This theory has really been around since Final Fantasy VIII got into good circulation. It has been discussed over many message boards and a few websites. It often results in a flame war, as "Final Fantasy" fans don't really care for tragic endings. Really, Squaresoft doesn't either as they aim their RPGs at a general audience.
That said, I believe the ending to FFVIII is open to interpretation. Personally, I don't think it was ever the writers' intentions to have Rinoa become Ultimecia. Again, this IS Square. However, the chips have fallen as such that this possibility is left open, and I believe it is up to the gamer to decide what to believe in this instance. In fact, if you include VIII with the information provided below, and look at the series since "Final Fantasy VII", all the endings have had major elements that were subject to interpretation. In FFVII, what was the fate of the world? In FFVIII, did Rinoa become Ultimecia? In FFIX, what became of Kuja? In X, what happened to Tidus?
The time loop created in the game provides a window for this theory to take place. In itself, the Rinoa/Ultimecia theory has some strong points. I like the theory, and I think it makes a good ending even better. Some of the following points are a collection of those made by people supporting the argument. Some of them were overlooked and are entirely original on my part. It may seem convoluted, but in a nutshell, it really is a simple theory.
So, without further adieu, I will tell you why I think Rinoa became Ultimecia:
There are really three areas where I think this theory expresses itself in the game. Motive, foreshadowing, and symbolism.
First, let's talk motive.
Why would Rinoa become Ultimecia? Rinoa is a kind, gentle person where cherishes love, friendship, and freedom. Ultimecia is an evil, vindictive sorceress who desires to live alone and is full of hatred.
Edea: Ultimecia is a very fearful sorceress. Her heart is filled
with anger and hate.
What do they have in common, if anything at all?
Those familiar with Star Wars know that the Anakin represent in "The Phantom Menace" is a far cry from the evil Darth Vader we discover in "A New Hope". How did this happen? In fiction, circumstances can cause characters to undergo dramatic transformations. What is perceived as strengths can turn into weakness. And those weaknesses can turn the character into an opposite of what they are. This is also covered in the symbolism, but I will get to that later.
There could be one main reason why Rinoa became Ultimecia. The heart of all this reasons would be that circumstances happen to Rinoa to cause her transformation.
Something could've happened to Squall. Rinoa is obviously attached to Squall, and judging by some her conversations, afraid of losing him. She's afraid of finding herself alone. Her entry into Selphie's Garden diary will tell you that much. Really one of the main themes of the game is the fear of being alone and what would happen. A loss of Squall could cause a transformation in the once good Sorceress.
Rinoa: No, of course not. But now... Squall, you're the one who gives me
the most comfort. Comfort and happiness... And annoyance and
It is stated the those sorceresses who often turn to evil don't have a Sorceress Knight by their side. Squall is Rinoa's Sorceress Knight. If Rinoa were to lose that knight, a knight she was particularly attached to and loved, would the ramifications be even more for her? Would this despair cause a change in her?
Say the game turns out as depicted in the ending. Rinoa and Squall are about to live "happily ever after", but Squall remains a SeeD to help the world. After all, there will still be Sorceresses, and the SeeD legacy needs to carried on (as said by Cid at Edea's house) and later reiterated by Squall.
Squall: ...Future SeeDs... We're fighting across generations.
Let's say that Squall is killed in a SeeD mission. Thus Rinoa loses her Knight and the one she loves. Her despair over this loss turns her to evil. Since some Sorceresses have abnormally prolonged lives, her path takes her into the future, living in anger as a hateful sorceress over her loss. Once being afraid of being alone, she now relishes her loneliness. She maintains a hatred for SeeD because the one she loved was a SeeD and killed on a SeeD mission. It's also possible that a good part remaining in her wanted to bring Squall to her time to see him. Such a motive might explain Ultimecia's final words:
"Time... It will not wait...
No matter... how hard you hold on
"It escapes you..."
Time would not wait for Rinoa. Aboard the Ragnarok, she says this....
Rinoa: I just want the present to stand still.
It would pass by, and Squall would die. While the words may be relevant, the motive just listed may not be. It could be Rinoa had forgotten, but not completely, about Squall and the others thanks to the GF junctioning. Memory loss is discovered to be a side effect of GF Junctioning.
