「Words aren't the only way to tell someone how you feel.」
In which I write an embarassingly long stream of conciousness about my favorite fist fighter. Please excuse any English mistakes or disjointed writing! I will come back and edit from time to time.
Tifa Lockhart is my comfort character. Despite how grossly sexualized she is by men, I have loved her since I was a little girl at only 7 years old. She is a character that is somehow tied to both of my parents, whom I love so very much. One of my oldest and fondest memories is of the first time I played Final Fantasy on the PSX. I had been watching my dad play for days, entranced by the music and the funny little sprites, the animations, the atmosphere, despite barely understanding what was going on. My dad would patiently explain things to me when I had just about a billion questions of who, what, when, where, why? I'll never forget the feeling of excitement and awe I had when my dad handed me the controller and let me fight a random battle for him.
I clumsily controlled the party and won—looking back at it, I'm sure it was just a low level group of enemies but I felt so strong and smart and proud! As I watched Tifa land the killing blow, the fond feelings I had for her as a character quickly intensified. When people online say things like "representation doesn't matter", I think about the first time I looked through the FFVII manual, and how I was instantly struck by how much she looked like my mom! At least in my child's eye she did, because of her long black hair and asian-coded appearance. The alone made me love her despite knowing nothing about her character.
When I was around 9 or 10, I played the game for myself. At this age, I was better able to understand the plotline, the characters and their motivations, though of course, I still understood everything at a very basic level due to my age. Again, I felt myself fall in love with how physically strong she was while having a soft heart and kind character (though the 90s ENG translation did zero justice to her character, in my opinion.) Through all of the iterations of her throughout the years, I have loved her gentle demeanor and loyal heart more and more and with age, I began to see and understand the certain nuances of her character: her shyness, her motherly nature, her tenderness despite the tragedies of her life, her hidden temper, her anxieties, her habit of keeping her feelings and fears to herself...her locked heart.
There's been a lot of criticism of her throughtout the years, whether it's about her personality or nitpicking about her design. None of that has ever bothered me, and honestly it just made me sit and think, read into, and write my own meta-analysis as a teenager.
Her Design: Over the years, I've read a lot of FFVII discourse and arguments over it. Things like "well, she can't be THAT shy if she has BIG BREASTS" or "her big boobs make her a slut" and as a teenager, reading that made me want to slam my head into my monitor haha! I am someone who developed a big chest quickly as a teen and had no idea how to deal with it. Pair that with a flashy sense of style back then...a lot of assumptions were made by strangers, friends, even family about my personality, even though most everyone knew I was extremely shy and quiet as a mouse at the time. This was another reason why I was so attached to her growing up, because I knew that a woman's curves ≠ salaciousness.
A lot of Westerners seem to ignore the fact (or maybe are ignorant of) that Tifa was specifically designed to subvert your expectations. The dichotomy of her appearance—a sporty, curvy barmaid-slash-eco-terrorist and her personality—demure, gentle, and virtuous, may seem like it wasn't thought out, but when you look at it through an Eastern lens, it does really make sense. The devs themselves have even stated they wanted to surprise players with how she was written in contrast to her appearance, and I think that it's something that doesn't translate that well into English or the Western world.
From certain traits, she has what Japanese males love IRL: long black hair, fair skin, big bright eyes. A humble, graceful and generous woman who is beautiful but does not weaponize her beauty or even knows that she is. A やまとなでしこ (yamato nadeshiko) essentially, the perfect Japanese woman.
Yet, she is flawed, she is human. A normal woman, even! Prone to bouts of self-doubt, anger, despair, confusion, low cofidence, driven by a sense of hatred to further her goals (i.e. destroy Shinra.). A taste for clothing, and items, and a skillset that may seem flashy, brazen, "unwomanly" or "unladylike." This is where she shines, in my opinion, as she is made up of idiosyncrasies and opposites, yin and yang in one person——bloodied hands that can destroy with brute force are the same nurturing, guiding hands that cradle Marlene; an apprehensive, melancholic and questioning young woman at her worst, yet she's strong enough to piece Cloud back together and support him throughout all.
In a way that defies classic JRPG love interest tropes, she is physically strong and capable, not a damsel in distress nor a spellcasting support, yet she can still be meek/scared but also driven by vindication and righteous anger.
Those particular traits have some people say that she's weak of mind, or manipulative, even. Particularly when she doesn't immediately fess up to Cloud that his memories seem wrong as she's too scared to know what it means. She's confused and at a loss for what to do or what to say. So she silently goes along with it, but people fail to realize that she is only TWENTY years old. In my Old™ opinion, barely an adult. Did you have all the answers at 20? Did I? Of course not. I think that her uncertainty and nervousness about it all is certainly realistic, afterall she had lost everything of her old life in Nibelheim, and Cloud (literally his physical being and also her memory of him) is the last of what she has of Home.
[The theme of home, found family, and the loss of both is something that hits so very hard to me as someone that grew up in an always changing enviroment--so many moves, losses of friendships and stability throughout my childhood and teenage years due to my dad's job. I can totally relate to her grasping at whatever memories she has of home as someone who lost places she deemed Home over and over again.]
