Character Analysis, Final Fantasy, The Mind of a Character

Cloud Strife: Ex-SOLDIER, First Class

Guys. I don’t want to alarm you. But it’s happening. It’s actually happening! Tomorrow, after so many years of waiting, Final Fantasy 7 Remake is coming out!

Or at least part one is. But it’s better than nothing!

Final Fantasy 7 is an important game to a lot of people, myself included! It’s easily one of my favorite games of all time! Sure, it’s definitely shown its age, as most PS1 games have! But going back and playing it today, it’s still a ton of fun!

The main thing that people remember fondly is the story. Yes, it’s convoluted. Yes, it’s incredibly confusing at times. But it’s still a solid story, one told through its gameplay just as much as it is through the dialogue! It’s filled to the brim with some of the most iconic, lovable characters in video games! And leading that cast is the topic of today’s analysis: Cloud Strife.

When Cloud was first introduced, I really didn’t like him. He was a stoic asshole who loved looking like the tough guy. But as the game goes on, we learn more about him. We learn why he is the way he is. And more importantly: we learn that he isn’t quite who he thinks he is.

That’s right, folks! We’ve got an identity crisis on our hands! This is going to be a fun one!

The Wound: Which One?

Seriously, where do I start? This guy has had it rough! Just choosing one is a challenging task! Luckily, I know which one is the most important.

At first glance, you might think Cloud’s wound would be the destruction of Nibleheim. It makes sense; he lost his home, his mother, his friend/mentor, and nearly Tifa. Then he was subjected to torturous experiments, lost his grasp on himself, then stumbled into Midgar as a shell of his former self. However, this is only a part of Cloud’s story. There’s one thing that happened before that that is far more important to his story.

Later into the game, when you’re exploring Cloud’s true memories, you see what kind of relationship he and Tifa truly had. Which is to say no relationship. The two may as well have been strangers. Still, Cloud always seemed to keep an eye on Tifa from afar. That’s why, when she went to climb up Mount Nibel on her own, he followed after her when no one else would.

Which made it all the more painful when they fell. Cloud was fine, sure. But Tifa was seriously hurt. And as far as the adults and Cloud were concerned, it was his fault.

This is why Cloud went to join SOLDIER in the first place: to become stronger. To never fail again and always be able to protect Tifa. Remember their promise? It was because Cloud failed the first time that he swore to always be there to protect her.

And he’s done just that. From Nibelheim to AVALANCHE, Cloud has always strived to keep his promise. To avoid recreating his prior failure.

Unfortunately, there’s a little something distracting him from that aim.

The Want: Conquer the Hero

In his youth, Cloud looked up to Sephiroth like a hero. He was everything Cloud wanted to be. That’s why he went chasing him by signing up for SOLDIER. If Cloud could catch up to Sephiroth, he’d be able to keep his promise!

Unfortunately, he hit a bit of a snag. He never actually made it into SOLDIER. But in spite of this, he still got to work with his hero! In his hometown, no less! All he had to do was hide his shame beneath a helmet!

And then Sephiroth burned his town down, murdered his mother, nearly killed Tifa and Zack, then proceeded to stab Cloud. But to be fair: Cloud did send his ass falling down a pit. So that’s a win!

At the beginning of Final Fantasy 7, Cloud’s main focus is as it should be: keeping his promise to Tifa. As far as he knows, Sephiroth is dead and gone, so there’s no need to worry! He can just focus on being an Ex-SOLDIER mercenary and helping his friend! Sure, it’s not great. But it’s what he swore to do!

Then Sephiroth comes back to life.

When Cloud finds out that Sephiroth is alive, he almost immediately shifts gears. His goal throughout the rest of the game becomes simple: find, stop, and kill Sephiroth. His conviction only gets stronger as the plot progresses, especially after his old hero kills Aerith, one of the only people Cloud feels comfortable dropping his tough-guy act around. Simply put: he wants revenge. Saving the planet is just an added bonus.

Unfortunately, getting said vengeance is going to be anything but easy.

The Lie: First Class

As we learn later in the game, the Cloud we thought we knew was all a lie. His memories were Zack’s, not his own. He wasn’t even a SOLDIER! Everything Cloud thought he knew turned out to be a lie!

This lie controls Cloud for the majority of the game. It is what drives Cloud to fight Sephiroth: he believes that he’s the only one who can take him. If you’ll recall, before Cloud got his memories in order, he’d often push his allies away and try to fight Sephiroth himself. When they ran into him in Nibelheim, Cloud confronted him alone. When they took the Black Materia, Cloud tried to fight him alone. When Aerith died, Cloud didn’t call for help; he stood there and faced him alone. Time and time again, Cloud has tried to face his nemesis alone.

Time and time again, he failed. All he did was leave himself vulnerable. And when you’re dealing with someone like Sephiroth, doing so is like inviting a hungry vampire into your house.

Cloud’s firm belief in himself is exactly why the late-game revelation hits him so hard. Everything he thought he knew, that he thought he was capable of, was a lie. He never faced Sephiroth in a one-on-one battle; that was Zack. He never stood side-by-side with Sephiroth as a fellow SOLDIER. He was never as strong as he thought he was.

However, we all know that it wasn’t all a lie. Sure, he was never a First-Class SOLDIER. Nor did he ever fight Sephiroth one-on-one. But he did beat Sephiroth, albeit in an underhanded way. He stood alone against the most powerful man in the world and he won. Not Zack; Cloud.

Which leads into the next segment.

The Need: Who… Am I?

Until the revelation late into the game, Cloud lives his life like he thinks Zack would without even realizing it. He pretended to be someone that he isn’t. That one mistake left him vulnerable, which Sephiroth took complete advantage of.

It isn’t until Tifa dives into Cloud’s memories with him in the Lifestream that Cloud gets exactly what he needs: clarity. He needs to know who he really is and what really happened. But more importantly: he needs to accept who he is.

Part of the reason Cloud was so open to becoming Zack was that Cloud hated being himself. In his eyes, Cloud Strife was a failure. He couldn’t save Tifa at Mount Nibel as kids. He couldn’t get into SOLDIER. He couldn’t protect his home or mother. In his eyes, he was a failure. He failed to see just how amazing he really was; for fuck sake, he beat Sephiroth!

You’ll notice something important in the game at this point in the story. When Cloud disappears, everything starts going to hell. Meteor is on its way, the Weapons are rampaging, and Shinra is only making everything so much worse. It all seems lost. And all of it was because of Cloud’s mistake, which gave Sephiroth what he needed.

But then Cloud comes back. He accepts himself for who he is, finally going back to truly being himself. And when he does, he starts getting results! Not only does he help stop Shinra once and for all, but he even leads the charge in defeating Sephiroth! He even managed to defeat his former hero in a one-on-one!

Although that may have been a dream. Like, a confrontation with the bit of Sephiroth that was inside him. I dunno, FF7 is confusing. Either way, he still beat his ass!

Conclusion

Like I said at the top of this article: I hated Cloud when he was first introduced. I wanted so desperately to play as any other member of the party. The dude was an asshole and he made me mad!

But then I played and finished the game. Now, I look back at those times and I nod in respect. The writers wanted us to dislike Cloud and, at least in my case, they succeeded. Now, after many years and playthroughs, I can say with confidence that he’s one of my favorite characters in any video game!

Thankfully, it seems that the writers behind FF7 Remake understand this fully well! Through all the various trailers and the demo, we can see that Cloud’s character is fully intact! I cannot wait to see it come to life in crisp, gorgeous HD!

Glad to have something to help through these trying times.

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