The Final Fantasy Formula: Chocobos, Moogles, Cactuars, Tonberry, oh my!

In addition to names and human characters, another reoccurring element throughout the series is its host of wildlife. Final Fantasy has really gathered quite the colourful cast of odd creatures to inhabit its various worlds (or one shared world, depending on if you subscribe to that crazy theory), and for this entry we’ll take a look at the most prominent examples.

Unlike the Biggs and Wedge entry, where their appearances were so intertwined with each other that we could look at both characters at the same time, we’ll have to look at each creature individually through the series. This means we’ll have to organise things a little differently than usual and put them into categories of characters, rather than similarities and differences. This is mostly because these mascot characters don’t actually come into contact with each other all too often, with maybe one or two notable exceptions.

In any case, let’s a have a look and see what we can find out about our favourite fluffy, adorable, and terrifying critters, kupo!

Chocobos – “What the hell is a ‘horse?”

Probably one of the more recognisable parts of the franchise, and possibly something that even non-fans will recognise, Chocobos are more or less the mascot characters for the Final Fantasy series. Their appearances are of an avian-like creatures, often yellow in colour, and often larger than their human riders. They even have a distinctive cry of “kweh!”

Chocobos are kind of strange, when you stop to think about. They’re huge, domesticated chickens that are more or less the FF equivalent of a horse. That’s a not an exaggeration: they’re used to pull carts, take place in racing events, and can sometimes be seen taking part in conflicts as a type of war-mount. It kind of makes sense, since the only full on legit horse in the series is the one that Odin rides in on, so humanity had to find a different animal to become a common beast of burden. That being said, even if there were horses in the FF universes, I doubt they would see as much use: in addition to looking more adorable, Chocobos have the advantage of being able to be bred to have crazy special qualities, including the ability to traverse seas and even the ability of flight. Likewise, Chocobos have shown repeatedly throughout the series to be at least fairly smart, and are often quite empathic animals.

…I’m saying that I would want to actually own one if they were real. Is that getting across? ‘Cause it should be.

Anyway, the species has a mostly consistent role in the games, namely being a way to avoid random encounters. When you want to get from A to B without having to stop to fight off whatever part of the wildlife had the misfortune of running afoul of you, the Chocobos are a good bet. How you actually acquire one, however, is a bit more of a mixed bag. In the earlier games one could only get a temporary ride from catching a Chocobo that had been found in the wild, while later games made it possible to rent out a few, often at pretty unreasonable prices. Eventually, one could even breed Chocobos together in order to make new and crazy ones, with the most notable example of this being the Choco-ranch from FFVII, which made many a gamer consider the sweet release of snapping their disks in half rather than continuing to try to breed that bloody golden Chocobo.

However, there are a few moments throughout the series where Chocobos went above and beyond the port of call. This usually came in the form of them being a summon, and helping the player to actually fight in battles, often to comedic results. There’s one particular example of this that really stands out, but since it involves a rare team-up between Chocobo and Moogle, we’ll save it for after we’ve covered both. Other than that though, a good example of this comes from how your Chocobo can fly in to assist you during battle in FFXV, which often means you have an adorable chicken trying to kick the living hell out of an undead lich. It’s good stuff.

It’s worth bringing up that Square-Enix has seen it fit to release quite a damn few spin-off games that actually star the Chocobos from the main series. It’s not just a small number of games either, it’s quite an extensive catalogue of products, though quite a few of them never saw a release outside of Japan. The biggest out of the list is probably the Chocobo Dungeon games, which among other things featured a Chocobo as the main adventuring hero and a Moogle taking up a heroic alter ego in an attempt to one-up said Chocobo. While not the only instances of this, this would be one of the more significant times the two mascot characters would come into contact.

So as it’s probably getting plain to see, the Chocobos consistently serve their main function at all times, namely being lovable bundles of feathers. It’s pretty easy to see how these innocent, funny and useful creatures eventually rose up to be the mascots of the FF series, to the point where they had their own collection of spin-off games. Assuming my constant cooing and praise of them hasn’t turned you off them, these guys are pretty hard to dislike, and their cute appearances make them easy to market to both Japaense and international audiences. If there’s one constant in this series, it’s that the Chocobos will always be involved in a light-hearted context (barring that one really, really grim scene at the start of Type-0). That, and have a catchy tune.

Fun fact: while Chocobos would only be introduced in FFII, sketches by the legendary Yoshitaka Amano (the guy who does all the cool ‘logo’ artwork) shows there were a few ideas for them during the development of the first Final Fantasy. While Yoshitaka Amano is an amazing artist and great designer, I think we can all agree that it was probably wise they didn’t use the first design for Chocobos.

Moogles – The second mascot, kupo!

