Along with the ‘Squall’s Dead’, ‘Rinoa is Ultimecia’ is one of the more famous theories about Final Fantasy VIII.
In November 2001, a Rinoa shrine entitled “Girl Next Door” went online. That same year, the owner wrote a short page called “Rinoa is Ultimecia Theory”, which theorizes:
Ultimecia is the future Rinoa. Rinoa grows up to become Ultimecia. When Rinoa is older, some great tragedy could occur that deeply affects Rinoa and changes her slowly. This could be the death of Squall (or other loved ones) or some other disaster that happens in the FF8 world. Slowly over time, she grows more depressed, and her sorceress powers feed the dark sadness inside of her. Her sorceress powers prevent her from dying naturally and continues to live for eons alone. Eventually, gripping on the brink of insanity, she becomes Ultimecia.
Over the years, this blurb expanded to an page on the site with more evidence and reasons to accept the theory on its merits.
The theory acknowledges that Rinoa/Ultimecia’s “sorceress powers prevent her from dying naturally”. Fans have evidence of this in the official Final Fantasy VIII Ultimania Guide (translated by Glenn, The Twilight Mexican for TheLifestream.net):
For witches, it is not possible to die while they have their powers. Defeated, Ultimecia appeared at the orphanage of the past and succeeded her powers to Edea, who was already a witch.
This already lends credibility to the idea that Rinoa may be a future Ultimecia. So what are the eight points and reasons for the author’s suppositions?
The World Hates Witches – They’ve been traditionally despised and Adel left a nasty impression. Many people haven’t forgiven Edea and Rinoa was urged to be sealed immediately after awakening. Now people know Ultimecia is coming. But they don’t know who she will be. Rinoa is now the only publicly known sorceress, and a powerful one. Her continued persecution is very likely.
The Guardian Forces – Griever is the big one. I find it hard to believe that Ulti would use a newly created GF in the biggest battle of her life. She would use her best and most compatible one. The name is something Squall and Rinoa knew. Additionally, both Tiamat (corrupt Bahamut) and Omega Weapon (based on Ultima Weapon) are seen at her castle.
Rinoa’s Foreshadowing – On the Ragnarok, Disc 3, as Rinoa dreads her impending future as a new sorceress, she states, “I don’t want the future. I want the present to stand still. I want to stay here with you.” This is reminiscent of time compression. Furthermore, in Centra, Rinoa contemplates the idea of fighting everyone and being killed by Squall. “I guess it’s okay if it’s you Squall. No one else.”
Squall’s Visions – As Squall lies dying in a wasteland outside of time, he sees bizarre imagery. He sees Rinoa dying. He sees Rinoa’s face juxtapositioned against Ultimecia’s face. He sees the image of Rinoa’s happiest times fading away into obscurity. He cries afterward. It’s possible that he is receiving information about the future which his mind translates into symbolic imagery in a way that he can understand.
Edea’s Foreshadowing – After passing on her sorceress powers, and looking back on when she first saw Ultimecia as the orphanage, Edea tells Squall, “I now understand there is an end, no matter how painful it may be. Therefore, Squall, you must fight to the end! Even though it may bring tragedy to others.” She knows they must fight Ultimecia to complete the time paradox, but what tragedy is she referring to?
Aesthetic Style – All witches shown have unique colorings and markings… except for Rinoa. Rinoa does have a sorceress form, but it hasn’t manifested yet. It’d be unreasonable to expect Rinoa to look like Adel, but given their winged motifs and beautiful faces, Rinoa could reasonably look like Ultimecia. Additionally, both Rinoa’s room/mansion and Ultimecia’s castle have similar Gothic Victorian style.
Ultimecia’s Foreshadowing – As she dies, Ultimecia tells the SeeDs, “Reflect on your childhood. Your sensations. Your words. Your emotions. Time. It will not wait, no matter how hard you hold on. It escapes you.” For someone who has spoken so violently to her enemies, these melancholy words are very out of character if you take the story at face value alone.
