Saturday, August 6, 2016

Thanatos

In this article, we'll explore facets of SoM's primary antagonist, Thanatos.  Our concerns will be learning about his background, discussing his role in the game, and exploring the possibility that he was the forerunner for characters in other Square RPGs.  All of the red dialogue is the original translation, all of the blue is mine.  

In Greek Mythology, Thanatos is the god who personified death, according to Wikipedia.  He is analogous to the Grim Reaper, and shares many aspects with mythological figures whose lives revolve around death itself.  It is an appropriate name for the character, as we will see.

Very little is revealed about Thanatos in SoM itself.  To discover a possible origin, we'll go to the Wiki of Mana.  There is a reference to an exceptionally talented sorcerer from Seiken Densetsu 3 (Secret of Mana's prequel) named Belgar.  According to the wiki,

"...Belgar was corrupted by the dark magic he pursued and became the Masked Mage, now possessed of a strong hatred for the living and obsessed with his plots of revenge upon the world...[He] succeeds in destroying the Tree of Mana...and reveals his true form, the Dark Lich...After a long and hard battle, the heroes succeed in defeating the Dark Lich, much to his shock."

Let's assume that the Dark Lich in Seiken Densetsu 3 is the same one as SoM.  That Dark Lich is Thanatos' "true form" that is revealed in the Mana Fortress.  Comparing the two sprites, we see that they are similar.  Both seem to be a partial skeleton in some sort of magical habit that floats about.  

(left) Dark Lich from SoM and (right) Dark Lich from SD3


It is mentioned that Thanatos is from "Mavolia", the proper name for the Underworld in SoM.  At the risk of being ignorant of other Mana continuity, we can conjecture that after Dark Lich was defeated, his spirit was saved by the Underworld, but he needed a new body.  As his newly acquired body died, he searched the world for another one, requiring strict criteria.  This process was repeated through the centuries until he found the body that he currently inhabits, and eventually came into the employ of the Emperor as Thanatos.  We have absolutely no clue as to how this occurred, but we do know that he was a recent and perplexing addition to team.  According to a resident of Northtown:

There are guards called the, "four heavenly kings" that report directly to the Emperor.  They are: 

The leader, the knight of darkness --- Sheex
The machine rider --- Geshtar
The lone female --- Fanha


Then there is the magic knight, Thanatos.  I'm still not very familiar with him.

Since the Emperor has four bodyguards, I wonder if Thanatos offed one to get the job, or perhaps replaced one that was killed.

We've already explored much of the dialogue involving Thanatos in our last article.  The vast majority are in scenes with Dyluck, but there is one scene in the Grand Palace that we explored awhile back.  See that article for analysis of Thanatos' relationship to the other bodyguards.  

The first mention of Thanatos is in the Witch's Castle.  We arrive at the final area with Elinee, as she tells us:

ELINEE:  He's a magic knight from the Vandole Empire who is trying to crush the
kingdom from the inside!  

PURIM:  That's unforgivable, Elinee!

ELINEE:  I have almost the entire kingdom under our control.  Soon, he will conquer the Palace, using the southern Ruins as a backdoor. 

Note how Elinee mentions that Thanatos' goal is to storm the Palace and conquer the kingdom from the Ruins.  With most of the citizens under his control, it would be a cakewalk.  This is similar to what Sheex tries to pull off in Tasnica, except he takes the place of the King and attempts to get the Republic to surrender to the Empire.  Why Pandora did not storm their own Ruins for answers, or why no one would realize Sheex's very obvious plan requires much leeway.  

Later, we foil Thanatos' plans in the Ruins.  As we stated in the last article, it is only here that he realizes that Dyluck's might be a good body.  So most likely, his goal was to take Pandora.  But that seems to contradict what Jema says afterwards: 

JEMA: Thanatos is one of the "four heavenly kings" who report directly to the Emperor.  It's strange that he came here in person; that is much different than their usual methods.  The Empire is trying to unseal the Mana Seeds.  Considering the time
to come here from the Empire and the use one of their best bodyguards...something doesn't add up.  I'm getting a very uneasy feeling about Thanatos...

So Jema feels that the Empire is only after the Mana Seeds.  Except we come to learn that there's an alliance against them consisting of Pandora and Tasnica, among others.  We can presume that at this point, the alliance wants to prevent the Empire from getting the Seeds and restoring the Fortress...so why is Jema surprised that they would send one of their best men?  Especially since there are several Mana Seeds close by.

