If you are a fan of RPGs, there is a good chance you have played the Squaresoft masterpiece Final Fantasy VII. The game is well known for its engaging narrative and memorable characters, but the following article will be an analysis focusing on the motives of the main protagonist: Cloud Strife. *This analysis will only be of Cloud from the original game, no representation of his character from the” Compilation of Final Fantasy VII” titles will be taken into consideration.
RPGs are often criticized for having protagonists that are just pulled along for the ride and have no real purpose or motivation to participate in the story. Final Fantasy VII featured a scene before the final battle where Cloud asked all the party members to go away and really think about what they were fighting for and if they were willing to sacrifice it all for it. If they were not 100% committed he would accept their decision and go on fighting on his own. He wasn’t sure anyone would come back. All the characters did find their own reasons for fighting, but as the main character of the game, Cloud’s motivations were the most interesting and they make him the most human character I have ever come across in a fictitious story, video game or otherwise.
Cloud: “What are we fighting for? I want us all to understand that. Save the planet… for the future of the planet… Sure, that’s all fine. But really, is that really how it is?”
Cloud is a very complex character and unlike most righteous heroes in RPGs, his motives are mostly personal in nature. As a child, he was an outcast. Living in Nibelheim, the other kids teased him and he often got into fights. He had a crush on Tifa, who was very popular, but she didn’t even think twice about him. When Tifa’s mother died and she ran away Cloud tried to save her, but ended up being blamed for her falling into a coma for a week. As a teenager Cloud decided to leave Nibelhiem and join SOLDIER, his aim was to become a hero like the great Sephiroth. Cloud didn’t want to be a hero for glory or to selflessly help people, he wanted to be somebody people admired, he wanted to impress Tifa and he probably wanted to rub it in the faces of the other kids that had teased him all those years. Cloud was a normal teenager, dealing with real world problems just like us.
When Cloud never made SOLDIER and was only a low ranking Shinra Guard, he felt like a failure and he did what most people would do: he hid himself. On his return to Nibelhiem he never removed his helmet to Tifa hiding his face (and failure) from her. After the events that took place in Nibelhiem with Sephiroth losing his mind and burning the place to the ground, Cloud meets up with Tifa again years later in Midgar. He now has a cocky, self-important attitude, calls himself a mercenary and only fights with AVALANCE for the money. Cloud has changed during this time, even if he doesn’t exactly remember it yet. See during this period Cloud is living a lie, as it is shown later in the game that the memories he tells everyone are really from Zack, the former SOLDIER First Class who was killed saving Cloud’s life.
Cid (talking about Cloud): “Just when you thought he was cool, he’d go and do some damn fool thing. And when you thought he was smart, he’d show how stupid he was. Everything about him from his movements to his speech were kinda odd.”
Cloud’s made up persona is quickly worn away as he starts to show his real self again when he meets Aeris and then infiltrates Shrina HQ to save her. It’s when the party leaves Midgar that Cloud realizes his new motive for travelling all over the world which stays with him for most of the remainder of the game: to seek revenge against Sephiroth.
So for most of the story Cloud wants to gain his revenge on Sephiroth, this is taken to another level when Sephiroth mercilessly kills Aeris right in front of him. Towards the end of the game Cloud is fighting for the planet as well, as he wants to save the world from Meteor because it’s the right thing to do and he knows he is the only one who can at this point, but he clearly states it’s not his main motive:
Cloud: “For me this is a personal feud. I want to beat Sephiroth and settle my past. Saving the planet just happens to be a part of that.”
After Tifa pieces together his past in the lifestream and allows him to find his true self, Cloud is finally honest with himself and learns to accept who he is. He acknowledges his shortcomings, he admits he is scared of what lies ahead in the face of overwhelming odds and even contemplates quitting, but in the end he takes the responsibility of being the leader of a group of people that need him and he gives it everything he can. When it all comes down to it Cloud is a positive person with an unwavering determination.
Cloud: “I’ll find the answer someday. As long as I keep trying”
How many RPG heroes admit they are only saving the world for a personal vendetta? None, and if they start out with another motive, they usually drop the idea later in the game. Cloud’s real journey in Final Fantasy VII is finding out the truth about his past and accepting himself for who he is, no matter all the faults he has and mistakes he has made. Final Fantasy VII has many emotional themes in its narrative, but Cloud’s story of self discovery is easily the most relatable and scarily human.