One of the most fun parts of Final Fantasy for me is identifying the monsters and finding out where they come from. Goblins, chimeras, mer-people, and so many other enemies in the Final Fantasy bestiary come from legends and myths. This was the original inspiration for this series of articles, then I started noticing other situations that warranted investigation. But since we’ve got that other stuff covered already, I’m ready to take a look at what prompted me to start writing Breakdown articles in the first place: The mythological and legendary influences of monsters in Final Fantasy.
In the original translation of Final Fantasy for the NES, goblins were called imps. Imps and goblins are small and typically easy to kill creatures that appear early in the game and serve as the player’s first test. The petty demons wear caps and wield small knives or swords. They will swarm your party in large groups or take you on one at a time. Other than that, goblins aren’t particularly noteworthy creatures, and don’t really serve as much of a challenge.
Imps are first seen in Germanic folklore and are generally more playful and mischievous rather than downright evil, like their goblin bretheren. They’re small, ugly, and love their pranks. Eventually, they started to become linked to witches as familiars. This is where the small playful creatures were linked to a more sinister nature. Goblins, on the other hand, have been in legends forever, even back as far as the 12th century in France and 15th century England. Similar to the imp, they are small, ugly, and playful in nature, but are for more known for their malevolent tendencies. Eventually they would be included in high fantasy fiction such as The Lord of the Rings, where goblins are nasty and evil creatures controlled by the dastardly Sauron.
Deep in the depths of the Earth Cavern, there lurks a flock of deadly birds. The Cockatrice is an avian enemy that can turn the player party to stone. They can be very aggravating if the player hasn’t sufficiently stocked up on the “soft” item, a cure for petrification. They can be particularly frustrating after a trek back out of the dungeons they appear in, after a heated battle with a boss and a vulnerable and weakened party. Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to run to fight another day. Cockatrices appear as smaller blue birds, but in the legends, they appear quite a bit differently.
The cockatrice of legend was described by several scholars in the 12th and 13th centuries. It was usually a product of an egg laid by a rooster (hence the “cock”) and incubated by a toad or a snake. The result of this egg was a creature with a lizard body and a chicken head. The beast was said to kill with a stare, a simple touch, or by breathing on their victim. Weasels were supposedly the only animal immune to the powers of a cockatrice. The beast would also fall instantly to the sound of a rooster’s crow.
Throughout the Final Fantasy series, the chimera is an enemy of medium level strength that usually appears somewhere midgame. They are usually depicted with three heads: one of a lion, one of a goat, and one of a dragon. They have the body of a goat with the wings of a dragon and a serpent for a tail. In the original Final Fantasy, the enemy casts a powerful fire based spell that can damage the entire player party. They are pretty tough to beat at the time the party encounters them, but they aren’t insurmountable by any means.
In Greek mythology, the chimera is a beast with the head and body of a goat with the tail consisting of a serpent’s head. The monster appears in Homer’s Iliad, appearing as an omen of storms and other disasters, such as volcanoes and ship wrecks. The chimera was slain by the monster slayer Bellerophon while he was riding the winged horse Pegasus. Some scholars believe that the legend of the chimera originated the actual Mount Chimaera in present day Turkey. The chimera in legend resided in this area and was thought to breath a very bright flame of fire, which coincides with methane vents that burn in the night. Additionally, goats, lions, and serpents live around the mountain, leaving scholars and naturalists to propose that the chimera of legend was actually the mountain, with the create written about in the Iliad simply a metaphor.
The problem with Final Fantasy’s bestiary is that so many creatures throw back to stories from history. I’m not going to cover all of these, but in the next part of this series, I’ll cover a few more, including one I feel is a bit of a stretch, but is pretty interesting anyway.