Kuja: The Most Human Final Fantasy Villain

  • 65 results
  • 1
  • 2
Posted by thatpinguino (664 posts) -

This essay is an examination of Kuja, the main villain of Final Fantasy IX, in it I outline the aspects of this character that I think make him both a compelling character and, in my opinion, the best villain in the numbered Final Fantasy games. I tried not to structure it as a simple argument about why I like him (because I personally found him quite annoying for much of a 40 hour game). Instead, I have analyzed some of the actions he takes in the game as well as some of the character turns that make him the most well developed and human villain in the series.

Kuja: The Most Human Final Fantasy Villain

The Final Fantasy series is not known for its subtlety. Games in the series often pit a group of plucky teenagers against the forces of pure evil and tell a story about how the power of friendship/trust/love will always conquer over the forces of madness/greed/nihilism. It is rare that the protagonists in this series break from this simple characterization, and even rarer for the antagonists to break from their evil mold. Yet, Kuja, the primary antagonist of Final Fantasy IX, manages to do just that. Kuja is definitely more than a bit unhinged, and he does cause a lot of suffering over the course of the game; however, every one of his actions is an attempt to exceed the limitations placed on him by Garland, his creator. Every one of his actions is driven by his need to be unique, to be an individual when all other members of his race are homogeneous. In a race full of empty vessels he seems to want more; he wants to leave his mark on the world. Thus, he becomes more than a symbol of evil or a one dimensional stereotype, like so many other Final Fantasy villains are; instead he grows to be the best developed and three dimensional of all of the main line Final Fantasy villains.

Kuja

Kuja’s character development begins with his visual design. Kuja is a member of the Genome race and as such he was likely born with the same short, straight, blond hair and tail that every other member of his race shares. However, the Kuja that the player sees throughout the game has no tail and has long flowing white hair with a flipped, almost feather-like section of hair in the front. Kuja does not resemble the other members of his race in the slightest. Rather, he appears to be the polar opposite of the emotionless and nondescript Genomes that the player encounters on Terra. Kuja’s clothing further separates him from every other character in the game. His elaborate and flamboyant outfit differentiates him from every other being on Gaia and Terra. Kuja’s unique and eccentric visual design helps to establish his fierce individuality as well as his narcissism, the two main characteristics that define him for much of the game.

Throughout the first three discs of Final Fantasy IX Kuja seems to be an ordinary Final Fantasy villain, even the character design that I just outlined seem wrote by series standards. It is only when the player reaches Terra at the end of disc three and enters the dungeon of Pandemonium that Kuja is revealed to be more than a stereotypical villain. Upon entering Pandemonium the player is provided with some dialog between Garland, the mastermind behind much of the strife in Final Fantasy IX, and Zidane, the game’s main character. Garland and Zidane’s discussion reveals much of Kuja and Zidane’s backstory and as a result it provides the player with an entirely different perspective on Kuja. Garland and Zidane say,

You can view Zidane and Garland's conversation here

Garland

"I constructed the Genomes to be vessels for the souls of the people of Terra when they awaken."
"But 24 years ago, I gave life to a Genome that was very much like you."
"His will was too strong to make him into a proper vessel, and I even considered discarding him."
"But then I thought that I should put his strength to use."
"I sent that Genome as my servant, to disrupt the cycle of souls on Gaia."

Zidane

"Yeah, so tell me who he is already!"

Garland

"Do you not yet know? You and he are so much alike."

Zidane

"Alike? I've never met anyone like me..."

Garland

"You judge only by appearances. I mean someone with a soul similar to yours."
"The one I sent to Gaia might also be called your brother..."
"And his name is Kuja."

Zidane

"Kuja!? He's a Genome!? Impossible! He doesn't even have a tail..."

Garland

"He is only hiding it. He denies his own identity."
"He rejects the meaning of his existence and tries to assert his own individuality."
"Don't you see the resemblance?"

Zidane

"Shut up! I'm not like him at all!"

Garland

"He said the same thing when speaking about the other Genomes: 'I'm not like these guys.'"

In this conversation Kuja’s entire character is reworked. Until this point Kuja was a sadistic narcissist who killed for no apparent reason. At best one could only ascribe the most boilerplate of motivations to him: perhaps he wanted power or world domination like Sephiroth or Ultimecia, or perhaps he was simply insane the entire time like Kefka. However, Garland does not describe him as a mad man or a murderer; he does not even describe him as a mastermind. Kuja is instead framed as a rebellious adolescent; he is much more gifted than the people around him and he wants to be more than a puppet or a tool. Kuja “rejects the meaning of his existence and tries to assert his own individuality;” he refuses to allow his life to be limited by Garland or anyone else. Kuja may act callously and selfishly, but his true goal was to defeat Garland and exceed the limitations placed on him. He wants the right to determine his own future, a right that all humans want, and a right that had been denied to him since birth.

The earlier exchange between Zidane and Garland does a lot to humanize Kuja and ground his otherwise wholly inhuman actions; however, it is his transformation at the end of disc three and his actions in disc four that transform him from a humanized villain into a tragic hero. At the end of Pandemonium the player must face a series of boss fights culminating in what is ostensibly a final confrontation with Kuja; but, of course, this battle does not end as most battles do. After the player whittles Kuja’s life down to zero, Kuja enters a trance, which is Final Fantasy IX’s version of a limit break, and wipes out the party with a single powerful spell. At this moment Kuja believes that he has finally gained the power to break free from Garland, overtake Zidane, and rule over Terra and Gaia; he believes that a lifetime of ambition and planning will be fulfilled. Yet, at this moment of triumph Kuja is cut down. Garland and Kuja have the following conversation,

You can view the scene here

Garland

"What will you do with such...power?"

Kuja

"Master Garland... You, of all people, should accept defeat gracefully."
[He kicks Garland in the stomach]

Garland

"Gragh!"

