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The Mythology of Final Fantasy - Part 2
The mythological roots of most everything to appear in the Final Fantasy series of role-playing games are extremely varied, and it would be difficult to be able to catalogue them all. I barely scratched the surface with my previous entry, as the fine folks of Square Enix turned to mythology for most everything when it came to the names and inspiration for their franchise, ranging from weapons and armor to major monsters to do battle with.
Let's take another look at the mythos behind most famous RPG franchise.
Odin and Titan and Ramuh! Oh my!
In my first look at Final Fantasy's summons, I addressed three of the most famous and popular of these powerful entities, but this was a fraction of all the creatures throughout the game's franchise able to be called into battle to aid you.
Often one of the best to use when dealing with several fodder enemies, the summon Odin, also called the Dark Rider, made his first appearance in the original Final Fantasy III. He is often depicted as an armored knight riding atop his horse, Sleipnir, and strikes down all enemies on the screen with his sword, the Zantetsuken. For those immune to instant death, he'll sometimes employ his other attack, the Gungnir, to deal a powerful magic attack.
In Norse mythology, Odin was the chief god of the pantheon known as the Æsir, and governed everything from war to magic. Often depicted as an old man with a single eye, after sacrificing the other to acquire the wisdom of the ages, he had unparalleled knowledge of runes and possessed the ability to shapeshift into any form he saw fit. Like his game counterpart, he often rode into battle upon Sleipnir, an eight-legged horse bore from the god Loki, and wielded the magical lance Gungnir. This lance, carved with mythic runes, was forged by the dwarven blacksmith Dvalin and the Sons of Ivaldi, was so perfectly balanced that it could always strike its target when thrown.
Odin would lead his warriors, the Einherjar, to face the forces of darkness during Ragnarok, the end of the world myth of the Norse. There, he would face the great wolf and son of Loki, Fenrisulfr, who quickly took to the god and swallowed him whole.
The Odin of Norse mythology, however, was not associated with any kind of sword. The Zantetsuken, which means "Iron-cutting sword" in Japanese, is a device created solely for the Final Fantasy summon.
When it comes to dealing Earth damage, nothing can compare to the summon known as Titan. First appearing in the first Final Fantasy as a non-playable character that blocks a passage until fed a gem, Titan's first outing as a summon was in the original Final Fantasy III, and maintained a consistent appearance throughout most subsequent entries; a massive yellow-ish brown skinned giant with white hair and a loincloth. Its primary attack, though with varying names such as Gaia's Wrath or Earthen Fury, is a powerful Earth-based magic attack that damages all creatures on screen, though sometimes flying monsters or ones with the ability Float are immune to it.
In Greek mythology, the Titans are a race of gods preceding the reign of Zeus and the Olympians. There were twelve of the first generation: Cronus, Oceanus, Hyperion, Iapetus, Crius, Coeus, Rhea, Tethys, Themis, Phoebe, Theia, and Mnemosyne, and thirteen of the second. The first generation was born from the god of the sky, Uranus, and the goddess of the earth, Gaia, and quickly overthrew their father's reign. Zeus and the Olympians, along with the cyclopes and Hecatonchires, fellow children of Uranus and Gaia, eventually overthrew them after a ten-year battle known as the Titanomachy.
Though no single Titan is directly associated with Earth or rocks, the connection between the Titan of Final Fantasy and its mythological namesake stems from the Titans' mother, Gaia, being an Earth goddess. This connection is also reflected in the name of Titan's attack "Gaia's Wrath", since it is often large boulders pulled from the Earth that the summon utilizes for its attack.
With only a handful of exceptions, when it comes to introducing the enemy to the power of lightning, the heroes of Final Fantasy turn to the lord of the storms, Ramuh, for help. He is almost always depicted as an elderly robed man with a long mustache and beard, and he calls forth his powers with a large, ornate staff. His signature ability, Judgment Bolt, would shower bolts of lightning down upon every enemy on screen.
Unlike most of his counterparts, Ramuh actively plays a part in one of the Final Fantasy games he appears in. In Final Fantasy VI, Ramuh calls Terra Bradford, herself being half summon due to her father Maduin, in order to help calm her uncontrollable powers. Before sacrificing his physical form to allow the main party to acquire his magicite, the item capable of summoning an esper in VI, he informs them of the history of the War of the Magi, a pivotal event of the game.
