First, let me establish the criteria lest I be lambasted. This list is created based on first time experiences with the games combined with the game’s difficulty on subsequent replays. No strategy guides or FAQs here. These are straight up old fashioned play-throughs.
The versions described are the original versions, not ports or remakes.
Only main series games are included here (not including 11 and 14). The difficulty comes from the game overall; boss battles, level grinding, encounter levels, etc. Side quests are not a factor in the overall difficulty, as I am not looking at 100% completion.
5. Final Fantasy IX (2000, PlayStation)
Originally developed to be a gaiden to the Final Fantasy series and developed along side VIII (and released only a year later), Final Fantasy IX is basically a “best of” collaboration that celebrates the earliest entries in the series. Black mages and airships both make a triumphant return, as does the medieval setting of the early games. The only thing isn’t given fan service in part IX is the difficulty level of those early games. Not an easy game, per se, but certainly not nearly as difficult as many of the entries that it celebrated.
4. Final Fantasy II (1988, Famicom)
Surprised to find a Famicom game on this list? Maybe, given parts I and III are among the most difficult in the series, but the central mechanic of part II’s battle system is ultimately to blame for the game’s unseemly difficulty. In Final Fantasy II there are no levels and no experience points; you strengthen attributes by exercising them. To get higher HP, you must take lots of damage. More strength? Attack with a melee weapon more often. You can basically spend a few hours attacking yourself and become powerful enough to blast thorough the entire game.
3. Final Fantasy VII (1997, PlayStation)
Not my favorite of the series, VII remains iconic through it’s characters and the vast wave of marketing madness SquareEnix deployed beginning with the superbly rendered (and slightly confusing) CGI film Final Fantasy VII Advent Children that spanned 4 games and 4 animated films. Certainly the most popular Final Fantasy game in series history, a small piece of that success is owed to the significantly subdued difficulty when compared with the first 6 Final Fantasy games. VII is pretty tame, especially compared to III and IV, although the side quests involving the Weapons (I am looking at you, Ruby) provided a ramped up challenge for the hardcore.
2. Final Fantasy XII (2006, PlayStation 2)
In yet another example of a game whose battle mechanics are the contributing factor to it’s difficulty, Final Fantasy XII, while an amazing game, contained very little challenge when playing through the main story. The proper setting of your Gambits and a little grinding all but insured your party’s dominance over anything the game threw at you. The game did manage to provide a higher level of difficulty in the form of the optional hunts; one of which is Yiazmat whose 50 million hit points almost certainly make it the most difficult enemy in the entire series.
1. Final Fantasy X (2001, PS2)
Among my favorites in the series, the lack of exploration and focus on story over grinding made this game easiest in the series. The sphere grid grants you so much flexibility that is it hard not to over-power your characters, especially in the last quarter of the game. The ability to switch characters out mid battle also insures that every character net the sphere points from every encounter, allowing you the flexibly to advance all your party members at an even pace.