You almost always know when a villain first appears in the Final Fantasy series. Sometimes it’s glaringly obvious, as is the case with Exdeath in Final Fantasy V. Other times, the road to villainy may take some twists and turns (looking at you Sephiroth). Then there’s Seymour Guado. On the surface, he’s a bad guy. Then you get to know him better… and he’s still a bad guy, and a cringe-worthy one at that. But like the saying goes, a villain is the hero of his own story, and Final Fantasy X is all about the story.
When Seymour first steps off the boat in Luca, he does so with the reputation preceding him. He holds the title of Maester, a title reserved for the religious elite of the Yevon religion. As such, he commands respect from its followers, though not from everyone due to his heritage. As the offspring of a Guado and a human, Seymour endures discrimination, even exile, merely by existing. In fact, most of his early life was spent alongside his mother on the island of Baaj, banished by his own father because his presence in the Guado community fostered outrage. Of course, the biggest outrage in this early tale is that Seymour’s birth was originally meant to bring the Guado and humans together.
During this time of isolation, Seymour had only his mother for comfort. Knowing she was close to death, and seeing how distant the races of Spira had become, Seymour’s mother took him to Zanarkand where she became a fayth. Her intention was for Seymour to use her Aeon form, Anima, to defeat Sin and unite the people of Spira, however Seymour couldn’t go through with the summoning in his time of grief. He returned to Baaj alone.
Once Braska’s Calm brought peace to Spira, Seymour returned to the Guado and his father’s side. In the next few years, he formulated and put into motion a plan to free Spira from Sin, but also from suffering. Seymour is a man who has suffered greatly, to a point where he no longer sees or cares for life and the small joys one can cling to. You could say the people of Spira have even made him what he is. Their intolerance for racial unity and their blind acceptance to the traditions of Yevon have caused his suffering, and as a result, he cares nothing for the living. His only desire left is to “save” Spira from further pain, and he means to do so by becoming Sin and destroying everything.
Final Fantasy X is a game with a rich story, and Seymour’s tale is only a part of what’s going on, though one could argue Seymour presents the most pressing danger. Yu Yevon might be the big bad, and Sin is really just a symptom of Yu Yevon’s summoning , but Seymour stands against Yuna and her guardians at almost every turn, tempting them and fighting in an attempt to coerce the summoner into letting him become the next Sin. Even after the guardians fight and defeat Seymour on Mt. Gagazet, his pyreflies (his spirit) finds a way inside Sin where he struggles to control it.
After Seymour’s defeat, Yuna sends him, and his story comes to a close. In the world of Spira, there are bigger villains to fight and more stories to tell. Seymour’s tale is relegated to the past and seemingly forgotten, for racial divides and intolerant belief systems continue into Final Fantasy X’s sequel. Seymour Guado, a villain born from misery and unable to cope with his pain, gave Spira a lesson it learned nothing from. It wasn’t until Yuna saved Spira from the threat of the laughable piano-weapon Vegnagun that the people came together.
Maybe Seymour should’ve been allowed to turn into Sin after all.
One of the greatest elements in the Final Fantasy series is story, and what story could be complete without a redemption arc. There are many times throughout the series when a character believed to have good intentions shifts to reveal themselves as a self-serving psychopath. The converse is true, as well. Sometimes a character starts out on the path of villainy, but the story leads them out of the darkness into the light of the heroic. In Final Fantasy IX, this is Beatrix’s story.
As leader of the Alexandrian all-female army, General Beatrix stands as the epitome of both respect and ruthlessness. A feared warrior on the field of battle, Beatrix boasts numerous kills, and she’s not modest about it. When she first confronts Zidane’s party in Burmecia, she mocks them, calling them insects before using her Seiken skills to knock them all out.
Beatrix is a capable and well-respected leader, as shown during the Alexandrian led attacks on Burmecia, Cleyra, and Lindblum. In a matter of days, the army of Alexandria manages to seize control of the entire Mist Continent, all under Beatrix’s leadership. It would seem her ruthlessness knows no bounds, however even the worst Final Fantasy villain can show another side.
While Beatrix shows allegiance to her Queen Brahne, the first seeds of doubt appear in her thinking following the catastrophic destruction at Cleyra. Beatrix begins to question the queen’s use of black mages and powerful Eidolons rather than her own well-trained army. When Queen Brahne threatens to hang Princess Garnet, an incomprehensible act in Beatrix’s eyes, all bets are off. Beatrix, seeing how far off the rails her queen has become, defies orders and defends Princess Garnet instead.
