Sunday, June 26

Final Fantasy 7 doesn’t get enough credit for its absolutely unhinged monster designs

The largest collection of weirdos in RPG history.

Final Fantasy 7 is a dramatic and emotional game about a world on the brink of destruction. Its great and long story deals with big themes like life, death and the environment, and it still resonates with thousands of fans decades later. It’s also a game where you challenge a half-naked fighter to a squat competition to win a powdered wig, so you can dress up as a woman and trick a horny gangster into liking you. In any other game, this kind of tonal lash would be off-putting, but it’s actually a big part of what makes Final Fantasy 7 so charming, offbeat, and unique. The game walks a precarious tightrope between the serious and the absurd, but always, somehow, manages to maintain its balance.

This extends to the game’s vast bestiary of enemies, which is one of the strangest and scariest collections of creatures ever assembled in a video game. Many JRPGs have strange monster designs. I mean, just look at Mara from the Shin Megami Tensei series. Google it. I will wait. But Final Fantasy 7 is on another level. There are nearly 300 in total, and among a fairly typical variety of familiar dragons, goblins, and other fantasy creatures, there are some truly baffling creations. As you play and fight increasingly ridiculous creatures, you get the feeling that Squaresoft let its artists do whatever they wanted. There is no consistent theme, no sense of a consistent vision for the monsters in the game.

The result is an RPG with truly puzzling gameplay, but sparkly, rogues gallery. Most people know Hell House, a creature that looks like a small house but transforms into a crab monster that drops bombs when angry. Such is this weirdo’s reputation that he was given a more prominent role as a tongue-in-cheek boss in Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Hell House is definitely weird. I mean, the place where he hangs out, Sector 6 in the Midgar slums, is notable for its complete absence of other small houses, which makes this costume more confusing. Who are you kidding, Hell House? Us to know you are not a house. Stop making a fool of yourself. But surprisingly, this phenomenon is just the tip of a very peculiar iceberg.

During the escape from Shinra headquarters, the group encounters an enemy named the Brain Pod. In its initial form, it looks like some kind of steampunk kettle, and it’s not very threatening at all. But then, using a robotic arm, he takes the cap off his head and reveals the hideous pink face of an angry little man. It’s horrible to watch, and it’s also one of the most tricky enemies in this location, spewing out a poisonous black mist. Brain Pod also appears in Final Fantasy 7 Remake, but the man with the red face is gone. In another part of the Shinra building you fight a security device called the Warning Board, which displays messages like “Get out of here!” and spawns turrets. It’s not just the monsters that are rare, the machines are too.

Isn’t that weird enough? Okay, how about Touch Me, a small bipedal amphibian that can transform the entire group into frogs, reducing their attack power to basically nothing? Or Move, a giant, featureless beach ball that has a 6.25% chance of spawning in the North Cave. This thing barely has hit points and ridiculously weak attacks, but killing one rewards you with a mountain of experience points. Presumably the developers put it here for anyone who had to put in the effort before tackling the game’s tricky final dungeon, which was nice of them. Or how about Battery Cap, an electrical mushroom with four mouths full of sharp teeth, each of which fires a deadly laser.

I can make it weirder. Also in Northern Cave you will come across a monster named Sculpture, which looks like the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but with feet and two flame-spitting chimneys on top. This is what I mean when I say that Final Fantasy 7’s enemies have no design. This does not make sense on any level. Why does it live in a crater? Why are you trying to kill me? Why is it weak to holy magic? What is that? Just as ridiculous is Headbomber, a yellow penguin with bright red eyes, the word ANGER imprinted on his chest in Japanese kanji, and spikes on his fins. I also have to mention Elfadunk. Not because it’s especially weird, it’s just a big fluorescent blue elephant, but because it’s called We’re running out.

Weirder? Well well. What about Ghost Ship, which is exactly what it sounds like? Found deep within the Junon Submarine Reactor, this is an old galleon straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean, with an oversized skeleton sticking out of the front, moving the ship, which is actually itself“Rowing.” I’d love to see the moment a Squaresoft artist put this on Tetsuya Nomura’s desktop for approval. He was probably distracted by a drawing he was making of a really big sword and said “Yeah, whatever.” That’s the only explanation for something so off-topic that it appears in a game with a sci-fi / cyberpunk aesthetic. But I still remember it all these years later, so it clearly had an impact.

I could go on. I haven’t even mentioned Christopher, yes his name is just Cristobal“A masked monster with a boomerang for a head that can throw Death at the party.” Or the wonderful Dorky Face, a strange rotating object with a pumpkin head found in the Shinra mansion. Or Grangalan, which is just a large egg with tormented, staring eyes. Or Hedgehog Pie, a pot-bellied demon that is not even a hedgehog ni pie. Seriously, what were they putting in the water at Squaresoft HQ in the late 90s? In all other areas, Final Fantasy 7 has a really defined, considerate, and consistent art style, which makes the random selection of weirdos your group has fighting off even more beautifully disconcerting.

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