shame about Final Fantasy Tactics is that so few gamers either know about it or are willing to go back and experience this criminally overlooked Final Fantasy game. That’s perhaps because it doesn’t have a number at the end of it, or because the switch to a tactics style put people off. Whatever the reason, Final Fantasy Tactics is a tremendous game in the series, with a story and characters that are just as strong as any numbered entry. That brings us to Ramza Beoulve, the main character of the title. His progression is unique in that what his character learns most is not how to change his motivation or mindset, but understanding the reasons to do good.
At the start, Ramza fights for the honor of his family name. He only does honorable things, fighting to protect those who can’t protect themselves, in an effort to prove he’s worthy of his own lineage. After having to leave his own family and join a band of mercenaries, he starts to realize that his, or any other, family name is worthless when compared to upholding justice and fighting against those who would take advantage of the less fortunate. His story tackles the nuanced idea that doing good for selfish reasons doesn’t make that person just, and that people who do good things for the sake of doing good, even if no one would recognize it, are the true heroes.
Poor Tidus. He never stood a chance, did he? Well, not for anyone who didn’t actually play Final Fantasy X, anyway. Between his laughing scene becoming a meme, and the admittedly bizarre revelation on how his name is supposed to be pronounced (Tee-dus rather than Tide-us), too many people write him off as a weirdo who can’t dress himself properly. The thing is, all of that — well, not his clothing — makes sense in context. Tidus has perhaps one of the most relatable personal struggles of all time but is also in the process of developing a very natural relationship with Yuna that shows a ton of restraint in not rushing or glossing over their budding romance. By the end of the story, Tidus is just as sympathetic as Yuna, though things get a little convoluted in a way that makes it hard to really understand at times.
Tidus’ entire internal struggle stems from Jecht, his father. Jecht was not exactly a good father when Tidus was young and disappeared early in his life. Tidus resents him for this, but once he gets to Spira, he has to deal with a world that considers him a hero. Finally, Tidus learns that his own father has become Sin, who Yuna is determined to defeat, even if it costs her her own life. Yuna, of course, is the one person Tidus really confides in and develops a relationship with throughout the game. This intertwining of internal and external conflicts, plus the very real struggles of a son living in his father’s shadow, make Tidus’ story resonate with so many out there. The game does stumble a bit at the end by making Tidus just a dream (we think?), but the emotional impact of him being the one to end up “dying” does hit pretty hard even if you don’t exactly understand why.
Clive’s trusty wolf companion Togral is basically his only friend through all the time periods Final Fantasy 16 covers. Unlike any other game in the franchise, not only do you only play as a single character through the entire narrative, but you don’t even have a party. Well, except for Torgal after the two reunite years after the Night of Flames. While you might not think a wolf could be a strong character, Torgal has a distinct background and personality on par with anyone else in the game. He was originally cast out from the Northern Territories before being adopted by House Rosfield as a pup when Archduke Elwin found him freezing in a snowfield. When he came back, he presented the young wolf to his sons Joshua and Clive and formed a strong bond with the boys.
As you would expect from the best of boys, Torgal will never betray or disappoint you. In combat, that means he will attack and distract enemies for you, as well as heal you, and out of combat he is a silent but sympathetic presence that will always keep you motivated.
For something completely different, we can’t possibly leave out the iconic Moogles and Chocobos from this list. Featured in various forms throughout nearly every game, these two mascots of the series have a massive fan base all their own, despite not really being characters in their own right. Still, the fact that they make such a strong impression and that you can’t help but smile when you see them appear in the latest Final Fantasy game, can’t be overlooked. Moogles are the cute little teddy bear-type creatures that most often act as vendors, though have gotten in on the action in a few cases, while Chocobos are the series’ horse stand-ins, only instead of a horse, we get to ride beautifully large chicken-looking creatures.
These two characters, or perhaps race of creature would be more accurate, have the most surface-level appeal of this entire list: They’re just plain adorable. The tiny, fuzzy bodies of Moogles and the thick, bright yellow feathers of a Chocobo are just undeniably cute. And that’s not even mentioning baby Chocobos. Still, for a series that can tread into some pretty dark, deep, and even depressing themes, having some reliably fun and familiar animal mascots show up is an easy way to lift people’s spirits. That, and the fact that the Chocobo song is an absolute bop in every remix and arrangement it shows up in.
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