Eidolons. Espers. Aeons. Summons. Whatever you call them, summons are some of the powerful tools in a Final Fantasy player's arsenal, and some of the most deadly enemies when on the other side.
Though they didn't make their first appearance until Final Fantasy III, they have since become a staple of the series and are as iconic as the Buster Sword and impossibly spiky hair. Their importance in the game varies, from being the central conceit of the story as in Final Fantasy X, to sort of feeling tacked on at the end as in Final Fantasy XII. Some summons are unlocked naturally over the course of the story, some are secret and require hours of sidequests. Either way, when it's time to call out the big guns you know the summons got your back.
Also, they just look cool. Well, most of the time. There are some mixed feelings about summons as transformers robots in Final Fantasy XIII. Otherwise, their models and animations are amongst the high points in the series.
But not all summons are made equal. Some will barely tickle the final boss while others will pound him into the pavement, chop them into pieces, take pictures, then light the remains on fire.
Here is the ranking of the main series Final Fantasy summons from weakest the strongest. For simplicity's sake, common summons that appear throughout the series will be averaged out.
In many of the early Final Fantasy games, one of the first summons you learn is the simple and iconic Chocobo. Their role doesn't switch much between games. Chocobo Dash lets the player escape from battle. Chocobo kick is a light damage physical attack. In Final Fantasy V there is a chance of summoning a Fat Chocobo which damages all enemies instead of a single target.
The Chocobo is the signature mount of the Final Fantasy series, and while they don't really stand out as summons they do perform admirably as the 'introductory' summon in many titles. In the very first title to feature summons, Final Fantasy III, the Chocobo summon was only 100 gil, making it the first summon many fans ever had access to.
Carbuncle has taken many forms throughout the series, but usually appears as a cute, tiny, sprite-like creature with long ears and a red gemstone on its forehead. It is usually learned mid-game to late game (except in the MMO Final Fantasy XIV, where it is the base summon). Its signature ability is “Ruby Light” which grants the Reflect status on the entire party.
Carbuncle is a useful summon at any level when fighting enemies with powerful magic attacks. If you have another method of gaining the Reflect status there's not much else to summon it for. Particularly when there are such powerful summons available to you for rearranging a boss's face.
In Final Fantasy IX, its gemstone could be changed to allow it to grant Vanish, Haste, Shell, or Protect instead.
Final Fantasy X's storyline heavily centers around the Summoners and their quests to defeat Sin. The first Aeon the summoners get is Valefor, a large flying creature with draconic wings. As the starting summon obtained early on in the game he has become heavily associated with the game's summoner, Yuna.
When a summon is called in X, the entire party is replaced and the Aeon takes on the enemies alone. By this standard, Valefor is fairly strong in the early game and falls off in usefulness later. He has access to a low level Black Magic spell for each element, making him versatile, and his main ability can delay an opponent's action. He has fairly mediocre stats, and though they rise like all the Aeons with Yuna's abilities, he is outmatched by his fellow Aeons in pure power.
Belias is the first Esper acquired in the course of Final Fantasy XII and the only one who is required to complete the story. He is a fire-themed giant with the horns of a ram and four bulky arms.
In XII, a summon replaces the other two party members, can not be given direct orders, and do not have customizable Gambits. Belias will spend his time spamming “Painflare,” basically an improved version of the Fire spell. When he is close to death of his time is running out he will use his Ultimate, Hellfire, which does area-of-effect fire damage.
Basically, Belias appears as a poor man's Ifrit. While not terrible, he is horribly unvarying. He lacks true tankiness, and unless your opponent is weak to fire his damage will not be particularly special either.
Ixion is a unicorn with a big ol' lightning rod for a horn. Like the kind of thing you might expect to see in a Pokémon game. It is one of the Aeons Yuna gets for completing a Cloister of Trials.
As you might guess, it specializes in dealing lightning damage. It has access to the Thundara spell and its Overdrive deals heavy lightning damage. It's special move, Aerospark, surprisingly does non-elemental damage and serves to remove buffs from enemies. He also has decent HP and high defense scores, making him fairly tanky. Attack stats lack a bit, though.
Like Belias, it feels like a poor man's version of a more prominent summon in the series, Ramuh.
