Since the release of its first entry in 1987, Final Fantasy has grown into one of gaming’s largest and most successful franchises. It’s sold more than 160 million units and generated over $12 billion in revenue. It is a series that is best known for its innovation, its intricate stories, and, perhaps most of all, its wonderful cast of characters.
Although there are plenty of visual similarities between the series’ main protagonists, beneath the surface there are some wildly contrasting personalities. Some are driven by vengeance while others are fighting for what they consider to be just and noble causes. Whatever their motivations though, they invariably leave quite the impression on players.
Updated April 7, 2021, by Thomas Bowen: With both Final Fantasy XVI and the second part of Final Fantasy VII Remake looming large on the horizon, series fans have a lot of things to look forward to. There’s at least one new party member coming to the remake with Intergrade and, from what little information has been given about Clive, he seems to be shaping up to be a fascinating main protagonist with an equally intriguing backstory. Whether or not he will be as well fleshed out as some of the series’ earlier heroes remains to be seen though. Over the years, the franchise has featured some truly fantastic main protagonists; each of whom has left their mark on both the fandom and the series itself.
10 Firion (Final Fantasy II)
Ultimate Weapon: Ragnarok
Firion was the first named main protagonist in the series and has a fairly interesting backstory. His decision to join forces with the rebels is a gallant one for someone so young and the energy that he brings to the cause is invaluable. It’s just a shame that the game’s narrative structure didn’t allow for more character development in this regard, nor did it really spend enough time exploring the loss of both his birth parents and his adoptive ones.
What players do learn about Firion is that he’s willing to put his life on the line for peace and can handle himself in combat like a seasoned pro rather than the relative rookie that he is. Leadership seems to come naturally to him and he has no issues dealing with the extreme pressure that’s placed upon him. Had he featured in a later game he’d likely be far more popular with fans, but the limitations of the era perhaps hold him back just as they do Final Fantasy II.
9 Noctis Lucis Caelum (Final Fantasy XV)
Birthday: August 30th
Ultimate Weapon: Ultima Blade
Much of Noctis’ strength as a leading man comes from his supporting cast and the bond that they share. The flaws in his personality are softened by the positive traits of his friends, while their needs and deficiencies really allow his own strengths to shine. Without them, he can at times feel a little unbalanced. The bond that he shares with Lunafreya is also a compelling one, although it arguably deserved quite a bit more screen time than it was ultimately given.
For all of his weaknesses though, Noctis is a very likable character and it’s hard not to feel like an honorary member of the gang while watching them cruise around in the Regalia together. His character development is believable too and his willingness to sacrifice himself for the greater good is admirable. He’s a great leader, although far from the best that the series has to offer.
8 Tidus (Final Fantasy X)
Ultimate Weapon: Caladbolg
Tidus is an interesting character, particularly when it comes to his origins and his relationship with his father. Throughout the game, players are given glimpses of Tidus’ attempts to make Jecht proud of him and yet nothing he does is ever good enough. Not only does this make him a sympathetic character, but also a relatable one. Except when it comes to his ridiculous laughter, that is. There is nothing even remotely relatable about that.
Unfortunately for Tidus, he shares the stage with some wonderful characters. Auron, despite not being the main protagonist, has a far more interesting backstory and arguably offers more to the party. Both characters are overshadowed by Yuna though, who is the star of the show in more ways than one. Heavily involved though he may be, Tidus can at times feel more like a supporting character in somebody else’s story rather than the leading man in his own. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Final Fantasy X, but it’s not the best look for a main protagonist.
7 Bartz Klauser (Final Fantasy V)
Ultimate Weapon: Ragnarok / Brave Blade*
Bartz’s journey borrows a lot from the classic coming of age narrative, but the intricacy of Final Fantasy V‘s story allows it to play out in some often unexpected ways. Being responsible for the fate of the world is something that one would expect to weigh heavily on a person’s shoulders and yet Bartz is able to carry this weight with relative ease. It helps, of course, that he’s supported by a strong cast as well as his faithful companion, Boco.
Bartz’s easygoing nature shines through at even the darkest of moments, but that’s not to say that he doesn’t take his role as one of the Warriors of Light seriously. His relationship with Boco shows a compassionate side to his character that’s sometimes missing from the series’ main protagonists. Unfortunately, it is this that at times prevents Bartz from being a truly great leader and he can sometimes be pushed aside by other party members like Lenna and Faris.
