Tifa Lockhart don’t get no respect

Tifa Lockhart

As far as overlooked or underrated characters go, Tifa Lockhart of Final Fantasy VII gets a pretty raw deal.  Much of the game focuses on Cloud moping about, and Sephiroth having “mom” problems, or the two of them squabbling with swords.  Tifa is also easily overlooked for not martyring herself as Aeris did (Aerith, whatever.)  When you do take control of her in the game, it’s mainly to act out a slap fight as the world starts coming to an end.  Of all the game’s colorful characters though, her conflict is probably one of the most compelling and believable, though very understated.

VII puts you in the shoes of Cloud Strife, a mercenary working for a resistance group named Avalanche.  Or, at least, that is your assumption for much of the game.  It’s Tifa who persuades Cloud to join their cause, even if just for money.  The two had been, more or less, childhood friends until Cloud (who was a misfit among his peers in his home town) decided to join the military (Soldier) to be like the war hero, Sephiroth.  It was Cloud’s way of trying to be accepted and promised Tifa he would be able to rescue her should she ever be in trouble.

The problem with all of those plans though was that Cloud never made it into Soldier.  He was just a Shinra grunt that ended up suffering from the trauma of “that day five years ago“,  his subsequent imprisonment with Zack Fair, and then Zack’s death (see Crisis Core).  He had utterly failed in achieving his goals and failed to protect Tifa.  Once he finally escaped, he returned to Midgar, where Tifa found him delirious and insisting he had been in Soldier and was now taking on mercenary work.  Tifa knew this wasn’t the case, but had taken Cloud in to be able to protect him.  She had no idea what had happened to him after he left to join Soldier, but she did know that the person he described himself as was actually the deceased Zack Fair.

Tifa’s relationship to Cloud has been seen as one part of a love triangle involving Aeris.  Cloud doesn’t really have a romantic relationship with either woman in the game though.  His relationship with Aeris extends more from the identity he inherited from Zack, and was characterized as an idealized situation which Sephiroth parades into and destroys as part of his false identity.  Cloud’s relationship with Tifa is more characteristic of reality – Cloud has flaws which Tifa accepts and looks past.  And that leads to what I felt was one of the most interesting parts of the game: Tifa is essentially trying to help a mentally ill friend who happens to have creepy and unexplained ties to a war hero turned mass murderer.  She chooses not to challenge Cloud’s assumptions and instead goes along with his delusion.

Tifa’s work in Avalanche ultimately overlaps unraveling what happened to Cloud.  Later in the story, however, Sephiroth confronts Cloud with the truth of what happened, and Tifa is no longer able to deny that Cloud has assumed a false identity.  It’s one of the more surprising and uncomfortable scenes in the game, and Cloud is returned to his unstable frame of mind following Zack’s death.  While Cloud is ostensibly the lead character for his relationship with Sephiroth, he doesn’t exactly play a role in the game that’s more important than any of the others.  Much of the later story concerns him coming to terms with that, but it’s also as much about Tifa bringing him to accept it and not succumb to the reunion.  And her cause for wanting to stop Sephiroth is equal to Cloud’s.

It may have been necessary to understate Tifa’s role in the game’s story initially to try and not let on to the player that Cloud has invented a new identity for himself, but it robs the game of the full impact of the scenario.  I enjoyed Final Fantasy VII very much the first time I played it, and I enjoyed dissecting it further upon replaying it.  But I think it could have benefited more on focusing on the human aspect of how the events of the game affected the characters and their relationships, rather than relying on increasingly absurd sci-fi plot devices.  It’s unfortunate that with as much attention given to the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, that Tifa remained such a secondary character to Cloud.  And while Vincent was kind of a neat secret character to unlock, he didn’t exactly deserve his own, albeit poorly conceived, game.

But hey, maybe if Square Enix ever does decide to go through with a re-make of Final Fantasy VII they’ll have the perfect opportunity to elevate Tifa’s character to something other than fan service.


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