Caius is different. Completely different. A lot of people say he's a purple Sephiroth, or that he's just like Kefka, or Kuja, or whatever. I disagree. He's unique in my eyes, unique within at least the majority of the FF games that I have seen, played, or read about. Vanille used to be my favorite character from the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, but come Lightning Returns, Caius has become my favorite of not only the trilogy, but the entire series. I still love Vanille, pre-Crisis Sephiroth, Zack, Fang, Tidus, and others, but Caius managed to blow past them all. This is just an examination of why I think so, and it probably took more effort to think of a title for this darn journal than to actually write it up. There are LR spoilers below.
1. He's a lot like Lightning...
I never really realized this until I started discussing it with bretanne, but as I worked through it with her, I started to realize just how many similarities there are between he and Lightning, more than I'd originally seen. And I'm not saying I like him because he's "just like Lightning". Not at all. I'm saying that the way he guards his heart, exudes a carefully controlled and stoic exterior, but sometimes cracks and lets the passion burst through, reminds me of her. He's just as emotional as she can be, but the trick is finding the proof of that. He became emotional about Yeul and eventually his passions consumed him to the detriment of everyone around him, but just like her, he did his best to fix the mistakes he made. He's also just as hard on himself as she is, if not even harder, going so far as to eventually accept and allow himself to be consumed in the Chaos as atonement for his mistakes. He'll spend eternity there amongst those girls and be responsible for safeguarding the new world against the destructive Chaos.
2. ...but not.
At the same time, despite sharing these similarities, he's not quite like her. He's just different enough: where Lightning realized her mistake in going to destroy the whole world and how it would fix nothing (her revelation in Palumpolum), Caius went ahead anyway (the revelation from Noel in Valhalla). He's emotional and passionate, and after so many centuries of pushing forward toward a singular goal, he cracked at the revelation. What happened, I believe, is that at that moment, he lost his mind and flew into a mindless fury. Nothing mattered except saving Yeul.
3. His devotion to Yeul... and its price
And leading off of that, he's absolutely devoted to the people he cares about. Canonically, those "people" were the many incarnations of Yeul, and her alone, but that could easily be extended to other people if it ever came to that. Caius was essentially Yeul's father, her only family, and believed she had been suffering for centuries. That's why he kept pushing himself forward - even Lightning describes his heart as being heavily armored, his only way to protect himself, likely from getting hurt or ever slipping from his goal - was because he had to save Yeul. At the cost of his own life (and, ultimately, his desires and happiness), he had to save her. When Noel dropped the bombshell of her being more than happy to return because she could be with Caius again, he's devastated that she would willingly "suffer" just to come back to him. He can't even comprehend the idea of someone loving him that deeply and doesn't want to face it. He doesn't like that his adoptive daughter gladly went through the pain of death and rebirth just to be with him. He couldn't stand to see her suffer, and now he's torn. So he goes and does it anyway... and the price he had to pay was grave indeed.
4. His ultimate fate
I must come back to Lightning here, just for a moment. Reading Fragments After and playing her DLC will give a clear idea of why Lightning chose to stay in Valhalla: to atone for her "sins". Remember what Valhalla is: a realm of death and life, shrouded in the darkness of chaos, where she is permanently cut off from her family, her friends, and her entire normal life, fighting an endless war. In the end, Caius suffers the same fate. They're both very hard on themselves and ultimately maybe push too far to try and make up for their mistakes, but where Lightning gets another chance, Caius never can. He exchanged his own desires, life, happiness, and future, first for the sake of Yeul, and then for everyone.
5. Many layers
Caius is a tough character to uncover. He seems simple and straightforward, a true villain, at the start of the game, and even the whole "destroying Cocoon to open the Gate" seems pretty awful. Then you realize how old he is, how many girls he's had to see die, how it must have chipped away a little more of his sanity each time one died, how he can no longer be attached to anyone other than Yeul because he'll inevitably lose them, how a Yeul will be born only for him to lose her again, how he can never see her grow up or live a full life, and you understand. It doesn't make what he did any "better", or any less horrible. What he did was wrong, but at the same time, look at the things some absolutely devoted fathers have done in the past. Terrible things. For their family. Caius is no different. Under that powerful warrior shell, painted with stoicism, cracked from centuries, is an aching heart and a beaten soul. He lashes out and turns everyone away and pushes onward toward his ultimate goal no matter what, but it doesn't change what's inside.
