Cover image from Sellers and Friends
Most video games manage territorial divisions to have the possibility of creating different types of society, politics, economy, among other things within a world. This helps make the game feel more believable and at the same time allows building more complex and interesting stories. The above can be used to include military organizations as well, making it necessary to work on graphic elements that are not only related to the characters and interfaces but also to others, such as uniforms, medals or, what will be discussed in this post, war flags.
The war flag, also known as military flag, battle flag or standard, is a variant of the national flag for use by military forces. However, it can be said that this type of flag was born before the national flag with the well-known rectangular shape, since the flags that were utilized for the first time were for military purposes. Later these evolve to represent royal houses and businesses, sport teams, etc.
When designing a flag, whether for fantasy or reality, it’s a good practice to follow the considerations established by the specialists which, in this case, could be said to be the NAVA (North American Vexillological Association). This is the largest international and not-profit scholarly organization dedicated to vexillology, the study of flags and their cultural, historical, political, and social significance. To design a flag, NAVA recommends taking the basic principles mentioned in the booklet “Good Flag, Bad Flag” and summarized in the quote from William Porcher Miles:
A flag should be simple, readily made, and capable of being made up in bunting; it should be different from the flag of any other country, place or people; it should be significant; it should be readily distinguishable at a distance; the colors should be well contrasted and durable; and lastly, and not the least important point, it should be effective and handsome.William Porcher Miles, 1861 
It’s true that creating a flag to represent a real organization, city, state or nation carries a greater responsibility than doing it for those of a video game, still that doesn’t make it less important, and it doesn’t detract from the designer because he/she always strives to achieve a good job that players can enjoy. So, as already mentioned, let’s analyze some war flags. Those chosen for this occasion are those of the Grand Companies of Final Fantasy XIV due to these organizations are crucial in the game and, therefore, their flags too.
Before starting, in this post the word flag encompassed both the national and the war alike in view of the fact that the Grand Company and the city-state that headquartered it employ the same flag. The word standard will also be seen frequently, since it’s the one utilized in the video game. So, with this cleared up, let’s begin!!
The Maelstrom is the Grand Company found in Limsa Lominsa, an independent marine city-state based on the thalassocracy. It’s a bustling port and pirate hideout. Their uniforms are distinguished by their deep red hue, the predominant color on the flag.
In the course of the game, before the player chooses a Grand Company she/he has to go to each city-state to listen to the speech of the leaders. In these scenes there is a personage, named Alphinaud, who talks to the player’s character and at some point explains in a summarized way the meaning of each standard. For Maelstrom’s, he says that “The crimson field is meant to signify the blood of fallen crewmates, while the black longship represents a pirate vessel”. However, there is more to consider to better understand its design.
The use of the terms pirate and thalassocracy suggests that the Vikings were the main source of inspiration for Limsa Lominsa and the Maelstrom. This is because the Vikings were known for being fierce pirates, for having sailings skills and for their particular strength in naval architecture. Furthermore, the guilds in Limsa Lominsa seem to have started from the same idea. For example, the Fisher, the Armorer and Blacksmith guilds could come from the fact that the Vikings were fishermen and skilled metal craftsmen. In the case of the Marauder, his form of combat that focuses on brute force by relying on pure strength and good steel to crush enemies and sunder weapons, perhaps, is due to what is said about the bravery, barbarism, fearlessness and physical superiority that the Vikings had.
So, with the above clarified, it’s possible to understand why the center of the flag of the Maelstrom is a ship with a dragon’s head on the prow. This figure is the abstraction of a Viking battle longship. This type of boat had the peculiarity of having a sail, a mast and a set of oars that were used to row when there was no wind. Depending on its size, they could have 24 or 50 oars.
To achieve a simple but understandable symbol for the flag, only the essentials of a vessel are taken. First, the mast and yard without sail are drawn. Then, the oars are placed, but in less quantity since there are 6 instead of 24 or 50.
At first glance, these components allow to identify that it’s a longship, however the detail with which it’s determined that it’s a war one is the dragon that adorns the prow. This shape was often carved on battle longships with the idea of scaring enemies or to provide protection from evil spirits on land and sea. Furthermore, it was customary for the leader’s ship to have this dragonhead. For obvious reasons, these boats were also called “Dragonships”.
To finish off the subject of shapes, the three circles in the center of the ship appear to be shields due to longships used to be, but not always, equipped with them as in the case of the Gokstad, a 9th century Viking ship.
The last thing to analyze is the color that, although it was already specified in the game that crimson means the blood of fallen crewmates, there is another reason not so philosophical. Checking the website of “The National Museum: museums and castles in Denmark”, there is an article showing the color palette of the Viking Age. Thanks to this palette the red gets additional justification and the utilization of black in the ship, the brown edges and the details in green, yellow and orange acquire a reason for being.
The beige on the border of the flag is a lighter version of ochre (brown), a pigment that was sometimes mixed with milk or white pigments to achieve different color saturations. Finally, purple, used in the decoration found under the shields, was a color that was constantly seen in clothes from the Viking Age, a fact that some archaeologists affirm.
The Order of the Twin Adder is the Grand Company located within the Adders’ Nest in Gridania. So far, Gridania the most unified of the city-states, as all its guilds work cooperatively with each other under the guidance of Kan-E-Senna, the Seedseer leader of the Order of the Twin Adder.
