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 strong nostalgia for it myself, 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 personal favorites and others of note!
I kind of overlooked these little guys before, but we should probably include them and even start off with them, since VII was their debut and they've remained one of the series staple creatures ever since. The name is adorably quirky, but the actual design isn't so much a hedgehog as a fat little red imp with big, chunky spikes all over its back. A small, common and annoying creature, they not only attack with their spines but with fire magic.
In the FFVII remake games, the Hedgehog Pie has been interestingly reworked into a bipedal, fanged frog with a spiny back, which honestly doesn't change much other than the original creature's eye placement. We'll only be looking at remake versions that make a significant difference, mind you, and unfortunately not every monster is being given such a facelift, either.
Chuse Tank & Malldancer
I do love the oddball names of Final Fantasy creatures, so many of them the innocent result of linguistic barriers. Sometimes the name makes sense in Japanese, but was mutilated by English localization. In other cases, the Japanese team tried to give something an English-sounding name to begin with, and you can only sometimes puzzle out what they were going for. The "Chuse Tank" is one such enigma, and so is its color-swap known as the "Malldancer." It's literally just a floating, sinister looking seahorse with the arm of a preying mantis for a tail.
The remake sheds just a little light on this strange genus, referring to the enemy is Terpsicolt. They're said to inhabit dark, moist places and feed on blood, which all make them even more appealing to me, though their head design in this game is even more horse-like or dragon-like, which I don't find as charming as the original's simple, thin tube-mouth.
Back when I first played this game, I was still just as enamored with robots and mechas as I was with organic creatures, and I LOVED the Smogger, a lopsided little robot whose left arm is a hooked segment of piping and whose head is just one big, U-shaped pipe, all capable of spewing toxic gas. The remake version is a splendidly straightforward upgrade, the exact same design in such magnificently higher definition we can now see the filthy residue caked to its ducts!
This was a funny one; a burly humanoid robot protruding from a hole in the ground, armed with a small hammer in one hand. Why build a whole robot like this just to use a hammer? It's in the name and everything, so presumably that was its main purpose. The hammer isn't even a part of its body!
Hammer Blaster is significantly enhanced by the remake in almost every respect; its design isn't just more detailed, but overall much weirder and more alien. Love the elongated silver head, kind of faucet-like, kind of xenomorph-like, as well as the segmented torso and the tiny human-like hands. Now known as Sledge Worm, it STILL just holds a hammer, and that's still its entire physical attack mechanism, but it also has the ability to "bend space and time" to teleport closer to its targets.
And then hit them with a hammer.
This was one of my favorites back in the day; a darkly colored, elongated arthropod with four sickle-like clawed arms, huge jagged mandibles and an additional pair of massive, antenna-like lances emerging from its back. Not the most original design to be honest, but the fact that it lived in cold environments piqued my interest, and so did its name! There was just something about the names alone that could hook me back then, I guess because they often set up a mood and context beyond the design itself. "Frozen Nail" is just a very interesting, but perfectly reasonable thing to call a big, chilly bug with half a dozen ways to impale people.
Encountered in the Shindra reactor core, the Mono Drive is a biomechanical flying sentry that just sort of looks like a floating stick with a small, pale ball on top, almost like a magic wand, or something, with some tentacles or petals hanging off it. Designs in this game definitely suffered a bit from the total lack of texturing.
...So it's great to finally see what the heck Mono Drive was supposed to be! The remae reveals that this creature is indeed a staff-shaped creature, almost like a thin, floating stalactite, but the orb on top is a slimy, pink eyeball, and the "petals" are tufts of green hair that hang from beneath the eye, gentle flapping like wings. There's also some "roots" or "branches" coming off the stick thing, behind the eye, and the eye has a translucent, fleshy pink tail that coils down the tapering length of the stick. Maybe the living organism is just the eye and hair, clinging to this hunk of wood?
