Final Fantasy has always been a franchise where none of the games are directly related to one another. While many of the titles share common themes, enemies, and gameplay mechanics, the setting and characters are entirely new from title to title. With that said, it is very impressive to think the Dragon Bahamut has been one of the few recurring elements that have been with the franchise since the first game. First appearing in the original Final Fantasy in 1987, Bahamut was the Dragon King that aided the player. He has since returned in almost every major Final Fantasy game, with II being the most obvious omission. Along with Chocobos and Moogles, Bahamut is one of the few things that fans expect to see in one shape or form in each main title. Whatever form he takes, he remains one of the most iconic characters in the highly respected mega-franchise.
Bahamut is most likely named after the Dragon King from Dungeons and Dragons. Many aspects of classic RPGs stem from D&D, including Final Fantasy. From the medieval setting to the different classes of warriors, D&D is often seen as the mother of RPGs. So it makes sense that Final Fantasy would name its own Dragon King after the same character in the game it borrowed so much from. The name Bahamut goes further back than D&D however. The name originates from Arabian mythology – Bahamut of ancient times was a giant whale that acts as one of the supports for Earth. It’s interesting to see where the name Bahamut was originally from, and what it is now most commonly associated with. Thanks to D&D and Final Fantasy, it is hard to imagine Bahamut as anything other than a dragon.
In Bahamut’s first appearance, he was labeled the Dragon King and grants the four playable characters an upgrade. In exchange for a rat’s tail, Bahamut allows the characters to move up a class, giving everyone much better stats. His role may have been short, but it was still a vital part of the game. Without Bahamut, the party would not have been able to upgrade their classes. Those boosts in stats were needed for the harder parts of the game at the end.
Bahamut’s brief appearance was apparently popular enough for the developers to have him return to the series in Final Fantasy III. Originally introduced as a powerful boss, the team of playable characters in III are not able to beat the strong dragon at the early parts of the game. Yet the party can return to him at a later point where they can defeat him and have him become a summon ally. Summons, which is one of the most iconic spells in the franchise, are spells that allow party members to summon a mighty creature to attack their enemies. III was not only the first game that Bahamut can be fought against as a boss, it was also the first game where he was a summon creature. From there he would most commonly be a summon in the games, either being one of the strongest summons in the game, or the strongest in the game.
Since III, he has appeared in all the main numbered titles and in many spin-offs. He mostly serves as a summon in Final Fantasy III–X, but has major roles in the story for IX and X. Usually, when summoned, he would unleash his strongest move, Mega Flare. In IX, the villain Kuja uses Bahamut to attack the city of Alexandria, a major location in the game’s narrative. The main protagonists then summon Alexander to take down Bahamut in one of the most epic summon vs. summon battles in the franchise. In X he is an aeon; special beings that act as that game’s summoning creatures, and he gives the protagonist major exposition.
In XI, which is the series’ first MMO games, he is a recurring character, and later becomes one of the more difficult bosses in one of the later expansions. XII uses a completely new set of summons, using a different set of summon creatures than passed games; many classic summon names are instead given to plot-important airships. Sky Fortress Bahamut serves as the game’s final dungeon. A dragon Bahamut would makes his proper appearance in XII’s sequel, Revenant Wings on the DS. Bahamut in XIII serves as Fang’s Eidolon, her guardian in the story. The sequel, XIII-2, the main villain transforms into a being similar to Bahamut, and is originally labeled as Chaos Bahamut; later he would be called Jet Bahamut. Two other dragons would join Jet: Amber Bahamut and Garnet Bahamut.
The dragon king would return to his classic summon role in the latest Final Fantasy, XV; he is once again one of the most powerful summons in the game. He has strong ties to the greater mythology of XV and is only able to be summoned in specific boss encounters. This also serves as a summon ally in the many dozen spin-off games, including Final Fantasy Tactics, Type-O, and many others.
Bahamut is a character that is so heavily associated with Final Fantasy, that it would be hard to imagine any title with the Final Fantasy name to not have the Dragon King. He was given a name before any playable protagonist and has been with the franchise since the beginning. Similar to how the series will always have a character named Cid; the series will always need to have something called Bahamut.