I was going to say that the chocobo is a mainstay of the Final Fantasy series’ summons, but thinking about it you can’t conjure large ostrich-like birds in all that many of the games. After FFV I think (and someone can correct me if I’m wrong here) the chocobo only appears as a summon in FFVII, and even then it’s teamed with a moogle. I think this is probably because of the chocobo’s increasing prevalence as a mode of transport. Being able to summon a chocobo in the later games would be akin to reaching out to the magical realms beyond and calling forth a bicycle.
Final Fantasy V’s chocobo isn’t quite as refined, design-wise, as chocobos that would appear later in the series. The legs are ganglier, the neck more crooked, and then there are those eyes: massive, saucer-like peepers that give the chocobo a constant expression of shock. If the plush, fluffy chocobos of games like Final Fantasy XIII are the regal thoroughbreds, then this chocobo is the runt of the litter who lived a tough life on the streets before some kindly group of adventurers took it in. I like it, though. This chocobo looks like it’d be handier in a fight, plus it’s scrawny enough that there’s little risk of the party turning to it for sustenance if their supplies run out.
When you use the chocobo summon, there’s a random chance that you’ll be visited by the fat chocobo instead. That isn’t an ironic nickname. Maybe chocobos hibernate through the winter months and he’s been packing away the gysahl greens in preparation. The difference between the fat chocobo and the regular kind, other than their cholesterol, is that the fat chocobo hits all enemies on screen rather than just one. Of course, the chocobo summon is pretty weak, so there’s a chance you’ll never use it enough times to see the fat chocobo. He’s out there, though. Eating. Wark-ing. Having naps. I’m jealous of the fat chocobo, is what I’m getting at.
Sylphs plural, even. Two small fairies in green swimming costumes. Look, every summoner has to start somewhere, all right? You can’t dive straight into the earth-rending megadragons on day one of Summoner School. Not that the sylphs don’t have their darker side: they restore health to the party, but they get that health by draining it from the enemies. They’re more like miniature trained attack vampires than your usual fairies, so at least the concept is fairly metal even if the execution looks like a successful range of soft toys from the eighties.
This is a weird summon, because remoras are real fish. They’re the ones with the strangely-evolved fins that let them stick to other, larger sea creatures. It sort of makes sense that summoning Remora paralyses your opponent briefly – I know I’d stop whatever I was doing if a fish attached itself to me using an organic suction cup – but there’s nothing particularly magical about a remora. In this case “summon spell” could easily equate to “having a bucket filled with fish.” The remoras in FFV don’t look much like the real-world fish, however, instead clearly being based on piranhas. Now, “bucket full of piranhas”? That’s a special attack I would end up using a lot, unlike summoning remora. Maybe one day there’ll be a FFV sequel that includes the Fishmonger job. As you level up, you learn the secrets of larger buckets with larger fish inside, until you’re dropping aquarium tanks packed with great whites onto the battlefield.
First up in a trio of classic elemental-themed Final Fantasy summons is Ifrit, Square’s take on the Efreet of Middle Eastern legend. Ifrit possesses the power of fire, and if this sprite is any indication that fire might be a little too hot even for him. He’s definitely shielding himself from something, as though he wasn’t expecting his attack called “Hellfire” to be quite so fiery. He’ll tone it down to “Heckfire” next time, I’m sure. Or maybe he's shy, just because you're a terrifiying demon of flame doesn;t mean you're exempt from self-confidence issues.
Someone once told me that Ifrit’s horns reminded them of disgusting overgrown toenails, and ever since that’s what I’ve thought of when I see them. I’m telling you this in the hopes this knowledge works like The Ring and I’ll be free of it forever.
The ice spirit Shiva just looks bored. “Ho hum, another day, another monster to freeze to death.” I reckon she knows she’s just a temporary fixture, until the party finds more powerful summons later in their adventure. That would be pretty demoralising. Or perhaps as a facet of the Hindu deity Shiva, she has already seen all this before. I’ve often wondered how the Hindu god Shiva – a male god who has more to do with fire than ice – became a female ice spirit, but then I realised I was thinking about it too hard and Squaresoft probably just liked the name. In fact, I’ve seen some suggestions that “Shiva” is just meant to be the word “Shiver.” I’m not sure I buy that. If it was true, I'd expect Ifrit to be called "Burny" or something, but it’s an interesting theory.
Then there’s Ramuh, the old man with the electric stick. There’s little to say about Ramuh, who doesn’t change much between appearances and does his job of electrocuting monsters with a minimum of fuss. The most interesting thing about him is his beard. If you look through a list of all the times he’s appeared in the FF games, you gain a respect for the amount of effort put into giving him ever-more bizarre and elaborate facial hai.r By the time we get to Final Fantasy XXV, his moustache will be seven miles long and composed of loop-the-loops and dangerous hairpin turns. His moustache is already weird enough in Final Fantasy V, mind you: one side’s drooping and the other side’s curled up in the air in a way Salvador Dali could only dream of. I assume he ran out of moustache wax half-way through sorting it out. I also assume this happens to Ramuh on a regular basis.
It’s Titan, former scourge of the Greek gods, now a large naked man squatting in a position that speaks to either an imminent wrestling move or a chronic bowel obstruction. You might be thinking “hey, he’s not naked, he’s wearing a belt that holds a fake horse tail near his rear end,” but let me tell you that you will be refused admittance to the bank or your child’s parents evening or an airport terminal if you turn up wearing nothing but a belt and a fake horse tail.
