Final Fantasy VIII receives a lot of hate from the fan base. Some people have forged their careers off bashing it. And yet, in all honesty, as a fan of the game, I cannot entirely fault people for hating it. The draw system is cumbersome, its lame, and if you want to get anywhere with it then your game-play must slam to a screeching halt while you farm 100 of whatever spell you just discovered. You can play Triple Triad to get around that, but that involves spending several hours of playing an easily broken and tedious card game. The story is weird, and the character romance doesn’t make any sense. The random plot twist with the orphanage is stupid and random, but the villain is just awesome. Some people will complain that Ultimecia is unfocused and shallow, a one-dimensional character that is ‘Evil for Evil’s sake’ I am here to explain just how wrong these people are. I believe that the character of Ultimecia is a surprisingly deep character, her motivations are complicated, even if we are not directly allowed to know what they are, and these motivations make her one of the best villains Final Fantasy has ever produced.
What is a Sorceress?
Part of understanding who Ultimecia is, involves understanding who and what a sorceress is. In the computers and books scattered throughout Final Fantasy VIII you come across a couple different versions of the Legend of Hyne and the origins of the sorceresses. It is explained that, long ago, a being named Hyne created people. He did this so they could work while he slept. One time when Hyne awoke, he was surprised to see that people had grown so numerous. This didn’t jive with his plans, so he started nuking children to reduce their numbers. Well, as it turns out, people like their children. The people started to fight back. While Hyne was extremely powerful, he was ridiculously outnumbered. Eventually, the people managed to subdue and capture Hyne.
Hyne ends up bartering his life for half of his magical power. He gives the people his skin and the people let him go. Unfortunately for the people, the skin Hyne left behind was a trick. It didn’t contain any magical power. The people tried to hunt Hyne down again, but he was nowhere to be found. He had hidden his other half inside of several women so that he could never be fully captured again. As time went on, these women who contained part of the power of Hyne became known as sorceresses.
For a woman to be a sorceress she must contain two things: she must be capable of receiving the sorceresses’ power, and she must accept the power from another sorceress. As a fun little side note, the transfer does not have to be voluntary for either party to take place, but anyway… The first requirement is vague, and the specifics of it are not available. We don’t know if there is a genetic quality involved or if the powers themselves act like a Green Lanterns ring and chose their recipients. The second part is ironclad. You don’t get to be a sorceress unless powers get passed to you directly from another sorceress, and you only remain a sorceress for as long as you retain those selfsame powers. A perfect example of this is Edea; she accepts a sorceresses’ power at the age of 5, and from that moment on she was a sorceress. Later in life, she accepts the power again from Ultimecia. When Edea has her powers transferred to Rinoa during the Battle of the Gardens, both the original unknown sorceresses’ power and Ultimecia’s power gets moved to Rinoa. When this happens, Rinoa is now a Sorceress, and Edea is no longer a sorceress.
What does a sorceress do?
Now that we know what sorceresses are, what makes them so special? The main thing that sets apart a sorceress is that they can use magic naturally. They don’t have to use a Limit Break, or junction a Guardian Force, or even use ‘Para-magic’ like everyone else. Also, the level of their magic far exceeds the limits of the ‘Para-magic’ the party is forced to use. Other than that, Edea explains that a sorceress cannot die while they still possess the power. Now whether this means that they are functionally immortal until they give it up or whether the power will flee when the host is about to die it up to debate. In either case, they are a force to be reckoned with, and many a sorceress’ name has been writ large across the pages of history.
What do we know about Ultimecia?
Final Fantasy VIII doesn’t tell us much about Ultimecia, or at least not directly. Ultimecia very rarely speaks, and when she does it doesn’t seem to make much sense. We know that she is a sorceress and we know that she is from the future. From the future, she uses the Junction-Machine-Ellone to travel to this time and takes over the consciousness of a present-day sorceress, Edea. From the present day, she wishes to get her hands on the woman named Ellone and have Ellone send her back even further in time. Once this happens, Ultimecia will effectively be in three time periods at once, and then from that standpoint, she can cast a massive spell that will compress all of time into a single instant. That is about it, and we didn’t even hear about most of that from Ultimecia’s own lips. Dr Odine and Edea figured that one out on their own, and kindly let us know about it. Oh, and she doesn’t like SeeDs.
That is the sum whole of all the concrete information that has been given about Ultimecia. Search the game itself, the Ultimania Guide, comments from the director and every supplement available and you will not be able to find any more information on her. This is it. But fortunately for us, we still have the rest of the game to look at. To summarize what TheOnionKnight said on GameFaqs if you were to imagine a painting of Final Fantasy VIII there would be a giant hole in the center of it. This hole is Ultimecia. We can put a little information about her together based on what’s around her, but the core of the character just isn’t there, in plain sight. We are not given enough information to perfectly fill in that hole. So, its left to us to figure out what belongs there.
What do we know about the game?
Having played the game, we know how the events of the story fold out. We know that Squall is a SeeD, and a SeeD’s job is to fight the sorceress. We know that a Sorceress comes back from the future with the intent of destroying everything ever. We know that Squall defeats the sorceress from the future and everyone lives happily ever after. Zell finally gets his hot dogs. End of Game.
But wait! You didn’t think the story ends there, did you? There is still one major thing we are forgetting here. There is an area of time that we are not accounting for, and it needs to be explored. What happens in the world between the game’s final cut scene, and when Ultimecia comes back to compress time?
What happens after the events of the game?