Kuja

"How sad... Any last words?"

Garland

"Your power is...meaningless."

Kuja

"..."
[Kuja kicks Garland off the platform]

Garland

"GRAAAHHHHHH!!!"

Kuja

[Turns around to face Zidane & company]
"Now, it's your turn... Should I kill you quickly to show my appreciation for all you've done?"
"Or should I kill you slowly and painfully to show you my love..."
"Oh, I've got a great idea! How's this? I'll make you pillars for my castle!"
"You'll all decorate my castle as a symbol of my eternal kingdom... How do you like that?"

Zidane

"No... Never!"

Garland

"You could never build an eternal kingdom..."

Kuja

"That voice... Garland!?"
"Did you leave something behind?"

Garland

"Do you think a defect like you could last forever...?"

Kuja

"...What? What do you mean!?"

Garland

"I built you to last only until the worthy Genome, Zidane, grew."
"It was too dangerous to let you last any longer than that."

Kuja

"What are you saying...?"

Garland

"There's a limit on your life... You'll be dead soon..."
"Even as I die, you'll have died without ever leaving your mark on the world..."

Kuja

"..."
"H-Ha ha ha... What an interesting lie. You're telling me that my life will end soon?"
"Ha ha ha... Nice try, Garland, but I won't fall for your silly tricks... Garland?"
"..."
"Garland!? Answer me!"

Garland

"You were created to destroy. You are a mortal..."

Kuja

"A mortal...?"
"...I'm finished?"
"I don't believe you! Why would I believe such a silly story!"
"You're telling me that I'll die soon, now that I'm more powerful than anyone?"
"I'm gonna...die!?"
"Lose my soul...?"
"Ha... HAHAHAHAHAHA!"
"What comedy! Zidane, isn't it hilarious!? I'll die just like the black mages I so despise!"
"I single-handedly brought chaos unto Gaia, but in the end, I'm nothing but a worthless doll!"

Vivi [who's off screen]

"Kuja..."
"...Kuja?"

Kuja

"...I won't let it happen."
"I won't... I won't let this world exist without me!"
Trance Kuja

Kuja is informed that he, in fact, is not like the other genomes, unlike them he is mortal. All of his plans to defy his limitations prove to be limited by the one barrier that he cannot overcome: death. And yet it is important to note that he defied every other limitation presented to him: he defeated Garland, he grew more powerful than Zidane, and he had the ability to rule Gaia and Terra. Kuja is informed that despite twenty four years of playing his hand perfectly, he will still lose the game because he was never told all of the rules. Kuja reacts to this information the only way he knows how, defiantly. He decides to use his new found power to take the world with him.

Kuja’s attempt to destroy the world is fundamentally different from all of the Final Fantasy antagonists that came before him; he does not operate from a position of strength. All of the other villains attempt to either take over the world or destroy it with the plan of ruling or gaining some sort of absolute power; Kuja fits this mold until the end of disc three, however from that point on Kuja is no longer an egomaniac attempting to take over the world, he is a dying man desperate to continue living.

There is a bit of inconsistency with what exactly Kuja is trying to do at the end of the game and so I will present both potential readings. The first reading is that Kuja is so enraged by the prospect of the world existing without him that he elects to destroy all of existence, rather than die alone. This is the reading that one could take if one listened purely to what Kuja himself says to the heroes. Before the final battle with him he says,

"Hmph. You honestly think you can beat me?"
"Even if you do, Gaia's already doomed. Its assimilation by Terra has begun, and the Iifa Tree will incite a cataclysmic destruction of Gaia."
"It's all over for you and your friends."
"See. I win, either way."

He clearly states that his intended goal is to destroy Gaia as he has destroyed Terra. He also makes no mention of any ulterior motives for his actions. He seems to be attempting to destroy everything simply out of spite for the world for exiting without him. This reading would make Kuja another in the Final Fantasy series’ long line of ego-maniacal world-enders. However there remains another reading of his final desperate acts at the end of the game.

The second potential reading of Kuja’s actions is introduced by Necron, the final boss of the game; this odd grim reaper figure appears after Kuja destroys the crystal of life and he states that “Kuja was a victim of his own fear. He concluded he could only save himself by destroying the origin of all things - the crystal.” In this account of Kuja’s actions he is more of a tragic figure rather than a mere selfish nihilist, rather than simply taking all existence with him into nothing Kuja is taking the one option he has left if he is to survive. Deluded as he may have been, Kuja’s intent is not to drag the world with him; it is to take the only option he has to avoid death. He goes much further than any ordinary person would, but the fear of death that he displays and the extent to which he will go to avoid it is wholly human. He thought it was in his power to save his own life so he acted, to hell with the cost. The game is not clear which of these readings is correct; however, I feel the second reading is more consistent with Kuja’s actions during the game’s epilogue as well as the overall tone of the ending of the game as a whole.

You can view part of the game's epilogue here

In the game’s epilogue Kuja is actually offered a bit of redemption in his final moments; it is Kuja’s magic that saves the party after their battle with Necron. After the game’s final battle, as the party escapes from the Iifa Tree, Zidane actually elects to go back for Kuja. Zidane provides his reason for doing this when he says,

"Because..."
"Because I might've done the same thing if I were in his shoes."
"I probably would've fought against you guys and wreaked havoc in Gaia like he did..."
"I know it sounds crazy..."
"...but I know, deep down inside, I have to do this."
Zidane's Quote on the Game's Title Screen

In this statement the altruistic and selfless main character, who serves as a moral compass for much of the game, the character whose quote on the game’s title screen is “you don’t need a reason to help people,” admits that if put in Kuja’s situation he may have acted in the exact same manner. He does not completely validate what Kuja did; however, he does put the idea into the player’s mind that even the most selfless of people can become a monster if put through what Kuja endured. He was created for the sole purpose of creating chaos. His creator attempted to replace him shortly after his birth because he was deemed defective. His creator made him mortal when all of his brothers and sisters were immortal. Kuja was made to watch as the man who made him took every step possible to limit his growth and potential. It is no wonder that he became the self-centered and callous individual he became. All these things having been said, the developers did not have to include any moment of redemption for Kuja, almost every other Final Fantasy lacks this moment (though Final Fantasy IV does contain some form of redemption for Golbez, that game explains away his evil acts by saying he was under mind control the whole time; thus, none of his evil actions were in fact his own). Had the developers intended for him to be a simple mad man, they could have just allowed him to die in Memoria. Instead they made him a tragic hero by giving him redemption. He was misguided and his actions were brutal, but he is as much a testament to the force of human will as he is a warning of its dangers. This sentiment is communicated to the player directly through a monolog by Mikoto during the game’s epilogue.

