Final Fantasy wouldn’t be Final Fantasy without summons. Ever since Final Fantasy III, you’ve been able to call on superpowered mythical beasts for aid in battle, effectively turning the tide at the press of a button. Final Fantasy VII Remake, the new dance-off game from Square Enix, is no different.
I’ve spent many hours with Remake, and have spent most of those hours thinking the summons mechanic was cut-and-dried. My colleagues were in a similar boat—except we all had different thoughts. Ian Walker summed it up about as succinctly as possible:
Then there’s the official in-game explanation. Here it is in full:
“When facing a formidable enemy in battle, the entity slumbering within an equipped summoning materia may begin to stir, and the summon gauge may appear. When this gauge has completely filled, you can call upon the summon for assistance.”
Well, that sure clears everything up!
Yes, at face value, summons couldn’t be simpler. Just open up the commands menu and summon them when you’re able to for a significant edge in battle. But there’s some minutiae to the system that’s well worth exploring.
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As you play, you’ll naturally come across summon materia. Equipping these on a weapon (each weapon has one dedicated summon slot) will allow you to use that particular summon in battle. At the end of Chapter 3, Jessie, the best character, will give you a materia for the flame deity Ifrit. Partway through Chapter 6, as you’re navigating the underbelly of the Sector 5 reactor, you’ll get an optional objective that will lead you to the Chocobo and Moogle summon materia. (It’s behind the fans. Your teammates will point it out, too.)
Most of the other summons come by way of Chadley, the Shinra intern who deserves a living wage on top of whatever college credit he’s getting so he doesn’t have to moonlight as a materia salesman. When you meet Chadley, in Chapter 3, he’ll start assigning you battle intel reports. To complete these tasks, you’ll have to meet certain parameters—say, using elemental weaknesses properly, or staggering an enemy to a specific percentage point, or Assessing a bunch of different enemy types. (This is why you should cast Assess at the start of every single battle.) In reward for your efforts, Chadley will add one new materia to his wares with every completed battle report.
As you complete battle reports, Chadley will open up special challenges in which you can hop into a virtual battle simulator and fight against summons. They’re tough battles, but winning will earn you the summon materia of whichever entity you slay. Completing five reports will open up the challenge for Shiva, the ice queen; 10 will open up the one for Fat Chocobo, a kaiju-sized chocobo; and 15 will open up the battle against Leviathan, a literal kaiju. Finishing all 20 will grant you access to Bahamut, a massive dragon who ruined every player’s day back in Final Fantasy XIII.
But there are a few bonus summons that aren’t available to players of the standard edition. Folks who preordered Final Fantasy VII Remake are able to summon Chocobo Chick. (Missed the preorder window? Sorry! You’re out of luck.) Anyone who gets the Deluxe edition, physical or digital, will receive a summon materia for Cactaur. And anyone who ponies up for the Digital Deluxe or First Class edition will enjoy the very useful (if monstrously styled) Carbuncle.
Here’s where things get a little bit muddled. As the game implies, the summon bar will pop up against “formidable” enemies—or, in other words, boss fights. (A quick rule of thumb: Did a cutscene set up the fight? Congratulations! You’re in a boss fight.) Through more error than trial, I’ve found that the summon bar will appear when one of your party members drops to low health. It also seems to function on an imprecise timer. Make it far enough into a fight, and the bar will show up.
But you can’t use summons in all boss fights. During some of Cloud’s one-on-one sword duels—that church scene with Reno, for instance—they won’t swoop in to save the day. You’re on your own.
What’s more, while some summons are relegated to boss fight territory, not all are. The Avengers-tier summons—Ifrit, Shiva, Fat Chocobo, Leviathan, Bahamut, and, hilariously, Chocobo and Moogle—will only come to save the day during lengthy battles. But Chocobo Chick, Cactaur, and Carbuncle can be used against rank-and-file enemies. There’s just one condition: Summons can only be used once per battle, kind of like the Refocus limit beak. And you’ll have to choose carefully who you call on, since you can only summon once per battle.
The fact that the preorder and Deluxe edition summons are available for all battles has not gone unnoticed.