As a small aside, I am very curious and excited to see how they handle of this in part 2 of the Remake. I'm 1000% delighted in the new trailer that dropped recently, that makes references to Cloud seeing Tifa get "killed" by Sephiroth, and how much of a mindf*ck her being alive, Nibelheim, and his time in SOLDIER, is. I feel like this is something glossed over a bit in the OG, so I really can't wait to see where it all goes! I'm one of the few that is enjoying the "changes" (orrrr fleshing out as critical thinkers say) of the cast and story points. Though I don't like the Whispers (though iirc they were in the OG story...I still don't like them lol) or that Sephiroth was shown off like immediately in FF7R pt. 1, but THAT is a ramble for another day.
While I suppose that those criticisms regarding her actions after she happens to find Cloud in Midgar can be valid, depending on your viewpoint and personality (her "manipulating" him into staying...which is..I won't even start BUT I will say that she's just worried about him and keeping her eye on him in a way that makes him feels like he still has his own agency despite his Mako poisoning...!)—I only see a resilient young woman who has to find the strength to keep standing, trying to be steady no matter how dire the odds. She has the strength to remain kind in a world that is drenched with the ugliness of greed and power. That is something I personally admire a lot about her (and something I wish I could be but alas! I'm a cranky and mean old woman.)
In the fantasy world of Gaia, made up of evil corporations that want to drain the world for money and control, it's easy to see how much this particular plotline of FFVII still resonates with people today in 2023. The threat of Shinra (literally God Group) is just as real in our world, though replace it with Nestle® or any of the other conglomerates that exist-being the main cause behind climate change, corrupt and buffoonish leadership (a certain former US leader-slash-idiot being dubbed a..God Emperor...), and a general lack of care for the disenfranchised and suffering. It's funny how a 20+ year old video game of all things can mirror real life, but then, I guess I am silly too for loving a fictional character so much.
Though I am a sucker for love stories, if her story was not tied to Cloud's in any way, I would still adore her. She reminds me to try and keep smiling, to try be kind—reach out with a helping hand, no matter how hurt you are or how hard your situation may seem. Admittedly, I am someone with a bit of a mean streak, so sometimes I have to take a moment and have a silly thought to myself: Would Tifa be that way? No? Straighten up!
Tifa was just a normal girl, not a special descendant or magical being. Just a normal girl from a small, fairly unknown backwater town. Despite that, she worked hard and honed her martial craft, put her fists together and made the most of what life handed her after the destruction of Nibelheim. Though she is placed in a very eccentric and varied cast, I think she stands out because of the simplicity of her backstory.
As an adult, replaying the OG and the Remake, I can also apply this to Aerith-a simple flower girl turned savior. I admit as a young girl, I was an Aerith hater ;_; but I have definitely grown to like her, especially since the Remake. (I really enjoyed their friendship!!!!) It's so interesting to me, the shared struggles the two have (losing first loves, tifa & cloud via nibelheim and aerith & zack. simple beginnings. smiling through the pain of loss, still remaining kind. It's interesting to me that they are pretty much foils of each other despite similar struggles- introvert vs extrovert, serious vs playful etc etc!
I think her climb from the humble little title of country girl/tour guide into one of Gaia's saviours is so admirable. She was just a simple girl from the countryside who rebuilt her life and fought for what she believed in, which takes so much effort and mental strength. In spite of all this, she is still shy and unsure—a little insecure about her feelings and where she stands...and to me that is where her character TRULY resonated with me as a young girl and later, a teenager who was unsure of her own place in the world. And even now, as an adult woman who has the bad habit of locking my feelings away.
Tifa is the kind of character who struggles with her words, though sincere, she hesitates and sometimes backs out of saying how she really feels because of her insecurity (100x relatable.) This is where her iconic line "Words aren't the only way to tell someone how you feel." comes in, she shares her love for cloud physically and mentally (highwind scene / lifestream), she shows her love and loyalty for the team by being there and acting as "mother hen" and protector, she shows her love for Marlene and Denzel in advent children by being the one at home and being their constant, rock, and lifeline while Cloud is out "repenting", etc. Words aren't her strong suit when it comes to deeply felt emotions like love, longing, and loyalty, but that's okay, because she can show you how she feels with her actions.
The release of the FFVII remake set my heart aflame! My favorite FF heroine in HD? Beautifully rendered? I was so happy, I cried, I stayed up for 2-3 days straight playing the game. I was thrilled with the fact that they made her kindness shine through, and more importantly, gave some spotlight to her growing friendship with Aerith!! I loved seeing the two support each other through the loss and pain in their lives and through the events of disc 1. Plus the scene with them planning a cute shopping date? Adorable! Working together to kick butt in Don Corneo's mansion? Amazing! This scene in the Train Graveyard where Tifa consoles Aerith:
It really touched me. As someone that lacks and desperately wants female friendship in my life IRL, I was very happy to see SQUEENIX fix the common misconception and headcanon of many that Tifa and Aerith were seething, bitter rivals.
I can only hope that in the future ff7r titles, she will get better and better. And that her relationships with the ff7 crew are more fleshed out, beyond her being cloud's love interest.
cloti analysis, meta, & canon stuff!
a lot of these are old but maybe i'll draw new fanart some day
Tweaked the layout a bit, made it bigger and (hopefully) easier to read! Added some of my fan art.
Edited my rambles a little bit to make them more coherent. Reading the Traces of Two Pasts novel soon so I can write about my thoughts on it.