Garnet escapes Alexandria with Beatrix leading the charge away from her. The good general stays behind along with Freya and Steiner so her princess can escape, and for a time, Beatrix disappears from the story, her fate unknown.
After Queen Brahne dies as a result of Kuja’s summoning of Bahamut, Princess Garnet is crowned Queen back in Alexandria. Beatrix awaits her to resume her role as protector and general of the Alexandrian army, almost as if no doubt ever existed that she would fail. The ruthlessness she’s shown in the past is no longer a part of her personality, but she remains a cool, stalwart presence. She shows some remorse for her actions at Cleyra and Burmecia, and she seeks redemption again when Bahamut and Kuja come to Alexandria. Once again, Beatrix takes to arms and fights for her city.
By game’s end, Beatrix becomes no less of the leader she has been, but evidence of her redemption is obvious when she flies the Red Rose to the Iifa Tree in Zidane’s defense. She is the familiar, strong presence she’s always been, but without the cruelty. After the dust settles following the final battle, Queen Garnet returns to Alexandria, and while Beatrix goes with her, she doesn’t have any intention of staying. She relinquishes her sword, Save the Queen, and leaves the castle. Of course, Final Fantasy IX is a romance, and as such, Steiner awaits Beatrix as she leaves. He asks her to stay, and Beatrix agrees. Her story ends with her holding Save the Queen jointly with Steiner.
Very little is known about Beatrix and her past. According to Wikipedia, Beatrix came from a middle class family in Treno, however I cannot find where to confirm that in game. No matter, Beatrix’s actions speak for themselves. She begins as a true villain, a warrior to be feared for her power, and hated for her ruthless behavior. Unlike some Final Fantasy villains, Beatrix turns it around. Her power, once feared, turns into a beacon of hope for the story and players alike.
In the world of Final Fantasy VIII, the sorceress plays an important role. Descended from the Great Hyne, a sorceress possesses a fraction of Hyne’s godlike powers and is able to use magic without the aid of Guardian Forces. A sorceress is either born with her power, or it is gifted to her by another sorceress at the time of her death. It’s unclear where Ultimecia received her power from, but she has a tank load, and her power is amplified by her use of junctioning.
Junctioning, a sort of telepathic link with another person or creature, is a game play mechanic as well as an important story element. In normal humans, junctioning with Guardian Forces allows them to use magic and augment their physical abilities. Alternately, Ultimecia can junction with other sorceresses regardless of their placement in time. Once she has junctioned with the other sorceress, she has complete control over their actions and magic. From the moment Edea is first mentioned, it’s important to remember Ultimecia is the one driving her. The main question is why.
Power. Ultimecia’s endgame is to achieve Time Compression. By traveling far enough back in time, she can pull all eras together into one, resulting in the death of all living creatures except for herself. Most of the events during the game propel her towards this end, but this still doesn’t answer the question of why she’s doing this. It’s because of this motive that leaves many scratching their heads at the end of the game, struggling to accept a main villain who has no depth.
This couldn’t be further from the truth, although it takes some digging to get there. One of the most argued theories about Ultimecia is that she is an older version of Rinoa Heartilly, a main character and known sorceress. Rinoa is Squall’s love interest, and she struggles with her own role as a sorceress, not to mention receiving powers from Adel, Edea, and Ultimecia on top of being mind-controlled. This bombardment of magical energies could very well cause Rinoa to snap and become the cruel and power-hungry Ultimecia. The Guardian Force Ultimecia uses during the final fight is none other than Griever, similar to the lion ring of the same name that Squall gives to Rinoa. Ultimecia’s Castle is positioned close to Edea’s orphanage, which shares a close proximity to the field Rinoa promised Squall she would meet him. Time compression could in fact be a means for Ultimecia/Rinoa to return to this one place. I could go on (even might, in a future post), but many dispute this theory citing differences in appearance and motive, not to mention the era Ultimecia comes from.
Even if the Rinoa/Ultimecia theory is wrong, there is still depth to Ultimecia’s character. When you take the events of Final Fantasy VIII, namely persecution and imprisonment of sorceresses, you can very well see how that might affect the future. Squall’s SeeD mercenary group is tasked with defeating the sorceress, a direct result of the events in-game. Ultimecia comes from a time where she seeks to escape her destruction as the hands of SeeD, and her desperation in doing so could very well be rooted in years, if not centuries of persecution at the hands of SeeD. The sad realization comes into play at the end of the game when Ultimecia, on the verge of death after her confrontation with Squall, travels back in time and passes her power onto a younger Edea. At the same time, Squall gives the past version of Edea the inspiration of SeeD, thus sparking the chain of events which leads to the persecution and imprisonment of sorceresses. In other words, Ultimecia is a product of her own failures, a victim of her own Time-Loop.
