None of you will probably care, but this is a list I've wanted to do for the longest time and tonight seemed like the perfect time to do it. Earlier on the road I was listening to the FFVII Piano Collections album, which made me feel all nostalgic and led me to watch some Final Fantasy videos the moment I got home. Viewing the vids pushed me to finally do this list, and so here it is for your reading and viewing pleasure.
The parameters of this list are as follows:
a. Only the proper Final Fantasy installments — meaning spinoffs such as the Tactics series or Crisis Core aren't included. Besides, CC used pre-rendered cutscenes as summon spells so I kinda feel like that's cheating.
b. The list is the top 10 most impressive summon spells from Final Fantasy so therefore I am judging them based on their style and direction and not how effective they are in a fight.
c. In connection with b, all the games in this list are from the Playstation installments, because as much as we love the summon spells from the SNES and NES era, they don't hold a candle to the spectacle of the 3D Final Fantasy summon spells.
And so without further ado,
10. Choco/Mog (FFVII)
You'll always remember your first time. Seeing as FFVII was the first game in the series I've played, and Choco/Mog being the first summon spell you'll obtain in the game then you know just how this little bugger has a special place in my geeky, geeky heart. BOOM!
9. Alexander (FFVIII)
So this is the first of many FFVIII summon spells in my list. The game was notorious for being a bit too enthusiastic with its summon spells, having at least 20 loooong and unskippable animations throughout its course. But still a lot of them were very well made, and the first to break into my list would be the hulking robot slash castle, Alexander. I love its entrance with the birds flying away from the mountain range as it crawls out from the sea. Then the spectrum (don't call it a rainbow!) that appear around the cannons before they unleash a torrent of missiles were a nice touch of color to the otherwise gray color scheme.
8. Ultima (FFXII)
Ultima may very well be FFXII's version of Alexander, being an angelic figure with a huge celestial cannon for her lower body. I just like how she zips through space at the start of the animation and how she stretches her wings before firing a single focused beam onto the ground below. The close-up on her face was a nice shot that just shows how beautifully rendered the character models in FFXII were.
7. Ark (FFIX)
FFIX's ultimate esper spell is the only one in the game that got into my list. For some reason FFIX's character models had this unappealing muddy-textures quality to them that feel like a step back from FFVIII's clean graphic style. Also, most likely due to the backlash from the previous installment's ultra-long summon animations, the spells in FFIX felt rushed and uninspired. Ark however is the game's saving grace, being what summon spells are known for since the jump to 3D - SPECTACLE. This one-minute-and-fifty-or-so-seconds animation has laser beams, red planets, exploding mountains and an airship that transforms into a (somewhat out-of-place) robot ala transformers. What more can you ask for in a flashy magic spell?
6. Eden (FFVIII)
On the subject of spectacle, Eden is supposedly the fourth and secret Garden in the FFVIII world (Balamb, Galbadia and Trabia—I can't believe I still know their names!—being the other three) and is the ultimate summon spell in the game. You can't go wrong with an interstellar spacecraft that uses the entire planet as a cannon to shoot your enemy into the sun. Plus it's the only summon in the game that actually deals damage in the ten thousandths! You can imagine my surprise the first time I used it when instead of the expected 9999 damage, I got around 34,000. It fucking blew my mind. Har har har.
5. Anima (FFX)
While the summon spell models looked very, very beautiful in FFX, their actual animations weren't very inspired if you really think about it. Most, if not all of them just had beams that came from their mouths/horns/other bodily appendages which would lead to a huge explosion in the end. They weren't very exciting, which is a darn shame given the huge graphical upgrade after moving to the PS2. Anima also employs the same pattern but what got him into my list is the surprise element of finding out that Anima is actually two bodies joined together, like a demonic, twisted Catdog from the depths of hell.
4. Leviathan (FFVIII)
One of the more creative summon spells in my opinion. Everything about this animation is brilliant for me—how Leviathan starts off as a watery silhouette, how a tall cliff rises from the ground, and how Leviathan transforms into the water that would fall off the cliff and wipe out your enemies in a torrent of water. No explosions here, but still you could feel the power of the spell. On a side note, when Squaresoft released the Japanese demo of FFVIII they included this summon spell to showcase the huge jump in graphic power from the previous installment. And in my opinion, they picked the right spell to do just that.
3. Diablos (FFVIII)
Everything in this animation—from the bats, to the barren earth, to the purple sky just screams evil. Oh, and did I mention the esper is a winged demon? Diablos is one of the most stylish Final Fantasy summon spells for me. The entrance and exit are sleek, the color palette is a perfectly restrained red, violet, and black, and everything about it just contributes to give the spell the dark, powerful feel you can expect from the devil himself.
2. Exodus (FFXII)
An old man on top of a cliff uses his oversized scale to bring down a huge meteor to crush your enemies. How badass is that? The last few shots of the animation are pure gold for me. I love how Exodus watches the destruction from afar on top of the cliff, and how the bright red color of the meteor just stands out in the scene before it unleashes the huge explosion. The amazing amount of detail throughout the animation—the layers of clouds in the background, the gemstones jutting out from the sides of the cliff, the sparks that appear as the two small stones speed up, and the recoil of the scales as the stones rocket to the sky—are a testament to the amount of work poured into the game's art direction.
1. Neo Bahamut (FFVII)
My all-time favorite Final Fantasy summon spell (so far). The color palette is a beautiful combination of red, blue, and yellow. Neo Bahamut's red frame and his yellow beam both stand out from the deep blue background of the sky. The framing of the shots are exceptional as well—the low angle at the start as the ground rises up to a parting sky, the side view of the ground as it disintegrates from Neo Bahamut's blast, and the off-center framing that immediately follows as the enemy falls to the ground. The graphics may be outdated but the animation still remains impressive for me to this day.