Outside of this, and what was discussed previously, there is surprisingly little else about Thanatos.  What plans the developers may have had should SoM been developed as intended are unknown.  But it is possible to speculate, should we go back in real time a bit.

If you happened to be an RPGer who was active between 1993 and 1995, you experienced one of the greatest trilogies of all time.  Even though the three games were not meant to be a trilogy, seeing that they were designed at the same studio, and brilliantly executed in succession leads them to a place of their own.  On August 6, 1993, SoM was released.  The following April 2, Final Fantasy VI (known as Final Fantasy III in the US) arrived, and finally on March 11, 1995, Chrono Trigger would launch as one of the last major releases for the SNES.  In 2006, SoM designers Koichi Ishii and Hiromichi Tanaka revealed that Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger began as the same project.  What was originally intended for SoM had to be severely truncated since it was planned for a cancelled CD-ROM add-on for the SNES.  Some of the ideas were then retained and developed for use in Chrono Trigger.  This blog has attempted, among many other things, to gather as much as possible about the SoM that was originally intended, and we once again turn to those other two games for possibilities.

(left) Thanatos of SoM, (center) Queen Zeal of CT, (right) Kefka of FFVI
The three games were released relatively close timewise, so their development periods overlapped.  Thanatos is not as fleshed out as his closest counterparts---Kefka in FFVI, and Queen Zeal in Chrono Trigger.  So it's possible that ideas intended for Thanatos were later implemented with those characters.  First, let's take a look at Thanatos' motive.  

According to Dyluck:

DYLUCK: Thanatos is an ancient sorcerer who sold his soul to the underworld [for eternal power].  But even if his spirit is eternal, his body will die.  He has taken on a new body time and time again.  This endless obsession eroded his spirit, and he became an entity known as Dark Lich.

Thanatos also gave his motivations:

THANATOS: With the pending reactivation of the Mana Fortress, it is only a matter of time before the world is unified.

And later:

...with the Mana Fortress, we will begin a new era for this world!

So Thanatos wants a new, unified era for the world, possibly a contrived justification for his intended power grab.  He is also running out of time with his decaying body.  We'll compare this to the other villains.

Let's jump to Final Fantasy VI first.  Emperor Gestahl also has four assistants---Celes, Cid, Leo, and Kefka.  As stated earlied, Kefka is the primary antagonist here.  Emperor Gestahl is seeking to acquire Magicite, the remains of an Esper after they perish.  An Esper was part of a race separate from humanity with inherent magical powers.  With Magicite, a human could gain the Esper's power, but of course, they would have to be killed first.  Espers are somewhat reminiscent of the Mana Spirits in SoM, although they tag along with the party; they do not die.

Kefka becomes progressively more powerful throughout FFVI as he acquires Magicite.  It gets to the point where he can defeat Espers at will, along the lines of how Thanatos deactivates Dryad's powers in SoM.  He becomes obsessed with the warring Triad, a trio of gods who turned themselves to stone to end an ancient war.  If the balance of the Triad is
thrown off, the world will be in peril.  This, of course, does not stop Kefka, much like the fact that the Mana Beast will be unleashed does not stop Thanatos from activating the Mana Fortress.  Nor does the fact that the warring Triad, like the Mana Fortress, was part of the end of an ancient war that should not be repeated.  The Triad resides on a Floating Continent that is raised from the ground into the air by Kefka and Gestahl.  The Mana Fortress is on a Lost Continent that acts as a "switch" to activate it.  The Fortress then ascends to the sky.

Both Thanatos and Kefka betray their Emperor to have power to themselves.  (Both Emperors also attempt false peace talks with the heroes over a meal.)  Each of them also have little regard for their fellow bodyguards.  Kefka eliminates Leo directly, manipulates Cid, and attempts to destroy Celes.  Thanatos resurrects Geshtar to fight for him, and leaves Sheex and Fanha to handle Randi and friends.  Both are killed in the process.

Once the world is thrown off balance, Thanatos uses his Mana Fortress to destroy the Mana Tree (like the Masked Mage), and Kefka uses his Light of Judgment to attack the world.  Both are confronted in their fortresses by the heroes in each game's final sequence.  Let's take a look at Kefka's motives from the horse's mouth:

KEFKA: I will exterminate everyone, and everything!...Why do people rebuild things they know are going to be destroyed? Why do people cling to life when they know they
Kefka ends up becoming a literal god of magic
can't live 
forever? Think how meaningless each of your lives is!...I command the greatest power in the universe! You are all helpless before me!  I will destroy everything... I will create a monument to non-existence!

