Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Final Fantasy 9's Players' Perception of Kuja's Power

This rant is made possible by the awesome contemplative nature of Ecclesiastes. Thanks, buddy!

Long time reader and good buddy Ecclesiastes posed a question to me a few months back, which essentially inquired why Kuja receives so little attention from players, compared to his Final Fantasy villain peers, for his power, when he has destroyed a planet all on his own. Taken from the email Ecc sent to me:

“Kuja for some reason seems to never be acknowledged in this regard. Maybe I'm not in the places on the internet where he's mentioned, but I don't recall seeing it even one time in the inevitable villain powerlevel bullshit discussions. Just a bunch of Kefka and Sephiroth hype, two of the least powerful FF villains ever. I know IX is underrated to the point that I'm mildly surprised the ESRB deigned to slap a letter code on it, but this is a peculiar omission in what is still a relatively common topic.”

It’s a very reasonable question. Everyone, especially the deranged chimps themselves who work at SquareEnix, goes crazy over how impressive and powerful Sephiroth is. Yet the guy lacks the sheer power to destroy a world on his own, having to rely on a Materia to do it for him, and even in terms of a confiscated power, it’s only so-so. I mean, yeah, Meteor is world-damaging, but it takes a damn long time for it to arrive. At least when Final Fantasy 5’s X-Death, for example, gains the amazing power to take things and put them in other places, he can do so in an immediate fashion. Beyond that, Sephiroth’s limited to just being pretty strong, fast, and having some semi-magical ability. And, I guess, control over plot-convenient pretty boys who are exceptionally shallow characters but can resurrect Sephiroth (sort of)...whatever the hell Advent Children was on about.

Then you take Kefka. Final Fantasy fans who have studied Sesame Street thoroughly enough to realize that the process of counting doesn’t start at the number 7 are all quite familiar with this infamous jester bad guy, and laud him for the fact that he actually did outright destroy the world in Final Fantasy 6.* Usurped the power of not 1, but 3 goddesses, and just fucked the world’s shit right up. More legitimately powerful than Sephiroth, that’s for sure.

But Kuja? A simple observation of his power reveals that he towers over Sephiroth and Kefka in terms of power, as well as most other FF villains. Sephiroth has to borrow a black rock and then has to wait 8 - 10 business days for Armageddon to ship. Kefka has to steal power from others for his Light of Judgement, and the majority of the destruction he causes is just from him moving the goddess statues around--it’s really not even him doing it; anyone physically strong enough to push a carved stone around could have done exactly as much damage to the world as the majority that Kefka gets credited for. Kuja, on the other hand, arrives at the planet Terra, gets pissed about mortality, and, through his own power alone, destroys the planet.

As in, on his own. He didn’t activate a gigantic robot to do it for him (FF4). He didn’t hold onto a black rock and wish super hard (FF7). He didn’t just happen to stand in a convenient spot between three petrified deities (FF6). Kuja destroyed Terra himself, with HIS power. And when I say destroyed, I don’t mean that he made it a very difficult place to live in (FF6). I don’t mean that he badly damaged a part of it (FF7, potentially). I don’t mean that he went around destroying small towns (FF6 + FF10). I don’t mean that he scooped up parts of it and dumped them somewhere else (FF5). I mean that he reduced everything on the planet to fiery slag. And he did it in minutes.

The evidence is patently obvious. Kuja is much more powerful than almost every other FF villain, in terms of what destruction he can accomplish and how fast. And he’s at this level of power on his own, without needing to rely on and steal the power of others, which is more than you can say for pretty much every other FF villain, and hell, most RPG villains period. But Ecclesiastes is right--go to any major FF discussion board topic about powerful villains, and Kuja’s all but ignored in favor of Sephiroth and Kefka’s weak-ass shit, as well as that of the other villains of the series. You’ll be much more likely to see people talking up the power of Sin, Vayne, X-Death, and so on, than you will Kuja. It was true in my experiences with Gaia Online, it’s true for Ecc’s experiences of GameFAQs, and a little searching on my part just now confirms that it’s true on multiple other sites, too.

Why is this? Why do fans so often completely pass over Kuja’s villain accomplishments, when the facts are clear?

Well, there are the usual contributing factors. FF9 is still extremely underrated and overlooked, sadly, and then there are the shallow morons--and they be many--who disregard the guy just for his outfit and looks. And there’s SquareEnix’s marketing strategies, too, in that other villains are much more focused on and popularized by the company itself.

But, I believe that the core issue of the lack of recognition of Kuja is this: Kuja destroyed a planet that doesn’t have a lot of weight to the audience. In Final Fantasy 9, the planet Gaia is where the audience starts the game, and it is the planet which we spend dozens of hours exploring from 1 pole to the other. Through Zidane, we travel across Gaia on foot, on the back of chocobos and gargants, and aboard ships of both air and water. It is Gaia that we know the size and scope of from traveling experience. Gaia is the planet filled with characters we have met and become familiar with, and Gaia is the planet possessing lore and a story which we have watched unfold and participated in all along the way. To whit, everything and everyone that the main characters of FF9 are connected to and fighting for, is on Gaia.