Kujata is a massive bull-like creature that is first available as a summon in Final Fantasy VII. Black fur, angry eyes, gigantic 'piss-off' horns. You probably assume it has some kind of powerful charge attack and hits for physical damage.
What it actually does is elemental damage. Three kinds. Using a pretty cool move called Tetra-Disaster, Kujata hits with Lightning, Fire, and Ice damage to all enemies. With such a diverse element spread its very likely you'll hit at least one weakness. The potential for damage is pretty good.
Of course, the opposite is also true with resistances. The real weakness comes from the fact that if the enemy is immune to or absorbs one of the elements, the entire attack is negated or absorbed.
Another creature that first appeared as a summon in Final Fantasy VII (though he appeared as an enemy in the game before it), Typhoon/Typhon is a floating pink and purple monster blob with faces on the front and back, looking like two ghosts accidentally super glued themselves together.
Unfortunately, as a summon he does not get his trademark move, Snort. Instead he gets Disintegration, which functions very similarly to Kujata's Tetra-Disaster except slightly more powerful and with Earth damage being added to the other three. This attack also has the benefit of ignoring all defense, but with the drawback of missing flying enemies.
The name alone invokes images of underworld and the god who rules it (maybe altered somewhat by the his Disney incarnation from Hercules), and the Final Fantasy version of Hades certainly does justice to this image. He looks like a cackling skeleton in flowing red robes.
As a summon, Hades is a master of negative status effects. While his attack, Black Cauldron, doesn't do as much damage as the other summons, it can cause a host of status ailments: Poison, Confuse, Sleep, Silence, Mini, Frog, Slow, and Paralysis. Against the bulk of enemies in the game this will be enough to make the rest of the encounter simple clean up.
Sure, many bosses will be resistant or immune to the bulk of those, but it is still a fairly impressive set.
Shiva is one of the series' most iconic and frequently used summons, appearing in almost every game in which summons are possible. As with all the summons with so many appearances she has gone through many incarnations though she certainly has a preferred form: that of a tall, slender female with bluish skin and long, blue hair and very little clothing.
She is the Ice Queen and one of the most powerful pure-ice forces in the Final Fantasy universe. Her signature move, Diamond Dust, casts a barrage of ice at enemies (sometimes in the forms of shards, sometimes as physical attacks). Her power varies game by game, with some games like Final Fantasy VII making her somewhat weaker than other summons, while on the other end of the spectrum Final Fantasy XV makes her a goddess. On average, Shiva is a summon of above-average power capable of destroying anyone with a weakness to ice.
Like Shiva, Ifrit has appeared is an iconic summon who has appeared in almost every game in which summons are possible, usually as a counter and rival to Shiva. Their rivalry and close power makes it hard to pick which of the two is actually stronger. Final Fantasy tends to favor the Fire-type damage a bit so I give it to Ifrit.
Ifrit has gone through a lot of changes with his incarnations, but he is usually some kind of cross between a demon and a beast, with long horns, claws, and a muscular frame. He is a master of fire-elemental damage and his signature technique, Hellfire, deals fire damage to all opponents, often in the form of some awesome pillars of fire.
Although he has a few less appearances under his belt than Ifrit or Shiva, the lord of lightning is nonetheless one of the series' most recognizable summons. It helps that he has maintained the same basic design throughout all his appearances: an old man with a long beard and a staff.
He uses his staff to call lightning down on his enemies. His signature attack, Judgment Bolt, calls down a massive bolt of lightning to strike all opponents. Judgment Bolt is often one of the more powerful summon abilities in terms of raw damage. In Final Fantasy XV it is enough to leave the ground charred and the enemies a blackened mess.
Titan is a big guy with some big power. The premier summon of the Earth-type has appeared in many games since summons first made the rounds. He almost always appears as a massive, bulking, humanoid creature, sometimes more human in appearance and sometimes appearing to be made out of the rock itself. He is usually one of the largest summons, in Final Fantasy XV being so massive that he can hold up a gigantic meteor while sleeping.
He possesses massive strength and his signature technique, Gaia's Wrath, is powerful enough to cause an impassible landslide in Final Fantasy IV. His raw power often bests the others in the regular cast of summons, but with the big drawback of being unable to hit flying enemies.
Phoenix first appeared as a summon in Final Fantasy V and has made a number of appearances since. Even if you're not familiar with the summon you are undoubtedly familiar with its down feathers which are the staple resurrection spell of the series. If you know any mythology (or read Harry Potter) you can guess at its appearance: a flaming bird creature.
