Summons have been a common staple in Final Fantasy games, creatures of great power that can either help you in dishing out lots of damange or supporting your party with buffs and healing.
This mechanique has usually been a trademark element of spellcasting type characters (like White/Black/Red Mages) with some exceptions in certain games where summons are not tied to specific character classes (e.g: in Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy XII for instances).
Enjoy the spectacle and fireworks
Despite being a staple mechanique in the series, Summons have barely being a well designed or useful mechanique where using them was more detrimental than helpful. However, one game has managed to execute them well (maybe too well that it turned Summons potentially broken in its own game) and that game was Final Fantasy X.
How Final Fantasy X does it better than other Final Fantasy games?
- First point, they are exclusive to the party (White)Mage. What makes it different from other games where Summons are exclusive to the mage character? In this case the main difference is that Summons in FFX are MP free, meaning that their use does not eat the mage main resource , their MP, which this class is overrelaint to either decently deal damage and contribute in a fight or sustaining a party.
- Second point, tied to the above point, having the Summons be attached to a specific character FFX avoids the problem that other games run into of giving Summons to characters that do not have synergy with them (i.e: Giving Cyan from FFVI a summon, a magic reliant creature, to a character whose stats are characterized for focusing on physical power over magic).
- Third point, when summoned they take the party place in battle, leaving them out of potential threats. Moreover, their actual summoning does not hurt the player, like wasting their MP (if they are heavily reliant mages) or leaving the party and/other party members more vulnerable to the enemy (i.e: unlike how Final Fantasy XII reduces a party from potential 5 members to only 2 members, summoner and the Summon).
- Forth point, they are controllable, meaning that you have control over the actions they can perform, avoiding unwanted plays that could result detrimental in a fight if they were automated NPCs (i.e: an ice type Summon casting Blizzard on a monster that can absorve said element, healing/strengthening itself). This also gives more control in how aggressive or passive the fight could unfold, like deceding whether or not dealing heavy damage with strong spells, use regular attacks, when to use or not their special moves on certain enemies, to heal or not to heal.
- Fifth point, more ways to become stronger other than the Summoner stats. Summons in FFX do get stronger based on Yuna’s stats but there are other alternatives, there are two key items called Summoner’s Soul and Aeon’s Soul. These two item allow the player to teach the Eons new abilities and raise their stats respectively more than they could if the Eons level up via Yuna’s stats only, these Key Items can allow can allow them to sustain in battle for longer periods if upgraded appropriately. Granted in order to use them you must first complete a series of side-quest and grinding for tons of lots to increase stats and teach some basic skills and spells (e.g: the three tiers of the elemental spells). The only part where this method might fall short could be when trying to teach the Summons more higher tier spells such as Flare, Holy and Ultima, which require colleting loot from very powerfull monsters and superbosses, at that point if you want to collect them you would have to have a party powerful enough to take them on, which in turn dismishes the motivation to make your summons more powerful.
All this points make Summons in FFX stand out among its predecessors and successors as one of the few games in the series than made good use of this mechanique.
What other games used this mechanique well is another topic for another time.