Caius isn't truly evil. He's hurt, tired of seeing his charge/adoptive daughter suffer and die at such a young age, and tired of being powerless. If he has to take drastic measures to save her - knock over Cocoon, kill Etro (or Lightning, if she gets in his way), or kill himself - then he will. That's just how he is. He's too passionate for his own good, had to pay the ultimate price for it, but at least he learned from his mistakes. In fact, when he meets Lightning, all the way to the final cutscene, I get the impression that he's cold and cynical because that's the front he has to put up to protect himself. Look, he knew killing himself wouldn't mean staying dead. Which, as I figured out almost immediately, means he's tried to kill himself before. How many times has he tried? For how many years?
In the end, Yeul chained him to the darkness, but he put on a brave face, suppressed all his emotions and desires, and went with it. The man is incredibly layered and fascinating to both watch and write about. On the one hand, we have this...
...and from the same man, we have this.
At the start of XIII-2, Caius is a complete mystery. An enigma. And as elaborated on in Fragments After, even Lightning doesn't get him. He's loud, angry, and a genuine threat, but he's also crushed by sadness and she's caught him crying. These are our hints. By Lightning Returns, he's become an incredibly strong person, and that armor around his heart is complete. Yeul won't let him go, and he's finally accepted it. From the warrior with a broken, armored heart to the Guardian of the entire universe who no longer had any choice but to throw himself into his new job. I sometimes think, if he didn't constantly keep a cap on his feelings, how much harder would it have been to keep from succumbing to his anger? I'm fairly certain he hates himself and might not even be able to forgive himself.
7. Physical appearance
What initially drew me to Caius, though, before I really started digging into his character (back when the first trailers were being released), was his physical appearance. Back then, I'd initially found Sephiroth attractive (looking back now, he's too effeminate for me as my tastes have changed). Caius nails all the things I find attractive about men in real life, from the athletic build to the full lips to the dark hair and eyes. Let's be frank here, I think he's pretty freaking gorgeous, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Sure, he's a bundle of (very purple) pixels, but darnit if he doesn't make purple look really nice. I didn't even like purple before he became my favorite character, and now it's one of my three favorite colors. I mean...
...I can't get over his physical appearance. It's amazing and I'm fairly certain he was intentionally designed to be very much attractive (at least, to Western tastes). I wonder if they had a meeting like Disney did when designing Flynn Rider from Tangled (you know, asking all the women to describe the most attractive elements of the most attractive men, and then slapping them together to make Flynn). Lightning Returns filled him out a little, though, and good thing, too - he was almost freakishly skinny in the previous game.
But he is definitely pretty sexy. I mean, come on. Look at that picture up there.
8. That beautiful smile
And even though Square Enix changed it for the Western release, I'll never get over Caius's beautiful smile in the Japanese release at the very end of the game. That we have never seen him truly smile before in the entire trilogy really drives it home. And just to prove what I mean...
9. He's not really like any previous Final Fantasy villain
I mean, yes, he shares certain similarities (mostly with Ultimecia and Kuja for me), but he's not a world-destroying terror like Sephiroth or Kefka. He stayed human to the end (in every way that matters, let's be frank), and after he committed the horrible crime of destroying time and causing the end of the world, he owned up to it. In exchange, he's going to protect the whole universe from the Chaos for the foreseeable eternity.
Something that's really interesting write about him is that, underneath all that warrior stoicism and masculinity, he's got a real soft and vulnerable side. Thing is, he doesn't show it off to just anyone. Only Yeul could've really known about it. Lightning caught a glimpse in the temple after the battle, though he covered it well. Meanwhile, Noel would've seen it in his last smile. He's not going to show it off to just anyone. He's going to protect it, hide it, bury it, however he has to, and make sure nobody sees him weak. He is weak in some ways, but no one's going to seem them unless they're close to him. I believe the only person he'd be vulnerable with other than Yeul is a lover, and even then she'd end up being the only person who could see it, and he'd make very sure not to even hint at it where other people could possibly see. Look how well he held himself together throughout the third game, even though we know his spirit must be completely crushed. I barely recognized him at first in English, to be honest, but the more I looked, the more I realized how broken, vulnerable, and even weak he could be given the right circumstances. Very specific ones, though. It would not be easy to uncover that soft side of his.
And then there's the fact he's so passionate about everything he cares about, from Yeul to holding back the Chaos. Everything he throws himself into, he does with gusto and singlemindedness, and when put to the right force (good), one has to wonder what he could do with all that power.
I could probably find many more reasons why I love Caius... but then this would turn into a long essay-rant on him and inevitably include some Cairai/OTP nonsense and we needn't go into that if we can help it. Besides, many of my reasons have already been discussed in my journal here and this journal here. So yeah, read those too! Thanks for reading!
Gif source: Time and Memory on Tumblr