Mikoto has a fairly unique perspective on Kuja as she is likely the Genome that Garland created to replace Kuja and Zidane. Mikoto provides the last perspective on Kuja that the player receives when she says,

"Kuja... What you did was wrong..."
"But you gave us all one thing... Hope..."
"We were all created for the wrong reason, but you alone defied our fate."
"We do not want to forget this. We want your memory to live on forever..."
"...to remind us that we were not created for the wrong reason - that our life has meaning."

To her and her people Kuja is a symbol of hope, a symbol of how far the will to be something, to be different, to live, to make your mark on the world, can carry a person. This is the last image of Kuja that the player is provided with. Kuja is not a villain; he is a reminder to his people “that [their] life has meaning.”

Kuja is a far more complex character than he appears at first glance and although much of his dialog and actions throughout the game mark him as a stereotypical villain, he proves to be much more. In the last disc Kuja metamorphoses into a sympathetic, but ultimately tragic symbol of the power of human will and the drive to self-determination. His actions are ultimately damnable, but throughout the entire end of the game his humanity is laid bare and the player is allowed to see just how much depth and range he has.

All quotes were found on http://www.ffwa.org/ff9/script.php

#1 Posted by thatpinguino (664 posts) -

This essay is an examination of Kuja, the main villain of Final Fantasy IX, in it I outline the aspects of this character that I think make him both a compelling character and, in my opinion, the best villain in the numbered Final Fantasy games. I tried not to structure it as a simple argument about why I like him (because I personally found him quite annoying for much of a 40 hour game). Instead, I have analyzed some of the actions he takes in the game as well as some of the character turns that make him the most well developed and human villain in the series.

Kuja: The Most Human Final Fantasy Villain

The Final Fantasy series is not known for its subtlety. Games in the series often pit a group of plucky teenagers against the forces of pure evil and tell a story about how the power of friendship/trust/love will always conquer over the forces of madness/greed/nihilism. It is rare that the protagonists in this series break from this simple characterization, and even rarer for the antagonists to break from their evil mold. Yet, Kuja, the primary antagonist of Final Fantasy IX, manages to do just that. Kuja is definitely more than a bit unhinged, and he does cause a lot of suffering over the course of the game; however, every one of his actions is an attempt to exceed the limitations placed on him by Garland, his creator. Every one of his actions is driven by his need to be unique, to be an individual when all other members of his race are homogeneous. In a race full of empty vessels he seems to want more; he wants to leave his mark on the world. Thus, he becomes more than a symbol of evil or a one dimensional stereotype, like so many other Final Fantasy villains are; instead he grows to be the best developed and three dimensional of all of the main line Final Fantasy villains.

Kuja

Kuja’s character development begins with his visual design. Kuja is a member of the Genome race and as such he was likely born with the same short, straight, blond hair and tail that every other member of his race shares. However, the Kuja that the player sees throughout the game has no tail and has long flowing white hair with a flipped, almost feather-like section of hair in the front. Kuja does not resemble the other members of his race in the slightest. Rather, he appears to be the polar opposite of the emotionless and nondescript Genomes that the player encounters on Terra. Kuja’s clothing further separates him from every other character in the game. His elaborate and flamboyant outfit differentiates him from every other being on Gaia and Terra. Kuja’s unique and eccentric visual design helps to establish his fierce individuality as well as his narcissism, the two main characteristics that define him for much of the game.

Throughout the first three discs of Final Fantasy IX Kuja seems to be an ordinary Final Fantasy villain, even the character design that I just outlined seem wrote by series standards. It is only when the player reaches Terra at the end of disc three and enters the dungeon of Pandemonium that Kuja is revealed to be more than a stereotypical villain. Upon entering Pandemonium the player is provided with some dialog between Garland, the mastermind behind much of the strife in Final Fantasy IX, and Zidane, the game’s main character. Garland and Zidane’s discussion reveals much of Kuja and Zidane’s backstory and as a result it provides the player with an entirely different perspective on Kuja. Garland and Zidane say,

You can view Zidane and Garland's conversation here

Garland

"I constructed the Genomes to be vessels for the souls of the people of Terra when they awaken."
"But 24 years ago, I gave life to a Genome that was very much like you."
"His will was too strong to make him into a proper vessel, and I even considered discarding him."
"But then I thought that I should put his strength to use."
"I sent that Genome as my servant, to disrupt the cycle of souls on Gaia."

Zidane

"Yeah, so tell me who he is already!"

Garland

"Do you not yet know? You and he are so much alike."

Zidane

"Alike? I've never met anyone like me..."

Garland

"You judge only by appearances. I mean someone with a soul similar to yours."
"The one I sent to Gaia might also be called your brother..."
"And his name is Kuja."

Zidane

"Kuja!? He's a Genome!? Impossible! He doesn't even have a tail..."

Garland

"He is only hiding it. He denies his own identity."
"He rejects the meaning of his existence and tries to assert his own individuality."
"Don't you see the resemblance?"

Zidane

"Shut up! I'm not like him at all!"

Garland

"He said the same thing when speaking about the other Genomes: 'I'm not like these guys.'"

