Note: None of the images in this article belong to me. They’re either official screenshots or fan art.
Full disclosure: I’m a sucker for Final Fantasy. Growing up in the 1990s, I was a Nintendo kid and played Zelda and Star Fox. I actually didn’t start playing FF until a few years later. The first entry I played was FFX on the Playstation 2. Though it was an RPG, what struck me was that it emphasized the stories of the characters and how we, the players, can relate to them. You don’t get this kind of depth while controlling Link or Mario. The Final Fantasy games are all about the story.
Because of the wide storytelling scope inherent in the series, it’s led to an abundance of fan theories and speculation. My favorite one (possibly of any game franchise) is the one surrounding Final Fantasy VIII, the 8th entry. The game’s story surrounds a contractor from an elite mercenary academy who must team up with an anti-government renegade. The pair and their allies soon discover that the government is being manipulated by a Sorceress from the future named Ultimecia. The contractor is Squall Leonhart and his love interest, the renegade, is Rinoa Heartilly.
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 won’t get into that. The main driving force of the game is the love story between Squall and Rinoa, and was told at a tremendous cost. The story’s supporting characters are rather bland and uninteresting since they took the backseat to make way for said love story. The climatic reveal of all of them 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 the characters of Quistis, Irvine, Selphie, and Zell. Their main goal was the relationship between Squall and Rinoa.
While the love story was great, the “shocking” orphanage reveal fell flat. Upon further inspection, though, it seems there was a hidden second twist. One that would’ve been genuinely shocking while adding to the story in a great way. Judging from the available evidence, in-game dialogue, and overall theme, it appears the characters of Rinoa and the evil Ultimecia were actually one and the same. Or, at least, they were supposed to be before the developers dropped it.
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 game’s main theme is that time is constantly rolling forward and living in the past is detrimental. We should still 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.
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? The villains of Final Fantasy are typically the antithesis of what the themes are.
For example, VII’s theme was that 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. The game’s villain Sephiroth ignored that and tried to become the planet itself. He later 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 really worth it.
Back to Ultimecia. How is the game’s theme relevant to her? There’s one way, 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 that world. Because of the tyrannical regime of Sorceress Adel 17 years prior, humans have become reluctant to accept them among their kind. Mercenary groups called “SeeDs” were formed to dispose of these magic-users. Based on Ultimecia’s dialogue, she fervently despises these SeeDs. Clearly she was subject to said 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. If you were to look at their physical appearances, they’re polar opposites of each other. Ultimecia is evil, Rinoa is good. Ulti wears red, Rinoa blue. Ulti has white hair, Rinoa has black. Ulti has the appearance of a demon, Rinoa an angel. Ulti is yin, Rinoa is yang. And so on.
Hell, even their houses/dwelling chambers are similar!
You might 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????
Rinoa’s dog is named Angelo. Arguably, this symbolizes Rinoa herself being an angel judging by the white wings on her back and her ultimate weapon being composed of angel wings. And, of course, there’s her exuberant personality. We can agree that her pet’s name is a reflection of who she is, right?
Now, onto Ultimecia’s “pet”: Griever the lion. (Felines are the opposite of canines, and we’re still hanging on the premise that these two Sorceresses are only opposites of each other, and nothing else). With that in mind, 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”.
Remember, 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” represents the character’s turbulent storm of emotions and being courageous, like a lion.
We’ve established that Rinoa’s pet is a reflection of her. So how is “Griever” a reflection of Ultimecia? More importantly, why does she have Squall’s Griever in the first place? It’s important to note that while Griever is the default name, it can be changed by the player when Squall and Rinoa talk about it at Galbadia Garden. 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 boss battle.
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 sees it as a ring that looks like a lion and symbolizes strength. No mention of a 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 Ultimecia’s lion being called “Griever” is a reflection of her grieving state? Could she be grieving Squall’s death? Another plot point is that excessive GF usage leads to memory loss, which explains why Ultimecia never acknowledged who Squall was in the game: she forgot about him. Rinoa eventually became evil and disregarded the lesson that her significant other 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.
Now, there’s other evidence in the game that supports the theory but they go well beyond the scope of this blog. A lot of it has already been discussed in several YouTube videos. My aim was to present hints/allusions that I haven’t seen anywhere else and to contribute to the fun fan discourse. The game was recently remastered and costs only $20 in the PlayStation Store. If you play the game with the theory in mind, said hints/allusions will be very difficult to ignore.
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 once an idea during the game’s development. There’s no way it wasn’t.
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 to an evil one isn’t good for SquareEnix’s IPs. 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 the company’s eyes, it was better if they kept Rinoa pure and just. Okay, that’s understandable.
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.