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The Mythology of Final Fantasy - Part 3
When it comes to the Final Fantasy franchise, battles are among the staple of gameplay. Whether it's a tiny Mandragora outside the first city you start the game from, to a powerful boss that takes hours to fight, it's battles that allow for character advancement and storyline progression. Now while magic and summons are available for select classes, battles are chiefly won with weapons, from mighty two-handed swords to cleave through the most durable of monsters to guns for striking down aerial foes too far away to be hit by normal attacks.
As with many other elements of the Final Fantasy universe, Square Enix borrowed heavily from mythology and lore to come up with the names of some of their weapons. Sometimes it's just the name, while other times the weapon takes advantage of the mythology surrounding it and incorporating some traits or mystical properties associated with the weapon.
So let's take a look at some of the more memorable and recognizable weapons of the franchise, in all their varied forms and abilities, and delve into the mythology surrounding them. Are their abilities in their respective games an accurate recreation of their legendary counterparts, or are they just similar to their counterparts in name only?
The legendary Excalibur
When it comes to swords, one of the first that ever comes to mind is the blade wielded by the legendary King Arthur, Excalibur. Known in the Welsh legend as Caledfwlch, with various translations such as Caliburn and Caladbolg, was said to be able to cleave through iron and steel as easily as it could wood, and was said to generate a blinding light whenever it was drawn from its scabbard.
Its scabbard itself held magical properties as well, as it was suggested that it granted an enchantment that would prevent any serious wounds inflicted in battle from killing the wearer. Other versions of the myth held that wounds inflicted in battle would not bleed, though the end result was still the same.
There are two different swords that are most commonly associated with Arthur and, depending on which version of the Arthurian legend one reads, either one has been known to be the mythical Excalibur. The first sword was a very ornate weapon of silver and jewels embedded firmly in a stone as a test for the true heir of Uther Pendragon, as a spell had been cast upon it so that only the rightful successor to the throne would be able to draw it free. The second, and the one more commonly believed to be Excalibur, was a gift given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake after he had assumed the throne. Myths that adhere to the first sword being Excalibur often exclude any mention of his visit to the Lady of the Lake, so as to ignore the existence of the second sword entirely.
In the Final Fantasy series, the Excalibur is often one of the most powerful swords available to players in the game, if not the most powerful. First appearing in the original Final Fantasy as the most powerful weapon of the Knight class, it has appeared, in one form or another, in every single Final Fantasy title.
In Final Fantasy IV, V, VI, IX, and XII, the Excalibur possesses a Holy element effect, which makes it extremely powerful against monsters weak to the Holy element, such as skeletons and other undead monsters. This affinity with Holy is based on the divinity of King Arthur, as his assuming the crown was seen as an ordainment by God, as well as his crusades to search for the Holy Grail, a cup commonly associated with the crucifixion of Christ.
The re-occurring character Gilgamesh, who has appeared as everything from a major villain and boss character to a summon, is often depicted as a weapons collector, toting various swords and other weapons that he'll use in battle. Alongside the Excalibur, which deals considerable damage whenever he utilizes it, Gilgamesh also owns the Excalipoor, a sword similar in design to the Excalibur but, as the name suggests, is a poor imitation, often dealing just a single hit point of damage whenever it is used. Unfortunately for Gilgamesh, he is often unable to tell which weapon is which until attempting to use it, often resulting in a feeling of crushing defeat for using such an inferior sword.
And Now For Something...A Little Eastern
Speaking of Gilgamesh, another of his re-occurring weapons, and a weapon that has appeared in one form or another throughout most all of the Final Fantasy franchise, is the Masamune. Commonly associated with the Samurai and Ninja classes, the Masamune is often depicted as an extremely powerful katana, allowing for higher critical hit rates, attack speeds, and combo rates far higher than other weapons of the same class.