In the end, the motives of the main antagonist in Final Fantasy VIII are left up to the player to decide. Ultimecia could be nothing more than a cookie-cutter villain, a final boss for the SeeDs to fight at the end of the game. She could also be someone of great importance, a character who reminds up that our actions in the past could one day haunt us in the future. Either way, she remains one of the most ambiguous characters in the most ambiguous game in the Final Fantasy series. It isn’t very often that we, the players, get to decide the past, present, and future of the characters in a game.
Imagine yourself as the disgraced Dark Knight, Cecil. Under orders from your king, you unknowingly firebomb an entire village. You lose your best friend. Now you travel with a small girl, a survivor of the aforementioned fire, and you discover the woman you love is dying. You set off to find a cure for her, but your only ally, is a fledgling mage. Then you meet Tellah, an old Sage capable of recalling powerful spells, and you wonder if your luck is about to change for the better…or the worse.
In Final Fantasy IV, it’s easy to dismiss Tellah as the hot-headed and senile old man he claims to be. Tellah is on his own quest to rescue his daughter, Anna, from the hateful bard who whisked her away. Possessed of a handful of basic spells, Tellah can’t navigate the Underground Waterway on his own, and so he requires help. One might easily see this weakness as a flaw in his character, but his passion could be seen as a far greater flaw.
When Tellah finally catches up with Anna and the “spoony” bard who took her away, they find her mortally wounded following an attack from Cecil’s former military unit. The bard reveals himself as uninjured, and Tellah lashes out at him. Tellah’s anger only subsides when Anna regains consciousness enough to tell her father that a man named Golbez led the attack. Even Cecil cannot stop the enraged Tellah from swearing vengeance and fleeing the city.
Tellah’s passion leads him far from Cecil and his friends. Not only does he swear revenge, he seeks out the ultimate black magic, Meteor, so he can crush Golbez once and for all. He travels to Mount Ordeals in the hopes of permanently recalling his spells and the long-forgotten Meteor, and it’s here that he’s reunited with Cecil who hopes to recall something of himself as well. Together, they climb the mountain, and in a mirror-lined room at the top, a light calls out to Cecil and transforms him into a Paladin. This same light allows Tellah to recall his old spells.
During this part of the story, we learn a little more about Tellah’s past. In Mysidia, a town occupied by Mages both Black and White, Tellah stands unique, a Great Sage capable of casting both magic types.
In Final Fantasy, knowledge isn’t the only requirement for casting magic. Strength is needed as well, and Tellah sorely lacks in the strength department. Not only do his physical stats actually decrease as he gains levels, but his magic power doesn’t increase either, keeping the powerful Meteor’s high MP cost outside his reach during normal gameplay. When the Elder of Mysidia warns Tellah casting Meteor will destroy him, but Tellah brushes him off, still consumed by his need for revenge.
Tellah continues to travel with Cecil, knowing a meeting with Golbez will inevitably come. The old Sage, capable of casting both White and Black magic, doesn’t possess the magic power to properly buff during battles or to consistently cast offensive spells. He can help heal, and he his Black magic sometimes speeds battles along. His usefulness, like the old man trope, is missing during battle, but never in the story itself.
Driven to revenge, propelled by his love for his daughter, Tellah finally gets the chance to confront Golbez at the top of the Tower of Zot. He attacks using the most powerful spells in his arsenal, but not Meteor, perhaps because he truly doesn’t wish to end his life for his need to destroy. Regardless, Golbez taunts Tellah as his spells prove weak at best. Exhausted, Tellah puts the last of his life energy into casting Meteor. Fire rains from the heavens, and Golbez is weakened considerably, but not destroyed. Tellah’s story is almost at an end, and during his final moments, he shows regret for acting out in anger and being consumed by his need for revenge. Tellah dies, as some characters must (as all characters must), and the Final Fantasy IV continues without him, but without forgetting him.
Whether a player enjoys Tellah’s company or not depends on the player. A player who focuses less on story, and more on the mechanics of the game, might miss out on the intricacies of Tellah’s character. He spends most of Final Fantasy IV either seeking revenge or seeking a means to that end. Whatever love he carries for his friends or family is lost in his desire to hurt those who have hurt him. In the end, his vengeance does nothing but end his own life. He fails, but his sacrifice inspires his friends to continue the fight, and perhaps, sends a general message about life itself.
