Cú Chulainn (pronounced coo-cullin), also spelled as Cúchulainn and mistranslated as Queklain, is a hero in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology.
The son of the god Lugh and a mortal woman, he was born with the name Sétanta but his named was changed later in the course of his life. His most famous adventure is in the Táin Bó Cúailnge, where he single-handedly fights off an entire invading army. Many aspects of his character are seemingly ripped out of video game tropes, and thus he makes a natural transition to the realm of gaming.
Cu Chulainn is a culturally important figure within Ireland. Seen as a unifying figure for his defense of Ulster, Cu Chulainn's image is used by Irish political groups both for and against total Irish independence from Great Britain. Various songs, traditional and modern, recount his adventures and exploits, in particular those of the Táin Bó Cúailnge. His names, both Cu Chulainn and Setanta, are also used for various sports teams in Ireland, particularly those of hurling, the sport in which Cu Chulainn himself was said to have excelled.
Birth and Childhood
There are many stories of Cú Chulainn’s birth, but in all of them his father is the Irish high god Lugh and a woman named Deichtine, who is the sister of Conchobar mac Nessa, the king of the region of Ulster. The birth of the child involves multiple pregnancies, but ultimately she bares a son she names Setanta.
Setanta is raised by the men of Ulster, most notably Conchobar and Fergus mac Róich, a great warrior. He naturally excels over all the other children and routinely beats them all at games single-handedly. This impresses King Conchobar who invites him to a feast at the blacksmith Culann’s house. When Sétanta arrives late to the feast, Culann’s giant guard dog blocks the entryway to the house. Undaunted, the powerful youth kills the dog. Setanta comforts Culann, who is distraught over the death of his canine watchman, by offering to be his “guard dog” until another is reared and replaces him. Thus the druid Cathbad gave Setanta the name “Cú Chulainn," which means “Culann's Hound.”
Emer and Training under Scáthach
Cú Chulainn grows to be a beautiful, fair-figured youth. The men of Ulster are alarmed by his attractiveness and fear that their own wives will leave them for Cú Chulainn. However, while walking through a field Cú Chulainn runs into the maiden Emer and falls in love with her. Emer’s father, Forgall, is distrustful of Cú Chulainn however, and challenges him to train under the female warrior Scáthach, which would be a strenuously deadly prospect for most.
Cú Chulainn agrees, and travels to where Scathach lies: Alpae, or modernly, Scotland. Under Scathach he learns to use the salmon-leap, a super jump, and is given the Gáe Bolg, a spear made from the bone of a sea monster. The Gáe Bolg can only be used in a river and must be thrown from the feet. However, when it penetrates the body, the barbs contained in the spear burst forth and completely make mush of the victim’s inner organs.
Scáthach also personally teaches Cú Chulainn the art of sex, and he sleeps with Scáthach’s daughter. While under her training, Scáthach’s territory is attacked by her rival Aife. When Cú Chulainn defeats Aife, her life is spared on the condition that she bears him a son.
Fully trained by Scáthach, Cú Chulainn returns to to marry Emer, but her father still refuses. Cú Chulainn raids his compound and kills two dozen of his men and ultimately Forgall himself. Unfortunately, King Conchobar holds the royal right to spend the first night with all newly-married women. Fearing both Cú Chulainn’s reaction should he enact on that right and the uncertainty of his powers as king if he doesn’t, Cathbad the druid suggests that he sleep between the two that night, which is ultimately what is compromised.
Years later, Cú Chulainn’s son by Aife, named Connla, travels to to seek his father. However, Cú Chulainn mistakes his identity and kills him, but not before Connla puts up a fight. Once he realizes who Connla is, Cú Chulainn weeps over what he has done.
The Táin Bó Cúailnge
The Tain Bó Cúailnge, or “The Cattle Raid of Cooley” as it is translated, is the most well-known of Cú Chulainn’s exploits. In it, King Ailill and Queen Medb of the region of Connacht plan to heist a great and mighty bull from the region of Cooley, impeding on the territory of Ulster.
Unfortunately, the fighting men of Ulster have all been cursed with having the pains of childbirth and are in no way fit to fight off Connacht’s invading army. Cú Chulainn, now 17, is the only one in the region fit enough to stop them. As Ailill’s and Medb’s forces advance, Cú Chulainn, aided by his charioteer Láeg, picks off individual soldiers from afar, at a rate of 50 per day.
As the morale of the army begins to fall, Medb aims to seek some sort of uneasy truce with Cú Chulainn. As his former foster father Fergus is now in exile in the Connacht camp, Cú Chulainn agrees that he will fight one soldier from their army per day in single combat. As one might expect, these soldiers are no match for Cú Chulainn. Along with his natural battle prowess and his riastrad or warp-spasm which turns his skin inside-out and further reinforces his strength, Cú Chulainn is nearly invincible.
It is not until Medb sends out Ferdia, Cú Chulainn’s former friend and fellow student under Scáthach, that Cú Chulainn feels he will be challenged in combat. Indeed, he and Ferdia fight for three days with various arms and combat styles. Feeling threatened, Cú Chulainn commands Láeg to send his Gáe Bolg downriver. In the water, Cu Chulainn hurls the spear from his feet, penetrating and splaying inside Ferdia. The spear has to be cut away from Ferdia’s innards to be retrieved.
It ends up being all for naught. Though while the Ulstermen are finally able to overcome their curse and rally against Connacht, the great bull that was the object of Ailill’s and Medb’s desires ends up getting into a fight with another bull and dies.
