Tuesday Top Ten: Final Fantasy Summons

We’re right in the middle of our on-going discussion about the Final Fantasy series, but we must take a break from that for today’s Tuesday ‘s Top Ten!  What better way to continue the feel of the discussion than listing the top ten summons?

This is even more of a subjective list than most; a summon one gamer may find simply splendid another doubtless finds tedious.  Then you have the quests that accompany some of them, which can, if not outright sour the feeling of finally getting a summon in your hands, it at least waters it down.

Then you have the animations that accompany some summons, particularly the later titles.  They could get rather—tedious.  Even so, some gamers can accept, and even do so happily, spending five minutes watching a summon animation five times in a row, where others would get irritated after merely the second time.

With that in mind, this isn’t necessarily a list of the best summons as much as a list of the ones the Retro-ish Gaming Critic enjoys.  While something along those lines can be said of any Tuesday’s Top Ten (or pretty much any other article, for that matter), this one is much more obviously opinion.

(And yes, I know different games call them different things; sometimes they’re “eidolons“, “espers“, and in VIII they were the “Guardian Force“; for sake of ease, we’re just going to use “summons” across the board.)

With that in mind, let’s kick it off with…

10. Leviathan
While still mostly variations on a theme, Leviathan has had perhaps some of the most varied appearances out of the summons on this list.  Every appearance was related to water in some fashion (making its lack of appearance in Final Fantasy X more notable, as water-themed as that game was), usually involving the summon, well, summoning a huge tidal wave against the characters’ enemies.

Once it became better-rendered in the PS1 games onward, it became—not exactly stale, but it was definitely edging toward “too commonplace”  As soon as you saw, say, its appearance in Final Fantasy VII, you’d know how he’d more or less appear from then onward.  Water would flood up, Leviathan would leap out, send a tidal wave against the characters’ enemies, then disappear again.  There was little to really look forward to from game to game.

09. Knights of the Round
First appearing in Final Fantasy VII, it had an unusual effect on gamers.  When you tell them that it’s only a little over a minute long, the usual reaction is, “…what?  You’re kidding, right?”  We generally remember it as taking for-blooming-ever.

Knights of the Round was a summon (or, if you look at it a different way, a collection of summons) that was a pain in the tuchus to get, and though you could set your party up to recast it one after the other, that pretty much meant putting your controller down and going to get lunch while the animation repeated itself over and over and over again.  On the other hand, it could do insane damage.

08. Choco/Mog
This one is just too cute.  It wasn’t the most useful summon in Final Fantasy VII, but, come on—a moogle riding a chocobo, smacking into enemies with a cartoon-y “BOOM!” popping up on the screen?  Humorous, that.

What helped was that there was a small chance that a fat chocobo would fall from the sky to land butt-first on the enemies.  That version was only moderately more useful, but the summon as a whole was at least easier to get.

07. Ifrit
Though really not much like his real-world etymological inspiration, you really wouldn’t want to say such a thing to Ifrit‘s face.  Interestingly, while he started out more or less humanoid with some bestial aspects, with each appearance, Ifrit slowly became the opposite.  By the end, he was more beast than humanoid, making him the summon with the most visual differences on this list.

Though fire-based, his summon animations themselves were actually not all that interesting.  Phoenix’s animations were usually far more interesting—but while they may not have been visually “interesting”, they were definitely fearsome.  They showed his increasingly feral anger quite nicely.

06. Odin
God of gods and warrior supreme, Odin cleaves enemies in two with one blow of his sword, or at least deals massive damage.  Similar to his Norse namesake, he often rode a horse into battle and wielded either a huge spear or an also-huge sword.  Though never really named such, his horse was doubtless Sleipnir (if with differently-numbered legs depending on the title), though that name was specifically given to an enemy in Final Fantasy III as well as an enemy in Final Fantasy XII.

The number of his horse’s legs aside, Odin’s had arguably the least amount of variation in his numerous appearances out of the summons on this list, but that said, you really can’t go wrong when you have a huge guy wearing terrifyingly awesome armor wielding a sword almost as big as he is.  When he appeared, you knew—in the vernacular—that crap was about to get real.

