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((Major, and I domean MAJOR, FFVII spoilers here.))
Everyone has a vendetta against the PlayStation Final Fantasiesųespecially Final Fantasy VII. I don‚t know why. I suspect no one really knows whyųsome people just like to bitch by nature and those people deserve to be shot. Numerous times. (Yes, I am condoning violence. Violence is our friend.) But on a more serious note, while I do agree that FFVII did have its respective flaws, they were most certainly not in the realm of character development. I‚m here to defend whom I consider to be the most psychologically complex character ever introduced into a Final Fantasy: Cloud Strife. This is going to be a long haul, because we have to make a sickeningly large amount of connections∑ but it will all come together. Let‚s get started, shall we?
First, Cloud and Sephiroth are not brothers. Just no. They‚re not.
Second, Cloud is not „just a grunt.š Who came up with that theory? Did anyone actually pay attention during the game? The man is a walking Howitzer. Not ONE enemy in that game, not even Sephiroth, could hold a candle to Cloud. Maybe he was a „gruntš in the sense of rank, but he was FAR from „just a grunt.š If Cloud is „just a grunt,š then Sephiroth was just „a short man with silver hair.š
To dispel another false rumor, he was not „brainwashed.š He was injected with various body-mutating chemicals and then poked and prodded until he didn‚t know what the hell was going onųthat does not fall under the category of „brainwashed.š That has its own little niche, one I like to call „Look at me, I was just chemically raped like a baboon.š But I‚m getting ahead of myself. Let‚s run over what the game gives us first. (And it does give us quite a bit more than most gamers recognize.)
Per the flashback on the third disc, when Cloud re-enters the Nibelheim basement, we are given the following scenes. The ShinRa recon forces captured Cloud and Zack after Nibelheim was completely decimated. They were subsequently imprisoned in the mansion‚s basement and both of them were given Mako injections. That is incredibly important. After the flashback, you have the option of reading the journals in the adjacent library. They detail that Zack was unaffected by the Mako. He retained basic motor skills and wasn‚t compatible with JENOVA at anything more than a basic level, just enough to retain SOLDIER status. But Cloud∑ our hero‚s a different story entirely. Cloud had a severeųin fact almost traumaticųreaction. He‚s so compatible that they continue testing on him. That‚s why Cloud had luminescent eyes even though he‚d never been a member of SOLDIER.
Moving on, the journals reveal that Cloud did not receive all three of the necessary injections that define a successful JENOVA soldier (i.e. Vincent and Sephiroth), but only the first two. (The flashback further illuminates this, because we see Zack „rescueš Cloud and then hitch a ride to Midgar, which would account for the experimentation coming to a premature halt.) Although we all know Zack had good intentions, saving Cloud before he got his last dose doesn‚t do wonders for his mental capacity∑ Cloud loses it, and by losing it, I mean he reverts to vegetable status. He gives the word „unstableš entirely new meaning. The reports following their escape calmly assert that there‚s no need to kill him, because he‚ll probably end up going insane. On a side note, that‚s also why the ShinRa boys gun Zack down and never even really look for our hero. After all, Cloud is drooling over himself at that point in time. That‚s not my definition of a potential threat.
Now, here‚s the clincher: Cloud never „thinksš he‚s Zackųor at least not in the self-deceiving sense. If you will recall the flashback, after the injections, Cloud is seriously doped up. Just watch the flashback∑ dude looks like a military experiment gone horribly wrong. (There‚s a poetic irony to that statement.) He wakes up in the mud, holding a big-ass sword, and probably with one bitch of a headache. (I know I hate it when that happens to me.) The JENOVA swimming in his brain isn‚t exactly helping piece the puzzle together. All he can really recall is what happened before Nibelheim went up in flames and after they broke outųwhich is why he makes the assumption that he was Zack. I can‚t really fault him for it either. Considering his situation, the only things that would really stick out would be coming to Nibelheim and then leaving it: these are memories that are just far enough from the Mako experiments to be clumped together, but not so badly that they are indistinguishable. But still, without that big chunk in the middle, it‚s only logical for him to assume that he IS Zackųhe has the sword, he‚s standing outside of Midgar, and he remembers something about being a mercenary. It‚s not like he purposely decided one day to pretend he was someone else. He didn‚t know what the hell else to do. (Would any of us have?)