By contrast, what is Terra? Terra is a planet Zidane and company visit only a short time after hearing of its existence. Terra is a planet only a fraction explored--no more than a dungeon’s worth, really. Terra is alien and strange, and connects only in a distant, though admittedly essential, way to a few characters and a little of Gaia’s lore. The simple fact is that Terra doesn’t have substance as a world to the player, not as a Final Fantasy world usually does.

When Kefka ruins his world, he’s ruining the equivalent of FF9’s Gaia, not the equivalent of FF9’s Terra. Kefka ruins the world that we’ve traveled over, whose characters we have met and whose events we have seen unfold. The difference is that Kefka destroys the world, and Kuja destroys a world. FF6’s ruined world is the everything and everywhere of the game, but for FF9, Gaia is that world, and Terra is just an interesting location that is emotionally separated from us. And you can apply this to the majority of the other FF villains, as well--Sephiroth threatens the only world FF7 knows, X-Death messes around equally with both worlds FF5 visits, Sin is a constant destructive force in the only significant location of the game, Spira, and so on.

So, despite the actual reality of Kuja’s power as evidenced by his destruction of Terra, despite the demonstrable fact that he is far more powerful than Kefka, Sephiroth, Zemus/Zeromus, the Dark King, Raem, Vayne, Ajora/Altima (well, maybe), Seymour, Sin/Yevon, the Cloud of Darkness, Galdes, Feolthanos, and probably most of the villains from the FFs I haven’t played...the perception of Kuja’s power is only naturally going to be that it’s less impressive than, say, Kefka’s, because Kefka destroys the world that truly matters, and Kuja destroys its third cousin, twice removed.

* Well, mostly destroy. Nature’s dying, monsters roam everywhere, humanity’s on the edge of survival, that sort of thing. It’s a bad scene for the world and its creatures...still, Kefka’s wrath is a little less impressive when you realize that the worst spots of the World of Ruin would still be considered a vacation retreat for the people of any given Fallout game.


  1. " Well, mostly destroy. Nature’s dying, monsters roam everywhere, humanity’s on the edge of survival, that sort of thing. It’s a bad scene for the world and its creatures...still, Kefka’s wrath is a little less impressive when you realize that the worst spots of the World of Ruin would still be considered a vacation retreat for the people of any given Fallout game. "

    Quite the burn there my good sire, quite the burn.

  2. I think this is a good answer since the player isn't shown the aftermath of how its inhabitants feel (makes sense since they're dead) so the destruction doesn't have a lot of impact on the player.

    Some stuff from a Star Ocean 3 interview, if you're interested.There's also a Yoshi's Island 1 released yesterday but I don't know if you're interested in that.

    1. Thanks for the link! Interesting read, to be sure. I'm shocked that the same guy who imagined the dull-as-dirt, complete misinterpretations of Star Trek that are Star Ocean 1 and 2 was the guy who thought up this game's story, as well. I mean, yeah, SO3 has the same plodding, pointless magical away mission bullshit, but there's an actual, creative, honest-to-God plot this time around...guess you can never tell what talents lie hidden in someone.

    2. SO3 gets better? Color me surprised.

    3. He was behind Tales of Phantasia as well (although Namco did butcher, like, two thirds of the plot) so it might be a case of luck (there is a proverb about how a broken analogue clock is right twice a day....

    4. Miles: Yeah, you really have to stick with SO3 for a damn long time, but rather than 99% or 100% of the game being a long and bland romp around a fantasy planet in your theoretically Scifi game, only 60% of SO3 is about wasting time on a nigh completely unrelated fantasy planet. Once the story of the game actually shows up, though, it's pretty decent and creative.

      Anon: Well, see, if Namco messed up a majority of the plot, then that's hard to take as evidence either way for the guy. ToP could've been a fine RPG in theory. There's nothing too terribly wrong with its concepts (some are even interesting) and at least a couple party members had potential as characters, it's just executed in a tedious, very inept way.

  3. I think another reason Kuja is underrated as a villain is because the game itself is less powerful than the previous few games. Let me explain.

    It's possible to reach maximum HP and MP in FF6, FF7 and FF8, as well as the maximum in other stats. You can easily turn into 9999-damage-per-enemy Ultima-wielding juggernauts in FF6, 9999-damage-per-hit Knights of the Round-wielding juggernauts in FF7 and Squall-s Renzokuken is similarly capable of dealing 9999 per hit near the end of the game without any special effort on your part.

    While you're able to do the same in FF9, 9999 damage per hit, you can't multiply that by several hits per turn. FF8 was mostly random in its Renzokuken execution, sometimes letting you do more hits and sometimes letting you do less, but FF7 was insane, letting you select Omnislash for instant damage dealing gratification when it was available and Knights of the Round for a longer animation that did pretty much the same thing when Omnislash wasn't. I think that part of the reason Sephiroth has this reputation as the most powerful villain in Final Fantasy history isn't because he's powerful, but because the good guys are. He also has more HP than any enemy in FF9, including final and special bosses

  4. I'll see your Kuja and, for better or worse, raise you a Bhunivelze. (For reference: http://finalfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Bhunivelze_(character))

  5. Interesting post. I have been wondering about this issue, so thanks for posting.

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