6 Zidane Tribal (Final Fantasy IX)
Ultimate Weapon: Ultima Weapon
Like Final Fantasy IX itself, Zidane is seen by some as the pariah of the Final Fantasy franchise. He broke the trend of strong and sullen main protagonists that had begun to creep into the series in the preceding games and did so to great effect. His lighthearted nature came as a breath of fresh air and provided a really unique experience, although his womanizing antics were perhaps a step too far for some players at times.
More could have been made of his Genome backstory, although as a character, Zidane is about as fleshed-out as they come. His interactions with the other party members are a joy to behold, as are those with some of the game’s random NPCs. He may lack many of the qualities that make a great leader, but he’s smart, he’s loyal and he bears all of the hallmarks of a wonderful character.
5 Squall Leonhart (Final Fantasy VIII)
Birthday: August 23rd
Ultimate Weapon: Lion Heart
It’s not so much the changes in Squall’s circumstances that makes him so likable, but instead the way that he responds to them. When players first meet him, he is a cold-hearted mercenary focused on climbing to the top of the SeeD hierarchy. As time passes, however, Squall’s focus shifts from doing what is right for himself, to simply doing what is right. That he is able to make these distinctions at just the age of 17 is incredibly impressive; as too are his leadership skills.
Ironically, perhaps, Squall still becomes the Commander of Balamb Garden. This comes, though, as the result of his innate leadership skills rather than any kind of desire for power or progress. While not the most talkative character, Squall really is a natural-born leader and the perfect person to drive the charge against Ultimecia’s tyranny.
4 Lightning Farron (Final Fantasy XIII)
Ultimate Weapon: Omega Weapon
Final Fantasy XIII has a lot of problems. It is unforgivably linear, its story is weak and its characters are, for the most part, incredibly one dimensional. Lightning is a lot of things, but one dimensional certainly isn’t one of them. She shines brightly like a light in the darkness and is one of the game’s few redeeming qualities. Getting to play as her sister in the game’s sequel only serves to highlight how fantastic she really is.
Unlike many other protagonists in the series, Lightning’s personal story is not particularly complicated. There are some sub-plots draped throughout it, but her primary goal is to save her sister. Her drive and determination when it comes to achieving this are unwavering and it’s perhaps this that makes her so likable. Lightning is a character with a real personality, even if it is largely wasted on the characters that surround her.
3 Cecil Harvey (Final Fantasy IV)
Ultimate Weapon: Lightbringer
Cecil’s story is one of perseverance that’s punctuated by shocking twists and somber turns. His relationship with Kain is complicated, but, at the same time, remains relatable – especially for those with siblings. On the subject of siblings, his interactions with Golbez are also incredibly memorable and provide ample opportunities for Cecil’s determination to shine through.
The character’s transformation from Dark Knight to Paladin is emblematic of his personal growth throughout the game. He’s not the only one either, although it’s arguably through Cecil’s leadership that other party members are able to develop as characters. Together they face many trials, but, with Cecil at the helm, they inevitably persevere. Given how shallow most of the series’ main protagonists had been prior to Final Fantasy IV; this is all the more impressive.
2 Terra Branford (Final Fantasy VI)
Birthday: October 18th
Ultimate Weapon: Apocalypse
When players first meet Terra, she is an Empire pawn with no agency whatsoever. By the time the curtain falls, however, everything has changed. The shocking discovery that she is half Esper tears her life apart just as the cataclysm does the planet. That it comes so soon after breaking free of the Empire’s influence creates an identity crisis which very nearly consumes her. If not for her strength, it almost certainly would have.
Although Terra may come up short when it comes to personality, she is a symbol behind which the other party members can rally. She brings them all together, but it is her plight and that of her people that drives them all forwards. Her innate magical abilities make her a force to be reckoned with and her kindhearted nature, a very likable character. Of course, it certainly helps that she is supported by one of the largest parties in the history of the series, but she’d arguably be just as captivating even if there were fewer characters around her; if not more so.
1 Cloud Strife (Final Fantasy VII)
Birthday: August 11th
Ultimate Weapon: Ultima Weapon
Cloud is not only the most recognizable protagonist in the series, but also the most complex. He has a tragic and complicated past that is filled with pain and suffering and this is explored brilliantly in Final Fantasy VII. As the threads that hold together his backstory unwind, players embark on a wonderful journey of discovery and the knowledge that Cloud is learning everything alongside players makes it all the more enjoyable.
From his very first appearance, there is an air of mystery about Cloud which further strengthens the myth of the legendary soldier that he and the supporting cast propagates. By the time he realizes who he really is, Cloud has grown into a true leader who’s now motivated by righteousness rather than personal gain. Add to this his intimate connection with Sephiroth and it’s easy to see why he’s such a fan-favorite.