Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth takes a side in the great Tifa and Aerith debate

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth takes a side in the great Tifa and Aerith debate

The development team behind Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth has seemingly taken a side in the great Tifa-versus-Aerith debate.

It might seem silly, but the question of who Cloud should smooch has animated the FF7 fandom for decades. On one side, we have Tifa Lockhart, Cloud’s childhood friend with a warm, generous gaze. On the other, there’s the flower-seller Aerith Gainsborough, who brings a sense of playfulness wherever she goes, and whose powers carry the fate of the world. Fans refer to each pairing as “Cloti” and “Clerith,” respectively. Although a lot of this debate is arguably a matter of opinion, being invested in one particular side can vastly change a player’s perceptions of the game. Even something small, like each character’s outfit, can be a point of discussion as to which one is “better.”

The most reasonable way to settle the argument has always been “Cloud shouldn’t date either of them.” The guy is clearly so zonked out on mako and Sephiroth-related mental trauma that he probably can’t support a romantic partner in a sustained way. But hey, where’s the fun in that?

Now, with the release of Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, it looks to me like the developers have picked an official girlfriend for Cloud. Given that this debate has raged on for so long, it feels like a monumental decision — even if some people may not agree with my analysis below.

[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for the intimate Gold Saucer date in Chapter 12 and the ending of Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth.]

The key art for Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth with a huge spoiler warning slapped on it Graphic: Julia Lee/Polygon | Source images: Square Enix

I personally believe that the team behind Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth has finally picked Tifa to be the official romantic interest for Cloud. This isn’t to say that Cloud doesn’t have feelings for Aerith, or that there’s no chemistry there, but key creative decisions in Rebirth’s telling of the story just tend to steer the ship toward Cloti this time around.

Here’s the biggest argument to illustrate this: Cloud and Tifa kiss, for crying out loud! Admittedly, not everyone will see this cutscene. In Rebirth, the player’s decisions can alter certain moments in the game, so some people might see Cloud going on a date with Aerith instead of Tifa, and those players would not see the kiss at all. It’s worth noting, however, that no matter what players do ahead of the date for Aerith, Cloud doesn’t share a romantic kiss with her — or with any of the other characters. That, to me, is a sure sign that the FF7 Rebirth writers see Tifa and Cloud together in a different and special way.

An image of Tifa and Cloud walking in a dark industrial room in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. Cloud is holding Tifa’s shoulder and watches her with a concerned gaze. Also Yuffie is in the background.
This entire chapter could also be called “Yuffie the third wheel.”
Image: Square Enix via Polygon

What’s more, multiple other parts of the game highlight the tender relationship shared between Tifa and Cloud. In Chapter 9, the two almost share a kiss after Tifa wakes up from some sort of mako-induced mini-coma, after which they have a deep conversation about a particularly traumatic childhood experience they had undergone together. Later on, in Chapter 13, the group returns to Nibelheim, where Tifa and Cloud cling to each other as they each confront their own awful memories of their home. There’s a love and a sense of connection between them that’s reinforced time and time again.

It’s not just that multiple scenes appear to match up Cloud and Tifa romantically, it’s that Cloud and Aerith ultimately can’t be together. Aerith dies in the original Final Fantasy 7, and now she seemingly dies in Rebirth as well. Prior to the release of Rebirth, some fans held out hope that this retelling of the story would spare Aerith’s life, and some went so far as to theorize that Tifa would be the one to die this time around. However, we know now that that’s not the case. Aerith still meets her physical demise — even if it looks like she’s somehow present in the lifestream, it’s still not really possible for her and Cloud to be together.

If you get the intimate version of Aerith’s date in the game, she and Cloud will almost share a kiss. It’s tragic that they don’t, but this decision on the part of the writers does provide some closure. In a sense, Aerith has always been destined to draw the short end of the stick and to fall just short of her dreams. She sacrifices herself for the good of the Planet, and that means abandoning her dream life with Cloud. From my perspective, these two also clearly share a special relationship; she might have even been the “right” match for Cloud, but she can’t escape her inevitable fate.