Final Fantasy's Oedipus Complex
A Plot Element in Final Fantasy for 20 Years
Part of the power of Final Fantasy games comes from their ability to mix-and-match mythology motifs. Like Jungian archetypes cavorting in a Neil Gaiman story, we're liable to see Arabian Bahamut rubbing shoulders with Norse Odin and Hindu Shiva in drag. You can probably name a dozen other mythological figures that pop up in Final Fantasy, too. But here's a mythological character you may not have noticed, since he's never named outright: Oedipus!
Oedipus is in Final Fantasy VII through XIII, in one form or another. Those who know old school Final Fantasy games can probably find him there as well. Pause a moment to see how many Oedipus-like examples you can remember, then browse this page to discover more. But before I give you the rundown on Oedipus in each game, let's recap the key elements of the Oedipus myth.
Oedipus Retold With Vegetables
Oedipus in a Nutshell
Once upon a time, a king and queen heard an oracle that their infant son would kill his father and marry his mother. This not suiting their royal designs, they ordered a shepherd to expose him on a mountainside.
Once upon a time, a childless king and queen received a baby given to one of their goatherds by a man on the other side of the mountain. Joyfully, they raised him as their son.
Once upon a time, a young man heard a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Horrified, he fled his home and went to the other side of the mountain, where a mean old man tried to run him down in a chariot. He killed the man in self-defense, saved the nearest kingdom from a wicked monster named the sphinx, and married the grateful, newly-widowed queen.
Years later, the truth came out, thanks to a goatherd, a shepherd, and a prophet who took his own sweet time explaining oracles. Appalled, King Oedipus blinded and exiled himself as a monster. He had tried to avoid his fate, only to blunder right into it.
2500 years later, pioneering psychologist Sigmund Freud named a psychological hangup after Oedipus. While Oedipus in the original myth was trying not to marry his mother and kill his father, Freud argued that all sons secretly crave their mother's affections and are jealous of their fathers, even fantasizing about killing them.
Personally, I think Freud needs to see a psychologist; he's got some serious hangups about sex. Nonetheless, his notion of the Oedipus Complex has stuck in popular imagination, and there is at least some truth to the idea that many sons resent their fathers and are more or less a Mama's Boy. There's quite a few of these lads in Final Fantasy games.
Final Fantasy VII
(Sephiroth and Jenova... and who knows about Hojo)
The Oedipus complex in Final Fantasy VII doesn't dwell so much on killing the father, since Sephiroth did not realize he has a father -- although Hojo certainly had no qualms about torturing his own son.
However, Sephiroth's obsession with his "mother" Jenova is most definitely Freudian-Oedipus. It has only grown worse in FFVII's sequels; the remnants in FFVII: Advent Children are completely obsessed with Mommy Dearest as well.
There is of course the added twist that Sephiroth is unaware of his true parents, just as Oedipus was.
Squall, Laguna, Matron: Final Fantasy VII
The Legion of Sulky Teenagers
Final Fantasy VIII, which I call (affectionately) the Legion of Sulky Teenagers, demonstrates a primary reason for all the Oedipus wannabes: Final Fantasy games are (or were) aimed at a teen to young adult audience, so the lead characters must be teen to young adults. The only way to have kids saving the universe without parental supervision is to make the parents dead or estranged. Or give the children amnesia.
So we have Squall, who doesn't know his real parents but takes an instant and immediate dislike to his father; we have Seifer getting seduced by Matron in a very Oedipal fashion (is she his mistress or surrogate mother figure?) and all the orphanage gang react to Matron as Mommy Dearest, even though she's trying to kill them, or they her. Kill-Daddy is replaced by Kill-Mommy, this time. Rinoa, not to be outdone, is estranged with Daddy, although at least she's only trying to assassinate his boss rather than him. (Incidentally -- have you ever noticed Rinoa's father General Caraway, above right, looks like Auron?)
Final Fantasy IX: Let's Do The Electra Complex!
Dagger and Queen Brahne
Rinoa was playing out the usual Oedipal conflict with the father, but according to Freud, the more typical pattern is for girls to be at odds with their mothers. He calls this the Electra Complex after the daughter of Agammemnon who opposes her mother Klytemnestra.
In Final Fantasy IX, we have yet another orphan who doesn't know she's adopted, with conflicting feelings of guilt over wanting to kill her mother, who tries to kill her.
Final Fantasy X: I Hate You, Dad!
Tidus, Jecht, and Poor Unnamed Mom
Final Fantasy X is the game that first made me think of the Oedipus Complex, because there's two of them.
First we have Tidus who absolutely hates his Dad. He confesses to Yuna that this undying hatred stems from childhood resentment that his mother would neglect him for Jecht whenever his father was home. Tidus wants and will kill him.
Second, we have Seymour, whose mother sacrifices herself to become his Final Aeon, but he can't bear to use her because, "I love you mother... no one else!" (as he says in a childhood flashback). So instead he chains her to him in sick bondage. Then he goes home and kills his father, who had exposed not only the son but also the mother.
Tidus comes back in Dissidia Final Fantasy to beat up on his old man again and... TIDUS, WHERE IS YOUR SHIRT, young man? Ahem. I see Dissidia 012 has fanservice for the ladies.
Final Fantasy XII: Balthier and Dr. Cid
Who would name their son Ffamran?!
Final Fantasy XII seems at first glance to have a straightforward father-son conflict.
That's probably the first time "straightforward" has ever been applied to loony Dr. Cid and his pirate son "Balthier" Bunansa.
However, there's a double twist. We do not know when Balthier's mother died, but an Occuria, Venat, seems to hold his father's affections in her stead. Balthier resents his father for not loving him, and resents Venat even more for stealing his father away. (This resentment grows all the more pronounced when Balthier realizes that Venat is not simply a figment of his father's imagination).
Figment or no, father and son battle several times. In this spin of the Oedipus motif, the son is not really trying to kill his father, only stop him; Cid forces him into the role of parricide. "Was there no other way?" Balthier says.
Final Fantasy XIII: Here We Go Again
Hope and Nora Estheim
In the early parts of Final Fantasy XIII, count me absolutely unsurprised that young Hope's driving motivation turns out to be love for his mom, estrangement from his dad, and fury against Snow (wannabe big brother/daddy) on his mother's behalf.
Hope is another Momma's Boy. "Operation NORA" has Oedipus written all over it.
Poll: Agree or Disagree? - Am I seeing things?
So there you have it. I don't think the game designers consciously had Oedipus in mind -- unless perhaps in Final Fantasy X -- but rather, it's one of these good old Jungian archetypes, repeating patterns that tend to play out in myths over and over, never quite the same way, but usually variants of a theme.
What do you think?
Do you see the Oedipus pattern (father against son, son craving mother's affections) as a recurring plot theme / motif in Final Fantasy games?
© 2011 auronlu