Bogleech Monster Reviews:
Final Fantasy VII
Written by Jonathan Wojcik
The seventh Final Fantasy title was the first in the series to feature 3-d graphics, as well as the first set in a world with such modern advances as cars, computers and televisions. Taking the gaming world by storm, its popularity still somewhat overshadows the rest of the franchise, and you'll find a lot of people calling it the greatest game ever created in the history of anything.
I can't say I really agree with all the hype, and I'd probably place VI as the very greatest Final Fantasy game, but I certainly played and enjoyed this one, I have my own nostalgia for it, and its selection of monsters is remarkably even weirder and more diverse than a majority of other games out there, so let's dive right on in and look at some of my favorites!
As large and dramatic as this monster is, you might have expected it to be a boss, or at least something encountered late in the game, but no; Hell Houses dwell in the garbage-strewn slums where our whole story begins, sitting retracted into their cute little house-shells until they're attacked. Considering other facts of the setting and storyline, it's possible these things are scrapped cybernetic weapons, though it's unclear whether they were always intended to disguise themselves as tiny houses or they just found their own to carry around, like man-eating robotic hermit crabs.
When I was younger, I was almost as enamored with weird robots as I was with weird biological entities, and while I'm still not sure how or why that changed, I still have a soft spot for some of the odd mechanoids in FF7. The Sword Dance and its color-swapped cousins are especially cool, resembling giant, segmented chainsaws which "swim" through the air like fish. I've really never seen a robotic being quite like them, and it seems like a lethally effective design.
VII's stock "mushroom monster" model is small, simple, and creepy, its stalk made up entirely of stacked, toothy maws and constantly undulating. There's not much else to say, except these fungi are so small in-game you may have never even noticed all those fangs.
These little guys have such a fun, distinct design for a token electrical monster, just creepy little grinning heads with chitinous-looking legs and a pair of barbed, electrified antennae. They almost look a little plant-like, which would be cool, since I seldom see any electrical plant monsters.
Only encountered when you walk into its web, the stinger clearly isn't just some giant spider, or even an arachnid at all; just a tiny, three-eyed head, with jutting teeth and no apparent lower jaw, balancing on its absurdly long hind limbs and "stinging" prey with its absurdly long forelimbs. With very little actual mass, it towers over a lot of other creatures in the game.
I always thought these oddly-named enemies were just two-legged, bulb-shaped bug-things, but on closer inspection, there's a human-like nose above that circular maw, and that one detail changes everything. Now I see more of a mutated, eyeless human head, truncated into a stinger where it's brain ought to be, teetering around on its deformed, muscly arms!
I originally played this game on a tiny little television, strategy guides had only low-resolution images of any enemies, and you definitely couldn't find them as large, transparent PNG's back in the late 90's, so it'd be a long time before I ever noticed that the "Kimara Bug" was actually a chimera bug, with the head of a mantis, a spider, and a butterfly! Why the hell don't we see insect versions of medeival hybrid monsters more often? Of course, if a traditional chimera combines lion, snake, and goat, I feel like a more appropriate arthropod equivalent might have been spider, centipede and grasshopper. Clearly the grasshopper is the goat of the Insecta.
With a snake's head on one side and crab limbs on the other, the Acrophies seems to just be a bunch of different sea creatures working together as one monster, or maybe fused together by arcane magic and/or toxic waste. It's hard to tell whether the central body is a natural shell, an old coral skeleton or just a rock, and the red head could either be part of the crab-monster aspect or something else entirely.
This plant creature grows and changes as its battle progresses, and you know I love how its little sprout already looks like some sort of creepy embryo. Its final form isn't too shabby either, with vertical rows of teeth and a pair of lovely freaky eyes on the ends of stalks! All three forms would have made such an excellent evolutionary line for a Pokemon.
Sometimes, you just need to break up the crawling flesh-beasts and killer insects with a good old spooky ghost, though the cutely off placement of this one's eye holes and its tiny, red hands imply something pretty weird under the cloth.
These small insects have mosquito-like mouthparts, scorpion-like tails, mantis-like claws, and no other legs at all, just slithering along, dragged by their huge forelimbs until they hurl themselves through the air like giant fleas. What always intrigued me most about them was their name; are they called that just because they can decapitate their prey, or do they really literally collect heads? Maybe they roll heads back to their nests and lay eggs in them, like horrible dung beetles.
You have to love the number of almost interchangeable arthropod-type enemies in this game; it really adds a sense of natural biodiversity. The developers could have easily settled on just one type of small, needle-faced, leaping green bug and stopped on the headhunter, but we also get the lovely Kyuvilduns. I don't know where that cute name comes from, but I love everything about these spiny pests. They're like big, bloodsucking, flightless katydids, and I recall them making the most delightful "sproing" when attacking.
Getting into the game's really freaky stuff, these six-eyed, mouthless, boneless, psychic, explosive, stinging, fleshy mutants are associated with Shinra corporation, which performs all sorts of bizarre experiments and unleashes an assortment of both mechanical and organic horrors on the world. I'm not sure exactly what "Vargid" means since it never appears anywhere else in the game, and I'm even more perplexed by the "police." Are these things trained as police? By who? Can they ever have other jobs? Are there Vargid Frycooks? Vargid Vacuum Cleaner Salesmen? Maybe those are just entirely different fleshmonsters.