With this new information in light, many of Cloud‚s seemingly bizarre reactions when encountering Sephiroth, Hojo, and anything Mako-related (coughcoughJENOVAcoughcough) suddenly fit into the plot perfectly. For all practical purposes, JENOVA is Sephiroth, (this comes later in the editorial), but the fact still remains: because Cloud is basically two-thirds of a Mako experiment, he‚s completely subject to outside interference. His cells are incomplete; he can‚t consciously control them, due to the fact that he‚s unaware they exist in the first half of the game, and subconsciously his body lacks the necessary chemicals to do it anyway. But this still leaves one stone unturned: why isn‚t Cloud still helpless before Sephiroth at the end of the game? If it wasn‚t all psychological, why can‚t Sephiroth continue to use Cloud even after he remembers who he was?
The answer lies in Cloud‚s nose-dive into the Lifestream. (We all remember this∑ Ultima Weapon, right?) Upon being fished out of it, Cloud is once again reduced to a doddering idiot. (He does this entire „watch me droolš thing far, far too much.) The importance of this entire sequence, besides the fact that Cloud „rediscoversš himselfųwe‚ll come to that in a minuteųis that he‚s diagnosed with Mako poisoning. It‚s so severe that the doctor administering his aid says he shouldn‚t even be alive. We all know Cloud is one tough mofo, but that has nothing to do with why he survives. He doesn‚t die from the Mako because he already has Mako in his bloodstreamųremember the experimentation? News flash∑ Cloud just got his third injection.
This has devastating psychological implications as well. Now that Cloud is complete, the entire haze over the section of his life that he‚s forgotten has been lifted, but it is incompatible with the mindset he‚s adopted. (After all, he now has two contradictory memory patternsųone of what really happened and one of what his mind assumed after the experimentation.) That, in part, is why the memory sequence is necessary. Tifa has to help him reconcile his past, but this is all possible because he‚s chemically stable now. And from that point on, we see a marked change in Cloud‚s actions as well: he‚s not only sure of himself, but his body no longer bows to Sephiroth‚s will. At a molecular level, Cloud is capable of rejecting Sephiroth‚s control.
I realize that the main objection to this argument will be that Cloud‚s subconscious was always at work. Biological experimentation aside, he always wanted to be like Sephiroth: powerful, detached, and in control. He left Nibelheim to become a SOLDIER, so he could convince Tifa that he wasn‚t a loser. He wanted to protect her, but at the same time, he doubted himself. Just look at the poor guy‚s childhoodųhe was a reject in every sense of the word. Emotionally, he is often viewed as a child. So, this argument follows, Cloud created an alter ego to represent everything he wanted to be, and he modeled that person after Sephiroth. My answer to this is that the subconscious argument lacks basis, because subconsciously, Cloud knew that Sephiroth was already dead. Everyone seems to forget that Cloud kills him after our anti-hero burns Nibelheim down. He conveniently forgets this after the experimentation, as well as almost all of his past, but Sephiroth died that day in Nibelheim. From that point on, the Sephiroth we see is merely an extension of JENOVA, reincarnated for the sole purpose of wreaking havoc. The original Sephiroth, after discovering that Hojo used him as a guinea pig, is dead for those long five years, until ShinRa drains the Lifestream so deeply that JENOVA is able to maintain a physical manifestation in the world, and attempts to find and kill Aeris so as to prevent the Ancient from purifying the planet. I‚d say JENOVA did a rather good job of that.
Judging Cloud emotionally, I don‚t see that the Tifa sub-plot has much effect on the theory. The only theoretical part of this editorial is really that the third Mako injection made him stable, and not the memory sequence∑ everything else is just a reiteration of what the game gives us. To say that Tifa is the reason he pretends to be Zack is unfounded. It may have been a significant factor in keeping him from realizing the truth sooner, but throughout the game we see the „realš Cloud come through sporadically, whenever Sephiroth confronts him. It wouldn‚t make sense to say, if Tifa were the real reason he was upholding the faćade, that seeing Sephiroth would throw a wrench into the act. Sephiroth affects him so acutely because when the JENOVA inside of him reacts, his suppressed memories try to come forward, and every time Cloud lacks the control to reach out and meet them. There isn‚t enough evidence presented in the game to say that Tifa is the sole reason he pretends he‚s someone else. It is, perhaps, one of the defining aspects in understanding why he acts so strangely around Tifa, and why his portrayal of Zack is more akin to Sephiroth than it should be, (again his subconscious desire for power), but it cannot be the sole reason for his assumption of this new personality.
And that, in a nutshell, is Cloud. (One big-ass nutshell, eh?) I think Squaresoft did an absolutely excellent job in creating a character with such depth and variety, especially in an age where the main characters of most RPGs did not face anywhere near as much moral adversity. One thing I‚m curious about, and wouldn‚t mind seeing someone elaborate on, is how Cloud‚s experimented state relates to Aeris. I‚m open to hearing opinions. Aside from that, I‚d say this editorial speaks for itself∑ Cloud deserves much more credit than he is given.
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