When I was a kid, before I had ever heard of Final Fantasy, there was another franchise that sucked up most of my free time: Star Wars. I would watch those movies day and night, over and over (The Empire Strikes Back was always my favorite). When we weren’t watching the VHS (which was normally when our mom shut it off and forced us to go outside), my brother and I would pretend to be Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. I was that little kid who always thought he was a badass, so of course I chose Vader every time. He was my favorite. I liked his drive, his ambition, his willingness to make sacrifices for ever greater power. Not saying I wanted to be the same way, necessarily, but I admired the effort he put in.
I had a discussion with Tom the other day, and he brought up a very interesting point: Queen Brahne is the Darth Vader of FFIX.
Brahne, like Anakin Skywalker, started out just and benevolent. At the end of disc 2, Tot brings a wreath to Brahne’s grave that was made by the people of Alexandria, saying that although “Queen Brahne had been acting quite erratic before her death… but the people are still very fond of her, as you can see”. This shows us a layer of Brahne that we had never seen before in the game – by the time the game starts, she is already consumed with greed. [This packs a heavier emotional punch at this point, as we are learning about the non-villain side of Brahne after she’s already been killed.] Like Anakin, she did not start out as the twisted, misguidedly heartless villain that she became.
For both Queen Brahne and Anakin Skywalker, the main catalyst for their defection to the “Dark Side” was the loss of a loved one. In Star Wars, Padme, with whom Anakin was in love, died while giving birth to Luke and Leia. She is brokenhearted at the atrocities that have come from a terrible decision by Anakin, and it is implied that she dies because she loses the will to live. Upon hearing this, Anakin is emotionally destroyed – the feeling of helplessness that arises when he is unable to save Padme’s life is too much for him to bear. His biggest fear has been realized, and he doesn’t ever want to have to suffer the same way again; thus, he begins his mad grab for all the power he can, which ultimately leads him to the Dark Side and the loss of all benevolence. Queen Brahne goes through a similar progression; while the reasons behind his death are unknown, her husband, the King of Alexandria, dies, and this is when the queen goes from a benevolent ruler to one that is bitter and cruel. While it’s never explicitly stated, the evidence provided in the game suggests that she has a similar thought process to Darth Vader: she was put through pain so profound that she will do anything not to feel it again; she loses her humanity in her quest for ever-increasing strength; this leads to both her becoming evil and her ultimate demise.
Want for power isn’t enough to gain power, however; both Anakin and Brahne needed help to achieve their goals. In both of their cases, a mentor figure appears, tempting the emotionally exhausted characters with promises of power, and, while power is granted, the mentors use their subjects as puppets to serve their own ends. In the case of Anakin, it is Emperor Palpatine who appears to him, telling him that, using the power of the Dark Side, they would be able to find a way to cheat death itself. Upon hearing this, Anakin, desperate for a way to save his wife, agrees to turn to the Dark Side. When Padme dies, Anakin blames himself not only for the death of Padme, but for the countless Jedi that he permitted to be slaughtered by allowing “Order 66” to come to fruition. Instead of taking responsibility for these atrocities, he externalized his hatred to the Jedi who survived Order 66 (specifically Obi-Wan, who was closest to him, and Palpatine, the one who had promised him the power to overcome death), convincing himself that he was in the right. He continued down the path of the Dark Side, increasing his strength until the day he would be able to take misguided revenge on his perceived wrongdoers. (No, it doesn’t make much sense to me either. But the dude just let a bunch of his old homies get slaughtered. Can’t pretend I know how that feels, really.) Once again, Brahne’s situation is similar. In her moment of weakness, Kuja comes to her, promising the strength that would allow her to prevent her overwhelming pain from happening again. Kuja provides Brahne with the black mages, giving her an army unlike any other on Gaia. Kuja becomes a trusted advisor to the queen, filling her with doubt and mistrust of the other nations on the Mist Continent. Brahne took the mistrust and ran with it, laying Burmecia to waste. After she takes care of Burmecia with ease, the lust for power only grows; she is now willing to risk the life of her daughter to gain the power of the eidolons, which give her enough power to destroy both Cleyra and Lindblum with a single summoning. Thinking that Kuja has given her all the power he can, she turns on him, thinking of him as the last obstacle to total domination. However, the damage is already done; in extracting the eidolons from Garnet, Kuja’s goal is complete. When Brahne summons Bahamut to destroy Kuja, Kuja uses the power of the Invincible to take control of the Dragon King, turning it on its caster and ultimately killing Brahne. Without their manipulating mentors transforming their pain into fear and hatred, it’s probable that both Anakin and Brahne would have found alternative ways to deal with their grief, which likely would have set their lives on very different paths.
In the end, both Queen Brahne and Darth Vader realize the error of their ways before their impending death. When Luke, Vader’s son, is being killed by Emperor Palpatine, Vader has an epiphany: his son was more important to him than Palpatine, and, by extension, the Dark Side of the force. Seeing his son dying in front of him caused him to think over and accept responsibility for the monstrous acts that he had committed; while there was no way for him to undo what he had done, the least he could do was stop himself from continuing on this path. He started his penance by killing Palpatine, apologizing for what he had done, and accepting his death. While it’s impossible for Vader to be fully forgiven of all his horrible deeds, at least he fixed as much as he could once he realized what he had become. Brahne didn’t have time to fix anything she did; she got blown up by Bahamut and died soon after. She did have time to apologize to her daughter, whom she had extracted power from and nearly put to death. Despite Brahne being nothing but evil throughout the game, even Vivi, who had only known Brahne as an obstacle to be overcome, was upset when she died. He says that he had wanted her to die the entire game, but he felt like crying as she died, especially when Dagger started crying. Dagger, easily the most betrayed out of anyone by Brahne, still loved her mother, and knew that there was good in her. It was Brahne’s fear that handcuffed her to the need for power that ultimately led to her demise.
In the end, it all comes back to that famous Yoda quote: “Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering”. With some help from manipulators promising the impossible, Darth Vader and Queen Brahne attempted to run away from their own pain, with disastrous results for their respective worlds. They externalized their pain, blaming it on others, and in so doing they perpetuated a sociopathic disregard for anyone’s life but their own, concerned only with absolving themselves through the accumulation of external might, when the only way for them to truly end the cycle would be to take responsibility for their actions, deal with the pain, and move on without fear. Both of them realized this eventually, but tragically, it was not soon enough to save their lives.
TL;DR the reason Vader and Brahne were such dicks to others were because they couldn’t man (or woman, in Brahne’s case) up, accept their pain, and move on with their lives. Instead, they believed these assholes who promised them the power to never feel pain again. Obviously, this didn’t work, and Brahne and Vader got fucked over. I can see why they did what they did, and they did too, but not before they were total dongs to everyone they cared about.
I would LOVE for people to give some input on this! I had an absolute blast writing it, and I hope it’s interesting for y’all as well ^^