Title: Scratching Inside The Head
Spoilers: Entire Final Fantasy VII.
Notes: This was originally supposed to be posted in November, but real life got in the way. Sorry. -_- I've also left Advent Children mostly untouched.
The hardest thing about this essay was to get started. Cloud is my most favorite character out of all mediums I'm interested in, but it has always been hard for me to explain what it is about him that I like so much. I know that I understand him and that I identify with him, but I do so with many other characters as well, even those who I don't even like. It's more than me finding him attractive, but I'm not going claim that he's the most carefully constructed character ever seen in fiction, either. It also doesn't kill me to know that there are people who *GASP!* don't like him at all.
I didn't even like him in the beginning. When I first played Final Fantasy VII five years ago, I wasn't instantly drawn in. I was put off by little Lego-men walking on the screen, by seemingly unimpressive plot, and perhaps most of all, by the main character. I found his arrogant and uncaring attitude annoying, and thought that I had him figured out by one glance: So this was the unwilling hero who would become kind and caring through friendship and love. Not too interesting to me.
So, why did I insist on writing this?
My first assumption about Cloud wasn't completely wrong: He WAS the unwilling hero who became kind and caring through friendship and love. Not much of a ground-breaking concept, but it was the delivery of this concept that made Cloud such a fascinating character in the end.The name's Cloud. Me...? I do a little bit of everything.
Cloud Strife is introduced as a former member of SOLDIER, elite force of Shinra Inc., a mega-corporation that produces energy for the world out of Mako, also known as Lifestream, life energy of the Planet. This is cause of worry for AVALANCHE, a resistance group lead by man named Barret, that seeks to cause Shinra Inc. trouble as much as possible. AVALANCHE hires Cloud to help out on a mission to blow up a Mako-reactor in order to hinder Shinra Inc.'s activity. Smug and cold-hearted, Cloud claims to do it for money only and plans to leave once the job is over, but he is persuaded to stay by Tifa, his childhood friend and a fellow member of AVALANCHE. His ultimate motivation seems to be cash, as he expresses no interest in threatened future of the Planet and even Tifa's influence doesn't keep him from asking more money from Barret.
Selfish? Very much so, but it's also pure bravado. When Cloud first appears, he casually flips off the train, a splash of bright colour compared to his surroundings and people around him, and all his actions imply that he has huge confidence in himself. And yet, as Tifa reminds him of a promise they made as children, in which Cloud would come to her rescue if she was ever in trouble, Cloud claims that he isn't a hero and that he can't keep the promise. What happened to all that macho strutting? It's also revealed in early stage that he isn't even nearly as much in control of himself as he would like to be, as he suffers from sudden black-outs during the AVALANCHE-missions.
And it takes one young woman for him to slowly start caring as he encounters Aeris Gainsborough after being separated from AVALANCHE, ending up as her bodyguard in exchange of a date. He discovers that she is the last member of the Cetra, an ancient race that was able to communicate with the Planet, and after Aeris is kidnapped by Shinra Inc. for her abilities, Cloud goes to rescue her. Things become personal for Cloud for good as he discovers that a terrible enemy from the past has returned and now threatens the future of the entire Planet.. a man also responsible for destroying his life.
And this is as far as we can go on the spoiler-free zone. To say that things get complicated for Cloud is a major understatement. So major that I'm ashamed of even writing that down. Bad me. Moving on now.I want to join SOLDIER. I'm going to be the best there is, just like Sephiroth.
Entering the spoiler-zone now. Anyone up for a big revelation?
Everything I told you about Cloud so far was a lie.
Shock. Astonishment. Caps and exclamation marks of doom. Switching off the dramatics-mode.
Let us dwell into the past.
Cloud didn't have a happy childhood. His father died when he was very young, and his mother had to raise him all by herself in a little town called Nibelheim. Cloud was an outsider, never accepted to the group by the other children, and to cope with his loneliness, Cloud started to believe that he was different of them, thinking that they were stupid and immature. Only person he had warmer feelings about was Tifa, girl who was loved by everyone and whose attention Cloud wanted, too.
However, while Tifa was popular among her peers, she wasn't beyond having problems of her own. She and Cloud were fairly young when her mother died, and in a rash attempt of dealing with her pain, she headed for the Nibel mountains with her friends in hopes of finding the spirit of her mother. One by one her friends turned back, but Cloud, who had trailed after them, followed Tifa to the very end until they both tumbled down a cliff. Tifa fell in coma while Cloud got away with skinned knees only, so he got blamed for the incident. Devastated, Cloud lashed out at his environment, getting into fights and believing that Tifa hated him.
It was then when Cloud discovered Sephiroth, a famous warrior who inspired many young men. For Cloud, Sephiroth became not only an idol, but also a symbol of hope. Cloud strove to become just like him in order to finally get the attention he desired from his peers, and most of all, from Tifa. After gathering up his courage, he asked her over to a well in the center of the town to tell her about his dreams. Although surprised first, Tifa agreed to come, and the two had their first real conversation. Romantic by nature, Tifa suggested a promise between them, and while Cloud was baffled over her apparent faith in his abilities, he agreed. After this meeting he left the town to join SOLDIER, so that people would finally have to notice him.
