With real life March Madness on the way, it’s our favorite time of year to apply the addictive bracketing concept to the wide worlds of fiction. This year, the spotlight’s on Final Fantasy and the legendary franchise’s massive roster of heroes. So, without further delay, let’s set some rules straight and get started.
- This tournament will only include party members from Final Fantasy’s main installments. In the interest of narrowing everyone down to 64 participants, no sequel, MMO, or spinoff material is included. Many apologies to a Type-0 cast that could’ve hosted their own tournament.
- No sequel material also means characters will be limited to the powers available to them in their original appearances. For example, Lightning’s many talents won’t transcend godliness, Cloud’s sword isn’t a murderous Russian nesting doll, and Yuna may find some limitations in her wardrobe.
- No more than six characters are allowed per game, limiting the presence of the series’ most popular titles. I want an army of the VI cast as much as the next guy, but Onion Knights need love too.
- Seeding leans in favor of the series protagonists, who were given the top thirteen spots in order of their universally accepted strength. Beyond that point, the supporting party members fill out the remaining spots via this same internet consensus and a complicated seeding process of mine that I promise would bore you. It can’t be perfect, seeing as I don’t have a personal focus group, but more powerful party members will generally have higher seeds.
- Lastly and most importantly, these results are lore-based decisions, not gameplay. One character may have an exploitable ability, but the stories decide who wins this tournament. Wakka’s overdrive packs a punch, but throwing fantasy volleyballs at God will only take you so far.
Now for today’s matchups:
1. Lightning (XIII) vs. 16. Hope Estheim (XIII)
So I assembled the initial 1 through 64 list with zero knowledge of how the matchups would turn out. This tournament debut obviously doesn’t seem that way, but I can promise you the seeding just so happened to generate this gem. I think Hope might find a very weird satisfaction in getting slaughtered by his fearless party leader, but acceptance doesn’t help his chances. The boyish boomerang artist is best utilized toward the support of others, a skill that doesn’t carry the same value in this tournament setting. Without any unnecessary suspense, and before we dive further into her powers, we can safely advance Lightning to the next round. I’m sure Hope doesn’t mind.
8. Fran (XII) vs. 9. Zell Dincht (VIII)
Zell’s hand-to-hand prowess makes him a dangerous competitor in any 1v1 tournament, able to best the many who rely more on teammates or a fully functioning party. With that said, he’s also a fairly straightforward prey for Fran’s hunting qualities. Viera in general carry physical and sensory advantages over any human counterpart. The game’s supporting material most often presents her with a bow, granting her a substantial benefit from a distance. Up close, this isn’t even necessarily a blowout in Zell’s favor. So a full arena or environment gives Fran a decisive win.
5. Basch fon Ronsenburg (XII) vs. 12. Arc (III)
Job systems go head to head in this next matchup. Both rosters provide great versatility, as no characters are locked into any one set of skills. Story-based representations may give their iconic faces a preference, but it's safe to say characters from these games don’t have many outright weaknesses. The alarming difference between these two lies in the area of experience. While Arc’s charming journey to overcome surface-level weaknesses makes for ideal JRPG storytelling, Basch is a hardened veteran. He’s a seasoned beast in any combat setting who can fight blow for blow with Ivalice’s greatest warriors. No brains-over-brawn child survives an encounter with that, and Basch takes his sullied name into the next round.
4. Leon (II) vs. 13. Prompto Argentum (XV)
Much like the previous matchup, underdog stories are more endearing in narratives than they are in Final Fantasy March Madness. Being underpowered is an essential component of Prompto’s lovable characterization. Having an arsenal of firearms does bring an interesting dynamic to a fight against a more medieval opponent, but Final Fantasy never really established that technology-based combat has any tangible advantage over magic and traditional fantasy. If anything, gun wielders are at a canonical disadvantage in this universe. There isn’t much the little gunman can do against an imperial dark knight, unless this battle takes place on Instagram. Leon torches the fan favorite and advances with ease.
6. Yuna (X) vs. 11. Rinoa Heartilly (VIII)
Neither of these two very significant ladies is blessed with a wealth of combat expertise. In fact, Yuna’s entire job description involves being protected by those better suited to handle a fight like this. Yuna may be the most potent summoner in Final Fantasy’s thirty-year history, which earns such a respectable seed. But she’s not exactly the champion you want in this tournament’s format. With Rinoa’s pesky projectiles, and peskier pet, I doubt Yuna even has time to call upon her powerful aeons. That sort of ability plays out best with a full party, as well as exceedingly polite enemies that allow the conveniences of turn-based combat. In a real fight, Rinoa is far too constant a threat for the more methodical summoner. The two-winged angel secures this win and grants the tournament its first upset.
3. Firion (II) vs. 14. Sazh Katzroy (XIII)
As mentioned earlier, Final Fantasy doesn’t live by the Indiana Jones law. You can’t just bring a gun to a sword fight and instantaneously end your opponent for comedic effect. In fact, it takes a great deal to prove that a gunman can keep up with the versatility of an old school protagonist. Sazh is a great voice of reason among his many combative teammates. And he’s therefore a much-needed presence in XIII. But against a versatile rebellion leader, whose Dissidia setup showcases his one-man arsenal, Sazh is barely able to defend himself. Firion wins this fight from any range, unleashing the mighty power of the protagonist on an opponent who’ll probably feel too old for this tournament.
7. Quistis Trepe (VIII) vs. 10. Tifa Lockhart (VII)
Who wins when Quistis fights Tifa? We do. Jokes aside, the levelheaded maturity between these two leads to a tenacious matchup. Blue magic, despite being an occasional game changer in this franchise, is a fickle beast. Quistis in particular takes time to cast her more dangerous abilities. Tifa’s remarkable combination of strength and speed punishes that kind of character. A rapid flurry of fists to the face doesn’t allow time for more elaborate, situational magic. We’ll have to determine just how much materia factors in for these VII characters at a later point in the tournament, but Tifa’s natural skillset makes her an ideal matchup for a character that can’t handle much of a physical beat-down. Tifa wins with some swift brutality.
2. Bartz Klauser (V) vs. 15. Setzer Gabbiani (VI)
The versatility of Final Fantasy’s many job systems has been a consistent theme in this tournament already, but none may offer more skillsets than those from V. Bartz may not be the most lore-powerful protagonist in this franchise’s history, but he has an array of approaches to choose from. It’ll take more than a handful of darts to take him down. Setzer wouldn’t even bet on himself in this one, and will have to settle for some sort of bookkeeping arrangement to stay amused throughout the rest of this tournament. Bartz and his trusty Boko get the win, riding off into the sunset to see another round.
Just like that, we’ve got one corner of our first round in the books! Come back next time for another sixteen fighters, another eight duels, and another segment of Final Fantasy March Madness.