Part 126: A Comment on Fan Theories (Spoilers for the Whole Game Inside)Bonus Update: Is Rinoa Ultimecia?
Now that the story itself is done and dusted, I want to take some time out to talk about what might be the biggest Final Fantasy VIII fan theory. The short form is that Ultimecia is a version of Rinoa from the future, who has become evil. What this is meant to do is to give Ultimecia a stronger connection to the party, and to Squall in particular. My short response to the question in the title, though, is "no."
For the long version, let's start here. In this conversation about Ultimecia, we get two things right off the jump: she's possessed Edea, and she comes from the future. The first one is important, but for something else. The second one is probably the biggest logical issue with Rinoa being Ultimecia: at some point, you'd expect her to die. There's some ambiguity in "many generations" and you could potentially argue that Ultimecia is just Old Rinoa, but the problem with any question of "how did Rinoa live until the future?" is that there's no strong evidence in the game.
This is the line I find gives the strongest support for Rinoa being long-lived, but again: it's not very strong. I mentioned it in the update, but there's a bit of ambiguity in the phrase "die in peace." The argument in support of the "R=U" theory is that "die in peace" just means "die." On the other hand, it's mentioned here:
That Adel attacked Wihill/Galbadia looking for a successor. Again, at no point does the game go into detail on sorceress lifespans or mortality, but if she's looking for a successor, then that means Adel expects her reign to end at some point. Metatextually speaking, a ruler looking for their successor is shorthand for a ruler preparing to die; it's very rare for a ruler like this to be planning to abdicate. That's especially true for a dictator like Adel, and to my mind it's especially true for a dictator who's eventually taken down like this:
Adel is defeated because of her hubris. She walks into Laguna's trap knowing it's a trap, and then he just shoves her over. We don't get a lot of information on Adel, she doesn't do a lot of talking in the game, so again, there's a lot of interpretation. My interpretation of it is that Adel is the kind of person who is sure that she won't be defeated in a fight and who always thinks she's the smartest one in the room. At the same time, though, she's also a person that knows she will someday die. So, what does "die in peace" mean? Well, it must be related to how sorceresses pass their powers on - generally in death, though Edea passes her powers on after "just" a severe beating. Whatever it means specifically, it doesn't seem to mean that a sorceress can live forever by not passing her powers on.
Even Ultimecia's own death wouldn't make sense if it were true that she could just keep on living by not passing her powers on. When she shows up in front of Squall here, she's still ready for another round - Ultimecia is simply not the type of person to accept defeat. At the end of the day, all the sorceresses we see pass their powers on involuntarily, and Adel was already looking for a successor during the Sorceress War. To be honest, this is enough for me to mark this theory down as false. There's just no strong evidence for Rinoa living longer than usual, so you end up at either "many generations" meaning "about two generations" or you end up at an even more speculative explanation, like Rinoa having unusual sorceress powers or using magic to go to the future.
The problem with this theory is, at the bottom, that it's not strongly supported by the text; Rinoa living long enough to become Ultimecia is the weakest link here. But, since I like to have fun, so let's look at some of the other things people talk about with this theory.
When the R=U theory is accepted, people talk about this line as foreshadowing. Stuff like this is meant to explain Ultimecia's "motives." There are, though, a lot of options here - see, the theory doesn't really ascribe any motivation to Rinoa. This line can be seen as Rinoa saying she wants to be with Squall, but something eventually comes up and they can't be together. So the theorist extrapolates from that idea to this line - Rinoa says she wants to freeze the moment, which is... kind of like time compression, if you squint.
Here's the rub, though: this line already has thematic importance, and it's already in direct response to something in the game. Rinoa is afraid of the uncertain future, just like Squall is. She talks about it with him in FH:
This character moment connects Rinoa to Squall, who expresses the same fear, but ends up pushing people away because of it. He traps himself in a nasty cycle because of it, which is a major flaw of his at the beginning of the game. He pushes Quistis away from the same reason, but when he tries to do it to Rinoa in FH, she pushes back, which is part of them getting closer to each other.
Now, jumping back to the Ragnarok:
This is what leads to Rinoa saying she wishes time would just stop. She knows she's a sorceress, she knows what Esthar did to Adel, and she's just committed a major crime. In the game, Rinoa is explicitly scared that if they land, she'll be killed. So, this line doesn't even need to foreshadow anything. This is my second big problem with the R=U theory: it doesn't actually explain anything. Saying Rinoa and Ultimecia are the same person gives the impression of a connection, but it doesn't add anything to either character.
Let's accept, for a moment, that Ultimecia is Old Rinoa. At some point between this line and the end of the game, she decides that she wants to compress time, which involves killing Squall and the rest of SeeD. The question remains, though, what happened? And this is one the theory can't respond to.
The best response is tied into this sentiment, that Rinoa-as-Ultimecia still has this in her mind, and so ends up fighting SeeD/Squall. But... it's inconsistent with Ultimecia's character. Ultimecia isn't trying to get killed by Squall as some sort of romantic thing, she's just trying to kill Squall. There's a fundamental absurdity to Ultimecia fighting Squall that is, again, connected to one of Squall's personal flaws:
Squall ends up fighting Ultimecia because he's a SeeD, not because it's the right thing to do or even because he wants to do the right thing. Ultimecia talks about the persecution of sorceresses, and SeeD is a part of that persecution. In this way, Squall plays a role in creating Ultimecia in the first place. Rinoa plays a similar role herself, being the sorceress in the present and eventually passing her powers on to Ultimecia.
If Ultimecia exists like this, the future product of SeeD and of persecution, then she represents both Squall's enemy as a SeeD and the potential for some unspecified bad thing to happen in the future. This is also clear when Ultimecia possesses Edea or Rinoa - she changes the people that Squall loves, giving a sort of literal edge to his fear that people will be taken away from him. Ultimecia lacks a personal connection to Squall (for the record, she also never addresses him by name) but they're connected by "duty" and Ultimecia makes sense with relation to the characters and the themes of the story.
In the end, "Rinoa is Ultimecia" is a theory that substitutes a superficial connection - Rinoa and Ultimecia are both sorceresses, so what if they were the same person? - for what's actually in the story. It attempts to restore a supposedly missing link, but it doesn't actually connect anything together. This is a game that is often less overt about things than it should be, and I understand that some people don't like that. But, this theory just doesn't have the chops to deal with any of that. You end up with questions that don't have good answers: how did Rinoa get to the future? "Somehow." Why does she want to compress time? "For some reason." Why does she try to kill Squall? "She's evil now." It's a beginning and an end, but no middle, just a lot of baseless speculation.
Rinoa is Rinoa, and Ultimecia is Ultimecia.