Ever since creator Yasumi Matsuno first envisioned the setting in the mid-1990s, Ivalice has been at the forefront of many Final Fantasy fans' minds. While the most famous Final Fantasy games tend to involve a singular world all their own — Gaia, Spira, and so on — the Ivalician entries have earned a lot of love for their somewhat interconnected nature.
This multi-title approach has made Ivalice the most fleshed-out universe among all single-player Final Fantasy games, even if keeping track of how the games connect is a tall task with a complicated answer. Dare we rank them all? Daringly, dear Final Fantasy friends, we do.
Wondering if we forgot Final Fantasy 14? We didn't. We promise. While the connection between the 'canon Ivalice games' is sometimes a tad tenuous, FF14's (wonderful) spin on Ivalice is clearly set in an entirely separate universe, a glorious tribute rather than a true continuation.
6/6 Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
One might say we begin at the very end. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance features a strange 'dream world' rendition of classical Ivalice as its primary focal point, which almost excludes it from the real timeline. The twist? FFTA is bookended by a framing story set in an era with technology not unlike reality's, heavily suggesting that what we're seeing is Ivalice's distant future.
Thus, the core of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance's adventure takes place within the confines of a magically-constructed dimension filled with races we'd later see in the real Ivalice — Bangaa, Seeq, Viera, Nu Mou, and more. The game's tone is relatively light, though it touches on some tragic notions along the way.
It's nothing spectacular in scope, as the bulk of FFTA involves a bevvy of optional battling content with a refinement of the original Final Fantasy Tactics' isometric strategy combat. The Laws System, which forces players to think outside the box as it sometimes puts restrictions in place against common approaches like swordplay and spellcasting, is a fine example of love-it-or-hate-it level design.
5/6 Final Fantasy 12: Revenant Wings
Final Fantasy 12: Revenant Wings both is and isn't Final Fantasy 12-2. It is, in the sense that it's set a year after the first game, stars two of FF12's leads, and showcases their former allies at various points in the story. It isn't, in the sense that it eschews the scale of FF12's PS2 hardware for the portable Nintendo DS, resulting in a less theatrical experience that plays out more like a well-intentioned spin-off than any attempt to double down on the epic scope of the original.
That's just fine, mind you. With its strikingly different art style and huge mechanical shift into the realm of real-time strategy, Revenant Wings sets out on a different course from the moment you boot up the game, content to dip Final Fantasy's toes in the popular RTS genre as it explores the further endeavors of former street urchins Vaan and Penelo.
It's a worthwhile piece of Ivalice, though we'd hesitate to call it an all-time must-play. Nonetheless, it deserves to be remembered; much like its mythical Sky Continent of Lemures whose secrets players unravel, Revenant Wings itself appears to have faded into relative obscurity.
4/6 Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire Of The Rift
The Nintendo DS gave us not one, but two Ivalice titles. Furthermore, both are set in the years directly following the events of Final Fantasy 12 — and yet Final Fantasy Tactics Advance's modern-age framing story returns in Grimoire of the Rift, with protagonist Luso being transported into his distant past. It's a similar premise with a key deviation: Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift actually puts its young hero in the real Ivalice this time around.
Gameplay feels in many ways like a proper evolution of FFTA's, with substantially more customizability for your burgeoning party of adventurers. The divisive Laws System is refined for lower punishment and greater flexibility. The benefits of using FF12's and Revenant Wings' Ivalice include cameos from characters like Al-Cid, as well as the full-blown recruitment of Vaan and Penelo.
The one downside, and depending on who you ask, it might be a significant one, is that Grimoire of the Rift's story is remarkably thin. In embracing its openness, the development staff clearly made a conscious decision to diminish its narrative, with precious little plot development and a somewhat phoned-in ending.
3/6 Vagrant Story
If you happened to play Vagrant Story within its first several years on the market, you'd be forgiven for assuming it has no connections with Ivalice. For starters, Final Fantasy isn't even in its name. It was not until 2004 that Yasumi Matsuno, who helmed Final Fantasy Tactics prior to creating Vagrant Story, acknowledged their shared setting — during an interview designed around the promotion of Final Fantasy 12.
