Final Fantasy means a lot of different things to a lot of people, in part because almost every game is a significant departure from every other game in the series. New worlds, new characters, new story themes, new game mechanics; new everything. But one of the constants is the multitudinous imaginative menagerie of massive menacing monsters you are sure to face on any given adventure.
Each game in the series has plenty of its own signature beasties, but there are some standouts who have become part of the iconography of one of gaming’s most prestigious role-playing series. Only the toughest and most unique enemies need apply for this honour. The ones that’ll blow themselves up just to spite you, can turn your entire party into a bunch of drooling stooges with one breath, or will just ever-so-slowly creep up to your characters with lantern held aloft before suddenly stabbing them all to death with a butcher knife. The ones that you learn to fear.
These are five of the nastiest customers who have become Final Fantasy mainstays through generations of abusing, frustrating, and terrifying players with their fearsome and often infuriating combat tactics. If you want to grab a Chocobo and ride out of here, now’s the time.
Bombs are the demonic jihadists of any Final Fantasy world. They’re often moderately tough adversaries that attack with fire spells and/or strong physical attacks, but that’s not what makes them a problem. What makes them a problem is that they are sore, sore losers.
Once a Bomb gets to the point where they are about to be killed, it uses its next turn to dive into your party and blow itself up with typically devastating results. It’s usually not fatal to a strong party in good health, but they very seldom attack alone, either. They travel in packs and with other monsters, making an otherwise basic battle something nerve-wracking because in addition to the usual buff/debuff/attack/heal of traditional RPG combat you have to go focus on not letting one of these things use their last breath to swing the odds hard towards your annihilation. Hit it hard and fast, or just leave it alone until you can.
Sometimes, they don’t even need low health to explode on you; the fuse gets lit after getting hit three times. Once you get your offense in order Bombs usually stop being a major threat, but you usually have to learn how to deal with them the hard way, which makes them nasty customers for FF newbies. There was a rare drop in Final Fantasy IV that allowed you to harness the Bomb’s suicidal power by summoning one to help take out your enemies. I’m surprised that didn’t catch on because it was satisfying as hell.
Your party finds itself facing an innocuous-looking little green hooded creature with a fishtail holding a lamp in one hand and a carving knife in the other. It doesn’t attack; it merely takes slow steps forward towards your party, its empty eyes blankly staring. Perhaps it responds when you attack it with a karmic retribution for your aggression proportional to the damage it received, but otherwise it is unusually docile for a monster. Maybe you relax a little and heal up some of the damage from the karma counters. I mean, what’s the rush? This enemy is cake. That is, of course, until it reaches you.
After a few turns the harmless looking monster who only attacks when attacked finally closes the distance. Doink! Out stabs the Chef’s Knife and an ally falls dead at its feet. Holy shit! Doink! Another party member down before you’ve even processed what just happened. Phoenix down! Too late. Doink! After each kill, the Tonberry casually ambles towards the next party member, but if he’s already gotten this far, good luck resurrecting your party members faster than he can kill them. It’s game over, man. Game over.
Tonberry is such a great concept for an enemy, it’s no wonder he’s become a Final Fantasy mainstay. The whole experience is so creepy. They usually have a lot of HP so each battle is a race against time to kill it before it reaches your party and massacres them. Final Fantasy XIII had the fun concept of pitting you against not one, not two, but three of the creepy psychos, each equipped with a “deep-seated grudge” power that heals itself and smashes your party at the same time when their HP gets low. Final Fantasy VIII let you use the Chef’s Knife for you own game by making Tonberry a summonable monster.
Winged bastards from beyond, these guys are. Ahrimans are what happens when a Beholder, the Grim Reaper, a Cyclops, and a bat have a few too many in Hell and wake up the next morning regretting the choices they made. They’re like some bizarre unholy spawn of a monster orgy that defied all laws of science and yielded a beast with all of the nastiest traits of their irresponsible swinger parents.
They come in a lot of varieties and have gone by several names -my favorite being the properly descriptive Plague Horror- but for the most part they are a pain in the ass. Sometimes they are really fast, do major damage, and attack in groups capable of wiping you out in a turn like in FFX, but usually they are just capable of dealing instant death, or at least a doom spell counting down to certain death.
Final Fantasy VII’s Ahrimans use an instant death spell that kills everyone in your party that has a level divisible by 4. Normally, an instant death spell gives you a certain percent chance to live so you’ve got some possibility to resist. Not with this one. Is your level divisible by 4? Dead. Sucks to be you. I lost a lot of battles due to having characters at the wrong levels in my party. What kind of bullshit is that, Square?
Usually when this enemy starts appearing, it signifies that shit just got real. Get ready to grind like your name was Darling Nikki, because this sucker will usually take you out hardcore the first time you meet one. They are usually massive, purple beasts with big offensive power that show up late in the game to hinder your passage as you approach the climax.
Not only are Behemoths crazy strong and tough, but they often use meteor spells as a nuclear option to wipe your party out on a whim, sometimes even as it dies. They are also fond of countering, which is to say that every time you hit them, they hit you back harder in addition to their active attacks. Considering their HP is usually through the roof, this makes them pretty rough customers.
Most any Behemoth is a pain in the ass that requires a lot of leveling before they can be easily defeated, but Final Fantasy XIII’s variety was particularly badass because once you got its health down to half, it would stand up on two legs, pull a sword from its own body, and usually proceed to wreck your party in seconds.
No better enemy to anchor this list than the dreaded Malboro. And no, you can’t smoke it. It will probably smoke you. This betentacled Lovecraftian monstrosity is almost always voted “most likely to make you throw your controller in rage” among the enemies in a given Final Fantasy game. Unless you strategically arrange your party with warding status ailments in mind, any encounter with one of these things is a gamble you may not want to take.
What makes these creatures such a freakin’ nightmare is their signature “bad breath” attack, which afflicts every member of your party with just about every status ailment known to man or sprite. Silence, berserk, charm, confusion, blindness, and whatever else it’s possible to do to make a fighter worthless are all inflicted at once on everyone. So unless your characters are equipped with defenses against these ailments, in one turn you can be watching your party go from a seasoned indestructible monster-killing unit to a pack of morons impotently flailing at one another (and probably missing, due to blindness) with no way to control them while the ugly beastie casually exterminates them all in his own good time. It’s among the single most aggravating experiences one can have playing a role-playing video game.
Final Fantasy X in particular throws increasingly powerful varieties of Malboros at you over the latter half of the game. There’s an optional dungeon that I actually ended up fleeing without getting to the end because it featured a variety Malboro that would ambush you every time you encountered it, meaning it always got to act first. Do I even need to tell you what attack it always chose? I’ve never given up on a dungeon before that. Worst. Enemy. Ever.