Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth set the fandom back 20 years 

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth set the fandom back 20 years 

In school, I once learned about British politics. I don’t remember the details, but our teacher showed us a video of a rancorous debate in the House of Commons. Shouts of Parliament members echoed throughout the chambers, and people booed in disapproval to someone speaking at a mic. People squished up next to each other like a loose mosh pit and waved papers at each other. It’s unruly, it’s chaotic — and it’s also exactly how I imagine Cloti and Clerith shippers would have it out if you corralled them all up and tossed them into a single hall to debate the best love interest for Final Fantasy 7 protagonist Cloud Strife.

Fans of Final Fantasy 7 and its associated compilation media have been debating the right fit for the broody mercenary since 1997. On one side we have Cloti — a pairing between Cloud and Tifa Lockhart, Cloud’s childhood best friend. On the other side is Clerith, which posits Cloud should be with Aerith Gainsborough, an upbeat and carefree sorceress Cloud meets on his journeys.

Every time I think the fandom’s interest in one of the greatest ship wars in video game history has finally died out, something prods the slumbering beast awake once again. Last winter, Square Enix released Final Fantasy 7: Rebirth, and its arrival has unleashed new devastation on the fandom. The events depicted in the recent remake — and the conversations around it — have set the fandom back 20 years.

[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for the intimate date scene shared between Cloud and Tifa and other events in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth.]

User-made fan sites of the early 2000s chronicled the sentiments of each side of the great ship war. Even back then, people supporting either pairing would spew profanities and hate towards the other character they didn’t ship with Cloud. You could read rants on anti-Aerith sites about how she was a “pure bitch” for taking Cloud away from Tifa, or head to Clerith forums to read a supporter drag Tifa for having “big airbag boobs.” Anything that could be used as ammo on either side would be — it didn’t matter how insignificant or outright irrelevant the detail might be. Some fans even analyzed details like the supposed secret meaning behind the color of Tifa’s skirt. (You can read Polygon’s deep dive into this era of the fandom here.)

An image showing Aerith and Cloud sitting on a water tower in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. Image: Square Enix via Polygon

In the years since, Square Enix has continued to release new remakes and FF7-related media, and that has only given fans more fodder to support either side. Final Fantasy 7 Remake shows a loving budding friendship between Tifa and Aerith, with Cloud’s overall storyline not leaning too heavily towards either person as far as romance goes, but then Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth took it all a step further. That’s because Cloud and Tifa kiss! In that scene and several others, Rebirth seems to go all in on Cloud and Tifa. The dates and cutscenes vary depending on the dialogue choices you make and the quests you pick, but even if you don’t get to see Cloud on an intimate date with Tifa, the two will almost kiss regardless of your date choices at another point in the story. And no matter what you do, Cloud doesn’t share a kiss on the lips with any other character.

Yes, we’re talking about who kisses who on the lips, here. (Even when talking about the facts, the conversations around this feel super elementary.) But now those moments in the game, and lots more, almost seem poised to arm supporters of either character with a military-grade arsenal for their side. The day of the game’s release, users shared clips of various date scenes with Cloud on X. Fans started reacting and with that, Rebirth lit the fire of fans’ fervor and it hasn’t been extinguished since.

Anger between the two groups began to ping-pong back and forth at an alarming rate. In a post on X, a Clerith shipper with the handle Supernerd471 speculated that Cloud has “some deep resentments toward Tifa for the crappy life he lived in Nibelheim.” A screenshot of that post ended up on the Cloti subreddit, sparking impassioned responses like this one from a user named Riskedbiscuit, who wrote: “Classic Clerith deranged behavior. They clearly don’t play the games and just think Tifa ‘bullied’ Cloud when she didn’t, she tried to invite him to stuff but he didn’t want to go because of her friends and he wanted Tifa to himself… not her fault. They just blame her for everything hell probably some of them think Tifa killed Aerith. Bunch of media illiterate clowns who try so bad to twist the story for their ship. I can’t imagine being this miserable and stupid.”

An image showing Tifa holding Cloud’s arm in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. Image: Square Enix via Polygon

In Rebirth, Cloud struggles with his mysterious connection to Sephiroth and often lashes out at those around him, including both Aerith and Tifa. In one post, X user CloudxAerith wrote, “cIotis since 2015 been anticipating and gloating about using cloud’s breakdown where he hits aerith and this is what they got,” and the tweet contains a clip where Cloud pushes Tifa to the ground. In response, X user Mudiscorp said, “now that we can use the same weapon as them, they say ‘but he was being controlled by sephiroth’. ohhh the karma.”

Just one scroll through the deluge of takes defending either side takes me back to the early-2000s fans spewing anger towards each others’ preferred characters. Members of the fandom continue to mudsling at either fictional character, and even the methods of analysis have stayed the same. (People still scream about supposedly “unbiased” translations of the Final Fantasy Ultimania archive books.)

The difference now? In a world where these disparate fan communities have been smashed together on sites like Reddit, X, and TikTok, the locus of ire has shifted even more towards personal attacks on the posters themselves. If you’re a Tifa supporter, it’s not enough to hate Aerith anymore, you have to hate anyone who ships Aerith too. A Tifa supporter can easily search and find an Aerith fan profile and respond to their posts. Fan accounts can quote-tweet claims which in turn serve as place for piling on a particular claim or argument.

An image showing Tifa and Aerith having a private conversation in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. They’re in a dark room and leaning in to talk to each other. Image: Square Enix via Polygon

Even if a fan isn’t going out of their way to find accounts and takes they disagree with, they could still bump into content from the other side. In my own experience, the TikTok algorithm has shown me both Cloti and Clerith content, likely because I have shown interest in watching videos about Final Fantasy 7. It seems to me like the TikTok algorithm could easily direct Cloti content towards a Clerith fan, or the other way around, and stir up more conflict.

It’s important to remember that these extreme examples aren’t representative of the entire fandom, or of every Clerith and Tifa shipper. Just this week, I saw a lovely post on Reddit from an Aerith fan who simply just wanted to highlight her favorite moments of the pairing. There’s plenty to love about all three characters. Final Fantasy Remake showed us that Cloud, Aerith, and Tifa would make for a great throuple, actually. Better yet, it showed us that maybe the date we have needed to see all along is the one between Tifa and Aerith, since the two do make plans to go on a date on their own.

I don’t have any issue with shipping. Talking about romantic pairings helps create online communities around games, and for me, it enhances my enjoyment of a series. Cloti and Clerith shippers have gifted us with sultry fanfic, flashy video edits, and cute art. It’s just that sometimes these sides can get a bit aggressive and spoil the fun for people who are just there for the cute moments. Part of that is because of how social media works today, but fights have also dragged on because we just can’t say who would make the better match for sure. Clerith versus Cloti is an unwinnable war — and maybe that’s why it’s carried on for so long.