Encountered along the seashorse, this interesting animal has a green, squidlike head with yellow eyes and three long, sharp tipped tentacles, while the rest of its body is hidden in some kind of prickly, tubular brown shell, which bends down and ends flatly as though rooted to the ground, like a barnacle.
The beachplug's attack method, however, isn't at all what you expect from this design; it actually lifts itself up, walks on the three tentacles like a tripod, and smacks you with the shell!
Another green mollusk, the Bad Rap is an octopus-like creature with a bulbous, balloonlike body encircled by small nozzle-like pores. Hanging down from this gaseous sac is the rest of the head: a ring of six yellow eyes, six thick, sharp looking purle arms and two thin, rainbow-colored whiplike tentacles. Its main ability is "Evil Poison," which inflicts both poison and darkness (blind) status.
The Japanese name is literally "evil wrap," as in a nasty creature that can wrap you in its tentacles. I much prefer the "Bad Rap" translation, it just has so much character!
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, at which point a collection of robotic appendages pop out from the windows and rooftop, including a round, featureless metallic head with a beak-like lower jaw. 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. Maybe Shinra corporation created them as traps to lure and eat homeless people. Seems like the kind of thing they would do.
Hell House actually IS a boss encounter in the remake game, with the added explanation that it's just a secret weapon of the mob boss, Don Corneo. I still think it reads more as something Shinra might have made to further oppress poor people, but the new design isn't bad; it's a more decrepit, dingy looking little house, the limbs emerging from it are more detailed, more obviously mechanical ones, and the head retains its featureless, bulbous metal beak look, which is great! My only gripe is how symmetrical it all is. The original didn't really have any two limbs in the same place!
Another of my favorite mechanoids, the Sword Dance is an almost fish-shaped robot, rows of sharp blades along the top and bottom of its thin, straplike segmented body. At the front end is an equally fishy looking head with small, glowing eyes, but where a mouth should be is a small chainsaw-like apparatus!
The remake once again preserves a design perfectly, and somehow, it's only now that I realize it always had a spatter of blood on its helmet-like forehead; a rare use of any actual texturing in this game's enemy models.
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. A few have pointed out how much the final stage also kind of looks like a set of ovaries, which adds even more meaning to the embryo-like sprout. Disturbing!
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?
The remake, unfortunately, doesn't answer any of the above questions. It focuses on the creature's other color variant, the Grashstrike, and just posits that they live in colonies. The design is kept intact, however, adding only more hooks, barbs and scales!
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.
Would you believe there's a THIRD little green bug enemy?! Hell yeah! And somehow, I remembered the exact spelling of its name all these years without having to look it up. I guess it's a name that really sticks in your head, and it's pretty much the same in Japanese, though the more "accurate" way to spell it out would be Jejujemi.
Jaejoojaemee is kind of like a caterpillar or a green grub with a shorter, rounder shape, like a pillbug, but its mouth is a ring of needle-like teeth, it has bulging red eyes on the sides of its head and it has to long, segmented antennae. They attack primarily by slowing you down with silk thread, confirming a caterpillar theme, but do they undergo a metamorphosis or are they perma-pillars? I wish that existed so badly. There are bagworm moths that mature into just a sort of lump, but it's not quite the same as a forever caterpillar.
I wonder if they'll ever appear in the remake, and if so, will they actually be given an "adult" form??
Getting into the game's really freaky stuff, this creature is sort of shaped like a pink, fleshy, floppy baseball bat, with a row of purple diamonds down the front, three pairs of sinister red eyes on its flaring upper end, four rubbery looking arms and two cranial growths sort of shaped like rabbit ears, or something. There's also a stinger on the end of the tail for good measure, it has psychic powers, and it can explode.
These are another weird experiment by Shinra corporation, and I'm not sure what "Vargid" means since it never appears anywhere else in the game, but I'm even more perplex by how these creatures would serve as "police." The Japanese name, "Vagidporisu," is still a mangling of "police," so it doesn't clarify a thing.