Dissidia Weapons – In Dissidia, Ultimecia’s exclusive weapons all share the same names as Rinoa’s exclusive weapons. Valkyrie, Cardinal, Shooting Star. These weapon names debuted with Rinoa. Most Dissidia villains had unique weapons or weapons with a long history. No other villain had all exclusive weapons from one opponent. It’s like Square wants to confuse us.
The author also assures us that if we accept this evidence, certain elements in the story make sense, such as:
Eliminates the Necron Problem – Final Fantasy has this nasty habit of tossing in random final villains with little to no connection to the storyline up to that point. (See Giant Space Flea From Nowhere.) Not only is it anti-climatic, it leaves the player with no real reason to fight, nor a feeling of success when they win. Under the R=U theory, there is a definite connection between Ultimecia and your party. No longer is she a bland evil boss. Now you understand why she’s evil. Now there is a touch of sadness and tragedy in your final fight. Now her chilling last words mean so much more.
Thoughtful Commentary on Human Nature – Prejudice, persecution, condemnation, and degeneration. These are things we are familiar with. FF7’s storyline made itself relevant to its capitalism and industrial corruption that echoes our own society. Similarly, FF8’s storyline made itself relevant to the genocide and retaliation that echoes our own horrific history. The personal decay of Rinoa’s idealism is something that most people can understand on an individual level as well. The idea of being in love, yet feeling as if this is fated to end, hits closer to home than a happy ending.
Consistent with Themes & Fills Plot Holes – This theory is actually consistent with the game’s themes of love and a time paradox. In regards to love, the story often tells you that you should value the love you have in the present. An upsetting future actually increases the importance of cherishing your loved ones at the moment. In regards to the time paradox, there is the stunning conclusion where Ultimecia gives her powers to Edea in the past, starting this whole story. By having Rinoa be the one who kills her future self, it furthers the significance of the self-fulling prophecy.
With all of this, I believe the author makes a solid case. But it’s not without its share of problems…
The author of the theory fully acknowledges that the Rinoa is Ultimecia’ theory have canoncity problems:
The biggest problem with the theory is simply that it is unlikely to be canon for a Final Fantasy game. Square likes their Final Fantasy games to be positive, or at least, idealistically ambiguous. They like happy endings. While they do often touch on mature emotional elements, such as death, war, and so on, the company wants the game series to emphasize wholesome values as a last note.
Such a depressing future for one of their main protagonists would cross the line on their standards. Thus, it’s possible that the writers are insinuating such a connection in the game, or that it was originally in the story but later edited out. However, it’s doubtful that Square-Enix would ever release a confirmation on a dark interpretation of events.
But the theory also doesn’t illustrate how Rinoa gets her sorceress powers. If a sorceress can’t die without passing her powers along. Does this mean that Edea died to give Rinoa her powers? If so, this goes against the happy endings Squaresoft was custom to making at the time.
When Squall asks Edea about Ultimecia, she tells him:
Ultimecia is a sorceress from the future. A sorceress many generations ahead of our time.
How long are many? Regardless, this would be a long time to hold onto her powers. But the story doesn’t mention excruciating agony with having such powers, so there’s also no reason Rinoa as Ultimecia would give up her powers so urgently. Could Rinoa be Ultimecia?
If she is, these eight points aren’t enough. Going through them one at a time:
- The fact that Rinoa happens to be a sorceress doesn’t mean that he is Ultimecia. In fact, according to the Final Fantasy Wikia “Edea Kramer, Rinoa Heartilly, Sorceress Adel, and Sorceress Ultimecia are the sorceresses seen in Final Fantasy VIII. There may be more sorceresses in the world who are either unaware of their powers or hiding them from the world at large.”
- While it’s true Rinoa knows of the [the name given to] Griever, “Ultimecia draws Griever from Squall’s mind, bringing Squall’s perceptions of the being into existence to fight the party” for the final battle. The author might say Rinoa forgot due to insanity. Yet the game makes it clear she can look into Squall’s mind for the name. Not only then did she use Squall’s mind to remember [the name given to] Griever, but she could not find any evidence of herself in their minds…especially not Rinoa’s.