In this conversation Kuja’s entire character is reworked. Until this point Kuja was a sadistic narcissist who killed for no apparent reason. At best one could only ascribe the most boilerplate of motivations to him: perhaps he wanted power or world domination like Sephiroth or Ultimecia, or perhaps he was simply insane the entire time like Kefka. However, Garland does not describe him as a mad man or a murderer; he does not even describe him as a mastermind. Kuja is instead framed as a rebellious adolescent; he is much more gifted than the people around him and he wants to be more than a puppet or a tool. Kuja “rejects the meaning of his existence and tries to assert his own individuality;” he refuses to allow his life to be limited by Garland or anyone else. Kuja may act callously and selfishly, but his true goal was to defeat Garland and exceed the limitations placed on him. He wants the right to determine his own future, a right that all humans want, and a right that had been denied to him since birth.

The earlier exchange between Zidane and Garland does a lot to humanize Kuja and ground his otherwise wholly inhuman actions; however, it is his transformation at the end of disc three and his actions in disc four that transform him from a humanized villain into a tragic hero. At the end of Pandemonium the player must face a series of boss fights culminating in what is ostensibly a final confrontation with Kuja; but, of course, this battle does not end as most battles do. After the player whittles Kuja’s life down to zero, Kuja enters a trance, which is Final Fantasy IX’s version of a limit break, and wipes out the party with a single powerful spell. At this moment Kuja believes that he has finally gained the power to break free from Garland, overtake Zidane, and rule over Terra and Gaia; he believes that a lifetime of ambition and planning will be fulfilled. Yet, at this moment of triumph Kuja is cut down. Garland and Kuja have the following conversation,

You can view the scene here

Garland

"What will you do with such...power?"

Kuja

"Master Garland... You, of all people, should accept defeat gracefully."
[He kicks Garland in the stomach]

Garland

"Gragh!"

Kuja

"How sad... Any last words?"

Garland

"Your power is...meaningless."

Kuja

"..."
[Kuja kicks Garland off the platform]

Garland

"GRAAAHHHHHH!!!"

Kuja

[Turns around to face Zidane & company]
"Now, it's your turn... Should I kill you quickly to show my appreciation for all you've done?"
"Or should I kill you slowly and painfully to show you my love..."
"Oh, I've got a great idea! How's this? I'll make you pillars for my castle!"
"You'll all decorate my castle as a symbol of my eternal kingdom... How do you like that?"

Zidane

"No... Never!"

Garland

"You could never build an eternal kingdom..."

Kuja

"That voice... Garland!?"
"Did you leave something behind?"

Garland

"Do you think a defect like you could last forever...?"

Kuja

"...What? What do you mean!?"

Garland

"I built you to last only until the worthy Genome, Zidane, grew."
"It was too dangerous to let you last any longer than that."

Kuja

"What are you saying...?"

Garland

"There's a limit on your life... You'll be dead soon..."
"Even as I die, you'll have died without ever leaving your mark on the world..."

Kuja

"..."
"H-Ha ha ha... What an interesting lie. You're telling me that my life will end soon?"
"Ha ha ha... Nice try, Garland, but I won't fall for your silly tricks... Garland?"
"..."
"Garland!? Answer me!"

Garland

"You were created to destroy. You are a mortal..."

Kuja

"A mortal...?"
"...I'm finished?"
"I don't believe you! Why would I believe such a silly story!"
"You're telling me that I'll die soon, now that I'm more powerful than anyone?"
"I'm gonna...die!?"
"Lose my soul...?"
"Ha... HAHAHAHAHAHA!"
"What comedy! Zidane, isn't it hilarious!? I'll die just like the black mages I so despise!"
"I single-handedly brought chaos unto Gaia, but in the end, I'm nothing but a worthless doll!"

Vivi [who's off screen]

"Kuja..."
"...Kuja?"

Kuja

"...I won't let it happen."
"I won't... I won't let this world exist without me!"
Trance Kuja

Kuja is informed that he, in fact, is not like the other genomes, unlike them he is mortal. All of his plans to defy his limitations prove to be limited by the one barrier that he cannot overcome: death. And yet it is important to note that he defied every other limitation presented to him: he defeated Garland, he grew more powerful than Zidane, and he had the ability to rule Gaia and Terra. Kuja is informed that despite twenty four years of playing his hand perfectly, he will still lose the game because he was never told all of the rules. Kuja reacts to this information the only way he knows how, defiantly. He decides to use his new found power to take the world with him.

Kuja’s attempt to destroy the world is fundamentally different from all of the Final Fantasy antagonists that came before him; he does not operate from a position of strength. All of the other villains attempt to either take over the world or destroy it with the plan of ruling or gaining some sort of absolute power; Kuja fits this mold until the end of disc three, however from that point on Kuja is no longer an egomaniac attempting to take over the world, he is a dying man desperate to continue living.

There is a bit of inconsistency with what exactly Kuja is trying to do at the end of the game and so I will present both potential readings. The first reading is that Kuja is so enraged by the prospect of the world existing without him that he elects to destroy all of existence, rather than die alone. This is the reading that one could take if one listened purely to what Kuja himself says to the heroes. Before the final battle with him he says,

"Hmph. You honestly think you can beat me?"
"Even if you do, Gaia's already doomed. Its assimilation by Terra has begun, and the Iifa Tree will incite a cataclysmic destruction of Gaia."
"It's all over for you and your friends."
"See. I win, either way."

He clearly states that his intended goal is to destroy Gaia as he has destroyed Terra. He also makes no mention of any ulterior motives for his actions. He seems to be attempting to destroy everything simply out of spite for the world for exiting without him. This reading would make Kuja another in the Final Fantasy series’ long line of ego-maniacal world-enders. However there remains another reading of his final desperate acts at the end of the game.

