Final Fantasy VII is a video game about reactor-bombing eco-terrorists who get caught up in a bigger fight to save the planet from an alien-possessed supersoldier with mommy issues. It’s also about friendship and loyalty, placing you in the shoes of mercenary Cloud Strife as he comes to terms with lost friends and becomes bonded to new ones.
With a story as far-reaching as this, you would expect Cloud to be the story’s narrative linchpin. In actuality, Cloud is one of the game’s least interesting characters, with a backstory that mistakes convolution for good storytelling. Anyone who has slogged through the hallucinatory Escher painting of Cloud’s memories knows what I’m talking about.
Not to throw too much dirt on everyone’s favorite mustard-spiked deluse, of course, but there are at least 4 other Final Fantasy VII characters with stories more interesting than his ‘I thought I was someone else and have all their memories’ premise. For example…
This disarmingly sweet flower girl is the rose grown from rubble, and the game tells you as much the moment it drops you in on her slum-sprouted garden. What the game doesn’t immediately tell you is just how much of the story Aerith carries on her shoulders, she being the last of an ancient, inherently magical race called the Cetra who solely are capable of dispatching the planet’s calamitous threat. Final Fantasy VII makes Cloud its protagonist, but it’s clear who the real heroine is. (If you don’t believe me, just think about the last time Final Fantasy made you cry. Whose face are you remembering? Bingo.)
There’s more to this eco-terrorist than grawlixes and a short temper. Sure, he looks like Mr. T and talks like something from a blaxploitation movie, but Barret has a backstory rife with surprisingly human tragedy. He lost his wife, best friend and entire hometown at the hands of Shinra, the reactor-building corporation that inspired his ecologically-alibied vengeance. He takes care of his friend’s daughter as his own, and gives the game one of its only positive father figures.
Also, he has a gun for an arm. There’s also that.
Speaking of things where arms should be, Vincent has a golden claw for reasons Final Fantasy VII simply chalks up to the wiles of science. It’s as if the game concentrated all of its dark mystery and horror into one character, and out popped the coffinsomniac shapeshifter like a red-cloaked Nosferatu. And you know what? It works. We wonder at the gaps in his backstory. What kind of experiments turned a former government agent into something with demons inside him? That curiosity keeps him in our heads.
More so than a blonde kid whose only claim to fame is being friends with a cool soldier named Zack, anyway.
As for Red XIII, there are several reasons he is amazing, the least of which being that he’s named after Darth Vader. Nanaki…Anakin… Makes a Death Star of your mind and blows it, doesn’t it?
On top of that, he’s a kind of lion-dog with a mohawk and a flame on the end of his tail, which certainly beats having a duck’s butt-tufts on the back of your head (a hairstyle Cloud wears all too proudly).
Then of course there’s the Final Fantasy VII epilogue that shows us Red XIII, flame-tail and all, running his pride through the overgrown ruins of civilization 500 years after the game’s events. Meaning Red XIII is older than the dirt his long life cursed him to watch all his friends return to.
And you thought these were all just potion-dispensing side-characters.