05. Alexander
Come on—what’s not to love about a giant, hulking steampunk-y brute?  From his first appearance in Final Fantasy IV (originally known as II outside of Japan for the longest time because the “real” II and III weren’t seen outside of Japan for the longest time), Alexander has been a force to be reckoned with.  He came out with the big guns, and always looked fearsome doing it.

Personally, out of his various appearances, I have to say that his appearance in Final Fantasy IX was, to me, the best.  Considering it was a cornucopia of references to the previous titles (which we’ll cover as we continue our discussion on the series), the fact that the kingdom was called “Alexandria” wasn’t something immediately picked up on by gamers.

Then, well—this battle between Alexander and Bahamut surprised us all, and made nearly every gamer go “oh holy crap what the heck this is awesome!“.  Even gamers who were already familiar with him had their breath taken away.

04. Ramuh
One of the few who has actually truly been a part of the storyline of a game (two games, specifically), Ramuh is the epitome of ancient wisdom mixed with stormy rage.  More than most, his appearances have all been incredibly similar, many even sharing similar color themes.

He often displayed a mercurial nature, dispensing wizened advice one moment, then cramming gigawatts of lightning up someone’s tuchus the next.  In-setting, you could never know which would come next, making him one of the more interesting summons.

03. Phoenix
This one is one of the few with real-world mythological inspiration that actually lived up to it.  In its numerous appearances, it usually dealt decent fire damage to enemies as well as reviving at least one fallen character with some health recovery, though usually it was all party members (as applicable) and sometimes with full health and magic points to boot.

Even now, decades later, Phoenix still looks surprisingly powerful, no matter the game.  There was always a sense of primeval anger as fire licks across the screen.  Out of all of the appearances, however, I have to say I like the early ones more, and the appearance in Final Fantasy XII the least.  It was rather anti-climactic, really.  Still, with that sole exception, its appearance could never be called dull, and was almost always downright spectacular.

02. Shiva
Arguably second only to Bahamut in popularity is the Ice Queen herself, Shiva.  Her forms throughout the games have been mainly just variations on a theme, much like nearly everyone else on this list.  One interesting exception is her appearance in Final Fantasy XII, where her name was lent to an airship.

It can be argued that most other summons represented some sort of passionate emotion, or some passionate concept, or some similar.  The common theme would be that passion—with Shiva as the exception.  From the early days of (incredibly talented) hand-drawn sprites to the later days of hardware and software complex enough to render more complicated polygonal models, there was always a sense of cold dispassion in her.

I believe this is best seen in her animation in Final Fantasy VIII.  It’s in the above link, so suffice it to say that she emerges from the ground in a shard of ice, and without so much as even a look of mild interest she conjures up and ice blast that would make the farthest reaches of the Arctic seem downright toasty, unleashing it on the characters’ enemies.  That dispassionate fury—if such an oxymoron may be used—makes her one of the more intriguing summons.

01. Bahamut
I know I’m not alone in this one.  Bahamut is one of, if not, the most popular summons in Final Fantasy‘s history.  Heck, he was even given his own game.

Me, I first fell in love with him in Final Fantasy VII.  That wasn’t his first appearance, not by far, but—he was the only one (and I believe still is) with three different forms in the same game, each grander than the last.  Most summon animations throughout his appearances in the series, however, shared one thing that I think was the most enthralling factor—this was a true king of beasts, and he was under your control only as long as you could keep it.

Even a couple of decades ago and pretty much ever since then, there has been this feral, untamable nature to him, where you almost felt sorry for the enemies you sicced him on.  Almost.

                        *                        *                        *

That’s all for this week’s Top Ten!  See you tomorrow, when we continue our discussion on Final Fantasy!


2 Responses to “Tuesday Top Ten: Final Fantasy Summons”

  1. Elisa Michelle Says:

    Bahamut is, hands down, the best summon ever. Shiva and Ifrit are up there with my favorites, too, along with Odin. You’ve got a good list going on here.

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