The second potential reading of Kuja’s actions is introduced by Necron, the final boss of the game; this odd grim reaper figure appears after Kuja destroys the crystal of life and he states that “Kuja was a victim of his own fear. He concluded he could only save himself by destroying the origin of all things - the crystal.” In this account of Kuja’s actions he is more of a tragic figure rather than a mere selfish nihilist, rather than simply taking all existence with him into nothing Kuja is taking the one option he has left if he is to survive. Deluded as he may have been, Kuja’s intent is not to drag the world with him; it is to take the only option he has to avoid death. He goes much further than any ordinary person would, but the fear of death that he displays and the extent to which he will go to avoid it is wholly human. He thought it was in his power to save his own life so he acted, to hell with the cost. The game is not clear which of these readings is correct; however, I feel the second reading is more consistent with Kuja’s actions during the game’s epilogue as well as the overall tone of the ending of the game as a whole.

You can view part of the game's epilogue here

In the game’s epilogue Kuja is actually offered a bit of redemption in his final moments; it is Kuja’s magic that saves the party after their battle with Necron. After the game’s final battle, as the party escapes from the Iifa Tree, Zidane actually elects to go back for Kuja. Zidane provides his reason for doing this when he says,

"Because..."
"Because I might've done the same thing if I were in his shoes."
"I probably would've fought against you guys and wreaked havoc in Gaia like he did..."
"I know it sounds crazy..."
"...but I know, deep down inside, I have to do this."
Zidane's Quote on the Game's Title Screen

In this statement the altruistic and selfless main character, who serves as a moral compass for much of the game, the character whose quote on the game’s title screen is “you don’t need a reason to help people,” admits that if put in Kuja’s situation he may have acted in the exact same manner. He does not completely validate what Kuja did; however, he does put the idea into the player’s mind that even the most selfless of people can become a monster if put through what Kuja endured. He was created for the sole purpose of creating chaos. His creator attempted to replace him shortly after his birth because he was deemed defective. His creator made him mortal when all of his brothers and sisters were immortal. Kuja was made to watch as the man who made him took every step possible to limit his growth and potential. It is no wonder that he became the self-centered and callous individual he became. All these things having been said, the developers did not have to include any moment of redemption for Kuja, almost every other Final Fantasy lacks this moment (though Final Fantasy IV does contain some form of redemption for Golbez, that game explains away his evil acts by saying he was under mind control the whole time; thus, none of his evil actions were in fact his own). Had the developers intended for him to be a simple mad man, they could have just allowed him to die in Memoria. Instead they made him a tragic hero by giving him redemption. He was misguided and his actions were brutal, but he is as much a testament to the force of human will as he is a warning of its dangers. This sentiment is communicated to the player directly through a monolog by Mikoto during the game’s epilogue.

Mikoto has a fairly unique perspective on Kuja as she is likely the Genome that Garland created to replace Kuja and Zidane. Mikoto provides the last perspective on Kuja that the player receives when she says,

"Kuja... What you did was wrong..."
"But you gave us all one thing... Hope..."
"We were all created for the wrong reason, but you alone defied our fate."
"We do not want to forget this. We want your memory to live on forever..."
"...to remind us that we were not created for the wrong reason - that our life has meaning."

To her and her people Kuja is a symbol of hope, a symbol of how far the will to be something, to be different, to live, to make your mark on the world, can carry a person. This is the last image of Kuja that the player is provided with. Kuja is not a villain; he is a reminder to his people “that [their] life has meaning.”

Kuja is a far more complex character than he appears at first glance and although much of his dialog and actions throughout the game mark him as a stereotypical villain, he proves to be much more. In the last disc Kuja metamorphoses into a sympathetic, but ultimately tragic symbol of the power of human will and the drive to self-determination. His actions are ultimately damnable, but throughout the entire end of the game his humanity is laid bare and the player is allowed to see just how much depth and range he has.

All quotes were found on http://www.ffwa.org/ff9/script.php

#2 Posted by Hunter5024 (5508 posts) -

Interesting read, though he's still one of my least favorite villains. His arc was pretty excellent, but his personality was seriously lacking. He felt really dramatic and angsty to me, like an annoying teenager. That does make me want to punch him in the face, but not for the right reasons.

#3 Posted by thatpinguino (664 posts) -

@Hunter5024: Like I said in my preface, I do really hate the mannerisms he has, the outlandish costumes, and his melodramatic attitude. That is why I really do not talk about what he does on discs one through three; there really isn't that much that makes him special in those sections of the game; those sections definitely don't make him likeable. But, the character progression he makes at the end of the game really stands out to me and in the years since that game has come out I still rarely see villains in JRPGs have the depth he had. I mean if the scope of a game is going to be "the world is in danger, go save it" I think more games should try to use that scope to make larger arguments than "the world needs to be taken care of" and "friendship is great." But then again it is rare for any media to go deeper than that so I guess my standards may be too high.

#4 Posted by Daneian (1202 posts) -

That was interesting. I'm a fan of deep character analysis to show them as people. Even though I've gotten to the end of FF9 twice, I don't remember anything about Kuja so am stoked he had depth. The quotes went a long way to supporting your thesis.

You've mentioned he is a stereotypical villain for the majority of the game, what could the writers have done differently to improve on it? Any scenes stick out as being wasted?

#5 Posted by thatpinguino (664 posts) -

@Daneian: They could have played more to struggle against Garland, and maybe ditched some of the maniacal laughter. They really focus on vilifying him for the first three discs so that the party has a reason to try to stop him. Stopping him is really the plot device that drives the story the whole game long, so they really lean hard into how evil he is supposed to be, and for the most part he is a callous jerk. It was the hard tonal shift at the end of the game that made me look at his character in an entirely new light after I had played the game a few times. I don't know how they could have changed him and preserved the hard swing his character takes at the end of the game. Really so many of his evil acts are predicated on besting Zidane and Garland that I don't see how they could have allowed him to act kinder to the main party and maintained his character. Though he would have definitely been less cartoonish if his visual design and affectations were different. I have the game in Japanese, so maybe one I play it in its native language he will seem less outlandish in the first three discs. I doubt it though.