The Grangalan is easily one of the oddest, most enigmatic creatures in the game, which is saying quite a bit. Resembling a giant, wooden egg, it can open up to release a smaller "Grangalan Jr," which in turn can eject a "Grangalan Jr. Jr," all of which attack with a variety of eye-beams. They're clearly artificial, but who or what created them? There's no short supply of them just roaming around in untamed wilderness; are they leftovers from some ancient civilization? Maybe they're just really adorable magical guardian constructs that wandered from their original territory and multiplied out of control, or maybe they're discarded baby toys from an extinct civilization of gigantic, indescribable cosmic monsters.
Once again, we have a monster I overlooked until I finally got this closer look at it. Another Shinra creation, it's hard to say whether Zenene turned out the way they were supposed to, since their front limbs and their tails all seem to end in mouths. That hair also gives them an eerily ex-human feel, and the nose kind of reminds me of a bat. The hind legs are also kind of interesting, with the radial fan of toes, though those could just as easily be more teeth, with even more mouths underneath. A color-swapped version of Zenene, encountered later, is named "sneaky step," which is super cute!
Ying & Yang
The internet has failed to yield a complete image of this freak's 3-d render, so its concept art and a video will just have to do, and kind of offers a better look at this disturbing duo anyway. They're exclusively encountered in the basement of Shinra Mansion, already home to many of the game's most bizarre enemies, and they're obviously another failed or incomplete experiment. Just check out the way they move:
Few game enemies communicate so much horror in their animation alone. Ying and Yang are constantly twitching, convulsing and nearly collapsing, every movement seemingly wracked wiith agony, and their torso even splits apart a little, if you look closely. The impression I always got was that the two beings are locked in a constant, internal struggle for control of the entire body, but who knows what the hell could be wrong with them. As either Ying or Yang approach death, the game will even announce that they're happy, an early warning that the weaker brother is about to use a "suicide" attack. It all wouldn't be half as nightmarish without those beady-eyed, incomplete-baby-doll faces, and there's something even a little phallic about the way they protrude from their fleshy, sheathe-like neck folds.
Sometimes I wish they'd made some sort of full-blown survival horror game out of Shinra labs and its beautiful babies. We'll be seeing more and more reasons as we continue.
The only monster sillier than Grangalan, the "dorky face" looks like some sort of little pumpkin or radish, but flies around by flapping a ring of feather-shaped tassles, it has a pink bow on its head and its "funny breath" causes confusion.
Dorky faces are encountered in the same mansion as Ying and Yang, so there are any number of possible explanations for how they came to be, but what nags at me is the question of what they're actually modeled after. I'd have brushed them off as completely original nonsense, personally, if I hadn't spied this unnamed rubber toy from the 1960's, originally posted by ChristianG on the Little Rubber Guys forums:
This thing clearly has the same basis as the Dorky Face, though here, the "pumpkin" is peeled back to reveal a more disturbing monster underneath. What the hell are these things? What he hell looks like a wrinkly pumpkin with a bow and a feather collar? Whatever it is, I've only seen it in this one toy and one Final Fantasy enemy. In both cases, it's been portrayed as some sort of creepy monster.
One of my favorite "natural" monsters in the game, the Rilfsak is some sort of floating, blood-sucking forest creature resembling a leaf with creepy little eyes - one missing - and a single stalk lined with long needles , ending in some sort of prickly little nodule. Though weak, it's extremely difficult to hit, either because it's so thin or because it's so well camouflaged in the surrounding forest. Is it a parasitic animal that mimics a fallen leaf, or is it a parasitic plant? If it is a plant, is this really all there is to it, or is this some sort of drifting seed or sprout, just a small part of its life cycle?
The brainpod is an enemy you can encounter in Shinra's laboratories only after Jenova escapes, presumably releasing some of the other imprisoned specimens, though that still doesn't do much to make sense of these teapot-shaped freakazoids. They clearly contain more than just "brains," since they can pop off their own goofy little lids to reveal, uh, this:
Creepy. What the hell are these ugly, cartoonish little heads connected to? Their puckered mouths unleash the Brainpod's primary method of attack, a bunch of disgusting toxic gunk only referred to as "refuse." Just who approved these things? Who on Earth decided there should be flying robotic teapots with tiny, vomiting old men inside? I ask because it should have been me. How dare they steal the best idea I ever could have had.
A great balance of cute, freaky and frightening, these bulbous little creatures use their magical breath weapon to shrink their victims before swallowing them whole, a pretty hideous fate. I always love comical-looking monsters with such an unpleasant edge to them, and I especially like the Hungry's conical, striped eyeballs, which are constantly waving around in different directions.
A more recent spin-off game gives the Hungries a beautifully rendered new look, though regrettably doesn't bring back many of the other monsters here. I like that we can see the teeth on this model, and the texturing of its flesh adds a little grossness to an otherwise still cute, goofy anatomy. This version also had two stronger cousins, named "Very Hungry" and "Most Hungry," and of course, the eyes now remind me of my favorite animal.
