Undoubtedly one of the key elements of the Final Fantasy series and its success as a franchise is found in the strength of its characters. If you’re going to be spending a significant amount of time with these people as your main driving force for going through a 40+ hour journey, you had better be interested in them.
Perhaps this is a central reason as to why Final Fantasy VII still holds such an enduring place in gaming culture. Sure, there are a bevy of other reasons why FFVII has remained so iconic and everlasting for RPG fans (not the least of which is that it finally made them seem sort of cool) but when most people talk about what they love about this game, it usually has to do with the spectacular cast of characters and the journey of self-discovery they undertake in their quest to stop a certain androgynous test tube baby.
With that in mind, if a fellow were to, say, rank the characters from a whole bunch of Final Fantasy games, this would almost certainly be the game to start with right?
9) Yuffie Kisagari
Yes, Final Fantasy VII in general has a very strong cast of characters but obviously someone had to come out at the bottom of this list. That person is Yuffie Kisagari.
Despite the fact that many a young man has obsessed to an absurd level about this fictional woman (more on that as this list develops), Yuffie is easily the weakest of your main party members in terms of characterization.
Essentially her entire character boils down to a one note joke: she wants that materia! Even when the end of the game looms, and every other character delivers a heartfelt speech about what this clash with ultimate evil means to them, Yuffie is still just obsessing with all of the materia she might be able to take home with her.
Being a character that has little, if any, significant growth throughout the game, Yuffie is the clear party member to put at the bottom rung of this ladder.
8) Cait Sith
Though Cait Sith is given a bit more relevance in the adventure once his true identity is revealed as Reeve, an undercover Shinra operative, that doesn’t change the fact that this character still spends much of the journey as little more than an after thought to the overall plot.
Cait-Sith does force the player to re-examine some of the things they’ve been party to over the course of their adventure, including the opening reactor bombings, but even that relevance is more or less canceled out by the awful character design and truly odd lineage of the Cait-Sith robots.
How exactly is a megaphone a weapon? Isn’t Reeve controlling the whole works anyway? Someone should’ve reined Nomura in on this one.
7) Barret Wallace
Barret is the first of the nine Final Fantasy VII party members that the player meets and, as such, tends to occupy a pretty strong place in a lot of folks’ hearts.
However, underneath the pretense of an eco-terrorist/surrogate father figure is some of the most offensive writing of a character in RPG history. Much of Barret’s dialogue translation reads like a white guy’s reinterpretation of the sort of jive talk that was often featured in the blaxploitation films of the 1970s.
Unfortunately this isn’t just a PC police situation as the increasingly silly dialogue the character is given robs Barret of much of his emotional gravitas, even during his most pivotal moments.
6) Cid Highwind
The gruff, curmudgeonly Cid of Final Fantasy VII may be the most popular iteration of the character in Final Fantasy history.
While Cid Highwind is a truly memorable character with one of the best back story’s in the game, his truly awful treatment of his underling, Shera, has never really sat all that well with this writer.
Still, one would be remiss not to point out the importance of having an older, more seasoned warrior as part of the group, and a chainsmoking sea captain type is certainly a unique archetype for the series to draw from in establishing this character.
5) Aeris Gainsborough
That’s right, I still call her Aeris, and I ain’t changin’ it now. Her name was Aeris in the game I played and, to me, Aerith just sounds like I’m saying her name with a lisp.
Though she is probably best remembered for her untimely demise at the end of Final Fantasy VII‘s first disc, Aeris is also a fairly rich and well-developed character in the grand scheme of the game’s narrative.
As one of two possible love interests for Cloud, and a hefty lynch pin on which much of the plot hangs, Aeris is given plenty of screen time to build into a memorable member of your party, and her memory lingers in the minds of players long after she has found herself on the wrong end of Sephiroth’s sword.