#6 Posted by Galiant (2175 posts) -

Thanks for an interesting read!

#7 Posted by thatpinguino (664 posts) -

@Galiant: Thanks for reading!

#8 Posted by Brodehouse (9519 posts) -

Good write up!

Online
#9 Posted by thatpinguino (664 posts) -

@Brodehouse: Thanks!

#10 Posted by Marino (4579 posts) -

@thatpinguino: Now on the front page.

Staff
#11 Posted by StarvingGamer (7918 posts) -

Great read, just helped reaffirm FFIX as my favorite numbered FF game.

#12 Posted by Animasta (14633 posts) -

Honestly I like your argument but I also think that Caius is one of the more human FF villains.

#13 Posted by thatpinguino (664 posts) -

@Animasta:Is he the villain of ff13? I didn't get all the way through that game so I'm not even sure I know who the main villain is.

#14 Edited by Mento (2415 posts) -

I've never heard anyone defend Kuja before. That seems about as rare as someone defending FFVIII's plot by describing it as perfectly rational.

Moderator
#15 Posted by Hunter5024 (5508 posts) -

@thatpinguino said:

@Animasta:Is he the villain of ff13? I didn't get all the way through that game so I'm not even sure I know who the main villain is.

He's the villain of 13-2, and Animasta's actually totally right. Much like Kuja he starts off as kind of a evil mustache twirling asshole, but 13-2 actually justifies all of his actions in terms of his character.

#16 Posted by thatpinguino (664 posts) -

@Hunter5024: The preview stuff did make him look interesting, but my 20 hours with 13 soured me so strongly that I didn't really even think of 13-2. Is the plot of that game any good, I have never seen someone actually explain what is going on in FF-13 and 13-2.

@Mento: Oh there is no defending FF8's plot. I actually tried to think about it critically for a minute, then I remembered that the justification for how the main party survives time compression is friendship. Man that game has a terrible plot.

#17 Posted by Demoskinos (14519 posts) -
@Animasta

Honestly I like your argument but I also think that Caius is one of the more human FF villains.

Yep the relationship between Yeul, Noel and Caius was fantastic.
#18 Posted by NMC2008 (1227 posts) -

Caius Ballad takes that award for me. The things he did and the reasons why were purely understandable even though to everyone else the things he did were insane.

#19 Posted by thatpinguino (664 posts) -

@NMC2008:@Demoskinos: I just looked at the caius page on the site and it looks like he is pretty compelling too. Maybe I should pick up XIII-2.

#20 Posted by Mento (2415 posts) -

My issue with Kuja (and Caius, since someone brought him up) is that he's kind of a dickhole, rather than the intriguing (or possibly even sympathetic) villain he's perhaps meant to be. Kuja's like a petulant child, which I suppose jibes with his being a handful of years old as some sort of Roy Batty-esque fabricated lifeform with a bone to pick, so whenever a tantrum rolls around because "people aren't treating me seriously you guys!" and he blows up I kind of lose the will to keep playing and/or breathing.

I guess I also have a problem with that mid-to-late-game point in FF9 where it forgets that it's being a Sakaguchi throwback to fun times in a fairy tale land and remembers that the last two games did so well probably because they had whole sections of the game where the hero gets demoralized and sulks for several hours straight. It does lead to "You're Not Alone!", which is a great track, but it really starts to lose its focus on what made the game so charming. Kuja's move from "preening, sadistic Kefka clone" to "bratty drama student who hates his dad" around the same mark doesn't really do him any favors either. But that's just my take; I'm sure that's when FF9 picked up for a lot of folks.

Moderator
#21 Posted by Demoskinos (14519 posts) -
@thatpinguino

@NMC2008:@Demoskinos: I just looked at the caius page on the site and it looks like he is pretty compelling too. Maybe I should pick up XIII-2.

His voice work is stellar too and he is a very proactive villain constantly showing up. XIII-2 also made some changes to the battle system that are fantastic. Some of the cameos and callbacks to the previous game might lost a bit of impact if you aren't familiar with the universe in XIII but overall you can play it as a standalone game and have no problems.
#22 Posted by Demoskinos (14519 posts) -
@thatpinguino

@Hunter5024: The preview stuff did make him look interesting, but my 20 hours with 13 soured me so strongly that I didn't really even think of 13-2. Is the plot of that game any good, I have never seen someone actually explain what is going on in FF-13 and 13-2.

@Mento: Oh there is no defending FF8's plot. I actually tried to think about it critically for a minute, then I remembered that the justification for how the main party survives time compression is friendship. Man that game has a terrible plot.

FF8's plot makes a TON more sense if you subscribe to the "Squall is dead" theory. http://squallsdead.com/ Basic theory is that squall dies at the end of Disc 1 and everything after that is nothing but squalls dreams as he lay dying. Read the full write up pretty well thought out theory.
#23 Posted by Hunter5024 (5508 posts) -

@Demoskinos said:

@thatpinguino

@Hunter5024: The preview stuff did make him look interesting, but my 20 hours with 13 soured me so strongly that I didn't really even think of 13-2. Is the plot of that game any good, I have never seen someone actually explain what is going on in FF-13 and 13-2.

@Mento: Oh there is no defending FF8's plot. I actually tried to think about it critically for a minute, then I remembered that the justification for how the main party survives time compression is friendship. Man that game has a terrible plot.

FF8's plot makes a TON more sense if you subscribe to the "Squall is dead" theory. http://squallsdead.com/ Basic theory is that squall dies at the end of Disc 1 and everything after that is nothing but squalls dreams as he lay dying. Read the full write up pretty well thought out theory.