It’s hard to say if Tellah had stayed along for the journey if he could’ve been useful. In The After Years, the sequel to Final Fantasy IV, Tellah’s sacrifice and memory serves Edward to find happiness and provides a goal for Palom to become a Sage. Sadly, memories are all he has left to give.
Stealthy, quick, and dressed about as cool as can be, Ninjas, specifically the Ninja Job Class, have been around since the first Final Fantasy. Originally, the Ninja class evolved out of the Thief class, which makes sense because both rely on their speed and cunning. What’s interesting about this class change is it happens again in Final Fantasy VI to a man named Clyde, a man who will later be know as Shadow, a ninja assassin for hire.
Shadow appears early on in the story of Final Fantasy VI by quietly intimidating Edgar, Terra, and Locke with his dog, Interceptor. Rumors abound about Shadow, as noted by Edgar’s declaration that he’d “slit his mama’s throat for a nickel”. Shadow reappears after Sabin washes up north of the Veldt. He offers his services as an assassin for free, but as many know, sometimes Shadow stays with you for a while, and sometimes he wanders off along the way.
The next time Shadow pops up in the story, he offers his services for the steep price of 3000 gil, which might be a bargain except he still sticks around only for as long as he feels like it. This game of ninja and mouse continues for a while, right up until the point when he is hired by the Empire to accompany Terra to the village of Thamasa, conveniently revealing the first clues about Shadow’s past.
On the way to Thamasa, Shadow witnesses an encounter between Terra and General Leo which leaves her contemplating what she feels. Shadow offers no real advice, only that she must find the answers for herself. As she walks away, he warns her some people have killed their emotions. Himself, perhaps? Later, when the group arrives in Thamasa, they meet the old Blue Mage, Strago, and his daughter Relm, who somehow manages to tame the bloodthirsty Interceptor, leaving Shadow confused. Of course, these little tidbits of personality surrounding Shadow comes to nothing. Before you know it, he’s wandered off again.
Shadow doesn’t make another appearance until the party reaches the Floating Continent. Once they land, they find Shadow in a heap. He tells them the Empire tried to get rid of him, and the party should go on without him. They don’t. They take Shadow along, and together they navigate the Floating Continent, right up until the fight against Atma Weapon. After they win the fight, Shadow departs, declaring himself unworthy to continue fighting because he’d sided with the Empire.
What happens next becomes a pivotal moment in Shadow’s character development. When Kefka disrupts the balance between the Warring Triad, Shadow launches himself into the fray. He rescues Celes and traps Kefka between the statues, selflessly giving the party time to escape. A timer begins to countdown, indicating how long before the Floating Continent falls apart, and one can leap to the safety of the airship or wait until the timer is almost expired. If you leap to safety, Shadow’s story ends, and he becomes the only character you cannot gain access to later in the game (he ded). However, a patient player will see Shadow reunite with the party.
After the events on the Floating Continent, the world falls into ruin. The party scatters, and it’s up to Celes to reunite everyone again. Once Shadow is recruited again (this time permanently), his past stands fully revealed in a series of dream sequences that plays out randomly when Shadow sleeps at certain inns.
Two thieves, Clyde and Baram, steal 1 million gil from a train. As they flee the scene, Baram wants to change their name to something more appropriate. “Shadow”, Baram explains, would be the great train robbers of the century. They don’t get away unscathed. During their escape, Baram receives a mortal wound. Bleeding to death, he urges Clyde to make a run for it, but not before one last request. Clyde needs to use his knife to end Baram’s life before the authorities reach him. Clearly conflicted, Clyde refuses to kill, and he flees despite Baram’s angry cries to finish him off.
Clyde turns up in Thamasa where a local woman and her dog (presumably Interceptor) help him back to his feet. In the final scene of the dream sequence, Clyde leaves Thamasa behind, telling Interceptor to stay with the girl. This would indicate how Interceptor took a liking to Relm when he saw her earlier in the game. The hound hesitates at his master’s words, but ultimately refuses, and he follows after Clyde.
In the Gameboy Advance version of Final Fantasy VI, the text “girl” is changed to “daughter”.
The most obvious, and perhaps most poignant, connection between Shadow and his daughter, Relm, is the Memento Ring, an accessory blessed with a departed mother’s love. Relm comes equipped with the Memento Ring, however one other person can equip the ring: Shadow, the Thief turned Ninja, the man once known as Clyde.