And here is where we leave the firm ground of solid fact and enter the realm of slightly foggy speculation. You see, the game ends and everything is wonderful, or at least it will be wonderful for a time. No one can completely relax though because there is still the threat of Ultimecia to deal with. Did you forget that this game involves time travel? And by the laws this game lays out for time travel, The future cannot be changed. The Ultimecia you defeated was the Ultimecia of the future. That future Ultimecia, who came back in time, had to come from somewhere. She is still coming. She will show up one day and wreck everything and go back in time. You know this to be true because she already did it. The events are already written in stone. There is still a threat of the Ultimecia yet to come. So, the preparation to fight Present-Ultimecia begins because history is remembered and remembered history is acted upon.
We can safely assume that the people of the world were aware of Ultimecia’s presence during the war. Dialogue from random townspeople in a few different cities on disk three shows the public is aware of Ultimecia and the fact that she is from the future. Further proof can be drawn from Laguna, President of Esthar. He was intimately familiar with the whole Ultimecia thing and seeing as he was a world leader at the time and very involved in drafting the plans to help take her out, there is a pretty good bet that he is going to be unwilling to let people forget about her. And if you need just a little bit more evidence that the people were preparing for Ultimecia’s arrival: There is an entire army of dead SeeDs on the shores of her castle when you first arrive in her time.
It is well-known that Future-Ultimecia is a Sorceress, and as we have already talked about, for her to become a Sorceress she will need to receive the powers from a current sorceress. I can assure you with extreme levels of certainty that the line of sorceress succession will be VERY closely watched going forward. It’s not like the masses will have a hard time keeping track of it, as at the end of the game the only remaining Sorceress is Rinoa. The world knows that Ultimecia is coming, and when Rinoa passes the powers on to another person everyone is going to be asking, “Is she the one? Is she the sorceress who is going to be Ultimecia?” With every generation that passes, the likelihood of this sorceress being the One is going to increase. How long do you think it will be before people start reviling the sorceresses? How many generations will it take before people start openly hating them? How many generations before sorceresses are actively persecuted, openly attacked? How happy is the life of any woman who accepts these powers going to be? And this could potentially go on for hundreds or thousands of years. Again and again, until one woman says enough. She stands up from her, yet, unjust persecution and declares in a strong voice, “If you want me to be Ultimecia so badly, I will be your Ultimecia.”
She enacts her revenge on the population, unleashing decades of aggression. The SeeDs revolt against her, but they are gnats. She brushes them aside with ease. She rules over her ravaged land brooding over the wrongs done to her and her predecessors. Clearly, this level of revenge isn’t enough. She will need to destroy everything. And not just everything now, because she has already destroyed everything now, she will need to go back and destroy everything ever. She will have to Kompress all of time into an ever-present now. Then she will be the only being left alive. That will be the only possible way to prevent this horrible future from happening.
Edea’s Speech in Deling
Ultimecia (as Edea): “…Lowlifes. …Shameless filthy wretches. How you celebrate my ascension with such joy. Hailing the very one whom you have condemned for generations. Have you no shame? What happened to the evil, ruthless sorceress from your fantasies? The cold-blooded tyrant that slaughtered countless men and destroyed many nations? Where is she now? She stands before your very eyes to become your new ruler. HAHAHAHAHA.”
Ultimecia (as Edea): “A new era has just begun.”
Ultimecia (as Edea): “This is reality. No one can help you. Sit back and enjoy the show.”
Ultimecia (as Edea): “Rest assured, you fools. Your time will come. This is only the beginning. Let us start a new reign of terror. I will let you live a fantasy beyond your imagination.”
At the time this speech is given, you don’t yet know about Ultimecia or her plans. You are a new SeeD and you have been hired by a local resistance movement to assassinate the sorceress. This speech is thought to be given by Edea and with the context, you are aware of – at the time – this speech just seems to be coming from a sorceress who has been condemned because of the actions of the last Sorceress, Adel, some years ago. It’s not until much later, the beginning of Disk 3, that you learn it wasn’t Edea who gave the speech at all, but Ultimecia herself. When Ultimecia is talking about a sorceress being condemned for generations, a cold-blooded tyrant that destroyed many nations, she isn’t talking about just any old sorceress, but the specific sorceress people have been reviling for an unknown amount of time, generations apparently, from Ultimecia’s own past.
Sephie’s Final Journal Entry
“Finally, we arrived at Ultimecia’s castle. Inside, there were a lot of traps waiting for us! Our futures were hinged in the balance — could we do this?
…you know, I just thought of something right now. What was Ultimecia thinking? She was trying to survive in the only way she knew how, I think. Was she trying to reach all the way out to the past to compress time, so that she could try to erase the fate she knew was in store for her…? Thinking about it that way, maybe what I’m writing is one-sided.”
If you were unaware, as you progress through the game Selphie keeps a journal on the major events you are involved in. It is stored on the computer terminal you start the game at on the second-floor classroom in Balamb Garden. This final journal entry is not present in the game itself, Garden is sealed off in Disk 4 and can not be reentered. This journal entry was printed in the Ultimania Guide, though, and its inclusion is definitive. Even she was insightful enough to know something else was going on, and I think she hit the nail on the head.
If you would like to know more about Ultimecia, or how Time in Final Fantasy VIII works, there is an excellent write-up about it on GameFAQS by Sir_Bahamut, TheOnionKnight, and Squall_of_SeeD Please give it a read, it is really good.
Ultimecia: poorly written or just misunderstood? I’ll let you decide. Am I spot on, or way off base? Let me know what you think in the comments.