In an alternate reality, created thanks to the time loop, Squall could've died during the ending. Again, this would've left Rinoa in despair. A quick scene in the ending FMV might support this:
Or, remember that Rinoa and Squall promise to meet in the field by Edea's house. Perhaps, in an alternate reality, Rinoa shows, but Squall never does. In her despair there, Rinoa becomes Ultimecia, thus explaining why Ultimecia's castle is there.
Rinoa: Yeah. Can I tell you a story? I had a dream. It was a scary
dream. We make a promise. WE promise to see shooting stars together. I
get dressed up and put on your ring. But the thing is, I can't remember
where I'm supposed to meet you. I started to panic. I really want to
see you, Squall, but I don't know where to go. I start running through
the mountains, the desert, the plains... Through Timber, Balamb, and
Galbadia... When I realized I can't run any longer... I...I just want to see
you so badly... So I scream, Squall, where are you!? Then I woke up. I
was crying. I'm sorry. You don't have to say anything. I just felt like
I had to tell you.
Squall: It was just a dream... It doesn't mean anything. Don't worry
Rinoa: ...I guess you're right.
Squall: How about this... I'll be here...
Squall: The reason why you couldn't find me was because we haven't
Squall: I'll be waiting for you. If you come here, you'll find me. I
Rinoa: I'll be here, too. It's a promise! Thanks, Squall! Next time,
we'll meet for sure!
And why did Ultimecia choose Seifer? How would she know about him? Remember, Seifer and Rinoa were an "item" at one point. They knew each other well. Its possible that, as Ultimecia, Rinoa remembered Seifer's dreams and decided to use him. They symbolism is certainly there. Squall and Seifer, both Sorceress Knights, both with scars.
Some would say that if you killed Ultimecia, Rinoa would die too. But that's not true. Adel was killed in the present, but she still remained in the past. Ultimecia would be the future version of Rinoa, but it wouldn't directly affect Rinoa in the present.
One more thing: before Rinoa and the others ever discovered that the matron had become the Sorceress, Rinoa expressed a reluctance to fight her (and again the fear of loss):
Rinoa: Um... Do we...have to fight? Isn't there another way? Y'know, to
avoid any bloodshed?
Zell: Yo...!? What the...!? What are you sayin' all of a sudden!?
Rinoa: Maybe someone really smart can come up with a way, so we
wouldn't have to fight anymore...
Squall: (What are you getting at...?) (If someone can come up with
something, that'd be great...) (But no one's doing anything... They're all
scared, uneasy. All they do is complain. They just pretend to be
thinking.) (They criticize others, but in the end, they can't do
anything, either.) (Rinoa, why all this, all of a sudden? What do you
expect from me?) (I grew up in Garden. I'm a SeeD. Do you understand?)
Rinoa: Squall? You have to voice your feelings, or else I wouldn't
Squall: You were...part of a resistance movement in Timber, right? Unlike
others who were all talk, you took to your weapons and fought... And now
you're saying all this? What happened to you?
Rinoa: I guess...I'm getting scared. Sometimes...when I'm with all of you...
I...feel like we're on the same wavelength......you know? But when the battle
start happening, it's different. Everyone's tempo seems to pick up and...
...I get left behind. I try to catch up, but it's no use... How far is
everyone going? I can't hear anyone... Once I catch up, I wonder... Is
everyone safe? Will they welcome me with open arms? ......Is everyone ok?
Will we all make it back together? When I start thinking like that...
Rinoa was no pacifist. She was a Timber Owl. Her motivation for not fighting was the fear of losing others. Oddly enough, Rinoa is the only one of the main characters not to grow up in the orphanage. She's not even a SeeD. Making her like an outsider.
We just read the dialogue above. Now, what about other possible foreshadowing?
In the dialogue, there seems to be an awful lot of text that can be construed as foreshadowing if you consider this theory. Rather than doing a lot of talking about it, let's try to let some of the dialogue speak for itself...
Rinoa: You'll be fine. Come on. I'm looking for someone. I can't be on
the dance floor alone.
Rinoa: I couldn't...I just couldn't. I couldn't fight alone...
Would Squall be faced with a similar choice that Cid was faced with, without realizing it? Who knows. But, if so, this line is kinda ironic...
Squall: But isn't she the headmaster's wife? He wants us to
kill his wife?) (What does it feel like to give an order like that?)
This relates to what I was speaking of before about Rinoa losing everything...
Squall: (Am I that untrusting...? Maybe I'm this way because I'm scared.)