- A common theme of Final Fantasy VIII is fear of the future. Squall too didn’t want to embrace the present for fear of more losses in the future. This is a common fear they both share, and throughout the course of the story, they overcome it. While people can change, and revert back to previous fears, this theory would
- This scene deals with Squall’s memory of the past, rather than visions of the future. Had this been the case, might Squall have mentioned this Rinoa, making the happy ending tragic? The face’s overlapping each other seems like a cool idea, rather than an actual foreshadowing.
- The tragedy Edea is referring to may be the death of the White SeeD in the future. But it may also be a narrative flaw. As with this beginning, it ends. This lesson is something Squall has already learned. If Edea were talking about Rinoa, this would be information she wouldn’t have known previously. Edea also would have mentioned Ultimecia’s true identity to Squall, especially if Rinoa were in your party at the time.
- This is very similar to #4, whereas just because they look similar doesn’t mean they are the same. In fact, many of Nomura’s characters look similar because he appears to use the same facial model.
- I generally believed Ultimecia was buying time (so to speak) in order to distract them. Instead of a melancholy reminiscence of past times, her speech was more of a taunt to shake them into insecurity. This was a ploy to make them question if they really want to continue attacking. While this makes her lose her human edge, it makes her a much more sinister villain.
- Fan service, Ultimecia’s sick way of tormenting Squall, or a future Rinoa? You be the judge. As the author says “It’s like Square wants to confuse us.”
The author states there are other links in the theory. I believe they more so relate to Rinoa wanting to be like Squall, rather than hinting she will become Ultimecia. So then what about the benefits of accepting this theory? Does this open up more problems down the road? Many of these problems weren’t actually problems:
- First, villains appearing from seemingly nowhere (the Void) is a common trope in Final Fantasy. Not just Necron, but also Cloud of Darkness, Zeromus, and Yu Yevon. Admittedly, if true, it’s quite a twist on the first Final Fantasy. In the first, Garland from the future travels to the past to become Chaos.
- Second, prejudice, persecution, condemnation, and degeneration are still themes within this story, only not illustrated by Rinoa. Rinoa as Ultimecia, would still not enhance these themes in any way. Rinoa’s character arc doesn’t explore her thoughts on these matters. Final Fantasy VIII infers these themes; they aren’t central to the game.
- Third, if the ‘Rinoa is Ultimecia’ theory is consistent, it’s because they aren’t themes. The time paradox isn’t really a theme in the game, as much as it happens to be a plot device. But the plot device only provides a vehicle for the theme, rather than being a central part of it. In fact, the story is about love and overcoming the fear of the future. Rinoa killing her future self, while interesting, does not illustrate any of these themes.
Nothing about the ‘Rinoa is Ultimecia’ theme actually adds any value to the existing story or themes. But it does add an extra dimension to the plot.
Like ‘Squall’s Dead before it, the ‘Rinoa is Ultimecia’ has been officially debunked by Kitase, in an interview with Jason Schreier of Kotaku:
“No, that is not true,” Kitase said. “I don’t think I’ll incorporate that even if we do remake the game. But that being said, both Rinoa and Ultimecia are witches, so in that sense they are similar, but they’re not the same person.”
Kitase may never incorporate this theory in a possible remake of Final Fantasy VIII. Why? Probably because it doesn’t add anything to the narrative it was trying to express. The game is more so about a coming of age story about Squall, and the love he shares with Rinoa. Final Fantasy VIII is not about time travel (even if this is an element in the plot).
But what made this theory so plausible is that before Kitase, much really debunked it. Sure, the objections themselves only point out that Rinoa isn’t necessarily Ultimecia.
What does this mean for Final Fantasy VIII? Maybe Kitase and the other writers will have a lot of clarifying to do in the story’s remake.