During our last Spotlight feature, PSU delved a little further in to the archives and sang the praises of one of gaming’s long forgotten heroes, namely Resident Evil’s MIA and sorely underrated bearded badass, Barry Burton. Having just been resurrected in RE5’s Mercenaries Reunion mini-game, we felt everyone’s favorite Magnum-wielding zombie-slayer deserved some time in the limelight after all these years. Plus, any bloke who can decapitate an infected human with a single head butt is automatically a legend in our books.
Our latest entry once again focuses on yet another chap to come out of the square-fisted, blocky haired shenanigans of the late 1990s, having fronted one of that era’s most commercially successful games in the form of Final Fantasy VII. Yep, it’s the lanky, stoic and spiky-haired mercenary that is Cloud Strife, perhaps one of the most ubiquitous faces of gaming of the past decade. Having appeared in numerous other video games (including PSP Final Fantasy titles Crisis Core and Dissidia as well as cameos in other Square Enix outings such as Kingdom Hearts I & II) to staring in his own CGI over the past few years, Strife remains very much a staple on the consciousness of RPG fanatics worldwide even 13 years after FFVII’s launch, cementing himself as one of the PlayStation brand’s most iconic heroes to date.
As ever, this latest spotlight feature contains copious amounts of spoilers, so don’t have a butcher’s unless you've played Final Fantasy VII (and to a lesser extent, Crisis Core).
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Cloud Strife remains one of the most complex and intriguing characters of recent years. While on the surface a hardened mercenary who apparently serves no purpose other than to bash baddies on the head with his iconic and exorbitantly large weapon, the Buster Sword, Strife’s life history is a brain-numbing mass of twists, turns and turmoil, from the burning of his hometown and death of his mother to the fabrications and false memories built up following the death of his best friend, Zack Fair. Throw in some obligatory sexual tension with best mate Tifa, a global trek to save the planet from the clutches of silver-haired antagonist Sephiroth, a little cross-dressing, brilliant one-liners, and you’ve got quite the compelling lead.
Growing up in the dreary mountain village of Nibelheim, the perpetually pointy-haired Strife lead a quiet life for most of his childhood, his only close friend, so to speak, being the resident girl-next-door (both literally and figuratively in Cloud’s case), Tifa Lockheart. Entering his teens, Strife decided rural life wasn’t for him, and after hearing tales of Shinra’s legendary tough-as-nails SOLDIER member Sephiroth, he aspired to do what every self respecting, bored-out-of-his-skull Final Fantasy protagonist would do – leave the sticks, head for the city and become a badass hero. And it’s from here that things turn down right bloody complicated.
To say that our scrawny protagonist becomes a little economical with the truth from here on out is a gross understatement. According to Mr. Buster Sword, his voyage to Midgar resulted in an exorable rise to SOLDIER 1st Class rank, pairing him up with the cream de la crop of Shinra’s elite force, including a fateful visit to Nibelheim that resulted in its destruction at the hands of Sephiroth. The truth, however, isn’t so cut and dry. In fact, the truth is quite bloody and surreal. While Strife did indeed secure a life in Midgar, his ascension in SOLDIER wasn’t the rags to riches story you were lead to believe. In actuality, he tried out, failed, and ended up a bog standard Shinra grunt tasked with menial jobs. Meanwhile, Zack, whom Cloud met up with during his time with the unscrupulous corporation, rocketed through the ranks of SOLDIER and reached 1st class. Eventually, Zack was called out on a mission with Sephiroth to investigate reports of creatures infesting the mountain regions of Nibelheim, with Cloud also tagging along for the ride.
What happens over the course of this mission forms the nucleus of one of FFVII’s core plot elements, namely the truth about Cloud’s past. Ultimately, Sephiroth would go a bit mental having misinterpreted the origins of his birth, leveling Nibelheim to the ground in a raging inferno. Zack pursues his silver-haired assailant to Mt. Nibel’s Mako Reactor, and engages Sephiroth in combat but is subsequently defeated. Cloud shows up, catches Sephiroth by surprise and runs him through with Zack’s Buster Sword. After checking on his fallen comrades, including a wounded Miss Lockheart, Cloud and his adversary have another pop at each other, culminating in our hero throwing Sephiroth in to the life-stream below the reactor despite having been stabbed by the Masamune. Afterwards, Cloud and Zack are captured by the Shinra and imprisoned in the mansion overlooking Nibelheim and are subjected to an array of experiments by professor Hojo, who injects the duo with Jenova cells and exposes them to a high dose of Mako energy.
They finally escape (or rather, Zack does the donkey work and helps a near comatose Cloud flee town) and set their sights for Midgar, where Zack is cruelly dispatched by Shinra Troops on a mountainside overlooking the city. Cloud subsequently inherits his dying mate’s trademark weapon as Zack passes in to the life stream, before setting out for Midgar and living life as a mercenary as his deceased chum planned. However, prior to his joining Avalanche, Zack’s memories assimilate with Cloud’s own aspirations and ideals (as a result of the manipulation of Jenova cells in his body), creating the false persona you see for quite a significant chunk of the game. Finally, however – with a helping hand from Tifa – the truth is unveiled and the young mercenary ‘finds himself’ during a philosophical and emotional encounter in the life stream. His true self restored, Cloud continues to aid his friends in the battle against Sephiroth and Shinra, where he later forms his own business, the Strife Delivery Service following the destruction of Meteor.
Of course, Cloud’s convoluted past is only one aspect that makes Strife such a memorable protagonist , as beyond whatever trials and tribulations our hero has gone through, one fact remains – he’s a bloody good fighter. Indeed, Strife is unsurprisingly one of the strongest characters in FFVII, proving highly proficient in his capacity as both a physical damage-dealing swordsman to a magic-wielding mage. Most players tend to adopt a balanced approach due to this, kitting Cloud out with a strong but modest Materia set, leaving the heavy spell casting to the likes of Aries or Red XIII. As such, this won’t hinder his strength, which needs to remain as high as possible throughout your adventure.
As mentioned Strife is a highly capable swordsman, able to wield an assortment of powerful weaponry, from the iconic Buster Sword and comical Nail Bat to the triple-growth Apocalypse and devastating Ultima Weapon. Consequently however this makes him a front row combatant, so you’ll need to equip him with Long Range Materia if you fancy sticking him in the back row as not to slash the amount of damage he inflicts upon his enemies. Cloud’s Limit Breaks are also top notch – from both an aesthetical and damage point of view – and range from single-striking assaults such as the Braver and Climhazard to the multi-hit cumulative efforts of Meteorain and the legendary Omnislash. Indeed, whichever way you slice it, Cloud is an all around, tough-as-nails brawler whose skills will likely see you through some of the more gruelling battles throughout the game. Be sure to let us know how you guys prefer to equip Cloud in battle in the comments section below this article.
Check out some of our favourite Cloud Strife moments from Final Fantasy VII below.
Busting Out of Shinra HQ