This is actually why Final Fantasy 8 is one of my favorite games. The storyline is trippy enough that it's open to interpretations and theories such as these. Ever hear the Rinoa = Ultimecia one? You don't really hear crazy stuff like that about any of the other entries.

#24 Posted by thatpinguino (664 posts) -

@Mento: I agree that how he acts in the beginning of the game is really annoying and off-putting, but as I outlined in my post I think that his turns at the end of the game really cement him as a compelling character. That being said I really, really hate reading his melodramatic monologues.

As for the end of the game I think that the memoria section of the game might be the most important part of the sakaguchi love fest in FFIX. Memoria is sort of the ultimate call back to earlier ff games, as you fight the four fiends from ffI, you find kain's lance from ffIV, there is a space walking sequence like ffVIII. I think that Memoria might be the segment of ffIX that needs the most examination specifically because of how out of place it is with every other part of the game.

#25 Edited by Petiew (1322 posts) -

Interesting read, thanks for posting! 9 is probably my favourite of the FF series.
 I liked Kuja's somewhat redemption at the end of the game, mostly because it wasn't overdone. They didn't play him off as a hero or a mind controlled goon, he was still an evil guy that purposefully manipulated the world into a war and killed tons of innocents. However like you mentioned it was a good insight into the character, Zidane and Kuja's upbringing's were all that really differentiated them and its interesting to think what would have happened if the situations were reversed. He was brought up to murder, but in the end he wasn't completely heartless. Somewhat like Zidane's quote, Kuja didn't have a reason to help the party but he still did it.
 
Echoing the love for Caius too. XIII-2 was a good game, and Caius was a really human villain.

#26 Posted by EthanML (451 posts) -

Interesting read, thanks!

Makes me want to go back and play this.

#27 Posted by thatpinguino (664 posts) -

@Petiew: I didn't think of Kuja's final quote in that way before, but that reading is really interesting. I guess he does mirror Zidane's selflessness at the very end of the game. I wish I had thought of that parallel myself.

@EthanML: The two player mode is a great way to breath some new life into FFIX if you are going to replay it. Why that feature never came back I will never know.

#28 Posted by Hailinel (23680 posts) -

This is easily the most in-depth discussion of Kuja's character I've ever read. Most everything else I've read on the character generally just makes fun of him. Nice work.

#29 Posted by makari (594 posts) -

@Hunter5024 said:

@thatpinguino said:

@Animasta:Is he the villain of ff13? I didn't get all the way through that game so I'm not even sure I know who the main villain is.

He's the villain of 13-2, and Animasta's actually totally right. Much like Kuja he starts off as kind of a evil mustache twirling asshole, but 13-2 actually justifies all of his actions in terms of his character.

He's also the smartest son of a bitch in all of Final Fantasy, because

#30 Posted by C2C (855 posts) -

This is very well written, and takes a very rare position of defending Kuja as a character which takes a lot of guts. This was very enjoyable to read and it is very obvious that this took some time and effort to make.

That being said, I will have to strongly disagree with your opinion on Kuja being the best main final fantasy villain. I just cannot get over the concession that you have to ignore the lack of character depth for the majority of the game. That is to the point of not only being a somewhat inconsistent villain, but an inconsistent character.

You raised the point that Kuja is an example of a tragic hero. While this is true, this type of narrative device is usually there to build up drama and show the perils of these flaws. The drama that normally builds up with a tragic hero is simply not there. All these character flaws that with being a "rebellious adolescent" were revealed fairly late in the game with very little attention given to them. All the tension that should come from the impending destruction stemming from these flaws is rendered flat. The tragic hero aspect to me smells like a really bad desperation play to make Kuja come off as more intriguing than what he really was for most of the story, another manufactured Square villain. This to me is the true irony of this character considering Kuja's obsession for being anything but another manufactured being.

The point that I guess I am trying to make is that the depth you highlight in the ending Kuja never earns from a narrative perspective.

#31 Posted by thatpinguino (664 posts) -

@C2C: I agree that to some degree Kuja does not seem to earn his redemption at the end of the game; I certainly felt that the ending was really out of place for years after playing FFIX. However,I do feel it is important to note the perspective from which the player is viewing Kuja. The player is controlling Zidane for almost all of their interactions with Kuja. To Kuja, Zidane is a symbol of Garland's attempts to invalidate and undermine him; Zidane is a living insult to his potential and his power. Had Kuja been better or stronger Garland would not have created Zidane. Thus, it is not necessarily surprising that Kuja acts petulantly towards Zidane and his friends, or that he does not show a lot of depth early on in the game.

That being said, I do think that the first three discs really do a disservice to the character he becomes at the end of the game.

#32 Posted by Deathshroud (338 posts) -

I love this because it was one my of favorite FF games. I lost the first disc and I wish I could play it again :(

#33 Edited by xyzygy (9868 posts) -

I found him completely boring. Garland was more interesting. Caius Ballad was the best FF villain so far. Barthandelus was pretty badass as well, just because he was such a prick and was always a step ahead of the gang.

@thatpinguino said:

@NMC2008:@Demoskinos: I just looked at the caius page on the site and it looks like he is pretty compelling too. Maybe I should pick up XIII-2.

Do it! It's really good. The storyline is fucked in how much they try to cover in a shorter game than XIII, but the characters are all really great, especially Noel and Caius.

#34 Posted by thatpinguino (664 posts) -
@xyzygy final fantasy 1 garland or final fantasy 9 garland?
#35 Posted by ItBeStefYo (1021 posts) -

Caius is another great villain in that he isn't some megalomaniac but has human feelings and acts on those instead of some deluded insane visions that most villains conform to nowadays.

#36 Posted by xyzygy (9868 posts) -

@thatpinguino: 9 Garland. I felt he was more interesting than Kuja. I haven't played 1 yet!

