The Origin of Guardian Forces in Final Fantasy VIII
I was looking at the performance of some of the hubs that I've written, and it seems to me that people are really interested in a certain type of article. My best performing hub, in terms of page views, is titled Christianity in the Legend of Zelda? with a similar article about Religious Symbolism in Fullmetal Alchemist not far behind. In fact, it doesn't seem to matter which series, movie, or game I review -- people respond better to the analysis-type articles. They like them more. Well, I'm down with that; so I figured I'd write up a quick one for a certain well-known video game series. Specifically, I decided to pick one game in this series, Final Fantasy VIII, and detail the origins of the various Guardian Force summons of the game.
What I didn't realize was how long the article was going to get. It actually took quite a bit of time to do the research for this, and to write it: because although I try my best to write in a tone that assures you that I know everything about everything... I don't! So hopefully you guys will appreciate the time that went into this one, and you can learn something about a great game.
The name Quezacotl comes from the name Quetzalcoatl, who was a god worshipped by the Aztecs. Most depictions of him show him as a "feathered serpent," which, accounting for a certain degree of artistic license, seems to coincide with Quezacotl's design. Interestingly, Quetzalcoatl was part of a group of gods, depicted as the "agricultural deities." Another of these gods, Tlaloc, was known as the god of rain, lightning, and thunder. It would seem that the Quzacotl of Final Fantasy VIII is an amalgamation of these two gods -- though it may in fact just be a coincidence.
Shiva is a romanization of the Sanskrit name Śiva. Depending on the tradition of Hinduism that is followed, Shiva is either the supreme god of the Hindu religion, or is one of the five "primary forms" of God (alongside Vishnu, Devi, Surya, and Ganesha.) This is all pretty complicated stuff, but a primer can be found on Wikipedia, here. Visually, Square has gone their own way with Shiva's design, abandoning most of the defining attributes of the Hindu god. Most notably, in the game, Shiva is female rather than male.
"Ifrit," as a word, stems from the Arabic term "عفرت," which means "the evil." Rather than an individual deity, it refers to a type of creature similar to the djinn or a genie. They appear in works of Middle Eastern literature such as One Thousand and One Nights, and tend to -- as their name implies -- be evil. Worth noting is that the term "Ifrit" also appears in the Quran, though when it is used, it is used only as part of a metaphorical phrase meaning "rebellious." (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica) Through dilution of the meaning of the word, "Ifrit" has become closely linked with demons. So what to take from all of this, is that Square picked an exotic sounding word, and ran with the fact that there wasn't much of a set definition for what it entailed.
Of the Guardian Forces mentioned so far, Siren has undergone the least change from her source material. Sirens are found in Greek mythology, their most notable appearance in the story of Odysseus. As the myths go, the Sirens lured many sailors to their death through the alluring sound of their beautiful music. Physically, the Sirens were a mixture of human and bird. Artwork depicts them as having the body of a vulture-like bird, but with the head of a woman. Square has chosen a more human-like take on Siren, but the inspiration is still pretty transparent: both with the wings, and the harp.
The Brothers, made up of two separate creatures: Sacred, and Minotaur. As his name implies, Minotaur is based off of... well, off of a Minotaur. For that matter, Sacred is as well -- they look pretty much the same. The Minotaur is also from Greek mythology. He was a monster with the head of a bull on the body of a man, who dwelled in the Cretan labyrinth, before he was killed by Theseus. Interestingly, Sacred and Minotaur are found in the maze-like Tomb of the Unknown King, in Final Fantasy VIII. So there was some thought put into this, for sure. As trivia, the characters on the shields held by the brothers mean "big brother" and "little brother."
Diablos is an interesting name. A lot of people are quick to associate it with the Spanish word "Diablo," meaning Devil. Well, there is that. However, the name actually comes from the English romanization of his Japanese name, which was, itself, taken from the Greek word "diabolos." It means "Accuser" or "Slanderer," according to Wikipedia. Ultimately though, it does all boil down to the same thing. As his look shows, he is based off of a depiction of the devil that is rather popular in the mind of the public.
It's hard to pin down the exact inspiration for SquareSoft's Leviathan, because he appears in such a wide variety of places, including ancient Middle Eastern myths, and the Bible. It even appears in more modern literature, from time to time. Sometimes the word refers to a whale, but other times it refers to a large seamonster. Specifically, it has at times referred to a sea serpent. This would seemingly be the depiction that Square chose to run with. The summon's attack, "tsunami" also fits this theme. Worth noting, however, is that in most appearences in religious text, Leviathan is specifically stated as not being evil or destructive, but just another of god's creatures. (Source: Psalm 104)
There's only so much you can change with a three-headed dog before it ceases to be a three-headed dog anymore. So in that regards, the Cerberus of Final Fantasy VIII matches closely with the Cerberus of Greek mythology who guarded the gates of the underworld. It is one of the most instantly recognizable mythological creatures, appearing in works such as The Iliad, The Divine Comedy, and Paradise Lost. Hercules captured the thing alive as one of his twelve labors, but aside from that, the beast was pretty damn scary to most people.
Bahamut has a mythological counterpart in Arabian mythology, but as it turns out Square took some real liberties with this one. The Bahamut of lore was not a dragon, but a really big fish. If you can imagine this: the fish has a bull on it's head, and above the bull is an angel holding up an angel. And below this fish? There's a giant abyss of fire, and a serpent monster. This is pretty crazy stuff right? Well, in One Thousand and One Nights, Isa (Jesus) actually sees this fish and faints due to shock. Square has chosen to ignore basically everything about the myth, and turn Bahamut into a dragon, because why not?
That basically concludes the list of standard guardian forces who are based off of a pre-existing work of literature, or myth. However, there are a few more guardian forces in the game, some of whom have a name with significance. For example, Pandemona probably derives its name from the same root words as Pandemonium -- the capital city of Hell, in Milton's Paradise Lost. Eden, may get its name from the Garden of Eden of the Bible. Alexander could be based off of a number of different things, but interestingly, its name means "Protector of Mankind" -- and that kind of meshes well with its holy-based attacks.
Jumbo Cactuar, Doomtrain, and Tonberry King are all -- to my understanding -- original creations of Square based off of enemies in previous games.
Lastly, Carbuncle. From what I was able to find, carbuncle is a really old name given to a certain type of red gemstone. This would make sense, given the design of the creature, with a red jewel on it's head. The word appears multiple times in the bible, as well as in such works as Hamlet by William Shakespeare. However, as far as any notable figure or creature is concerned, I found nothing.