Shadow’s story seemingly ends at Kefka’s Tower. After the party defeats Kefka and the Triad, they begin their descent from the tower. During this descent, Shadow wanders off yet again. Interceptor tracks him down, but Shadow pushes him away, telling him to take care. As he climbs to a nearby ledge, Shadow calls out to the ghost of Baram, telling him to come find him. When the rest of the party reunites on the airship, Shadow isn’t among them.
On the surface, Shadow may appear as another cool-looking Final Fantasy stereotype, but that would be far from accurate. He’s the only party member who literally comes and goes as he pleases, and he’s the only one who can die in game. His acts of heroism are unmatched. He took on crazy Kefka while the clown absorbed the power of the Triad.
Death plays a huge part of Final Fantasy VI. Terra, a Magitek Soldier, presumably killed many under Kefka’s control. Cyan lost his family and his kingdom. Locke struggles to find a cure for his comatose girlfriend, only to lose her in the end. Despite the rumors about Shadow, there’s no strong evidence he was even an assassin. Sure, he has the skills, but as his dream sequence showed us, he has an aversion to killing. Perhaps the saddest part of Shadow’s story is despite all the good he accomplished throughout the game, he never felt worthy of it, and as a result, he fell along with the rest of Kefka’s Tower.
In the early days of Final Fantasy, Garland appeared as the very first antagonist. When the fabled Warriors of Light appeared outside the gates of Cornelia, they learned of the missing Princess Sarah, kidnapped by the knight, Garland. It’s unclear if Garland is regarded as a once-knight because of his new status as a kidnapper, or if he committed some atrocity in his past. Regardless, at the request of the King of Cornelia, the Light Warriors set out to find Garland and rescue the Princess.
The Dawn of Souls version of Final Fantasy gives us a little more information about Garland, indicating he’s the finest swordsman in the land, and he’s already thwarted one attempt by the kingdom to recover the Princess. Please note Dawn of Souls also puts a twist on matters. The King bars passage from Cornelia unless the Warriors get the Princess back.
The Warriors of Light find Garland in the dilapidated Chaos Shrine to the north of Cornelia. Inside, Garland stands before the kidnapped Princess Sarah, threatening the Light Warriors:
The Light Warriors fight. Garland falls. The Princess is rescued, and while the Warriors of Light begin their journey across the newly built bridge leading away from Cornelia, Garland’s blood leaks out onto the pixilated floor of the Chaos Shrine.
Except that’s far from the end of Garland. While the Light Warriors travel the world in search of a way to restore their crystals to their former glory, the Four Fiends of Chaos revive Garland and send him 2000 years in the past. There, in the unbroken Temple of Chaos, Garland absorbs the power of the Four Fiends and becomes the powerful Chaos. With his newfound power, Chaos sends the Fiends into the future where they will one day send him back to the past, creating a paradox that only the Light Warriors can solve.
After the crystals are lit once again, the Light Warriors travel back to the broken Chaos Shrine and find the means to travel into the past. There, they meet their old foe Garland, now possessed with the power of Chaos. Once more, they do battle, and the Light Warriors win, supposedly breaking the Time-Loop. None of this tells us anything more about Garland’s character except perhaps his penchant for destruction and his wish for immortality. Too many questions remain about the Time-Loop to answer whether it will continue or not, of course, the epilogue clearly states Garland will be waiting for the Warriors when they return to their proper time.
The Final Fantasy game, Dissidia sheds a little more light on Garland’s character. Portrayed as a brutish warrior, relying on strength alone to overcome his enemies, Garland remains a constant ally of Chaos. He is a playable character, a villain whose only desire is to see the war between Chaos and Cosmos continue. In-game reports mention Garland has been freed from the Time-Loop, so perhaps he is truly in two places as once: Chaos is the Garland who will be, and Garland is what Chaos once was.
In the lore of Final Fantasy, the original Garland remains shrouded in mystery. He’s the first boss you ever face, and in the same game, he’s the final boss. It’s sort of poetic. His past is the one piece of his history we know nothing about, and so he may very well be a sympathetic villain. Unfortunately, we’re unlikely to ever find that out, and so Garland’s true character may have to reside in our imaginations.
FUN FACT: The word GARLAND refers to a round wreath of branches, flowers, or leaves that was once worn as a crown. Not only does this reference the Time-Loop Garland falls into, but it could also reference a claim to his kingship.
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