Full disclosure: I am a sucker for Final Fantasy. But its eighth entry, Final Fantasy VIII? Well … I’ll get to that in a minute.
Growing up in the 1990s, I was a Nintendo kid and played Zelda and Star Fox with reckless abandon. I didn’t start my Final Fantasy kick until a few years later. The first entry I played was Final Fantasy X on the Playstation 2. Though it was an RPG, what really struck me was how it emphasized the characters and their stories.
It’s All in the Story
We, the players, can relate to these characters as they travel fictional lands and fight monsters. You won’t get this kind of depth when controlling Link or Mario, let’s be real.
The Final Fantasy games are all about the story. The rich storytelling has led to an abundance of fan theories and speculation. My favorite one (possibly of any game franchise) is the one surrounding Final Fantasy VIII.
Disclaimer: None of the images in this article belong to me. They’re either official screenshots or fan art.
Final Fantasy VIII
The game’s story surrounds an elite mercenary who teams up with an anti-government renegade. The pair and their allies soon discover a Sorceress from the future, named Ultimecia, is secretly controlling the government.
The mercenary in question is Squall Leonhart. His love interest, the renegade, is Rinoa Heartilly.
Eight the Great?
Now, VIII is one of the more polarizing titles of the franchise. There were issues with the Junction battle system that frustrated players but we don’t need to get into that. The main driving force of the game is the love story between Squall and Rinoa, which was told at a certain cost.
See, the story’s supporting characters are somewhat bland and uninteresting. The reason being they all had to take the backseat for said love story. The climactic reveal of the characters being raised in the same orphanage and forgetting about it was … a bit of a head-scratcher. 🤔
The writers didn’t seem particularly interested in developing Quistis, Irvine, Selphie, or Zell as individual characters. Their main goal was clearly Squall and Rinoa’s relationship, and nothing else.
While the love story was great, the “shocking” orphanage reveal fell flat. Having said that, it seems there was a second plot twist hiding in plain sight. It’s a twist that would’ve been genuinely shocking while adding even more weight to the story.
Judging from the available evidence, in-game dialogue, and overall theme, it appears the characters of Rinoa and the evil Ultimecia were one and the same. Or, at least they were supposed to be before the developers dropped the idea at the last minute.
Here’s what we know about Ultimecia: She’s a powerful sorceress from an unidentified time who wishes to “compress” time to a singular moment. The only explanation given is that erasing the past and future would allow her to live as a god and rule over all.
Basically, she’ll live forever without succumbing to the passage of time.
The Message of VIII
The game’s theme is the constant passage of time. The lesson is this: living in the past is detrimental. We should cherish every memory we have and the lessons we’ve learned along the way. Basically, forget the past but don’t forget your memories.
Squall spent the first half of the game living in the past and not the present. He avoided getting close to his allies because the past had already punished him for letting his defenses down. With some excessive prodding from Rinoa, he let go of his trauma and strived to open his heart to her and those around him.
Back to Ultimecia…
So Ultimecia essentially wants to go back to the past, compress time, and make the future irrelevant. Question is, why? And how is the game’s theme relevant to her? If we look at the other villains of Final Fantasy, we see they were the antithesis of what the games’ respective themes were.
Villains of Final Fantasy
Let’s look at Final Fantasy VII, the predecessor. Its message was the Planet is all-encompassing and more powerful than all us humans. If we exploit the Planet’s resources, we will pay the price sooner or later.
In short, VII was essentially an environmentalist piece. The game’s villain Sephiroth, ignored that and tried to become the Planet itself. In the end, he was consumed by the Planet’s Lifestream as a consequence.
IX‘s theme was the inevitably of death and how we cope with this realization. Kuja, the villain, didn’t know how to accept his limited life and lashed out with monstrous acts. In the end he realized these acts didn’t get him the adoration he desired and that none of it was worth it. He then died with a heart filled with regret.
Sidenote: It’s striking how Sephiroth and Kuja got elaborate backstories, but Ultimecia didn’t. Could it be she was supposed to have an extensive backstory?