Its ability is pulling a party back from the brink of defeat. Flames of Rebirth revives the entire party from KO. As if that's not enough, it also deals fire damage to all enemies, typically a fairly high amount (more than Ifrit in Final Fantasy VII). When your party is in the hole and your white mage can't keep up, Phoenix can get you all back on your feet and take the enemies down a peg at the same time.
Famfrit, the Darkening Cloud is the Esper of Water from Final Fantasy XII. He looks like a big bear-man creature covered in armor and carries around a water jug attached by a chain.
As a third level summon, Famfrit is one of the strongest in the game. He has high HP, Strength, and Magic. When summoned he will spam Briny Cannonade, which is one of the few offensive water attacks the party has access to. When his health runs low or his timer is about to expire he will use is ultimate, Tsunami, where he swings his water jug about until it tips over and spills a massive wave to hit all enemies in range.
A very strong water summon, but you-know-who is still to appear later in this list.
Ultima, the High Seraph is one of the hidden Espers available in Final Fantasy XII. She looks sort of like a steampunk angel, with a blue complexion and angel wings while riding riding a magitek floating platform.
Ultima is a rare Holy type summon, making her the scourge of undead and other evil creatures which fear the light. When summoned, she will use Redemption on nearby enemies, which is a powerful holy element attack. Her Ultimate, Eschaton, is ridiculously powerful, in which she flies to space and turns her platform into into a satellite laser cannon and fires it down at your unsuspecting foes. She also has very high stats.
Its unfortunate that her ultimate is so tough to use, as it requires both her and her summoner to be in critical HP.
Another of the hidden summons in Final Fantasy XII is Chaos, Walker of the Wheel. Based on the villain from the very first Final Fantasy, Chaos resembles a man in demonic armor flying around in a magical podium surrounded by swords.
Chaos's greatest strength lies in his versatility. He knows the '-aga' level spells from each of the elements and will target nearby enemies with their weakness, hitting them with a Whirlwind spell if they have no weaknesses (which deals damage based on their max HP). His ultimate is wind-elemental, like he is, an attack called Tornado, in which he causes the swords around him to spin so fast that a tornado forms. This ultimate also deals damage based on their max HP, just in case there are any enemies around that survived his initial barrage of spells.
An unusual summon in that this actually a trio of summons, the Magus Sisters are the final summon Yuna can obtain in Final Fantasy X. They resemble a diverse group of women (one tall and slim, one rotund, one small and childlike) wearing insectoid armor.
They only fight together, and that's good because each one of them compliments the other. The chubby one, Cindy, is proficient at White Magic, the little one, Mindy, is good at Black Magic, and the tall one, Sandy, is good at physical attacks. Together they have access to some of the most powerful attacks in the game, including Ultima, Passado (Mindy's special combo hit attack), and a powerful Overdrive called Delta Attack (when their powers combine).
With high stats and powerful abilities, they are a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, they are disobedient and the player can not control their actions directly. Instead you have to 'encourage' them to take a certain action, which they may chose to ignore, foiling your battle plans.
Yojimbo is a mercenary Aeon Yuna can recruit in Final Fantasy X. Right off the bat I'll say this: His final attack, Zanmato, might be the most powerful attack in the series, as it will instantly kill anything it hits (or bring a multiphase boss to the next phase). The drawback: it's near impossible to get him to use it.
Yojimbo is modeled after a samurai, but he works for money instead of honor. After you summon him you have to give him money to get him to attack and you do not get to control his turn. He will pick an attack to use based on how much you've paid him and his current feelings towards Yuna (based on how much you've paid him in the past). If he feels cheated he will make a weak attack with his dog. Maybe if you're lucky he'll toss some throwing knives.
Trying to defeat things with Yojimbo literally involves throwing money at the problem.
The last of Final Fantasy XII's hidden Espers, Zodiark is an incredibly powerful dark-type summon. He resembles a flying serpent whose wings have gone through the steampunk treatment. In his second form (revealed by his ultimate) he grows a big pair of angel wings.