If Chocobos are the characters that won the race to be Final Fantasy’s mascots, then Moogles are the characters who come in second only a moment or two behind. Identified by their purple wings, diminutive bodies, trademark pom-poms, and being cute as a button, it’s pretty easy to pick Moogles out of a crowd.

Due to the fact that Moogles show a much higher degree of intelligence, and are clearly more than just wild animals, they tend to have a larger variety of roles throughout the series than Chocobos. Sometimes they’re simply a race living in the world going about their daily business and sharing the space with other characters, such as in FFIX and XII, while in others they’re more of rare a mystical set of creatures, such as FFXIV and the FFXIII trilogy. Even more impressive than that is just how different their place in gameplay terms can be throughout the series: they had the honour of being one of the most hilarious set of save-points in the series in FFIX, and even had a stint as actual party members in FFVI. A fairly common idea also seems to be to put Moogles in some kind of summoning or assist role, such as the helpful Moogle assist you can get in Crisis-Core, or the legendary Choco/Mog.

In fact, talking about Chocobos and Moogles teaming up, that also seems to be a fairly consistent idea throughout the series, or at least to put the two in the same space. In addition to Choco/Mog, FFIX would also see an endearing partnership between a Chocobo and Moogle in one of the game’s side quests, and FFXV had an entire festival dedicated to both creatures. I guess when you have two cute critters, the only way to make them cuter is to put them together.

In addition to having a much more varied set of roles, Moogles also enjoy a much wider spectrum of appearances. While having small wings of questionable usefulness and some kind of pom-pom attached to their head is mostly consistent (they didn’t actually have the pom-poms in their earliest appearances), many of their other features change and shift depending on the game. FFVI and IX had their ‘classic’ appearances, namely having squinty eyes and small ears, and their bodies being covered in fluff. In comparison, XII and any other games set in the Ivalice universe had them appear much more like rabbits, with long ears and more extended limbs, in addition to the fact that they all wore clothes. No matter the differences in appearance, however, they universally still have the verbal tick of ‘kupo,’ so some things really never change.

To put it simply, the Moogles share much of a common space with Chocobos, being a cutesy mascot character that is pretty much wholly light-hearted. While they do get some more serious elements from time to time (Mog’s role in IX, the fact that an entire cave of them are outright killed in VI), it can safely be assumed they’ll mostly bring jovial and upbeat moments in the future of the series. Whether they’ll escape their fate as second place in the mascot race with Chocobos, however, is less certain.

Fun fact: FFIX is the only game in the series where a Moogle, who you rescue from a block of ice, will directly call the party “bastards!”

Cactuars- Death by one thousand cuts

To put it bluntly, a living cactus that seems to be partly frozen into its odd “running” pose, and with three holes for a face that makes them appear perpetually shocked. These little blighters are often rare enemies in whatever game they appear in, are hard to find and dangerous to fight. While the rewards for defeating them is often worth it, their now infamous attacks “1,000” and “10,000” needles can rip through an unprepared party.

These hilarious little terrors are kind of late additions to the series, at least compared to the Moogles and Chocobos. They only made their debut in FFVI, though their unique appearance and attacks made sure they’d be included in pretty much every game after that point. It’s worth noting that, out of everything on this list, the Cactuar has by far the most consistent design: across the many, many years this franchise has existed, they’ve looked almost exactly the same. The only time they’ve looked any different was their radical re-designs for the Ivalice universe, wherein they looked slightly less cartoony. Other than that one exception, though, they’ve kept the same shape and expression all the way through the series. This means that, even in the highly, highly detailed world of FFXV, they still retain their extremely cartoony look, which creates a hilarious uncanny-valley effect.

Unlike the above Chocobos and Moogles, who were firmly on the side of the player, Cactuars are a much more antagonistic force, usually taking the place of uncommon random encounters. They also have the honour of appearing as bonus bosses and secret encounters, such as FFVIII’s ‘Jumbo Cactuar,’ which is exactly what it sounds like

That being said, there’s been a number of times through the series where the Cactuars have actually been on the side of good. They can be gained as summons in FFVI and FFVIII, and Type-0 has a Cactuar feature as the pet of one of the ‘Four Champions.’ The little guy’s master is long dead, but he can still be seen zipping through the halls, wearing a hilarious tiny cape.

Cactuar’s may be the simplest looking creature on this list, but they actually succeed in being a fairly varied and non-static element in the gameplay. While you’re most likely to encounter them as enemies, the fact that they’ve run the gambit from summons, to bonus, to even weapons (Lulu’s set from FFX), these blighters are anything but predictable.

Tonberry – A waddling, cutesy, knife wielding nightmare.

There’s not a lot to go on about for the Tonberry. They are, simply, the most terrifying things in the Final Fantasy universe. Don’t let their rather understated appearances fool you: behind those simple brown cloaks lies a heart that doesn’t beat; within those seemingly blank yellow eyes lies the gaze of a killer; and that simple cooking knife they carry is, in fact, sharper and more eager than a reaper’s scythe.