Who is Ultimecia?
Back to Ultimecia. How is the game’s theme relevant to her? There is a way how, but it’s based on the premise that Ultimecia and Rinoa are the same person.
You see, Rinoa becomes a Sorceress in the latter half of the game. It’s well-established in the game’s lore that Sorceresses are subject to persecution in the world of VIII.
Because of the tyrannical regime of Sorceress Adel 17 years prior, humans have become reluctant to accept Sorceresses among their kind. Humans are terrified of them.
Mercenary groups called “SeeDs” were formed to dispose of these magic-users. Based on Ultimecia’s sporadic dialogue, she fervently despises SeeDs for understandable reasons. She was clearly subject to persecution in her life, even though not a lot of background info is given about her.
I posit that Sorceress Rinoa, in an alternate timeline, was hunted down by SeeD. I also think Squall tried to protect her but ended up dying at the hands of his mercenary compadres. This fueled Rinoa’s hatred of them that eventually manifested in her transformation to Sorceress Ultimecia. Don’t think so?
Rinoa IS Ultimecia!
First, if you look at their physical appearances, they’re polar opposites. Ultimecia is evil, Rinoa is good. Ulti wears red, Rinoa blue. One has white hair, the other has black. One has the appearance of a demon, the other an angel.
If you look at their houses/dwelling chambers, they have similar architecture and are presented with similar camera angles. Further, one house is shown to be well-lit and vibrant. The other is dark, dreary, and gothic.
The point is that Ultimecia is yin, and Rinoa is yang. You may say, “So? Ultimecia may be Rinoa’s doppelganger, it doesn’t mean they’re the same person!” Okay, I believe you … EXCEPT, what about their pets?
Cats and Dogs
Rinoa’s dog is named Angelo. This symbolizes Rinoa herself being an angel. I mean, she’s got white wings on her back and her ultimate weapon is composed of angel wings. Pretty on the nose, that.
Of course, there’s also her exuberant personality. We can agree that her pet’s name is a nice reflection of who she is, right? Now, onto Ultimecia’s “pet”: Griever the lion. (Felines are the opposite of canines. We’re still hanging onto the premise these two characters are opposites, and nothing else).
First, a question: Why is her lion named “Griever,” specifically? Of all the lion-based names the writers could’ve used (Leo, Leon, Nemea, etc.), they went with “Griever.”
It’s worth noting that the writers of Final Fantasy are very particular about their character names. The names are a representation of said character’s psyche or character arc. “Squall Leonhart” reflects his turbulent storm of emotions while being courageous like a lion. This is one example, out of many.
We’ve established that Rinoa’s pet is a reflection of her. So how is “Griever” a reflection of Ultimecia? What exactly is she grieving? More importantly, why does she even have Squall’s Griever in the first place?
Squall and Griever
While Griever is the default name of Squall’s ring, it can be changed by the player when he and Rinoa discuss it at Galbadia Garden (screenshot shown above). I should point out that, aside from Squall, only Rinoa knew about the lion’s name and its relevance to him.
Whatever name the player chooses for the lion, the same name will be used in the final battle against Griever.
The “official” explanation for this oddity, on the franchise’s official Wiki, is that Ultimecia took it straight out of Squall’s mind during the final battle. Griever is supposed to be “Squall’s idea of the strongest Guardian Force” … even though Squall never explicitly said so in the game.
Based on the dialogue we got, he simply saw it as a lion ring that symbolized strength. No mention of a Guardian Force (GF) anywhere. And if it was supposed to be the “ultimate GF”, why didn’t the player get the chance to gain it for their own use?
What if the “official” explanation for this plot point was crap? What if Ultimecia’s lion being called “Griever” is … wait for it, a reflection of her grieving? Could she be Rinoa grieving Squall’s death?
Is Ultimecia the “griever”?
Another plot point is that excessive GF usage leads to memory loss, which explains why Ultimecia never acknowledged Squall during the game. She simply forgot about him.