Zodiark will tear through just about any enemy not immune to the dark type. His basic attack is Banish Ray will usually do 9,999 to any one target. His ultimate, which he will only use when his summoner is petrified, is Final Eclipse, which has him flying into his target from space, always deals 50,000 damage. There are very few things in Final Fantasy universe that could withstand that.
Odin made his first appearance way back in Final Fantasy III, along with his signature attack, Zantetsuken, which has the insane ability to instantly KO all enemies. In his many appearances since, Odin has maintained this ability in some form, though it always comes with a varying degree of success and rarely works on bosses (unlike Yojimbo's Zanmato). Even when he can't instantly kill an opponent he can usually do massive damage to them with Gunge Lance.
He appears to be a human in full knight armor, wielding a sword and riding a horse. Anyone who has ever had to face Odin as a boss (particularly in the MMOs) knows that underneath this simple facade lies a real beast. While physically one of the smallest summons, Odin's power also makes him one of the most fearsome.
The Leviathan has been in the Final Fantasy series since near the beginning, making its first appearance as an enemy in II. Since III it has become one of the series most recurring summons. It always appears as a giant sea serpent and, along with Titan, is one of the largest summons in the series.
Leviathan is known as the “Lord of all Waters” for a reason, being the most powerful of all the water type summons. His signature attack, Tsunami, is a massive wave that deals water damage to all foes. It also has the hilarious effect in some games of completely washing smaller creatures away. The real power of a creature Leviathan's size can be seen in Final Fantasy XV, when it creates a Tsunami so powerful that it completely destroys the city of Altissia.
Probably the first thing you thought of when you thought of summons, Bahamut is the giant dragon to end all giant dragons. He's been in the series since the very first game where he served to train the players to their advanced classes. Since III he has been a frequent summon and sometimes boss battle. He has more overall appearances in the series than any other summon.
It is always made known that Bahamut is incredibly powerful. In Final Fantasy XV they make sure to note that he is the strongest of the Astral Gods. In Final Fantasy X he has the ability to break the damage limit from the start. In VII there are multiple strains of him, the even more powerful Bahamut ZERO and Neo Bahamut.
His signature attack is Megaflare, where he fires his breath as a giant laser that explodes, usually completely obliterating anything caught within it.
Anima is the creepy summon heavily favored by Seymour in Final Fantasy X. It looks sort of like a mummy, completely bound by bandages and chains and further trapped inside a coffin-like enclosure. It has a smaller demon attached to it via the chains.
We get a clear idea of its power in the first cutscene it is introduced, in which it obliterates hundreds of monsters in mere moments just by looking at them. It then becomes a boss battle through Seymour, the scourge of many a frustrated gamer.
Then it finally becomes ours and we are glad it is on our side. Its special attack, Pain, is an instant kill. Its Overdrive is the extravagant Oblivion, which can deal 16 massive hits to each enemy. Very little is going to be walking away from that.
The most powerful summon in Final Fantasy VII, the Knights of the Round are there for when there is an enemy that you just absolutely want to not be alive anymore. They appear as medieval knights (the knights on Arthur's round table) and when summoned they use Ultimate End in which each one of them hits the enemy group with their weapon.
In order, the enemies are hit with: a sword, a lance, fire magic, a mace, another sword, a hammer, ice magic, a trident, a Comet spell, a naginata, a battle axe, yet another sword, and finally Excalibur (courtesy of King Arthur himself). Each knight hits for massive damage, and each hit ignores all the targets defense stats.
Even many hidden enemies and bosses meant to challenge a player in the post-game will die from a single assault from Knights.
Alright, so what's stronger than a dragon, a giant vortex-tearing mummy, and King Arthur? How about a literal giant robot? Alexander is just that, and though his exact design changes between games he is consistently a fortress-like creature with massive, piston shaped arms.
Alexander is a holy type summon, but even against enemies not weak to holy is a frightening opponent. His signature attack, Divine Judgment, in which he fires a cascade of massive beams of light to obliterate his opponents. In Final Fantasy XIII he proves himself to be a powerful tank and proficient in beating enemies physically with his massive fists.
It's his games in which the players can not summon him that gives him the edge, though. In Final Fantasy IX he is called upon to defeat Bahamut (which he does, with a Divine Judgment attack). Going a little outside the main series to the MMO Final Fantasy XIV and Alexander is so massive that an entire raid takes place inside of him (because he can only be beaten from the inside, one arm at a time).