All joking aside, it’s easy to see why these strange little terrors would be included in FF’s pantheon and reoccurring enemies. They first made their appearances in FFV with their signature habit of wandering slowly towards the party, and murdering the hell out of them with absurdly damaging attacks. Much like the Cactuar, this unique encounter and their dangerously understated designs made them popular with both the fans and developers, and they’ve made an appearance in every subsequent game since. Also like the Cactuar, they haven’t changed much in terms of appearances through the years, remaining a simple green creature with a seemingly small knife and one lantern. That being said, there have been exceptions.

Oh boy, are there exceptions.

The one example of a Tonberry completely ditching all the established rules about the species was in Type-0: not only was his knife actually a small sword, but he was actually firmly on your side as a random ‘support personal.’ This is first and only time a Tonberry has actually been an active party member, rather than just a summon. As you can imagine, having a Tonberry who is more heavily armed and actually on your side is borderline broken. More interesting than that, though, is the changes FFXV made to the ‘Master Tonberry.’ Consider that the one weakness a Tonberry has is the fact that they’re slow moving and can only attack at close range: now give that Tonberry access to ninja flips AND dark magic, and you’ve got the new Master Tonberry. Even more nuts, there are even more difficult versions of these Tonberry called Sir Tonberry, which have nearly double the stats.

It’s pretty terrifying.

Other than that though, there isn’t a whole lot to talk about with the Tonberry. Some games will give them an ability called ‘Karma’ (or Everybody’s Grudge, or just Grudge) which will deal damage portioned to how many enemies you’ve killed on that save file, and sometimes other different types of devastating attacks, but for the most part the Tonberry is same as it’s always been. Other than the ninja flips added in the latest numbered game, I doubt we’ll be seeing a change from the Tonberry any time soon.

May the gods have mercy on us.

Honourable mentions

There’s quite a few more examples of reoccurring monsters and creatures than just the above, of course. While we don’t have the time to cover them all (and some aren’t really all that interesting), its worth going over some of the other notable types you can find across the series even if just briefly.

Malboro: Extremely grotesque plant-like monsters. These guys have been a series staple since as early as FFII. Interestingly enough, their early appearances were quite different to their eventually characteristics. In the first few games, they were much smaller in size, and attacked in groups. Most notably of all, they didn’t have their later signature attack “Bad Breath,” a terrifying attack that could inflict multiple status effects at once. Later one, they would be defined as being mostly solo encounters, and being tough as hell thanks to their unique attack. Fun fact, the adorable chibi-Malboro that appears in this Kingsglaive related video is pretty much the only time in the entire series the Malboro is depicted in a positive light. In every other instance, the Malboro is just one large, foul smelling problem.

Behemoth: dangerous and vicious apex predators that are…well, behemoth. While relatively simple in design (it’s more or less a big dog-lion with horns), the particular appearance of the Behemoth can vary greatly from game to game. As a general base, most have a purple/magenta body and an impressive mane. But many games have different ‘breeds’ of Behemoth, often with different colour schemes, appearances, and even abilities. These things were first fought as enemies in FFII, but can actually be found in a piece of artwork created for the very first Final Fantasy. Note the wings on the creature’s back; this feature was cut for nearly every other iteration of the beast, but notably actually returned for the pants-crapingly intimidating ‘Behemoth King’ in FFXV. That means it took over thirty years for the concept of a winged Behemoth to actually be used in any of the games.

Ultros: this one is…’interesting.’ For one, this is just a big, talking, and highly perverted octopus. For another, it’s implied that it’s the same big, talking and highly perverted octopus every time you meet. Whether he’s just an eternally constant part of the FF multiverse or if all octopuses (octopi? Whatever) in all of the Final Fantasy worlds are him being reincarnated is unclear. In any case, he’s not super dangerous, and often not even that evil. He’s more of a comedic, bumbling nuisance that just gets in your way. The most dangerous part about him is that, because of his perverted nature towards pretty girls, he’s a constant source of cheap hentai jokes for hacks like me. The only deviation from this persona was his appearance in Kingsglaive, where he’s a very real if somewhat unexplained threat. Then again, the fact that his was job was to guard the attractive Lunafreya is probably telling.

So, that was just a few observations about the series’ most reoccurring enemies. There’s quite a few besides these ones, but they all serve roughly the same function of being random encounters. Their exact roles and appearances may change, but much like the ever-present Cid or B&W, it’s always fun to keep an ear out and come across them when exploring a new game. And, with the type of enemies you fight ever expanding, I’ve no doubt that we’ll be seeing even more examples joining their ranks in the future. As always, I’ll be looking forward to what Square Enix can cook up.

Thanks for the read: make sure you watch out for those Tonberry random encounters as you go forward, Kupo!

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