The Final Fantasy series of games doesn’t take place in the same setting (outside of same vague hints that each radically different fantasy world in the series might possibly be different planets in the same galaxy, which hardly matters when nobody has any space ships). They maintain series continuity by having similar setting elements, like unique creatures, the prominence of magic crystals (especially early in the series), and similar (though steadily evolving) combat and exploration from one game to another.
So when I say that the Final Fantasy XII espers (powerful magical allies who can be summoned to help the party in difficult fights if you complete the sidequests required to unlock them in advance) are secretly the main villains from the previous Final Fantasy games, I’m actually advancing a theory and not just sitting down and explaining the plot of the game to people who haven’t heard of it. Hopefully anyone who is only vaguely familiar with the series is caught up now.
This theory is nothing new. Final Fantasy XII came out over a decade ago. The idea that many Final Fantasy XII espers are based on bosses from previous games is immediately obvious to anyone who’s played those previous games, and several of the others fit in fairly easily if you look closely. Someone took that close look, then plugged in the gaps with any unused bosses from the remaining games, and made this chart:
This chart is wrong. I mean, obviously. If this chart were correct I’d just be saying “hey guys, look at this cool chart.” That wouldn’t be much of a blog post. Mostly this chart is wrong because upon careful examination, there are a few espers that just don’t neatly line up with any bosses and vice-versa, and ultimately the idea that each previous game in the series was intentionally represented by an esper was probably unintentional. Rather, the FFXII dev team probably just used the side quest unlockable espers as an opportunity to make lots of references back to earlier games without bogging down the main plot with callbacks. It’s like the Gilgamesh side quest is a reference to FFV overall and also has references to III (sort of), VII, VIII, IX, X, and XII itself. That’s simultaneously overflowing with references to earlier games in the series while not being anything close to exhaustive.
The espers to bosses lineup is still close enough that you can make a pretty good fit, though, so I’m going to go boss by boss and look at what I think the chart got right, what I think fits poorly, and occasionally lament how the chart’s fit is poor but there’s not actually any better options amongst the espers in the game.
The image states that the esper Chaos is Chaos from Final Fantasy I. First of all, they have the same name, so that’s pretty strong evidence by itself, but in fairness, “Chaos” isn’t exactly a very distinctive name. Esper Chaos also looks somewhat similar to final boss Chaos. The pot and the wing-y sword-y things to the side are new, but the humanoid figure seen from the waist up looks pretty similar to Chaos from FFI. Again, being fair, “humanoid with spikes” isn’t a super distinctive form anymore than “Chaos” is a super distinctive name.
That’s far from the only evidence available, though. The lore given for the esper is that Chaos was the “tutelary deity of the sacred crystals fashioned by the gods.” Crystals feature prominently in the plots of Final Fantasies I, III, IV, V, IX, and maybe some others I’m forgetting. They’re a recurring theme in the early games especially, so that by itself is also only weak evidence that esper Chaos is boss Chaos, but the coincidences are starting to stack up and we haven’t even gotten to the strongest evidence yet. The rest of the description states “[Chaos] died and was reborn countless times, a walker of life’s wheel.” This is basically the plot of Final Fantasy I, in which Chaos is part of a time loop. Chaos creates the four fiends 800 years before the game, then enters hibernation. Every 200 years, a new fiend awakens to corrupt one of the four elemental crystals, until at the beginning of the game the lich, fiend of the earth crystal, has just awakened to complete the set. In the town of Corneria near-ish to the lich’s lair, the knight Garland is corrupted and kidnaps the local princess, then flees to the Chaos Shrine, where Chaos has been slumbering for centuries. The four Heroes of Light pursue him, kill him, and rescue the princess, but unbeknowst to them, Chaos has rigged the shrine to fling the slain Garland 800 years into the past – where he becomes Chaos and initiates the cycle again.
Some details of the Final Fantasy I plot have been left out of the esper lore, but they’re not contradicted, and those missing details could easily be part of Chaos’ countless deaths and rebirths. The connection here is so strong that it’s entirely possible that the esper Chaos is literally the main villain from Final Fantasy I. Not just a similarly named creature based on him, but actually the exact same creature relocated to another world after his rebellion against the gods failed in Final Fantasy I. It never says that the gods personally defeated Chaos, so it’s wholly possible that the protagonists of Final Fantasy I were the unknowing pawns of some greater entity. The esper Chaos is the villain Chaos from Final Fantasy I.
The image states that the esper Mateus the Corrupt is Emperor Mateus from Final Fantasy II. The lore given is that Mateus was “ruling and protecting those who live in the underworld” until “he submitted to avarice, and the darkness took his heart, transforming him until he was both evil and corrupt.” Emperor Mateus from Final Fantasy II is an evil tyrant who attempts world domination relying primarily on armies summoned from the depths of Hell. When he’s killed and sent to Hell by the party, he is reborn as a giant demon monster, takes over his would-be prison, and renews his attack from his new seat of power in Hell itself. A handful of details have been changed, but the connection between the esper Mateus and the villain Mateus, particularly considering that name, is evident. So, the esper Mateus is the villain named Mateus. Straightforward, right? Well, maybe.