The only problem was that he never succeeded.
Cloud never made it farther from an ordinary trooper, and his closest connection to first class was a SOLDIER named Zack, an open young man who showed him kindness when others didn't. After two years spent in military, he was assigned to a mission in Nibelheim along with Zack and his very own idol, Sephiroth, to investigate a malfunctioning reactor. Ashamed of his failure, Cloud hid his face when he arrived to Nibelheim, revealing himself to no one but his mother (although some fans believe that Cloud made this meeting up). The possibility of Tifa or any other villager discovering him became the least of his problems as Sephiroth, shaken by an identity crisis of his own, went insane and burnt Nibelheim down. Cloud was knocked out during this, but after he woke up, he headed for the reactor and found both Tifa and Zack from brink of death. Furious from losing everything he had ever cared about, Cloud grabbed Zack's sword and stabbed Sephiroth. While Sephiroth was still alive enough to walk away, Cloud pursued him to the end and finally managed to throw him off the bridge and into Lifestream, even though he was badly wounded himself. He finally got his moment of glory, with nobody around to see and soon he found himself from Shinra's clutches.It's true that sometimes I can't figure out who I am. There's a lot of things muddled up in my memories. But, Tifa....... But you said, 'Long time no see, Cloud' right?
Back in the future, Cloud is living a lie. In the lie, he's everything he ever wished to be: A SOLDIER, first class, finally deserving of Tifa's attention and the respect of others. And this shows from his attitude too. He expects everyone to be impressed of his abilities and doesn't mind showing himself off, no matter how unnecessary it is. After all, he affords to do that. He's a SOLDIER, he can do anything. Too bad that the lie still isn't convincing enough for Cloud not to doubt himself at all. He knows that there's something wrong with him, but he has no idea how vulnerable he actually is.
Unfortunately, Sephiroth does, and he doesn't hesitate to exploit this vulnerability. Driven by Jenova, an alien responsible from the extinction of the Cetra and his supposed "mother", Sephiroth constantly taunts Cloud about things he doesn't know and makes sure that Cloud doesn't lose track of him. Some fans see this as devotion on Sephiroth's part, which is not devoid of slashy undertones, but it's pure manipulation, Sephiroth using Cloud as a tool to achieve his own goals. Sephiroth fuels Cloud's hatred for him even further by destroying the one thing that has offered him some sort of comfort during his inner conflict: Aeris.
Mission to save the Planet eventually becomes just as important to Cloud as his own personal mission, and due to this, he and Aeris become close. While their relationship starts out as mutual attraction, their bond goes deeper than that. She's the first person who motivates Cloud to act out on other reasons than money as he goes to rescue her from the Shinra Inc., and he's more open with her than other members of the AVALANCHE. On the other hand, Aeris is aware of the struggle within him and tries to help him as well as she can. When she leaves the team to complete a personal mission of her own, Cloud goes after her, only to witness as she's murdered before his eyes.
Asking “guess who?” would be pretty corny at this moment, wouldn't it?
Not only was Aeris's death tragic, but she almost died by Cloud's own hand as Sephiroth tried to manipulate him, only barely stopping himself. This is when Cloud truly starts to doubt himself and even considers quitting his journey altogether, but he pushes his fears aside and continues his quest, chasing Sephiroth down all the way to Northern Crater where he is planning to put his plans for the Planet in motion. Tifa, who has been standing in the sidelines so far, finally steps in here and refuses to let Cloud face Sephiroth alone. She's been aware that something isn't quite right about him, but because she's confused about exact events of Nibelheim herself, she's been too afraid to bring it up. Not even her presence helps as Sephiroth finally shows Cloud through an illusion that the first class SOLDIER who came in Nibelheim wasn't him.
Sephiroth's illusion shows a dark-haired man entering Nibelheim and helping out people instead of Cloud, which Cloud of course condemns as a lie. However, his confidence starts to waver the moment he realizes that Tifa doesn't react the way she should. Cloud tries to ensure himself that Sephiroth is lying to him and starts recalling to his past, only to realize that he's missing the answers to some critical questions, such as why he joined SOLDIER in the first place. "Why... why can't I remember?"
Next time Sephiroth takes control of him, Cloud doesn't resist.Professor... please give me a number. Please, Professor...
Let us rewind back into the past. Back to Nibelheim, after the flames died out.
Cloud and Zack, the first class SOLDIER who actually came to Nibelheim, ended up in Hojo's hands. They were used for experiments in order to clone Sephiroth. Cloud ended up in rather bad state during these experiments, his physical attributes improving while his psyche crumbled. Zack was his only companion during this time, a compassionate man who tried to comfort him by telling him stories about his time in SOLDIER. Cloud used these stories to construct the illusion of himself as a SOLDIER.