4) Vincent Valentine
Now we’re on to the really cool, and totally ridiculous, characters of Final Fantasy VII. Vincent Valentine sleeps in a coffin in a haunted mansion. He also has the ability to turn into JRPG versions of the classic Universal monsters of yore. All of that nonsense aside, he’s also got a very cool outfit.
In truth though, what makes Vincent such an effective character isn’t all of the theatrical elements, it’s his more human struggles. As we learn through his various side quests, Vincent once worked for Shinra where he was betrayed and murdered by Shinra’s resident creep in chief: Hojo. His mother, who would eventually commit suicide, gave birth to Sephiroth in a laboratory.
The shame and regret that Vincent holds onto, for all of his unwitting parts in the terrible state of affairs the world currently finds itself, leads to the coffin bound exile he is in when you first find him. The strength and resolve he finds in himself to get out of that coffin and finally do something about it is what makes him a great character.
3) Tifa Lockhart
Remember when I said we’d get back to the internet nerds overly obsessing with a fictional woman? Well look no further than Tifa Lockhart. As a simple Google image search will plainly show there are, ahem, a couple of key “character” elements that people tend to focus on when it comes to this ridiculously endowed heroine.
Move away from that though and you have one of the most compelling and well-developed (no pun intended) heroines in the entire Final Fantasy series. As one of the only survivors of the Nibelheim disaster, Tifa was well aware of the horrors of the world from a very young age, and instead of resting on her laurels, she decided to do something about it.
With her fierce yet compassionate demeanor, only Tifa can see Cloud through the mental breakdown and identity crisis he suffers in the second half of the game, and her steadfast loyalty to him is shown time and time again, even if she does play second fiddle to Aeris depending on your choices.
2) Cloud Strife
As we’ve seen time and time again in this series, Final Fantasy protagonists tend to come with a whole lot of baggage. Cloud Strife takes the cake in this regard.
It would take several paragraphs to tell his entire back story so let’s settle for the short version, shall we? Cloud told Tifa he would leave their home town of Nibelheim and become an elite soldier when they were both kids… only he failed. After the traumatic events that followed he adopted the persona of his friend, Zack Fair, who had actually been the elite member of SOLDIER that Cloud aspired to be.
This disparity leads to the mental breakdown Cloud suffers during the second half of the adventure. But far from taking away from Cloud’s characterization, these plot twists only add to the depth and scope of his character. Essentially Cloud fully embodies a dozen heroic archetypes when we first meet him, and as they are slowly stripped away one by one we begin to see the real man hiding beneath.
What is eventually revealed is the true essence of a hero: a man who faces his demons down, and comes out on the other side stronger than ever.
1) Red XIII
At last we come to the end. I’m not sure everyone else is quite as enamored with Red XIII as I am. In fact he may be my favorite character in the entire series.
So what makes him so special? Well maybe it’s the fact that I, like many others, grew up with a faithful family dog. As such I tend to attach strongly to pet-like characters quite a bit.
Still the coolness of Red XIII fully supersedes whatever complex I might have in regard to animal characters in JRPGs. For starters he’s a wolf crossed with a lion, which pretty much makes him the gnarliest animal in the history of the world. Also, like Cloud, he’s motivated by a back story that turns out to be mostly false.
Red XIII was told from a young age that his father, Seto, was a coward who abandoned their tribe when it was attacked by a neighboring tribe. As it turns out it’s just the opposite: not only did Seto give his life to protect the tribe, his body still stands vigil there today, petrified atop a cliff by poisonous arrows.
The scene in which Red XIII learns of this truth might be the most powerful moment in the game, as he howls out his grief for a father he despised. As the small, sparkling tears appear to fall from his dead father’s statue, you’d have to have a heart of stone yourself not to squeeze out a tear or two of your own.
Even the FFVII team itself must have known what a strong creation they had in Red XIII as when the final moments of the adventure come to a close after the credits, it is a 550 year old Red XIII that we follow to the final revelation of the 60 hour journey.