Further down the chart, Adrammelech is stated to be “[e]mperor among the scions,” and “[t]hough he was made by the gods to quell the fiends that raged in the Otherworld, his immense strength and fearsome visage drew the fiends to his side[.]” Emphasis is mine, as no other esper is referred to as an emperor, and the Emperor in Final Fantasy II is only referred to as such: The Emperor, or the Emperor of Palamecia (his mortal kingdom before being sent to Hell). The name “Mateus” comes only in later adaptations. In fact, outside of the Japanese novelization of the game, Final Fantasy XII is the first time the Emperor has been referred to as Mateus – if indeed it is Mateus and not Adrammelech who is intended to be a reference to the Emperor of Palamecia. The name Mateus has been used to refer to completely different villains in the meantime. Discarding the name and going on physical resemblances, Adrammelech looks fairly similar to the Emperor’s final form, after he has become the ruler of Hell, while Mateus looks fairly similar to the Emperor’s human form. Much like with Chaos, the physical resemblance isn’t obvious in either case, but there are definitely similarities upon close examination.
So which one is the real Emperor of Palamecia? I’m going to go ahead and say that yes, as the chart says, Mateus is the Emperor of Palamecia. The reasons why come down to two things: a very specific word used and visual similarity. Mateus is said to be cast into Hell. Hell only appears in Final Fantasy II by that name. Various evil and/or punishing afterlives do appear in other games, but Hell itself is from Final Fantasy II only. The name “Hell” does not appear anywhere in any other esper’s lore. Thus, Mateus being associated with Hell links him to the Emperor of Palamecia as strongly as Adrammelech being referred to as an emperor. Similar word choice issues make me think Adrammelech is meant to be associated with another villain, but we’ll get to that later. Further, the similarity in appearance between Mateus and the Emperor’s human form is significantly greater than that between Adrammelech and the Emperor’s demon form. Mateus and human form Emperor wield similar weapons and have a similar cloak and build, while Adrammelech is significantly skinnier than the demon form Emperor (which is rather massive and brutish in appearance).
Additional lore says that “[t]hen in [Mateus’] cowardice did he bind a Goddess of the Demesne of Ice, and using her as a living shield, he challenged the gods.” This is fairly prominent in the esper Mateus’ artwork as well, in that his chestplate is the disembodied torso of a blue woman, but no such events occur in Final Fantasy II. However, in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, a boss named Mateus appears as a (blue) human woman with ice powers. The Final Fantasy XII lore could be trying to tie these two very disparate images together by claiming that Emperor Mateus had somehow possessed the totema Mateus. The plot of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is completely incompatible with that of Final Fantasy XII in that they both take place in recognizably similar settings, yet the setting in Advance is a child’s fantasy, created at the beginning of the game and obliterated at the end of it, with no chance for any intervening political drama. As such, there is no way that the totema Mateus could literally be the same creature as the esper Mateus the way the two Chaos’ could literally be the same thing, however the game does seem to be suggesting that events similar to Final Fantasy Tactics Advance took place during the war between gods and espers, during which time Mateus used a Goddess of Ice as his proxy/shield against her will, and that this happened either before or after events similar to Final Fantasy II (depending on whether you think his possession of the totema Mateus happened before he ruled Palamecia or during his reign of terror and his imprisonment in Hell at the end of II was the final, permanent imprisonment, or if he managed to get out once more to possess the totema Mateus afterwards before finally being condemned to Hell for keeps). The esper Mateus is the villain Emperor Mateus from Final Fantasy II.
Now we come to the esper Famfrit, the Darkening Cloud. Like Mateus, Famfrit was used as a totema in Tactics Advance. His title is also very similar to the name of the villain of Final Fantasy III, the Cloud of Darkness. The Cloud of Darkness is a corrupting influence on the game’s primary antagonist Xande, a powerful wizard who was given the “gift” of mortality by his master Grand Magus Noah. Xande seeks to destroy four magic crystals in the belief that this will cause time to stop and thus halt his aging, but this is a lie the Cloud of Darkness has planted in his head. In truth, destroying the crystals will unleash the Cloud of Darkness who will drown the world in a “flood of darkness” that will destroy everything. The Cloud of Darkness manifests as a woman, but it is stated to be a genderless entity that can appear however it likes. The Cloud of Darkness appears only at the very end of the game and barely even speaks, giving us almost nothing to go on as to matching it to lore.
Famfrit’s lore states that “his form was anathema even to his creators” and “he was broken and sealed within armor laced with wards.” None of this fits the Cloud of Darkness or any other Final Fantasy main villain, but just like Mateus, Famfrit has appeared as a totema in Tactics Advance. Most of the lore seems to be based on that appearance, with only the title tying it to the Cloud of Darkness (once again reinforcing the theory that this whole thing is an exercise in death of the author, and that while many espers were references to other games in the series, they were probably not meant to be a comprehensive reference to each villain in the series). There’s almost no lore for the Cloud of Darkness to hang a description on, however.
Fun fact: The Cloud of Darkness is also the final boss of the final expansion to Final Fantasy XI, Rhapsodies of Vana’diel. It appears to be exactly the same creature as appeared in Final Fantasy III. Its form is radically different, however the Cloud of Darkness has the power to take whatever form it wants, and it is summoned due to a lack of balance in the world, identically to how it is summoned (thanks to the actions of Xande) in Final Fantasy III. This expansion was released nearly a decade after Final Fantasy XII, so it’s extremely unlikely that anything to do with Rhapsodies of Vana’diel was intentionally being referenced by Famfrit. Since this is all an exercise in death of the author anyway, though, we can go ahead and make the argument that Famfrit was created, something similar to Final Fantasy III and Rhapsodies of Vana’diel happened (possibly in reverse order of real world release), and between then and the events of Final Fantasy XII the Cloud of Darkness was bound into armor, appearing as a totema in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance alongside the Emperor of Palamecia’s pawn Mateus. To go from barely justified speculation to completely unjustified speculation: It was probably bound to stop it from world-hopping around and attempting to destroy any world that fell out of balance enough for it to manifest in. What’s more solid is the esper Famfrit is the villain Cloud of Darkness from Final Fantasy III.