It is no secret that I adore Final Fantasy VIII. But did you know that Ultimecia is easily one of my favourite video game antagonists as well?
The sorceress lives “in the future”, although it isn’t confirmed exactly how far in the future of the game’s world, and manipulates the game’s world through other sorceresses. Her main goal is to compress time so that she can absorb all of space and time into herself.
That is a far larger goal than the typical “destroy the world” focus that many antagonists have in RPGs. However, it isn’t the only reason why Ultimecia is one of my favourite video game antagonists. So let’s look at the rest!
Her Unknown History and Backstory
Whilst we learn a huge amount about Ultimecia goals and desires, as well as her motivations, we don’t actually find out much about her backstory. For example, a question that still remains unanswered is who she was when she was younger.
Some theories have been officially debunked, such as the “Rinoa Is Ultimecia” theory. But we still haven’t found out who she really is.
One article I read looked at how she could have been a child that you see during the events of Final Fantasy VIII, living her life, as usual, completely unaware of her powers at that time. The fact that Ultimecia’s history is still something that we are questions and trying to figure out all these years later shows just how memorable and fascinating she is.
Her Potential Connections With The Main Characters
Another aspect of Ultimecia that creates confusion and mystery around her is the obvious connection she has with the party, specifically Squall. During the first against her, Ultimecia summons the Guardian Force (that game’s version of summons) known as Griever.
In the English language version of the game, it seems as though she is in possession of Griever from the beginning, adding a strange connection to Squall. This is because Squall’s necklace, ring and symbol throughout the game is Griever.
However, in the Japanese version it is actually far clearer and (in my opinion) more interesting. That is because it explains that Ultimecia is able to pull Griever from Squall’s mind, summoning the creature that he feels is more powerful than anything else in existence. This adds a huge amount of power to Ultimecia that isn’t shown in the English language version of the game.
The next aspect of Ultimecia that I wanted to look at was her characterisation. Specifically, Ultimecia has a very interesting way that her dialogue in the English version of Final Fantasy VIII is written.
You see, in most games, the antagonist will speak in standard English. They may say strange things depending on the type of character they are, but they still speak with a normal accent. Even if you’re reading the dialogue like in an old-school RPG, it is written in a standard way. That isn’t the case with Ultimecia; her dialogue specifically adds to her character, similar to how Odine’s dialogue does in the same game.
To emphasise the harshness of the “c” sound in her speech (such as the “c” in “cure”), her dialogue is written to replace the “c” with a “k”. For example, rather than saying “curse”, Ultimecia says “kurse”. This spelling of the word immediately makes it sound harsher in your mind, helping to build upon her general characterisation from her motives and history.
The Build-Up To Fighting Her
You can’t discuss Ultimecia as an antagonist without mentioning Ultimecia’s Castle, the final dungeon of Final Fantasy VIII. The dungeon itself is a huge departure from the norm, both in terms of mechanics and general aesthetics.
When you first enter Ultimecia’s Castle, a truly haunting yet beautiful backing track plays, which continues throughout the dungeon. The castle, itself, is reminiscent of horror games rather than a fantasy J-RPG, having a melancholic atmosphere and sombre ambiance. It makes you feel apprehensive every time you enter a room.
This is only added to by the fact that, as soon as you enter Ultimecia’s Castle, your abilities are locked away. You can’t save, use magic or items, summon a GF or basically do anything except for attack with a normal physical attack. This state of ability limitation continues as long as you are in the castle and can only be countered by clearing out the various sub-bosses. This level of challenge adds to the overarching sense of unease and tension that the castle holds.
The fact that you have to get through such a place in order to even reach Ultimecia, who sits in a throne as the ruler of despair and desolation, builds her up massively as an antagonist.
Her Final Moments And Effect On The World
Perhaps my favourite aspect of Ultimecia actually comes into play at the end of the final boss fight. The fight, itself, consists of 4 consecutive phases (5 if you count the Merged Griever/Ultimecia body splitting in half as another phase). On top of that, knocked out party members are flat out removed from the battle permenantly. So, as you reach the end of this true testament of a boss fight, a very interesting thing happens.
When you drop Ultimecia’s final form to zero Hit Points, the battle doesn’t just end immediately. Instead, it continues on whilst she makes a speech. During that time, you have to stay alive, showing how strong she actually is since she can kill you all even after being defeated.
But it is her speech that is really interesting;
Reflect on your…Ultimecia’s final words.
It will not wait…
How hard you hold on…
It escapes you…
The Japanese version of this speech actually follows a very similar thematic tone, but using longer phrases. In essence, Ultimecia seems to have accepted that she cannot prevent her own demise and that, no matter how much you try to hold on to something, it will die and fade away eventually – you cannot defeat “time”, no matter how hard you try.
This is a very strong lesson that she effectively pushes onto you, the player. The fact that you have been so focused on defeating this “ultimate evil”, only to end such a huge fight with her monologuing what is almost a warning to you, is a very poigniant moment.
From there, you get to see the moment that Ultimecia was sent back in time due to the effects of Time Compression ending, where she passes on her powers to Edea, the first antagonist of the game. You hear her final thoughts, as she realises that she cannot fight against her own mortality, then see her at her weakest state before finally dieing. That is an incredibly memorable end to such a powerful antagonist!
And That’s All Folks
In the end, I may be biased in that I like Final Fantasy VIII so much. However, there is so much about Ultimecia that makes her stand out compared to the typical J-RPG antagonist, and places her in the upper eschalon of video game antagonists for me.
Who is your favourite video game antagonist? Let me know in the comments below!