I know the intention is "Heretic," but the official spelling is still "Heletic," so we're sticking with that. Hojo is the twisted scientist behind a lot of Shinra's biological meddling (a man of refined taste), and eventually infuses himself with cells from Jenova, which we'll talk about later. Hojo's final form is more dashing than I can ever possibly hope to be, a rotten and distorted torso flailing from a colorful, polypous slug-like base.
This clawed, heavily dressed humanoid doesn't look that special at first, until it uses its "scissor attack," instantly killing one of your party members and splitting itself in half:
Once divided, it becomes clear that nothing human-like was ever under Scissor's robes, now one creature supported by a thin stalk ending in bird-like talons, and the other with similar claws surrounding its single eyeball. I would pay good money to see what these things look like naked.
Another Hojo masterpiece, this absurd genetic mish-mash has a mouth for a shoulder, a fish fin on its right arm, skinless legs, a long-tongued skull permanently twisted sideways, and a tube running into the second face on its torso. My favorite thing about this boss, though, are its little "opt" friends, cute head-sized cycloptic mites that assist it in battle!
Just from this thing's name, we can easily deduce that it's some failed or rejected experiment. One side is a purple, reptilian ape-like beast, the other just a bunch of red tentacles and hair. Mid-way through combat, one side will "die" and the other will mirror itself, as if its two different sides were fighting to take over all along!
So we may as well talk about the monster this entire game actually revolves around, since it's a delightfully weird and creepy beast in its own right, even if it's not as delightful as it could have been. Jenova is never completely explained, but apparently an incredibly powerful, incredibly advanced life form that arrived from space. Sometimes almost resembling a human woman - with eyeballs where eyeballs don't normally go - we're treated to a series of battles throughout the game with pieces of Jenova, which typically grow into the kind of abstract, towering biological whatsis we see here.
Once and only once, we get to battle a slightly different chunk of the cosmic horror, a giant womb-like orb with a seldom seen, pulsating heart inside, and this kind of leads into what I meant about Jenova's original potential: earlier in the game's conceptual development, Jenova would have been split into a variety of different pieces, each one of which would have not only transformed into a different boss, but would have disguised itself as a human and acted as an independent villain. There would have literally been just a mutant, floating heart hiding inside a humanoid robe, and presumably a series of other incognito organs as the game's main antagonists, which is probably one of the coolest ideas I've ever heard.
Instead, what we got in the final version was Sephiroth. Ugh. Since I dont' want to end on something that disappointing, I've saved the best for last:
As you may know by now, there are few things I love more than gruesomely deformed monsters whose very existence is some sort of abominable mistake, and the three "unknown" enemies in Final Fantasy VII are positively exquisite examples. This first type kind of reminds me of a giant horse's skull, sort of. Horses are the ones with eyes wrapping around the backs of their heads, right? I really like the multiple empty eye sockets near its front - unless those are nostrils - and those bizarre, colorful mutant hands on the end of those bony, segmented limbs. It also seems to have two stubby, pinkish "feet," but I can't remember if it actually rests on them or floats in the air.
The second unknown type is both the silliest and the most unsettling, like a cartoon flower filtered through an acid trip and a high fever. Notice how each long, purple nail protrudes from the center of an eye, in turn embedded between pink, feminine lips on the ends of those unsettlingly phallic, petal-like finger. The toothless skull at the center almost looks like it has luminous red eyes on its sides, and the two eyes on that single green tendril are a nice touch I never noticed until now. Topping it all off is the body, an entirely ridiculous dumpy dinosaur-body that doesn't even slightly fit in with the rest, and couldn't be more perfect for it.
The third Unknown, while maybe not as disturbing as the second, is definitely my favorite of the bunch, and my favorite enemy design in the game. Its overall shape is roughly like some sort of ray, or maybe an organic kite, much of its model almost paper-thin, but its finer details are more like those of a flayed, stretched out corpse, complete with humanoid hands, a rib cage and colorful, dangling organs. Other aspects, like the four unblinking eyes and the dangling tassles of flesh, are totally alien, and finally we have that grinning eel-mouth on the end of what should be an intestine. The weirdness on display here is just sublime.
The Unknown are encountered at the bottom of an underwater trench, in the wreckage of a Shinra plane that went down carrying unspecified bio-magical weapons, and there's really no accounting for just how screwed up they are; were they incomplete experiments being held for further testing? Failures en route to disposal? Maybe a bunch of weird shit just mixed together in the wreckage. Maybe they're amalgamations of Hojo's creations, human corpses and marine life. I'm a little jealous of all three designs; I feel like I've strived for years to come up with monsters as psychedelic and plain wrong as this trio, and fallen far short every time.
All in all, Final Fantasy VII has one of the most staggeringly varied monster selections of almost any game I've ever played. There are a lot of games I like more, even several Final Fantasy games I like more, but there's no denying this one really went all-out in the creature department. I didn't even have room to include ALL of its little, green bug creatures.