Arguably the most famous version of the sword to appear in the franchise is that wielded by the primary antagonist of Final Fantasy VII, the swordsman Sephiroth. With a length of up to 8 feet, his Masamune, a large, nodachi-like blade, is said to be so cumbersome that only his strength and skill was enough to allow it to be handled.
Unlike Excalibur, the Masamune doesn't take its name from any one mythological sword, but instead derives its name from Gorō Nyūdō Masamune, a swordsmith of the thirteenth and fourteenth century that is said to be the best in Japan's history. Though very little is truly known about Masamune, his skill in sword making has led his abilities to be exaggerated over the years, to where weapons fashioned by him are considered holy blades that were sought after by generals and lords alike.
Masamune and his swords were often compared to another famous Japanese swordsmith, Muramasa Sengo, and several legends involving the two have been passed down over the years attributing the two to be contemporaries or Muramasa being his student, though in actuality the two lived roughly two hundred years apart. In contrast to Masamune's blades, the Muramasa blades were seen as evil, demonic blades that had to draw blood every time they were unsheathed, even if it meant the owner committing suicide in order to quench its bloodthirst.
One of the popular legends involved the two comparing the craftsmanship of their swords by dipping them both into a stream with the blade facing against the current. Muramasa's blade indiscriminately cut through any obstacle that came across it, whereas the same obstacles passed around the blade of Masamune's sword undamaged. A passing monk, having seen the test of the two swords, commended the craftsmanship of Muramasa's blade, but felt that it was an evil blade because it didn't care what it sliced through. He in turn spoke favorably of Masamune's blade, proclaiming that it was a peaceful one, not wanting to inflict damage on innocent
In this way, the Masamune that appears in the Final Fantasy games does at least in part resemble the swords that inspire their name, at least in terms of their quality. In the majority of the Final Fantasy titles, the Masamune was the strongest and most powerful katana-type weapon, sometimes the strongest weapon period, and was often the ultimate weapon of any Samurai or Ninja class characters.
The Spear That Always Hits Its Mark!
For those that are of the Dragoon persuasion, swords and katanas just aren't as appealing as a good lance. For a good lancer or Dragoon, no other weapon quite suits them in the heat of battle, and one of the strongest they'll often bring with them is the Gungnir. First appearing in Final Fantasy IV, though remakes of Final Fantasy II and III would include the weapon as well, the Gungnir has always been one of the staples of the franchise for Dragoons, Dragon Knights, or characters that fill that general role in the game. While their stats vary generally from incarnation to incarnation, the Gungnir is still very often seen as one of the most powerful spear-type weapons available.
In Final Fantasy VII and IX, rather than being a weapon that was available to players, Gungnir, translated incorrectly in FFVII as Gunge Lance, is a non-elemental attack utilized by the summon Odin. This attack is utilized in situations where the enemy, oftentimes a boss, is immune to attacks that will inflict instant death.
In Norse mythology, the Gungnir was the spear of the chief god Odin, forged by the Sons of Ivaldi, a group of dwarves supervised by Dvalinn, a master dwarvish blacksmith. The Gungnir was created for Odin at the request of Loki, the god of mischief, as reparations for an earlier incident where he cut off the fabled golden hair of the goddess Sif. The Sons of Ivaldi forged Gungnir so perfectly and balanced it so well that, when thrown, it would always hit its mark.
The unique properties of the Gungnir, namely the perfect accuracy of the weapon, is only reflected in a few of the incarnations of the weapon that appear in the Final Fantasy franchise. Only in Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy XI do the weapons have any form of increased levels of accuracy, and even in these circumstances the weapons do not boast levels of accuracy near that of their namesake.
It is often fascinating to see what similarities and differences that exists with elements of the Final Fantasy franchise and their mythological counterparts. When comparing these weapons with their namesakes, it's interesting to see what liberties that was taken with their capabilities, and what elements were retained to remain faithful. Square Enix could have taken just their names and not bothered to incorporate any real parts of their abilities into the designs of the weapons, but they instead often would pay homage to their mythical counterparts, and I find that far more enjoyable and engaging.