Benedikta Harman is a deeply flawed woman. You can see this in her expressions, which are often twisted in rage, and her manipulation tactics, which lie twisted in bedsheets. She is temperamental, power-hungry, cruel, and conflicted, repeatedly switching back and forth between being the villain and the victim in her struggle for self-preservation. She is also one of the best female characters to appear in a Final Fantasy game in nearly two decades–and she deserved so much better than the treatment she received in Final Fantasy XVI.
Spoilers for Final Fantasy XVI ahead.
As Dominant of the wind harpy Garuda, Benedikta, in all her insatiable glory, is an inspired character. Much like the harpies depicted in Greek mythology, Benedikta is a beautiful vulture–hungry for scraps of power and sharp enough to take them. We see this in her aggression on the battlefield, and her submission to men she sees as powerful. Like the wind itself, she is ever-changing and capable of offering respite, or unleashing unfathomable destruction. In short, her Eikon perfectly suits her, and her relationship with Garuda feels like a true merging of souls rather than something transactional or hierarchical.
I was instantly drawn to Benedikta–her cat-like features, her destructive behavior, and the ideas she represented. And when she was stripped of Garuda’s favor and power so early in the game’s story, I became enamored with her. I grieved with her as she mourned her loss of identity and control, having been there a few times myself. And I found myself in awe of Nina Yndis’ (the voice behind Benedikta) performance, and how she was able to convey panic and loss in a way that felt real–that felt palpable. I was enthralled by her story, and when we started to get a glimpse of her past and the pain and squalor she came from that drove her to value stability and power over everything else, I was eager to follow her character arc and see where it would lead. And it’s precisely then that the game decided to kill her off.
To say I was frustrated by this choice is an understatement. As someone who has played a solid 80% of the Final Fantasy series, I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with how the series’ handles its female characters–and this latest blow felt especially cruel. This isn’t to say Benedikta necessarily needed more time, even if it’s what I’d have preferred. This isn’t even to say she needed a fully-fleshed out redemption arc–she didn’t. She didn’t need to come to her senses just before death, tearfully run back into Cid’s arms, or decide to join Clive’s cause. If rage, pain, and fatal miscalculations were to be her legacy, that legacy would still be just as compelling. The problem is, Benedikta has no legacy.
And to be fair, the idea that her lack of legacy is her legacy could work. For someone as power-hungry as Benedikta, the idea of going through all that she went through–of burying her nails deep in flesh and filth as she crawled her way up to the top–only to die powerless, is both painful and meaningful. However, Final Fantasy XVI doesn’t commit to that idea either. It could have, had it not chosen to explore her trauma just moments before she perished. But as it stands, the game reveals her humble beginnings and her implied sexual assaults just before having her fly off the handle, somehow regain her power, and die unceremoniously. Her story is somewhat of a tragedy and somewhat admirable in how it allowed her to be a character who existed in this world’s many shades of grey, but in glossing over the most important pieces of a character arc, it ultimately doesn’t feel wholly meaningful.
Perhaps even more egregious is how her character arc ultimately feels like it exists to bolster others. While not a great narrative purpose, Benedikta’s death serves a very clear narrative purpose: To solidify how we should feel about Cid and progress Hugo’s story.
Through Benedikta’s death, we see that Cid is not just the Bearers’ savior but a personal savior as well. Cid rescued Benedikta from her bitter childhood. And as he kneels over her body, we see that despite all the time that’s passed, her fluctuating morality, and their subsequent rift, all he wanted was to save her again. Through it all, he loved her and saw the best in her–something just about every person I know with trauma longs for in a partner.
He laments her death and how she went out–consumed by anger and hurt. Seeing him struggle with not being able to “fix” her naturally makes us feel that sense of regret as well. Through her loss, we understand Cid a bit better. We get to see his empathetic nature and, for those of us who have loved someone with trauma or mental illness, we can relate to his sense of defeat and guilt over her fate. But this also comes at the expense of us connecting with Benedikta herself.
Similarly, Benedikta’s story also appears to be cut short to give rise to Hugo’s wrath, which ultimately has major implications on Cid and The Hideaway. I don’t consider myself someone prone to calling particular plot points “fridging”–a term used to describe an author killing off a character purely to motivate another–because I think a character’s death can and should be impactful and we’re all too quick to jump to that conclusion. And, considering her relationship to both Hugo and Cid, it would be strange for it not to act as some sort of driving force. That said, I do think her death crosses the line into that territory and following her death, she becomes a
The only times Benedikta is seen after her death is when her severed head is sent to Hugo to provoke him, and when her nude form appears to both him and Barnabas in malevolent visions. Her body becomes something to be maimed and unclothed in order to inspire rage and jealousy, as well as represent lust. As someone who fought mercilessly to become one of Final Fantasy XVI’s elite military officers, possessed the power of a goddess, and showed tremendous self-preservation and loyalty to what she believed in, to be reduced in such a way feels insulting.
Shortly before her death, Benedikta questions if the misfortune she’s been experiencing is meant to be some kind of lesson. But rather than realizing it’s her choices and her lack of tending to past wounds that has led her to this fate, she comes to the conclusion she’s being punished for not listening to Cid. In her final and most vulnerable moments, her emotions and sense of being become tethered to another in order to prop him up as morally good–something we arguably already knew he was–while she is forever resigned as a wild, sexual woman who didn’t listen. It’s a harsh conclusion for a woman whose whole life felt pained–and it feels cruel towards anyone who has experienced assault, violence, or trauma that led them to become a contorted version of themselves. With each new Final Fantasy entry, I can’t help but feel increasingly slighted by how women are written. While Jill might be likable and charming, I’d argue she isn’t given the opportunity to truly shine as a character. And while Noctis’ love for Lunafreya was endearing, she too was relegated to being a chapter in someone else’s story. We deserve more. And so did Benedikta.
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