Its flag and uniforms are distinguished by their bright yellow color. According to the “Encyclopaedia Eorzea ~The World of FINAL FANTASY XIV~ ” the use of this pigment in the flag is to represent a golden field that signifies a land filled with the elemental’s power.
However, this doesn’t exactly explain the choice of the color gold/yellow to symbolize the elementals’ power. So, doing a little research, it’s possible to find out that the favored goddess of the citizenry of Gridania is Nophica, who command the Earth element. With this in mind, the yellow is likely to evoke this last element, which in the Final Fantasy series is shown most of the time with this shade. As an example, one can see crystals, magic, etc.
The green and brown details refer to nature.
Regarding the images, the central symbol on the standard of the Order of the Twin Adder is the entwined serpents that, according to Alphinaud, represent the unity between the races of Hyur and Elezen.
The use of entwined serpents to communicate union could be inspired in the Caduceus, the staff that Hermes carried in Greek mythology. Although there are many stories around the world about the Caduceus, it’s the Greek myth that relates to the union, the adjective that seeks the flag of the Order of the Twin Adder. It’s said that when Hermen saw two snakes entwined in mortal combat, he separates them with his wand, bringing peace between them. Then, since there can be no unity without peace, it is possible that the Caduceus functions as an influence in the design of the standard of this Grand Company.
Finally, with respect to the element that accompanied the snakes, it can be observed that the wand is replaced by a flower. According to the Encyclopedia referred to above, this flower is a white lily that signifies mankind’s first congress with the elements. Nonetheless, in the world of flowers, lilies symbolize “rebirth”.
Remembering that this flag is also for Gridania, the above suggests that this city-state had gone through new beginnings that may have occurred after having gone through various adversities. A narrative that proves this is the one that pronounced on how Kan-E, after becoming Elder Seedseer, leaves Gridania to live with her siblings and help them maintain peaceful relations between the Elementals and mankind. Nevertheless, she must return to Gridania due to the fact that she notices a certain increase in natural anomalies. To solve this and to ready the forest city-state for what lies ahead, she decided to reinstate the Order of the Twin Adder. With this, it can be interpreted that Gridania, although it went through a difficult situation, overcame it and was reborn to prepare for the future that awaits.
The Immortal Flames is the Grand Company headquartered int the Hall of Flames in Ul’dah. Their uniforms are distinguished by their charcoal gray palette.
The figure of the standard of this Grand company is a gold scale with a jewel on the left and a flame on the right. What is said about this image in the video game is that “the golden scales of order balance the jewel of prosperity with the flame of might”.
In the above quote, the word “prosperity” seems to refer to an economic situation. This statement comes for two reasons, and the first is its representation through a jewel, an item that one immediately relates to wealth. The second is because the video game emphasizes that the culture and politics of Ul’dah has greatly been dominated by trade and profiteering, which is why it’s considered a city-state with much commercial significance in Eorzea. So, the jewel on the scale is Ul’dah way of communicating the importance of the profits made through trade.
However, a commercial importance brings with it a certain power or might, the last word being the one used in the phrase of the game. So, the idea of employing a scale that balances prosperity and might, represented by a flame, that Ul’dah acquires through trade, is to show that this city-state seeks an equilibrium that prevents it from falling into greed, what that would only cause its downfall. All this not only allows its citizens to live in peace and in good conditions, but also promotes a good relationship with the other city-states.
As additional information, the emblem is said to originally come from the one belonging to Eladia, the city-state from which Ul’dah was born and where the scale weighed power and wisdom. After a while, Belah’dia splits into two: Ul’dah and Sil’dih. Ul’dah decides to take the flame of might and Sil’dih the grapes of knowledge.
The color palette is a complicated subject because the video game never gives reasons. Besides, also because the inspiration behind the city-state of Ul’dah is one of the most discussed due to the fact that some components of the Middle East and Greco-Roman culture can be observed, but there are details of the American West and French culture too. For example, the gladiators, the coliseum and pugilist are ideas from Greco-Roman culture, still the weaver and the bazaars of the city suggest more from the culture of the Middle East.
The closest justification behind the colors is that the cultures that seem most predominant, the Middle East and Greco-Roman, had armors of war that were made of some type of metal that was regularly dark gray or gold. This may be the reason behind the charcoal gray background and the gold scale. Gold can also be to represent wealth.
Finally, the red of the flame comes from the color of the fire. For the blue, let’s observe that the jewel is in the shape of a diamond, which is transparent. However, it is common to employ the blue in abstractions of transparent bodies, such as for water.
With these paragraphs It’s possible to see that the creation of a fictitious flag not only implies the investigation of real events and existing things but also the understanding of everything in a video game. This includes the fictional politics, society, and economy devised for each location in the game. This makes flags design a difficult, but at the same time very interesting task.
Well, this is it for this post and I hope you liked it. I have not yet played the whole story of Final Fantasy XIV, so if there are some players of this fabulous game who see some gaps in this analysis, please comment, I would like to meet you and know your opinions. But also, if you don’t know about this game, yet you see something weird in this post, please comment too, I’d like to have a nice conversation on this topic. Until then, see you in my next post!
 T. Kaye, Good Flag, Bad Flag. 2006.
 M.-C. K. F. Natsuko Ishikawa Banri Oda and N. Yoshida, Encyclopedia Eorzea The World of Final Fantasy XIV 14 North American English. 2016.
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