(Nothing lasts in this world.) (It feels great to have friends who
believe in you, and adults you can rely on.) (That's why it's so
dangerous, especially if you become used to it.) (Someday you're bound
to loose everything. Everybody around you will be gone.) (Then what are
you left with? Nothing. Nobody... It's so miserable.) (And it's
inevitable. It's so hard to recover from something like that.) (I never
ever want to deal with that again. I can't even if it means being
If Squall were to face Rinoa as Ultimecia, it would come down to circumstances...
Squall: Friend or foe... It all comes down to circumstance. That's how we
were raised. It's...nothing special. (Nothing special... Is that true?
Then... What is this I'm feeling?) Let's go.
Rinoa: But Edea's still... I can't guarantee anything, either, if
Ultimecia possesses me again... You saw me. She controlled me in outer
space and made me break Adel's seal. What might happen next time? What
will I end up doing? Will I end up fighting everyone? ...Scary thought,
Squall: (Rinoa......) (Even if you end up as the world's enemy.) (I'll...)
(I'll be your knight.)
Rinoa: If I fall under Ultimecia's control again... SeeD will come kill
me, right? And the leader of SeeD is you, Squall... Squall's sword will
pierce my heart...... I guess it's ok if it's you, Squall. Nobody else.
Squall, if that ever happens...
Edea: I now understand there is an end, no
matter how painful it may be. Therefore...Squall? You must fight to the
end! Even though it may bring tragedy to others!
In another conversation at Edea's house, Cid says that there may come a time when the SeeDs have to fight Rinoa.
Finally, there is the symbolism.
For one thing, remember that Rinoa got Squall's Griever ring from him and questioned him about it. To Squall, it is the ultimate GF. At the end of the game, who does Ultimecia junction to? Griever. How would Ultimecia know about Griever? Is it because Ultimecia remembers this as a weakness in Squall's mind?
I've already mentioned the flower field, and the significance of the promise and Ultimecia's castle being near there. Even if Rinoa didn't get "lost" there during an alternate reality, waiting for Squall, it would make sense that she would set up her castle there, waiting for him.
There are the wings. Ultimecia has black wings. Rinoa has white wings on her clothing, and exhibits those wings for real in one of her ultimate limit breaks. If a transformation of Rinoa were to occur, it would make sense that her white wings (signifying purity) would turn black (signifying the darkness in her heart).
Notice the eyes:
You notice that Rinoa has brown eyes, while Ultimecia appears to have a golden tint. So they can't be the same, right? Wrong. If you notice during the Galbadian parade FMV, Sorceress Edea has golden eyes, which is not her natural eye color. Buffy fans will tell you that witches can change eye color. Its a common myth in witchcraft, and not exclusive to one type of fiction.
When Rinoa awakes on the Lunar Base under Ultimecia's possession, you'll notice there are multiple images of her. Why is this? Could it be because of the multiple consciousness of the same person?
Next, you have the Latin roots of the names of the three sorceresses:
Ultimecia - Ultimus: on the farther side, that is beyond, later, most distant, uttermost, extreme, the final.
Rinoa (often misspelled Renoa) - Renova: to renew, restore, revive; Reno: to return, to swim back.
Edea - Edo: to send forth, to produce, to give birth to, to spread, to cause.
This creates a circle, a loop. You have Ultimecia, the extreme bearer of power. The powers end up with her. Then you have Edea, the one who continues the cycle in name by sending forth her powers. She sends them forth to Rinoa, who in turn returns them as Ultimecia.
Ultimecia's final form in the last battle exhibits two sides, much like Anima in FFX. Also, if you remember in the ending battle, the face of Ultimecia is blanked out. During the ending FMV, Squall sees visions of Rinoa, but her face is also blanked out as well.
Then, you have what may be the most eerie piece of evidence. In the ending FMV, images of Rinoa's face are quickly interlaced with Ultimecia's.
Tere a few points to clear up about time compression. Some would say that Rinoa could not fight Ultimecia because they same person can't exists in the same space and time. But this is not true. The game never says that, and it is a common misconception. In fact, Squall exists as the same time as his young self in the end. Time Compression only denies all existence, with the exception of the person using the magic. The others can still exist because, as Quistis points out when you enter the Ragnarok on Disc 4, time compression is not complete yet. It is gradually happening, as Ultimecia wished.
So there you have it. Take it or leave it. Since Square has never confirmed or denied this rumor, I believe it is up to the gamer to decide if the theory is true. It is still just_a_theory. Not fact, as there is no hardcore proof either way. The choice is yours.