Good ol’ Golem, always one of my favourite summons, makes an appearance in FFV. I don’t like him for his looks, if I’m honest. He’s just a monster-man made of rocks, which is a design we’ve all seen a million times even if this particular iteration does only have one arm. I think Titan covers FFV’s quota of “man-shaped lumps that look as though they were carved from stone” very well, thank you, and this Golem certainly isn’t as interesting as the Golem in Final Fantasy VI because that one’s a robot. No, I like Golem because of his special power: when you summon him, you’re placed under his protection and if you’re attacked by physical means then the Golem’s hand pops up out of the ground and deflects the blow. This, one assumes, is why his sprite only has one arm. It’s very satisfying to see your enemies being denied, that’s the thing.
Catoblepas, or Shoat as it’s sometimes called, is based on a mythical monster that the ancient Greeks described as being able to turn a person to stone with a glance. Being literally petrified by looking at something seems to have been a real worry that played on the collective consciousness of ancient Greece, but it’s not so much of an issue with the Catoblepas as it is with Medusa because the extreme weight of the catoblepas’ head means it’s always looking downwards. It's the Eeyore of the ancient bestiary, really. Looking at this sprite, and particularly the Catoblepas’ single eye, I’m guessing that its design was inspired by real-life animals born with the mutation that makes them cyclopes.
How unfortunate to share your name with a festering sore. Okay, yes, and also a gemstone, but still. It’s a problem I imagine herpetologists get tired of dealing with. Luckily for Carbuncle (and, presumably, some herpetologists) it's pretty cute. Not “puppy in a Halloween costume” cute, because it’s got a distinctly alien look to it and a rock in its forehead, but something you could see yourself owning as a pet. Keeping it fed might be an issue, mind you. I can't imagine Carbuncle would survive on Pedigree Chum.
Mild Final Fantasy V spoilers ahead: Syldra starts the game as the ship-towing companion of playable character and pirate captain Faris, but various events occur and Syldra ends up becoming usable as a summon towards the end of the game. While her non-summon sprite looks a lot more dragon-y, summon Syldra is a Loch Ness monster / plesiosaur type creature. She also looks rather cheerful, probably because she doesn’t have to pull a pirate ship around any more. Surprisingly, Syldra’s elemental attack is wind rather than water. If you’re a big fan of water-theme dragon monsters, don’t worry, FFV has you covered. Syldra’s not a bad summon, either, and with some smart wind-boosting equipment set-ups she can do a hefty chunk of damage. Is it worth all the faffing about to make that happen? Maybe not, FFV does have a lot of ways for you to do big damage. Personally, I like to throw large sums of gil at my problems or, when I last went through the Four Job Fiesta anyway, to pray that my Dancer would deign to activate their high-damage Sword Dance ability on a regular basis.
Another common recurring summon in the series, Odin works the same way as he always does: instantly killing weaker enemies, or doing damage to bigger foes that are immune to instant death attacks. Don’t fix what ain’t broke, that’s Odin’s motto. His sword has a handy can-opener attachment, and his horse Sleipnir has six legs. The mythological Sleipnir had eight legs, but look at that sprite and tell me where you’d cram in another two legs, huh? My favourite thing about FFV’s Odin is his pose, his outstretched arm in a mocking “is that the best you’ve got?” stance. I mean, it’s probably nothing of the sort: Odin’s above such petty concerns and his pose is simply him trying to keep his balance while carrying a huge sword and riding a horse with surplus limbs. That said, he is the Allfather of the Norse pantheon, you’ve expect him to be at least a bit of a show-off.
I promised you big watery fish-dragons and let it never be said that I’m not a man of my word. I’m looking at Leviathan’s face, and I find myself thinking “what would the Joker look like if he were a fish? There have been so many alternate takes and spin-offs of the Batman universe that I’m sure he was a fish at some point.” Then I remembered the classic episode of Batman: The Animated Series where the Joker uses a special toxin to give a load of fish his face and my question was answered. I do think Leviathan has a really cool sprite, though. Very sinuous, a great colour scheme and again a cheerful expression. There you go, then: being a sea monster is the secret to true happiness.
Yep, that’s definitely a bird made of fire. I’m sorry, folks, I’ve got nothing. You’d expect something more impressive from a top-level summon, especially after Leviathan looked so good, but sometimes you’ve just got to have a bird made of fire. There’s not much else you can do with Phoenix, except spell its name wrong every god damned time.
Finally you've got Bahamut, a relatively classic western-style dragon. His neck doesn’t look very comfortable, does it? It’s all bunched up, he’s going to get a cramp. Nice wings, though. I’m not sure if the artist was going for a crispy crystalline coating or the iridescence of a butterfly, but they make a nice change from the usual leathery wings. The more I look at Bahamut, the more I get a subtle xenomorph vibe from him – it’s the segmented tail and neck, combined with the black parts of his colour scheme. It seems appropriate, Bahamut really could take off and nuke a site from orbit. In the end, though, Bahamut is just another dragon. An imposing, dangerous dragon to be sure, but still just a dragon. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by later Final Fantasy games, where Bahamut becomes a laser-firing space dragon. That’s the kind of thing that could spoil anyone, although it’s going to lead to a rapidly-escalating draconic arms race, with consumers demanding bigger, ever-more-laser-packed dragons. Hang on, I'm making that sound like a bad thing, which it clearly isn't.
That’s all the summonable creatures from Final Fantasy V, then, and if I had to pick a favourite I’d probably go with Leviathan based on looks and Remora for concept. If there’s a better use for the mystical arts of sorcery than firing piranhas at people, I’ve yet to hear it.