Full disclosure: I am a sucker for Final Fantasy.

Growing up in the 1990s, I was a Nintendo kid who played Zelda and Star Fox with reckless abandon. I didn’t start playing the Final Fantasy franchise 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 stories of the characters.

It’s All in the Story

We, the players, could relate to them as we were traveling fictional lands and fighting monsters. You don’t get this kind of depth while controlling Link or Mario, let’s get real.

The Final Fantasy games are all about the story.

The series’ rich storytelling has led to an abundance of theories and speculation. My favorite one (possibly of any game franchise) is the one surrounding Final Fantasy VIII, the 8th entry.

Disclaimer: None of the images in this article belong to me. They’re either official screenshots or fan art.

Fan art of Squall and Rinoa of Final Fantasy VIII hugging.
Rinoa and Squall (fan art by Ellie MacBeth)

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 that Ultimecia, a Sorceress from the future, 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.

The cast of characters in Final Fantasy VIII. Zell, Quistis, Rinoa, Selphie, and Irvine.
L-R (Zell, Quistis, Squall, Rinoa, Selphie, and Irvine). SquareEnix.

See, the story’s supporting characters are rather bland and uninteresting. The reason being they all had to take the backseat 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, or Zell. Their main goal was clearly Squall and Rinoa’s relationship, and nothing else.

While the love story was great, the “shocking” orphanage reveal still fell flat. Having said that, it seems there was a hidden second twist.

It’s a twist that would’ve been genuinely shocking while adding even more weight to the story.

The Theory

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.

Ultimecia’s Goal

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.

Squall and Rinoa in Final Fantasy VIII talking.
SquareEnix. 1998.

The Message of VIII

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.

Screenshot in Final Fantasy VIII showing Squall and Rinoa talking.
SquareEnix.

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 can see they were the antithesis of what the games respective themes were.

Villains of Final Fantasy

Sephiroth

Let’s look at Final Fantasy VII, the predecessor. Its 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.

Basically, it was an environmentalist manifesto.

The game’s villain, Sephiroth, ignored that and tried to become the Planet itself.

At the end, he was consumed by the Planet’s Lifestream as a consequence.

Sephiroth. SquareEnix. 1997.

Kuja

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. He later died with a heart filled with regret.

Kuja. SquareEnix. 1999.

Sidenote: It’s striking how Sephiroth and Kuja were given elaborate backstories, but Ultimecia wasn’t. Could it be that 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 that world.

Because of the tyrannical regime of Sorceress Adel 17 years prior, humans have become reluctant to accept them among their kind. People are terrified of them.

Mercenary groups called “SeeDs” were formed to dispose of these magic-users. Based on Ultimecia’s dialogue, she fervently despises these SeeDs, for understandable reasons.

Ultimecia from Final Fantasy VIII saying "Kurse all SeeDs."
SquareEnix. 1998.

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.

Don’t think so?

Rinoa IS Ultimecia!

If you look at their physical appearances, they’re polar opposites.

Ultimecia is evil, Rinoa is good. Ulti wears red, Rinoa blue. She has white hair, the other has black. She has the appearance of a demon, the other an angel.

Ulti is yin, Rinoa is yang.

And so on.

Fan art showing one half of Ultimecia and the other half Rinoa.
By AngelRinoaL on DeviantArt

Hell, even their houses/dwelling chambers look 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?

Cats and Dogs

Angelo

Rinoa’s dog is named Angelo. Obviously, this symbolizes Rinoa herself being an angel. I mean, she’s got white wings on her back and her ultimate weapon being composed of angel wings.

Pretty on the nose, that.

And, of course, there’s her exuberant personality. We can agree that her pet’s name is a nice reflection of who she is, right?

Screenshot in Final Fantasy VIII showing Rinoa growing a pair of angel wings.
SquareEnix

Now, onto Ultimecia’s “pet”: Griever the lion. (Felines are the opposite of canines. We’re still hanging on the premise that these two are opposites of each other, and nothing else).

Griever

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.”

Final Fantasy VIII screenshot showing Griever, the final boss.
SquareEnix

Remember, the writers of Final Fantasy are very particular about the 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 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? How exactly is she grieving?

More importantly, why does she 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 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 it symbolizes strength. No mention of a GF anywhere.

An image of a lion.
Photo by Alexas Fotos on Pexels.com

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?

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 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.

Other Evidence

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 has been 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.

You know why you couldn’t ignore it? Because Rinoa IS Ultimecia.😉

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 once an idea during the game’s development.

There’s no way it wasn’t. There are just too many coincidences.

Screenshot of Final Fantasy VII showing Aerith Gainsborough kneeling.
Aerith Gainsborough. Final Fantasy VII. SquareEnix. 1997.

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.

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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