#37 Edited by TwoLines (2785 posts) -

@C2C: I disagree. I think it's great how he was builed up to be this emotionless monster through most of the game, his image of an evil mastermind molded in the player's head. And then, suddenly, the depth that was hidden from the player revealed, the image shattered. It's a nice view on what makes a being into a villan. We rarely try to understand why, we judge and condemn.

I prefer Kuja's conclusion to the sephiroth one, where his psyche and reeasoning were presented in the first part of the game, then they were completely diminished in the second part. He became emotionless, cold and distant. Just another "bad guy." Because of this, I forgot about his human side, I saw only a monster.

#38 Posted by JackSukeru (5898 posts) -

Cool writeup. FF9 is the one mainline, non-DS remake, Final Fantasy game that I've finished so far, and that's after playing half of it and later losing my save so I've probably played it more than any other game in the series. It's definetly my favorite FF game and though Kuja was never part of the reason why I liked it, it's nice to see him getting some props.

Funny thing, while I remember there being 4 bosses that you fought in succession at the end of the game they always seemed random to me. I only played FF4 much later and by then I didn't remember them clearly enough to make the connection. If I replay it some time I'll look forward to seeing them.

I've been thinking a lot about Final Fantasy since Theatrhythm came out and have wanted to go back and finish some of all those games I started and never finished (FF8,FF12,FF13, have played both 7 and 10 but have no desire to play them again), with praise going out to 13-2 I sort of want to get caught up, what a bother. It's almost too bad that I've already have finished 9 because that's the one that draws me back the most at the moment.

Online
#39 Posted by thatpinguino (664 posts) -

@RockmanBionics: FFIX is a great one to replay after playing I-VIII. You get to see so many more of that game's references and call-backs to earlier games in the series. Also the four bosses you fight at the end of FFIX are a call-back to the four fiends from FFI, FFIV has a different four fiends. But, it certainly is the same idea in both I and IV.

#40 Posted by xaLieNxGrEyx (2605 posts) -

@thatpinguino:

Just allow me to add some more reasons why he's the best villain in the series

He rides a Dragon

He kills his father/creator instead of crying about it (Sephiroth)

He conjures the destroyer of life and time (Ultimecia)

He Destroys a planet (Kefka)

He speaks as if life is a play and he's writing a screenplay in real time.

He starts a war through an entire continent

He calls Brahne the "Ugly Elephant Lady"

#41 Posted by dudeglove (7684 posts) -
@Demoskinos Oh god I need to read that. By ultemecia's castle I literally had no fucking clue what was going on. It mostly made sense up to the second act, but then the time compressionsomethinorother reared it's head and I just sort of had to go with it. The acid trip ending was worth it, though, and the final boss was funzies.

OP, wonderful read. I guess FF9 was sort of a new take on JRPG antagonists, seeing as most of FFs' plots involve literally killing god. Dunno why they have such a bug up their butt about deities.
#42 Posted by CheapPoison (716 posts) -

Love this!

And it has been a bit too long since i played through FF9. ut him not being that great in the first 3 disc does not seem like the biggest problem to me. Cause i feel like up to disc 2 you are more focussed on the queen and have no idea where Kuja stands.

Damn i wish i didn't lose disc 2... Wish they would rerelease this one instead of FF7.

#43 Posted by MegaLombax (384 posts) -

Exceptionally well thought of and written. Though to be honest, I can't really remember well FF9. Nonetheless you structured your article in such a way that allowed me to fully appreciate what you were trying to convey. Thank you for the interesting read.

#44 Posted by thatpinguino (664 posts) -

@dudeglove: Though to be fair Kuja does kill his creator and destroy the source of all life so Kuja isn't that dissimilar from other antagonists, it is some of the details that make him stand out.

#45 Posted by bartok (2406 posts) -

I thought Kuja was a lady until about halfway through the game.

#46 Posted by C2C (855 posts) -

@TwoLines: Yup, just gonna have to agree to disagree on Kuja. The large concession one has to make to have his revelation work just does not jive well with me.

I do agree that going the Sephiroth route would have not have helped matters; the only thing that made him interesting as a character was the whole "Surprise! I was really controlling you all along like a puppet Cloud," scene. The rest of what made him interesting was more audio/visual than anything with the character.

Then again, I am of the opinion that Sephiroth was not the real villain of FF7 and was just a proxy for Jenova.

#47 Posted by EnduranceFun (1114 posts) -

Excellent article. You know, Final Fantasy IX is my favourite game, period, but the more I think about it now, the more I consider Queen Brahne the best villain. Who didn't get a bit weepy at the end of disc 2? As is touched on in this article, FFIX deserves huge credit for leaving these villains so human, as even though it makes some hint of Kuja controlling Brahne, it is never implied that she is mind controlled.

#48 Posted by thatpinguino (664 posts) -

@EnduranceFun: I like the queen too, but I found her arch pretty predictable and standard. She was a stereotypical ruler overcome by greed, it didn't help that she barely looked human. I always wondered what kind of husband she had considering what she looks like.

#49 Posted by JasonR86 (9587 posts) -

That's a lot of text. A lot of work too so good job. But man. I honestly don't remember anything about Kuja. In fact I didn't even remember that he was the villain of FF9. So I guess that means he wasn't that good of a villain. Or at least memorable.

#50 Posted by EnduranceFun (1114 posts) -

@thatpinguino: The husband is what makes it so interesting. His death drives her mad and Kuja comes along to manipulate her into war, she is essentially filling the void of her dead spouse by conquering and mass murder. The name of her theme, 'Queen of the Abyss,' is quite cool in that context.

This edit will also create new pages on Giant Bomb for:

Beware, you are proposing to add brand new pages to the wiki along with your edits. Make sure this is what you intended. This will likely increase the time it takes for your changes to go live.

Comment and Save

Until you earn 1000 points all your submissions need to be vetted by other Giant Bomb users. This process takes no more than a few hours and we'll send you an email once approved.