This is more explicit than Thanatos' stated motive, but if we presume that Thanatos was once Belgar, then the two villains have the same contempt for all that is living.

Now, let's take a look at Zeal from Chrono Trigger.  Like Kefka and Thanatos, she became more powerful and corrupted over time:

MELCHIOR: The more energy the Mammon Machine absorbs, the further the Queen degenerates.

What the character, Melchior, is referring to here is a Machine that could harvest the dreaded Lavos' energy to make the Queen immortal and omniscient.  It is placed into an Ocean Palace that eventually becomes the Black Omen, a huge craft not unlike the Mana Fortress that was raised up from below sea level and flies about the world.  The Queen is
warned that the Machine could destroy the world, but, as you may guess, that does not stop her from activating it.  In fact, she seems to think along the lines of Kefka:

Same concept?  Or just a coincidence?
ZEAL: Behold, my pretties!  Destiny, in its most brutal form.  All the dreams that might have been.  All the happiness, and sorrow, you might have experienced...I plan...to control the universe forever.  You will not get in my way!

A Ruby Knife is given to the protagonist, Chrono, to smash the machine.  The Ruby Knife has elements of the Machine---similar to the relationship of the Mana Sword and Mana Fortress.  In fact, the Knife ends up becoming the Masamune (a legendary sword), in the presence of the Machine!  The Chrono Wiki states that the Black Omen is the final dungeon in the game, although it is possible to defeat Lavos (the final boss) without entering it.  Queen Zeal does wait at the end of the ship, and her alternate form strongly resembles Dark Lich's.  Zeal's battle area is not unlike the Mana Beast's from SoM.  Zeal, as well as Kefka, end up with a cult-like following that Thanatos lacks, though this may have been something planned for SoM.  

It's not hard to imagine the Ocean Palace/Black Omen
as a cousin to the Mana Fortress
So there are similarities among these villains, but what can that actually tell us about Thanatos?  Nothing for certain.  But Kefka and Zeal may represent aspects of what was intended for Thanatos in the first place.  According to the 2006 interview, Secret of Mana was to have a darker tone, probably like FFVI or CT.  Outside of Thanatos, it is not hard to insert concepts from CT into SoM.  We have already done this in a few articles, but there is quite a bit more.  Hardly anyone notices the planet's decay of the world after the Mana Fortress is activated, which is not the case with the analogs in CT or even FFVI.  It's possible that Randi and friends would have traveled to some desperate locations ravaged by Thanatos and the Fortress.  Character development is also sorely lacking, and we'll visit more of that idea in future articles.

NEXT:  Odds and Ends, Part 1

CREDITS: Additional material from RPGClassics, Cold Run, Wiki of Mana, Spriters' Resource, and Fantasy Anime.  Square owns everything.

3 comments:

  1. This is a very nice article, thank you for compiling it. I have yet to read through the rest of your articles, as I was just linked to this blog by a good friend of mine. But I'd like to throw a question out there:

    Have you thought about who the current body of Thanatos is? Considering the Boys mother is the tree and his father a ghost at the waterfalls, that kind of suggests they died/transformed somewhat recently-ish. To my knowledge, there is not much more known about his parents, or why they are in that current state.

    From Final Fantasy Adventure we get an idea as to why his mother is the Mana Tree. But his father being dead is not certain. A theory a friend and me spun recently is this one: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CUdQa2QWEAAlsEc.png

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  2. Thanks for stopping by. Your friend's theory is something I had never considered, but I think the resemblance is just a coincidence. The Mana Tree speaks of his father in the past tense. He went to Potos and, "never got up"." I do find it odd that his father is only in one place in the game and rarely mentioned, but only his upward frame is coded.

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  3. Congrats, your blog about this great game is excellent. This article made me believe that the mysterious white robed masked man was Thanatos's body before being possessed by the Dark Lich. Perhaps some sort of religious figure that was an important piece in the Empire and was researching methods to control people using dark arts fueled by powers from the ancient ruins which were religious buildings from the era of the mana beast and fortress wars, getting possessed by the Lich as a result which was a lingering presence when having no suitable body as seen in FFA/Sword of Mana. Maybe also in these ruins is where the pacts with Mavolia were made.

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