Vagrant Story's combat bears little resemblance to anything else in Ivalice, for that matter. Timed button-presses are utilized to chain together combos and strike enemies at various angles. The resulting rhythm is interesting, if somewhat difficult to get down pat. Protagonist Ashley Riot stars in this dark tale of sociopolitical intrigue mixed with just the right amount of otherworldly fantasy; truly, Vagrant Story follows in the lofty footsteps of the original FFT.
As for its placement in the timeline, most tend to concur it's a few hundred years after Final Fantasy Tactics' medieval medley, but still quite some time prior to the modernity witnessed in the opening and ending stretches of the Tactics Advance duology.
2/6 Final Fantasy 12
While long periods of time between mainline Final Fantasy games has been the norm now for roughly two-thirds of the franchise's existence and counting, Final Fantasy 12 was the first to bear the infamy of it. The legendary Yasumi Matsuno spearheaded its development and served as its initial director before health issues brought developmental troubles galore. Perhaps this stormy weather is to blame for the oddly long durations between cutscenes, the relative lack of party chatter, and an endgame that feels a bit stapled-together and uninspired.
And yet we think it's the second-best game in a list of great games. Surely, it did something right. Indeed, Final Fantasy 12 may be rough around the edges, but it absolutely excels at gripping gameplay systems, from the depth of the strategy-dictating Gambits, to the plethora of selectable Job Classes in its Zodiac Age remaster, to the well-ahead-of-its-time size of its zones and hundreds of worthwhile secrets to unravel.
Above all, Final Fantasy 12 is aces at its lore, supplying Ivalice with so much of what we love best. Though the story's pacing is often questionable, it's still a good one at its core, as its characters wrestle themes of duty, decency, honor, dishonor, and the true meaning of the 'greater good.' FF12 is intensely and unapologetically political, with a seasoned script and great voice performances. Plus, it's got Balthier. So… yeah. Fantastic.
1/6 Final Fantasy Tactics
And so it is that we end at the beginning. Final Fantasy Tactics doesn't ride its way to supreme victory simply for being the origin of Ivalice as a concept; it arrives there in style, a masterclass in strategic role-playing game design with a memorably robust plot populated by believable heroes and three-dimensional villains to foil them.
FFT's scathing denouncement of classism (which is kind of a funny thing to say about a video game so rich in playable Job Classes) eventually gives way to a more conventional struggle against bloodthirsty monsters, which has admittedly given some folks fair pause through the years as they wrestle with whether Matsuno's writing is worth every ounce of praise. Nevertheless, most can agree the prose is stellar far more often than mundane.
Final Fantasy Tactics never received a direct sequel, and in all likelihood, never will. Instead, it birthed a universe all its own, the most prolific one within the bounds of the world's most famous JRPG series. Not only did it delight millions with its tale of the downtrodden Ramza Beoulve and Machiavellian Delita Heiral, but it gave rise to every other game on our list. Not bad for "just a spinoff."
Honorable Mention: Fortress (The One That Got Away)
Not long after Final Fantasy 12 made its grand debut, Square Enix contracted Swedish developer Grin to create an FF12-related title that would have undoubtedly felt more like a 'proper sequel' to the game than Revenant Wings aimed to be. It was codenamed Fortress, and it was slated to launch on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Clearly, that never happened.
Grin closed its doors roughly six months into this ambitiously doomed project starring FF12's chiseled, middle-aged hero, Basch. From its concept art and scattered behind-the-scenes postmortem interviews through the years, it seems clear that Fortress could have been a heck of a game. Basch would forge an army from across all corners of the realm to defend against a nefarious resurrected sea king in an action-packed RPG with aspects of the tower defense subgenre.
We'll never know what might have been. It could have been glorious. On the other hand, it would have featured an ill-fated romance between Basch and the much younger Queen Ashe, which is frankly bizarre, so at least we dodged that funk.
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