You think that Sephiroth is cool, that Kefka is vicious? Well, Marty explains why they’ve got nothing on Final Fantasy IX’s Kuja.
Conflict is needed to drive a story- it helps give meaning to struggle, provides development for characters and often precedes resolution, or at the very least conflict can provide a sense of closure. An antagonist in storytelling is the source of conflict and, as such, is one of the most important elements of a story. Final Fantasy always has a villain, even if they show up unexplained 5 minutes before the credits roll. When looking back at the series, it is hard to not define the games by their source of conflict. Would Final Fantasy VI be as revered as it is now, were it not for Kefka’s maniacal laugh? Would Final Fantasy VII be considered one of the greats (according to the vocal majority), if it wasn’t for Sephiroth’s mommy issues? A villain with clear motives (for Final Fantasy) and the power to execute those motives will always make a lasting impression. It is hard to forget Kefka, his deranged chaotic behavior and desire to become a god make him unparalleled in Final Fantasy. Sephiroth is one of the most badass looking villains, where you really get a strong sense of his power when he unleashes revenge and carnage on a devastating spectrum. People can agree that these two are some of the most powerful, successful and diabolical nemeses to appear in the series, but I would like to offer a different opinion. It is my belief that there is very little empathy to be found in viewing Kefka, and that is his downfall, the same goes for Sephiroth, I do not feel sympathetic to his story and therefore cannot connect with him so his motives do not carry as much weight. It is my belief that Kuja does everything Kefka and Sephiroth can do, while still retaining a very human element (despite being a genome).
*SPOILERS for Final Fantasy IX below*
Kuja is an artificial life created by Garland to cause havoc and send souls from Gaia to Terra. Being Garland’s angel of death grew tiresome for Kuja and so he devised to find power that could challenge and destroy his creator, thus giving him autonomy over his own destiny (while making him the strongest being in the universe at the same time). Kuja learns that Garland created him with an expiration date in mind, which would be coming soon, and that Zidane would be his replacement. Unable to deal with his newfound mortality he unleashes wrath on the planet Terra, leaving it decimated and seeks to destroy the Crystal that brought life into this world, thus ending all life.
What drives Kuja in the end is fear, fear of death to be more precise, a feeling that everyone knows well. He finally achieved everything that he wanted, only to have it taken away by thoughts of his impending death. Death comes for everyone, and the things you strive for don’t matter much when the real angel of death comes for you. The fear of death is something everyone can experience, and Kuja’s fear is what caused Necron (the final boss) to appear. Necron was an embodiment of all the things Kuja could not deal with, he was born from fear and would eliminate all existence.
At the heart of everything, Kuja is an outsider. He has no confidants, no one to help him pursue his goals and the only person who shared a similar purpose ended up being his antithesis. Zidane may have been created for a similar reason, but his life turned out completely differently. He had friends who treated him like family, and many people to rely on. Kuja doesn’t even fit in when it comes to clothing or in his appearance. Final Fantasy likes to tip-toe the line of androgyny at times, but Kuja remains one of the most androgynous characters the series has ever seen. When I think of Kuja, I see a person who isn’t quite developed, yet part of his machinations were to overthrow Garland (who could be considered his father figure), making Kuja as a rebellious young adult who never had a place in (either) world. With no place to fit in and no one for him to care about, it is only natural he would not understand the value of life.
Kuja is one of the more underrated antagonists in Final Fantasy history, perhaps it was his flamboyant design that makes people overlook him, or the fact that he is driven by complex emotions rather than vengeance. Kuja is a very successful villain, not only because he accomplished all of his goals, but because his character is a bit deeper than one would think at first glance. People often overlook his power when discussing villains, but Kuja managed to decimate a planet and nearly eradicate of all life in the universe. In the future I hope we get to see more villains that are driven by emotions like fear or fighting for their own autonomy rather than being driven by the desire to be a god or see another watered down Kefka clone (sorry Ardyn!).