Rinoa eventually became evil and transformed into Ultimecia because she disregarded the lesson her lover Squall learned: Do not live in the past, it will only bring about more suffering.
Griever is the anchor that gives the theory all its weight. It’s very strange for the lion to have that name if it wasn’t supposed to symbolize grief.
Rinoa’s Love and Emulation of Squall
Why would Rinoa grieve over Squall’s death in the alternate timeline, though? Because she loved him. She wanted to be with him forever. Duh.
But how do we know this, exactly? It’s because of her actions throughout the game where she flirts with and even mimics Squall. This is what makes Rinoa such a well-rounded, three-dimensional character. She acts like a girl pining over a handsome dude.
She enlists Zell’s help in making a copy of Squall’s lion ring (for a future marriage, maybe?) Rinoa observes Squall frequently. She copies and pokes fun at his mannerisms (the way he frowns, puts his hand on his face, etc). This emulation of Squall’s behavior is even incorporated into the gameplay.
The Final Fantasy series is known for its characters’ victory poses at the end of every battle while its trademark fanfare plays. Squall’s victory pose is him showing off his gunblade and turning his back to the camera. Rinoa’s pose is her pumping her fists up in the air … before turning her back to the camera.
If you finish a battle with Squall and Rinoa in your party, you’ll notice Rinoa turns around about a full second after Squall does. Since this choreography is programmed in the game’s code, this cannot be an accident or coincidence.
Here’s something even more head-turning: Squall and Rinoa are the only characters who turn their backs to the camera during the victory fanfare.
Hey, Rinoa just likes the guy. So she copies what he does! But what does all this have to do with Ultimecia? Well …
I don’t want to brag about my eagle eye, but buddy, I’m a proud American eagle and have a decent set of eyes. So … I love my eagle eyes! 🦅 Here’s something I picked up …
Let’s take a look at Ultimecia’s outfit (but not too close or you’re a perv).
Anything about it seem … familar? No? Take a look at Squall’s getup.
Now do you see the one item these characters share? The lion mane collar. One white, the other black.
Lion mane collar
Because of Squall’s admiration for lions, he wears a fur collar resembling a lion’s mane.
And Ultimecia? Since this was a specific choice made by the character designers, I’d say her fondness for lions goes beyond something she saw on the Discovery channel as a kid.
What if Rinoa/Ultimecia, in the alternate timeline, got to the point where she copied Squall’s attire? What if this was her way of remembering and paying tribute to him?
Farfetched, you say? Rinoa wanted a copy of Squall’s ring, for Christ sakes!
Now, there’s other evidence in the game that supports the theory but they go well beyond the scope of this article. A lot of it has already been discussed in several YouTube videos.
My aim was to present hints and allusions that I haven’t seen anywhere else and to contribute to this fun fan discourse. The game has been remastered and only costs $20 in the PlayStation Store.
If you play the game with the theory in mind, said hints and allusions will be very difficult to ignore. You know why you can’t ignore it? Because Rinoa IS Ultimecia. Period.😉
What the Developers Had to Say
Sure, if this theory was true it would’ve made the story a thousand times better. Unfortunately, Yoshinori Kitase (the game’s Director) went on record saying that Rinoa and Ultimecia were NOT the same person.
Oh well. But you can’t deny that it was an idea during the game’s development. There’s no way it wasn’t. There are just too many coincidences.
Yes, the series has taken creative risks at times, such as killing off Aerith in VII and making Tidus imaginary in X. However, from a business perspective, turning a good character evil isn’t good for SquareEnix’s IPs.
Business is Business
The series has had characters going from bad to good, staying good all the way, or evil all the way. But, to the best of my knowledge, it’s never developed a negative character arc where a major character went from a hero to a villain.
In other words, Rinoa being Ultimecia was bad for business. In the company’s eyes, it was better if they kept Rinoa pure and good. Understandable reason, that.
SquareEnix and Kitase can say whatever they want, but us fans are not naive. Rinoa = Ultimecia was definitely on the cards and would’ve been cool as hell if they went with it.
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