Final Fantasy’s Iconic Summons Were The Result of a Happy Accident


While most Final Fantasy games take place in their own worlds, the franchise is still linked together through several iconic factors such as Chocobos, elemental crystals, and powerful summons. The series established many of those tropes early on but not all at once. Summons, for instance, weren’t added until Final Fantasy III (the real Final Fantasy III, not the original American Final Fantasy III). But unlike some of the other iconic Final Fantasy features, summons weren’t necessarily intended to be a major part of the franchise.

Several days ago, Square Enix held an interview with the major figures behind Final Fantasy: Hironobu Sakeguchi, Kazuko Shibuya, and Yoshinori Kitase. This meeting was meant to celebrate Final Fantasy’s 35th anniversary (and Sakeguchi’s 60th birthday) and focused mainly on the series’ origins. Subjects included where the name “Final Fantasy” came from and how the team came up with the idea for summons. If you’re expecting an origin story as epic and mythical as the summons themselves, you may be surprised to learn that Final Fantasy‘s summons were actually created out of necessity rather than as part of a grand plan for the franchise.

When asked about the origins of summons, Sakeguchi initially played coy and acted like he didn’t remember. Eventually, though, he came clean. As he recalled, cartridge memory had doubled between Final Fantasy 1 and 3, which gave Squaresoft more space to provide deeper story content and detailed sprite work. However, even when the game was complete, Squaresoft employees were surprised to find that there was still unused space on the cartridge.

To fix this issue, someone suggested filling the rest of the game memory with “a big old monster,” potentially a friendly one. Several allied creatures later, Final Fantasy 3 had its summons. Of course, that only explains why the summons exist in the first place but not how they were actually designed.

Since Shibuya served as the pixel artist of Final Fantasy 3 (and all the other pixelated entries in the series), she ended up creating all the original summon assets. Well, that’s only a half-truth. Technically, longtime character designer Yoshitaka Amano sketched all of the summons, and Shibuya translated them into pixel art.

However, she says that she had a lot of fun doing so (especially with Bahamut), just as she did when creating many of the game’s monsters and bosses. And in order to preserve many of the details from Amano’s original art concepts, Shibuya made the summon sprites as large as possible. That decision not only helped each summon take up as much space as possible (which was handy given that the summons were supposed to fill all those extra bits of the cartridge’s memory) but ensured that each summon felt appropriately epic.

So while Final Fantasy‘s first summons were technically little more than an afterthought, they obviously made quite the impact. After all, they’ve returned in every subsequent Final Fantasy title. Who knows what the Final Fantasy franchise would be like had Squaresoft not bothered to fill in the extra space or added some extra story content and areas instead? Quite frankly, I don’t want to imagine a world where I can’t call on the likes of Odin or Bahamut to devastate Malboros and Tonberries.

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