Much later, Medb still holds a grudge against Cú Chulainn and conspires to kill him along with some of the sons of warriors he had killed. She realizes that Cú Chulainn has sworn to follow two geasa (or taboos). The first is that he would never eat dog meat (as is his namesake) and the second is that he would never refuse any food given to him. When offered a meal of dog meat, Cú Chulainn realizes that he is backed into a corner and must break either one or the other geasa, which breaks him psychologically.
His prowess wounded from the start, the sons of the fallen warriors manage to mortally wound Cú Chulainn. Unwilling to die as a coward, Cú Chulainn ties himself to a stone so that he will remain standing as he dies. His enemies still afraid of him, it is not until a raven lands on his shoulder and pecks at his eye do they know that Cú Chulainn is truly dead.
Tir Na Nog and Dun Darach
Cu Chulainn's earliest video game appearances are in 1984's Tir Na Nog and 1985's Dun Darach, a connected pair of Irish-Mythology-themed titles released for ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC. Tir Na Nog takes place after Cu Chulainn is dead, within the game's eponymous location and one of the Irish worlds of the afterlife. Dun Darach, however, is a prequel and is set during the Ulster invasion of the Táin Bó Cúailnge.
Shin Megami Tensei
The vast majority of Cu Chulainn's video game appearances happen within the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. When alignment is a factor in the series, Cú Chulainn is always a Neutral ally, meaning he will fight alongside anyone who summons him, whether they be associated with Law or Chaos. In the original Super Famicom games he is part of the Fairy race, while from Devil Summoner forward he has been a Genma, meaning demigod. In Persona Cu Chulainn is of the Magician Arcanum, mixed things up a bit by becoming part of the Swords Arcanum in Persona 2, and held steady as a Tower in Personas 3 and 4. Cu Chulainn is one of the most frequently-appearing demons in the series, appearing in almost every game except for a notable exclusion in Shin Megami Tensei: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army.
In his earlier Megaten appearances, Cú Chulainn is depicted by Kazuma Kaneko as a wispy, dark-haired youth wearing white, caped armor and clutching his spear Gáe Bolg. In Shin Megami Tensei: NINE he was redesigned to his contemporary appearance, which keeps the same basic tenets of the design but adds in a headpiece and a dark purple motif to provide contrast on his white armor.
Cú Chulainn is generally a mid-tier demon/persona when he appears. With the right fusion techniques, he and the others of his tier have the potential to be useful even late-game. He generally learns physical skills, though he usually has access to at least one elemental spell. In Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne he fittingly evolves from Sétanta and can learn the useful Attack All skill. In Nocturne he will need to level up to 97 and completely use up the Mitama bonuses to max out his stats.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey
Cú Chulainn is the subject of Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey's EX mission named "A formal search request." On the 4th floor of Sector Carina, a goblin guards the door to someone it calls "the Lady." Upon the player's approach, the Lady will relay through the goblin that she is the mother of the "famous hound of Culann, Cú Chulainn"; in other words, Deichtine, though she remains unnamed in the game. Deichtine says she came to the Schwarzwelt to see Cú Chulainn, but that he cannot be found and tasks the player with finding him.
The goblin passes a rumor that Cú Chulainn was invited to Mithras' palace in Sector Bootes, but that he is not sure. Following the rumor, on the first floor of Bootes leading to Mithras' palace the player will be able to scan and encounter Orthrus. Orthrus tells that he is guarding the gate to the palace and that Cú Chulainn held the previous shift--alluding to Setanta's role as "guard dog." Before leaving, Cú Chulainn mentioned to Orthrus that he went to go help his mentor who is at war in a burning land, which can only mean the scarred warscape within Sector Antlia.
At the end of the sector in Morax's boss room, the player will encounter Scáthach, Cú Chulainn's trainer. After dissing her mythological rival Aife, she mentions that Cú Chulainn left only moments before the player's arrival, but that he could not have gone far. If the player returns to the beginning of the sector and scans a hallway due west of the entrance, Cú Chulainn will finally be found. After telling him his mother wishes to see him, Cú Chulainn will bolt off to meet her. Back in Carina, Cú Chulainn thanks the player for relaying Deichtine's message, appreciating the brief moment he was able to see his mother. He then hands over the player his spear, Gáe Bolg, because he has been "over-relying" on its power. Cú Chulainn than says he will return to the " land where his mother resides" though it is "embroiled in some war or another," a reference to Northern Ireland's modern conflicts between Catholics and Protestants.
Before setting off, Cú Chulainn hands the player one last item: The Knight's Oath, which contains a special password, "Trust," that can be entered to summon him as a demon ally.
In Final Fantasy Tactics, he originally appeared as the Lucavi “Queklain” but this mistranslation was subsequently corrected in Final Fantasy XII and the Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions as Cúchulainn (sans the space). Though his bloated appearance in these games implies he got a bit too carried away with certain Irish brews of reknown, his profile in Final Fantasy XII says that he was once fair and beautiful which suggests at least a passing respect for the source material, in contrast to the liberties taken with Final Fantasy’s rendition of Shiva.
Cúchulainn appears in Final Fantasy Tactics when the double-crossing Draclau transforms into him using the Scorpio Zodiac stone. In Final Fantasy XII, Cuchulainn bears the title “The Impure” and becomes an Esper ally once you defeat him in the Garamsythe Waterway. His special attack is called Blight which is, coincidentally, also the name of a skill Shin Megami Tensei's Cú Chulainn can learn in Nocturne.
- Barkley Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden features a dungeon named Cuchulainn's Tomb. The game's story describes its Cuchulainn as a "Celtic space warlord."
- Borderlands 2 contains a quest where players must incite a war between gangs of stereotypical hillbillies and Irish. If the players side with the Irish, upon completion of the quest they will be given a unique weapon called the Feculent Chulainn, so called as it can inflict the game's equivalent of poison.