Final Fantasy and Philosophy: What’s In A Name? Cid, Cloud, And How Names Refer

Despite the lack of coherence across FF games, some peculiar features may arouse curiosity from a longtime fan. For instance, the name “ Cid ” appears in many of the FF games. More paradoxical is the case of Cloud Strife, who appears to be the same individual, referred to by the same name, in different FF worlds — FFVII and FF Tactics .

I am extremely skeptical of this essay’s ability to wring a genuinely interesting philosophical point out of easter eggs.

This essay begins by throwing out the idea of direct reference theory, the idea that names refer directly to specific objects or ideas in the world. This seems straightforwardly true at first, but an example (taken from Final Fantasy, natch) quickly reveals its limitations: The name of the protagonist of FFVIII is Squall, and the name of the somewhat grumpy mentor figure from Kingdom Hearts is Leon. Those who don’t pick it up immediately from character design have it confirmed pretty soon in the story that Leon is Squall. So what’s the problem? Under direct reference theory, because Leon and Squall both refer to the same person, stating “Leon is Squall” is trivial, no more informative than saying “Squall is Squall.” But that’s obviously not the case. While some people pick it up from his similar (but distinct) character design and for others it doesn’t click until dialogue makes it explicit, all players of Kingdom Hearts eventually realize that Leon is Squall, and that is new information for them. You don’t automatically know that Leon is Squall just because you know that Squall is Squall.

Bertand Russell has a better theory of names: Names are shorthand references to longer, more cumbersome descriptions. So, “Squall” is shorthand for “the gunblade-wielding protagonist of Final Fantasy VIII who was trained by Garden in a secret plot to hunt down the villainous sorceress Ultimecia and who was rivals with a fellow student named Seifer who [insert entire plot of Final Fantasy VIII here].” “Leon” is shorthand for “the gunblade-wielding mentor figure of Kingdom Hearts originally from Radiant Garden who came to Traverse Town seeking the Keyblade, who Donald and Goofy were instructed to seek out in Traverse Town and who found Sora as the Heartless were [insert every part of Kingdom Hearts’ plot involving Leon here].” Simply describing every fact we know about a specific object, being, or idea takes all day. Even describing enough facts to narrow it down – “the gunblade-wielding protagonist of Final Fantasy VIII” rules out everyone except Squall, although we cheated by using another name, “Final Fantasy VIII,” to get there – is way longer than just saying “Squall.”

So when we say “Leon is Squall,” we’re taking one set of facts about the mysterious grumpy adventuring mentor from Kingdom Hearts and adding a critical new fact, that this is the same entity as the gunblade-wielding protagonist of Final Fantasy VIII. The new fact is that every fact applied to Squall applies equally to Leon.

This stands up well when we consider the case of Cid, as well, which also fares poorly under direct reference theory. Every Final Fantasy game has a character named Cid (although I think Cid from Final Fantasy 1 may have been added in only in remakes? Certainly he is only referred to by dialogue rather than actually being present in the game), and all of them are different people with different backstories and personalities. Under direct reference theory, “Cid” must refer to some abstract idea that each of these individuals somehow inherits, which breaks down because anything that applies to every Cid (i.e. is good with machines) always applies equally to other, non-Cid characters. Under Bertrand Russell’s theory, “Cid” is a shorthand reference that refers to fifteen and counting different characters. So, it’s not a very good shorthand reference, but it usually works in context, and in any case, that is actually how discussions about Cid work.

This is where the easter egg gets brought in, and yes, it is dumb: Is Cloud in Final Fantasy Tactics the same Cloud as the one in Final Fantasy VII? Answer: No, because the Cloud from Tactics is a non-canon easter egg with purely mechanical function, whereas the Cloud from Final Fantasy VII is an actual character. Like Cid, the same shorthand label is applied to two different characters, who in this case also look the same and have similar abilities, but are distinguished by the fact that one has a personality and a backstory and the other is just a hollow reference to its original.

But objections to Bertrand Russell’s theory aren’t limited to failing to understand how easter eggs work. The essay goes on to give the example of a hypothetical version of Final Fantasy X where Braska, the summoner who (temporarily) killed world-wrecking kaiju Sin just a decade or two before the game’s beginning, didn’t actually do that. Someone else kills Sin anonymously, and Braska steals the credit. Of course, killing Sin with the Final Aeon (the method Braska allegedly used) requires dying so Braska has to figure out a way to steal the credit from the real hero despite the fact that he has to already be dead in order to make his story plausible. But it’s a hypothetical situation, so just roll with it. He ropes Auron, the surviving member of his party, into propagating the deception somehow. Whatever.