In the remake, the name is instead anglicized to "Varghidpolis," so it sounds a bit more alien, but we all know what it was supposed to be. I'm glad the design was left unchanged, but enhanced with all sorts of wrinkly, veiny, fleshy details.
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 these emaciated, cat-like monsters 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, and then there's the rows of long, thin blades protruding from the creature's back and sides. A color-swapped version of Zenene, encountered later, is named "sneaky step," which is super cute!
Sadly, Zenenes in the remake drop all the bizarre mutations and just sort of look like shaggy lion-things. I won't even dignify them with an appearance here! You will just have to google your disappointment.
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.
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:
So the "brain" in the brainpod is a whole shriveled-up head, like a pale raisin, with a pink nose and a puckered little mouth. It's so cartoonish, it ought to just be funny, but in this context it feels fairly horrid, especially since it attacks by spraying a bunch of noxious "refuse" from that little mouth-hole. 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.
I have mixed feelings about Brainpod in the remake. The outer pod's design wasn't tampered with, so it's still adorable, but the head inside has been made much more dramatic and "cool," a more Darth Vader looking cyborg with a breathing device and a bunch of thin, tentacle-like cables hanging down like a beard. I'm glad it still attacks the same way, though, by squirting its waste everywhere. Even its official description says that's what it's doing. Why go through all the trouble of keeping a head alive in a robot body, and that's its primary offensive tactic?!
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, I think we need to break down the anatomy of this thing one little piece at a time to really understand it: its right shoulder is sort of like a big, eyeless dinosaur mouth, while its right arm has a fish fin sprouting out of it and a bony or chitinous forearm with two very long, thin skeletal fingers and a "thumb" that's more like a chitinous sickle blade.
Its head is a hairy looking mass of grey tentacles with a fanged, humanoid skull growing out of only one side, only ever facing left, with a thin red tongue of its own.
On its pinkish chest is a randomly placed, short tentacle, like a pale finger, next to a little purple bug or alien-like head that protrudes awkwardly from under one of its pecs. This little head has glowing red eyes, and a thick purple tube instead of a mouth, which connects over to the creature's left arm.
That left arm has a grey, armored shoulder almost resembling the back of an isopod, and the rest of the arm looks like nothing but a cluster of big, dangling, purpleish, fleshy sacs with random black claws sprouting out of them.
Finally, its chunky legs are skinless, showing muscle and sinew, with three-toed feet sporting big, hoof-like nails.
That's a LOT going on! But my favorite thing about this boss, are actually its little friends, simply known as "opts." Each is a round, mite-like ball with four nubby bug legs and one big eye! Both also make a return for the remake games, and are still looking fantastic:
The remake game's H0512 is, unfortunately, quite a disappointment to me. Seeing that absurd mish-mash anatomy in high definition could have been amazing, but the absurdity of it has been dramatically toned down. Most of the same elements are technically still there, but it's all a more uniform black, grey, veiny being, it drops the fish fin, the purple sac arm looks more like an organic cannon, and its head has become a purple squid face almost identical to a Dungeons and Dragons Mind Flayer. It still has the humanoid skull on one side, but it's all just so much more cohesive and more generically "cool." Only the Opts have retained their personality; still the same yellowish mites with the big, blue reptile eye and four buggy limbs. If only their big brother had taken after them more!
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.
Thus far, only one Jenova form has appeared in the ongoing remake, and it's not bad, I suppose. It's still a weird, abstract shape that kind of evokes a looming figure with big, giant wings, though it's all contorted asymmetrical flesh, lots of random tentacles and tumors and scales and veins, and it has a slightly more obvious, more menacing skull face with long, tusk-like fangs. It isn't bad, but as with H0512, it does suffer from a darker, greyer, more homogeneous color palette. The different skin tones and colorful organs of Jenova always really stood out to me, reminiscent of the horrible final transformation from Akira.
The remake would've also presented an opportunity to restore the "floating organs" concept, but I guess they still didn't like it anymore. Boooo!!! Good thing I actually saved the best creatures in the whole game 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.