When it comes to Final Fantasy, few things are consistent. In spite of having what appears to be a Rocky-level obsession with both sequels and the Roman numeral system, there is generally no real connection between each installment. From the casts of characters to the layouts of each world, it would seem no two Final Fantasy games are alike – barring actual sequels like X-2.
That apparent disconnect between each game makes the few things that do carry over from game to game stick out and become iconic. One of those things I want to talk about today is the recurring cast of enemies and other creatures that appear in nearly every installment.
As it turns out, some of these creatures that have plagued our Final Fantasy experiences for over 25 years come with some pretty interesting backgrounds. I thought it’d be fun to take a look at some of them and try to determine where they got their inspiration.
The bombs in Final Fantasy are fierce little balls of fire that are infamous for living up to their names by blowing up in your face.
These bombs appear to be based on the “hi no tama” (literally translated to ball of fire), a type of ghost in Japanese folklore that is made out of or takes the appearance of fire. Hi no tama are similar to will-o’-the-wisps in western folklore.
As it turns out, will-o’-the-wisps are actually a phenomenon that occurs in marshy areas where certain volatile gases are released by the layers of decaying vegetation. These gases ignite when they react to the oxygen in the air, creating little balls of fire. Some reports mention these gases being explosive when exposed to fire, giving credibility to the temperament found in Final Fantasy’s bombs.
When thinking about Final Fantasy’s iconic creatures, chocobos whould probably be the first things to come to your mind. These fleet-footed giant birds not only look cute, but make for the perfect mount for racing or simply travelling between menacing dungeons.
As one might expect, chocobos are very similar to real-world ostriches. Both are tall, fast flightless birds, and both make great racing mounts.
Though, maybe that’s where the similarities end
Ostrich riding and racing is apparently a fairly common practice in Africa, though they are about as difficult to manage as chocobos often are. Whether ostriches actually make useful mounts in the way horses and chocobos do, I can’t help but have my doubts.
Another possible inspiration for the chocobo is the Gastornis, a genus of large, flightless, and extinct bird. Based on the skeleton, they look big enough to be more suitable for riding than ostriches. The Gastornis also serves as the inspiration for a creature called the horseclaw, which featured in the Miyazaki film “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”.
Okay, so you might have expected chocobos to be at least somewhat based on ostriches or ostrich-like creatures, but the word “chocobo” is a little more out of left field. Chocobos are actually named after a Japanese candy called the ChocoBall, which is, unsurprisingly, a chocolate malt ball. The seemingly odd decision to name a large, yellow, ridable bird after chocolate is probably inspired by the ChocoBall’s mascot, which is a bird named Kyoro-chan.
It’s basically what would happen if the Angry Birds were named Cocopuffs.
Couerls are a bane on any Final Fantasy player’s experience both by casting nasty status effects like paralysis on your party and by being very difficult to pronounce. Couerls are reoccurring cat-like enemies that often sport two or more tentacles from their faces like elongated whiskers.
The origin of the Couerl can actually be easily traced back to a science fiction short story by A. E. van Vogt titled “Black Destroyer”. Couerls and other variations of them have been used in tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons as well as Pathfinder. In each case, the Couerl has been a surprisingly intelligent cat-like being with tentacles.
In “Black Destroyer”, the Couerl has the ability to manipulate electromagnetic radiation. This is probably the origin of the signature paralyzing “blast” attack in Final Fantasy’s Couerl.
Flans started out in the original Final Fantasy as a stereotypical “slime” enemy, which is about as basic as you can get as far as enemies go. Slime or blob monsters are basically the JRPG version of your typical giant rat or goblin. That said, the original “flan” monster was a black colored variant of the slime called the “burakkupurin” or “black pudding” in the Japanese version, which was a direct call to the black pudding monster in Dungeons and Dragons.
In Europe, black pudding is a dish also known as blood sausage, which is quite different from the blobby dessert we know and love in the States. It probably isn’t much of a stretch to assume localization teams decided to stick with “flan” as a better and altogether less confusing name for the monster.
Not really what I want to imagine when I hear “pudding”
V. Zus / Zuus:
In Final Fantasy, the Zu or Zuu are often fairly powerful enemy birds. Usually black or purple, these massive birds usually sport strong physical attacks and a somewhat ironic weakness to darkness or death type attacks.
In mythology, Zu, also known as Anzu, was a massive bird monster that could breathe both fire and water. For whatever reason, these breath attacks don’t seem to have made it into the games. In its mythologies, Anzu is known to have stolen either an important tablet or a crown, only to be hunted and killed or cursed. It may be a bit of a stretch, but the Final Fantasy Zu’s weakness to death may be a small parallel to its mythological origins.
The massive stinking carnivorous plant known in the Final Fantasy universe as the Malboro is unique in its penchant for bad breath. In the games, they are usually gigantic and tough to take down, because of the wide range of status effects their Bad Breath attack inflicts on your entire party.
The word Malboro most likely derives from the Latin and Greek words mal (bad) and boros (breath). It’s also kind of a popular myth that the name comes from Marlboro cigarettes, since cigarettes tend to cause bad breath. Unfortunately, that’s probably just a happy coincidence.
Malboros probably get most of their inspiration from carnivorous plants. There are numerous different kinds of carnivorous plants that give off terrible odors. These plants are often collectively called carrion flowers, corpse flowers, or stinking flowers. The Malboro’s mouth also looks like the “mouth” of a Venus flytrap.
The behemoths in Final Fantasy are almost invariably very difficult enemies that appear toward the later stages of each game. They appear as large lion-looking beasts with a pair of horns on their heads. While physically strong, behemoths are also known for casting some of Final Fantasy’s strongest magic like Flare and Meteor.
The name itself comes from Hebrew mythology, in which Behemoth is the primal beast of the earth. It is compared against Leviathan, the primal beast of the sea and Ziz, the primal beast/bird of the air. Behemoth and Leviathan are said to someday be locked in an epic fight until God descends to kill them both, thus marking the end of days.
While many interpret the Hebrew description of Behemoth to appear like an elephant or even a dinosaur, the imagery we get in Final Fantasy works just as well.
Flare and Meteor seem like two odd choices for behemoths to use in Final Fantasy, but there are some admittedly loose mythological backings for them. Behemoth’s strength is said to peak during the summer solstice, at which time it releases a loud roar that scares the ferocity out of all the beasts of the land. Since the Flare spell is a force of solar energy, the behemoths using it could be referencing that annual roar. Meteor in Final Fantasy is a spell often linked with the end of the world, much like Behemoth’s fight with Leviathan symbolizes.
And there we have it: seven of Final Fantasy’s most infamous baddies along with their (possible) origins. There are plenty more iconic characters throughout the Final Fantasy franchise, and I may come back to give them all a look under the microscope as well. Even if some of these connections turn out to be false, I still ended up learning quite a bit about different mythologies, cultural customs, and even a little bit of science. I hope some of you did as well.