This means that one of the “facts” people use the name Braska to refer to is “the man who most recently killed Sin using the Final Aeon.” In this hypothetical example, however, Braska didn’t actually do that. But Braska did actually live and breathe and used that name long before it was associated with a lie. Upon the people of Spira being deceived into thinking Braska killed Sin, does the name “Braska” suddenly stop referring to the real man and suddenly begin referring to the hypothetical Braska who actually did the things people believe he did?

Here’s a simpler example. If Cloud Strife had brown hair, would he still be Cloud Strife? In an alternate FFVII where Cloud Strife was completely identical to the Cloud we know, but also had brown hair, is he now a different person? When we ask “what if Cloud never defeated Sephiroth” are we talking about a different person from the Cloud from Final Fantasy VII?

Side note, the example used by the essay:

What if Cloud Strife died at a young age in Nibelheim and never went on to join SOLDIER?

He didn’t. Jesus, Cloud’s not having been part of SOLDIER was a major turning point for his character and the game is over 20 years old. Just referring to Cloud as a mysterious badass is missing the point of his character arc, but describing him as having joined SOLDIER is just completely inaccurate. Like, did neither Andrew Russo and Jason Southworth actually get through the entire game, or even think to look up its plot on Wikipedia? Why not just stick with examples from games they’ve actually completed? It’s not like you couldn’t have this exact same conversation using what-if scenarios about Squall.

End side note, because despite that rant, the philosophical point brought up here is that if Cloud had died at Nibelheim as a child (not part of the Nibelheim Incident much later but just because, like, he fell off a roof while trying to impress Tifa or something) and Tifa wound up picking up a buster sword and killing Sephiroth, does this mean that “Cloud Strife” the name now refers to Tifa, because she is now a buster sword wielding protagonist of FFVII who defeated Sephiroth? Obviously not, seeing as how in order to make that sentence comprehensible I had to refer to her as Tifa.

Of course, you don’t have this problem if you just assume that “Cloud Strife” refers to a much longer description. If we use Cloud as a shorthand description for everything we know about Cloud, then Tifa can’t yoink that whole description just by picking up a buster sword and killing Sephiroth.

But is hypothetical brown-haired Cloud a different person to the blonde Cloud we got in the actual FFVII? Why not? Like, sure, if Cloud dyed his hair brown we wouldn’t say he’s a different person, but that’s because his hair color changed as a result of something that happened to him (he put dye in his hair – not an earth-shaking event or anything, but it did happen). Hypothetical brown-haired Cloud isn’t the same person as actual Cloud, and you can tell because I have to refer to them by different names in order for the sentence to make sense. Just like with Cid, “Cloud Strife” can reasonably refer to two different things, with which is which being made clear by context. When we talk about both of them at the same time, however, we need to expand their name to distinguish between them, making them clearly different entities.

But, okay, new example: Squall as a child lived in an orphanage with all of his future party members. He then became an amnesiac due to the magic system of the game and re-met his party members at Balamb Garden, the special school that trains high school kids to be mercenaries. Is child Squall a different entity from teen Squall? I had to refer to them separately just now, and a different set of facts applies to each of them. Child Squall has his memories intact, but teen Squall can use magic superpowers. And in fact, most of us think of our younger selves as separate entities. It’s not uncommon (not ubiquitous, but not uncommon either) to imagine hypothetical conversations with past versions of yourself, and the conversation goes differently depending on whether you’re talking to 5-year old you or 15-year old you – which is why we have to refer to them with separate names.

Ultimately, the only limit on when a different name has to be applied is when we need to refer to a different entity, and entities can be subdivided almost endlessly. I can’t imagine a non-contrived circumstance in which “Chamomile in his kitchen” and “Chamomile in his bedroom” would be distinct enough to be worth bothering to refer to us separately, particularly since one can become the other with about five seconds of effort, but if such a circumstance arose, we would in fact use different names to refer to one and the other. In a certain context, even the minutest of differences can qualify entities as separate from one another, even when we usually consider them the same.

1 thought on “Final Fantasy and Philosophy: What’s In A Name? Cid, Cloud, And How Names Refer”

  1. > But, okay, new example: Squall as a child lived in an orphanage with all of his future party members. He then became an amnesiac due to the magic system of the game and re-met his party members at Balamb Garden, the special school that trains high school kids to be mercenaries. Is child Squall a different entity from teen Squall?

    That is actually a separate, and much more interesting problem – the problem of continuity of self. What makes you – you? Why can you say that you are still the same person as you were yesterday, or ten years ago? If I were to put you in a teleporter that disassembles your body and assembles a perfect copy at the destination – is that still you, or are you dead and Chamomile 2 is now running around somewhere? There are lots of possible answers and problems with those answers.

    Like

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