After five years, Zack finally got the opportunity to break out and took Cloud with him, and the two headed for Midgar. Zack had no motive to help him out, and escaping Shinra Inc. would probably have been much easier for him if he hadn't dragged Cloud along, but as kind-hearted as he was, he refused to abandon Cloud. This could be considered a fatal error as Shinra-troops finally caught up with them, killing Zack in the process.
Zack was an unique person in Cloud's life. Zack was the first real friend he ever had, his only support during the worst time on his life, and when he died, Cloud took his death hard. So hard that he took Zack's memories while forcing Zack himself out of his mind, forgetting him. While his own self remained intact, Cloud in the first half of the game is largely influenced by Zack's presence. Aeris is the only one who sees Zack in Cloud, as she used to go out with him in the past, and during her (optional) date with Cloud she tells him that she wants to meet real Cloud, residing within Zack.I'm.... Cloud. ...the master of my own illusionary world.
So, Cloud has been startled back to reality, and as a result, he ends up helping Sephiroth out. He disappears afterwards and leaves terrified Tifa to wonder about his fate. She's been harbouring affectionate feelings for Cloud for some time already, and his absence shakes her greatly. Things don't improve for her as AVALANCHE finds Cloud from a town named Mideel in comatose state, Mako-poisoned and in complete loss of himself. At this point she gives up on the mission to save the Planet and chooses to stay by Cloud's side to the end, proving that she cares deeply for him.
When Mideel is attacked by a WEAPON, constructed by the Planet against the threat Sephiroth represented, Tifa and Cloud fall together into Lifestream. There Tifa discovers that Cloud has been torn literally in pieces, searching for himself, and decides to help him out.
First she finally confesses to Cloud that she never saw him in Nibelheim. After this, other beliefs they've hold about themselves also crack apart, as Cloud reminds Tifa in return that the two of them were never close friends, and tells her that the reason he joined SOLDIER was to get noticed by her. The only thing that wasn't fake about their relationship was the promise they made on the well, the event they both remember and the true beginning of the friendship. Tifa reveals that she had been thinking about Cloud a lot after he left, starting to view their relationship as friendship instead casual of acquaintance. With this, they have verified Cloud's existence, and as final discovery Tifa sees that Cloud was in Nibelheim after all, attacking Sephiroth after Zack went down and helping Tifa, fulfilling the childhood promise. With the complete truth finally out, Cloud is able to piece himself back together, after which the two return from the Lifestream.
Cloud confesses the truth about himself to the AVALANCHE, admitting his own weaknesses and finally letting go of the illusion he has been living. He's now himself only.But I can't remain trapped in an illusion any more....I'm going to live my life without pretending.
So that was the story of Cloud Strife. Well, not completely: He still has to face Sephiroth, settle the score with his past for good as well as honor his lost friends. But that was the story of changes he had to go through to become his true self instead of an idolization, dream image.
In the beginning of this essay I asked myself this: Why did I insist on writing this?
Because Cloud Strife is a man with incredible weaknesses: Insecurity, weak social skills, beating himself up for things that weren't his fault, hanging onto comfortable lies instead of the less comfortable truth. He screws up. He fails. And yet, he overcomes it all.
Because even after leading a hellish life, he hasn't been thoroughly broken by his experiences. Because he was brave enough to pursue his dreams and hold onto his ideals, no matter how many times he got kicked in the head. Because he can allow himself to break down and then pull himself back together. Because he survives a direct phallic attack from Sephiroth and still stands. Because after struggling with his past and himself for so long, he is able to move on.
Cloud is far from perfect. He can be an incredible jerk who thinks far too highly of himself, but he can also be a caring individual who puts the needs of others first instead of his own. Sometimes his weaknesses are so great that he's crushed under their weight, and yet he bounces back to his feet over and over again. He's a bunch of pixels who is genuine and concrete enough to pass as a human being. Just why did I whine about having hard time to find anything to say about him? He's my hero.
His story didn't end with the re-discovery of himself, and it didn't end with Final Fantasy VII. Advent Children, long-awaited sequel to the game, is on it's way, meaning that Cloud's story is far from over. According to current information we have about Advent Children, Cloud has settled the score with Sephiroth, but he's still haunted by the past, memories of two friends who he couldn't save. Apparently, he has doubts about himself again, wondering if he deserves to exist.
I can't wait to see him find his strength again.Lets mosey.
Luckily there's a lot of Cloud-love in the web. For better insights of his character, I recommend the following sites.OmnislashStrifeAsperityFragments Of Memories
(Cloud, Tifa, Sephiroth)Eternal Love
Cloud is also a popular character among fanwriters, and some of the best FFVII-fanfics in the web are focused on him. Here are some of my personal favorites:Forgotten Daze
, by Speaker *yaoi/shounen ai content*Sins Of The Father
, by Cloud StrifeToledo Blade
, by Cloud StrifeJenova Project
, by JunjCloud Cover
, by JunjThe Poetry In Blood
, by Glass Shard