It's 6 or 7. 6 is everything you need to know about Final Fantasy up to then and 7 is everything you need to know about Final Fantasy after. The only other one I recommend without reservation is 10.
I say this as someone who is actively playing through 8 on Steam. 8 is one of the greatest outliers in the franchise.
well crap, accidentally hit enter too soon, anyone able to tell me how to edit or delete this?
Ask the mods to delete so you can start one with all of the FF's on it, but then you might be pointed to the thread we literally just had on this very same subject. And, like always, everyone's answer was either a list of the games telling their strengths and weaknesses or a messy mix of answers. This series is just far too varied to get a straight answer on where to start. Six is voted the best more often than not, so that's probably the best place to start, but there's so much more the mainline Final Fantasies have to offer. Don't stop there, even if you don't like it.
Also try twelve. Twelve is pretty good.
Having not played 6 (and having played pretty much every other game, ironically), I can't say for sure, but everyone says to start there. It's probably a good idea; however, don't get the PSN version if you can help it, because I hear it has some atrocious load times.
If I had to pick my favorite, I would go with X. I also think that is a good entry point into the series as its systems are quite sound and easily my favorite across the whole series.
FF8 isn't a bad game, in my opinion, though some people may disagree. The problem with it is that it's a pretty weird Final Fantasy game that does a lot of things very differently than every other game in the series (sometimes for better, sometimes for worse). If you want to "enter the franchise," something like FF4 or FF6 would be a much safer bet. They're both fantastic games, and they do plenty of interesting stuff without completely veering off into weird-mechanics-land like many of the later entries in the series did.
You forgot the best one that everyone agrees is the best one, our master and commander Vinny said so ( Also i agree with him ) FF9 is great.
Edit, But FF8 isnt bad too, I remember playing the demo on the FFVII disk i got from a kb toys, and thought it played a lot like Final Fantasy 7, but I liked the look of final fantasy 7 better, also Final fantasy 7 got me into the action right away. Final Fantasy 8 had me on a fetch quest at some weird Military ball. And basically dance with a girl, then after that I got to go fight things.
Pretty much every forum on earth needs a stickied Final Fantasy thread that is just a poll for what to play followed by the the tens of thousands of millions of comments explaining why this or that one is where you should start. Y'all realize we'll be answering this question until the end of time right?
Frankly, I think there is way too much hype surround VI to start there. VII is in a similar boat, though it's hype/hate at this point in time.
I'd say start with IV. For all intents and purposes that's where a lot of Final Fantasy really starts. I-III ain't bad but they are far, far more simple. Starting IV will give you a lot of appreciation for how the series changed. I can't even remember V but that doesn't mean it's not great. It could be. After IV you should pretty much just go VI thru XII.
I can't speak for the super-early ones, but I've played VI, VII, IX, X and XIII and I'm playing through VIII now - and I don't think it matters which one you start with. They're all standalone, and I think they're all pretty good. (Maybe give XIII a pass for the time being - I did finish and enjoy the game, but I can't recommend it as wholeheartedly as the others - probably not the best introduction).
IX is the best, though (because it's the one I played first)
hmmmm, 8 isn't half bad, but it's got the whole drawn magic to grind for magic mechanic. Which is kinda like Bravely Default..... but it's still a bit too melodramatic teen soap opera that might make you want to run away in terror. FF6 has a lot of variety amazing cast of characters. There's a Yetti, a boy who can mimic other animals, a ninja and a wolf, a gambler, a martial arts master who uses street fighter style mechanics, a ghost train, a opera, the end of the world, someone tries to kill themselves in pixelated SNES graphics and it looks super charming.
....... FF8 does have Gilgamesh..... hmmmm. Probably the best FF character out of all the games.
Well, the poll didn't come out how i wanted it (it's missing several choices if that's not obvious), and i noticed the existing topic just after i accidentally posted it. That being said, I really do appreciate the responses, especially realizing as I do now that many of you are tired of answering the question. I'm definitely going to spend a little extra scratch getting 6 first, then try at least 8, 9 and 10 since I have easy access to them. Maybe 13 out of morbid curiosity. Thanks everyone who responded!
If you have easy access to 9 I'd actually start there. It was the throwback game of the series mechanically and thematically old, but polygonal graphics. It may be the best fusion of old Final Fantasy with the new.
Well 8 is very different mechanically the most of the rest of series when it comes to how it handles magic, so that wouldn't be a good one to dive in with.
The downside is that 6 is also the best in the series, so you may not be as excited to play the rest.
X I'd definitely do before Xiii, in many ways those are very similar. The main thing people didn't like about Xiii is it didn't handle pacing as well as X. But it's not nearly as bad as some say.
I've guess you already decided, but there is something in every FF and you can easily start anywhere, excepting the direct sequels (like XIII-2 or X-2). I would wait on FFX, they are re-releasing the HD collection of X/X-2, may as well play that version.
You can safely skip I-III, they were great games at the time but frankly don't age that well. V may be worth playing later on, so you can see the continued evolution of the job system in its different incarnations. IV and VI are both story-driven experiences that have a lot of similarities, and they hold up pretty well. Of this classic era, VI is the title to go with. I don't really agree with the opinion that it is the best Final Fantasy ever, other games that came later add a lot, but it is probably the best classic FF.
For the playstation generation, I would recommend FFVIII, I think it holds up the best of the three. 7 is a good game, but grossly overrated and graphically looks pretty jenky now. IX is one of the only Final Fantasies I didn't like, it trades mostly on nostalgia. Since you haven't played the series before, you would have no nostalgia for any FF tropes, so I can't recommend it.
For the modern FFs, 10 is generally considered to be one of the best, and it still holds up really well. As I said though, a HD remaster is coming out that may be worth waiting for. XI/XIV are MMOs, so another discussion altogether. XII, along with IX, is the other FF I really didn't like very much, but it does do some interesting things. XIII and its two sequels get a lot of hate, but they are actually pretty solid games that I enjoyed a lot. At least XIII is worth checking out, and you can try the sequels if you liked it.
TLDR: Classic generation FFVI, Playstation Generation FFVIII, Modern Generation FFX.