Unlike Odin and Titan, the connection between Ramuh and his namesake is just that, the name. Though it's not certain exactly what myth the name is derived from, it is commonly accepted that Ramuh's name is derived from Rama, the seventh avatar of the god Vishnu in Hindu mythology. A prince of the kingdom of Kosala, he battled against the forces of Ravana, the ten-headed Rakshasa monarch of the land of Lanka after Ravana kidnapped his wife, Sita. Rama waged war against the evil tyrant for year, until he was able to overcome Ravana's forces to face off against him in a one-on-one battle. The two fought until the prince was able to cleave off the central head the demon, but another head, embodying all the evil within Ravana, grew in its place. Rama continued to cleave off the head, but no matter what he did, another head grew on its place.
Rama, having discovered that Ravana held within its stomach a vial of Amrita, a nectar that gave immortality to whoever drank it, offered praise to the god of the sun, Aditya, and then drew his bow. He then formed the arrow Brahmastra, the single most powerful weapon in existence, and fired it into Ravana's stomach. The intense power of the Brahmastra incinerated the vial of Amrita, which prevented him from forming new heads and killed him.
The Children of Typhon and Echidna!
In Greek mythology, two children of the Earth goddess Gaia, the Titan Typhon and the half woman, half snake Echidna, were the parents of a number of the most dangerous, most powerful monsters to exist. It's no wonder then that these monsters would make appearances in the Final Fantasy franchise.
First appearing in the original Final Fantasy and appearing in most every entry of the series after, the Chimera is often shown as a creature combining parts of a lion, a goat, a dragon, and a snake, though outside of these combinations, the actual design has varied significantly over the years. Though it sometimes would be based on multiple magical elements, with each animal making up the Chimera based on a different element, it is usually based on the element of fire.
The mythological Chimera as a female monster that lived in the lands of Lycia and was defeated by the hero Bellerophon at the command of Lycia's king, Iobates. Bellerophon, riding on the winged horse Pegasus, took a spear with a lump of lead on the tip and drove it into the monster's mouth. The flames within her belly melted the lead in her throat and suffocated her.
The Chimera's brother, the monstrous Lernaean Hydra was a giant multi-headed serpent-like creature that was raised by the goddess Hera in order to kill her enemy, the demigod Heracles. As the second labor under the king Eurystheus, Heracles and his nephew Iolaus were sent to battle the Hydra, and the two took to cutting off the monster's heads, though they quickly learned that when they removed one of its heads, two more grew in its place.
Iolaus then came up with the idea of taking a torch and cauterizing the stumps after a head is cleaved off to prevent them from re-growing, and the two managed to remove all its heads. However, its ninth and center head was immortal, and Heracles buried it underneath a giant boulder along the sacred pathway between Lerna and Elaius. He then took his arrows and dipped the tips into the Hydra's blood, making them so poisonous that even a scratch from them would cause unbearable pain.
Not as common as the Chimera, the Hydra has appeared in a number of Final Fantasy titles and its appearance, short of the original Final Fantasy III, closely resembles its mythical counterpart. In addition, in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game Final Fantasy XI, the Hydra's heads are capable of being severed and regenerating, and its most powerful attack, Nerve Gas, inflicts an extremely potent poison effect to everyone in range, harkening to the blood of its namesake.
Perhaps the most famous of the siblings and the most recognizable of all Greek monsters is the three-headed dog Cerberus, a giant hound that guarded the gates of Hades to prevent anyone that has ever crossed the river Styx from escaping. Its heads were sometimes said to have the power of seeing into the past, present, and future, and its appetite was solely for that of live meat.
Heracles' twelfth and final labor under King Eurystheus was to bring the hellhound from Hades to his palace. The hero, aided by the gods Hermes and Athena, traveled into the underworld from the entrance in Taenarum and made his way to the god Hades, asking if he could borrow Cerberus so as to complete his task. The god agreed, on condition that Heracles could use no weapons to overwhelm the great dog and that he'd release him after his labor was finished. After a long struggle, Heracles was able to sling the hellhound over his shoulder and bring him back to Eurystheus, who quickly lept into a large jar in a panic after seeing Cerberus.
In line with his mythological roots, Cerberus, making his first appearance in the original Final Fantasy, is almost always depicted as a large, three-headed dog. The notable exception is Final Fantasy XII, where it is a special version of the Hyena family of fiends. In Final Fantasy VIII, after the heroes defeat it, it becomes available as a summon capable of casting the effects of Double and Triple on the entire party with its special ability, Counter Rockets.
The Final Fantasy universe is a rich and diverse look at the various mythologies of the world. As a fan of the series and a mythology enthusiast, I enjoy that it's a way of introducing this sort of history to new people. They see this new creature that's bizarre and amazing looking, and they might feel compelled to do more research on its origins, in turn opening up a new, interesting world that they may have never known about.