One of the great things about Final Fantasy VII was its fantastic and varied cast. Each of the characters are wildly different, with distinct backgrounds, motives, and personalities. Throughout the main story or in side quests, the game explores each main character’s backstory in a deep and satisfying way. All, that is, except for one character — Tifa Lockhart.
Tifa Lockhart is my favorite character in the game. On a team of characters fighting with gun-arms and oversized swords, she fights with her fists like a boss. However, she’s also shy and modest and acts motherly to the rest of the party. Tifa is probably the only character that could realistically exist in the real world. Given these factors, it would make sense for the game to properly flesh out her backstory the way other characters have had their opportunity to shine. It’s a real shame she was overlooked as she deserves better.
The issue isn’t just that Tifa lacks backstory, it’s that her story is a mere footnote in Cloud’s story. She’s Cloud’s neighbor, and the only time we learn about her is when we see his memories. Unlike the other characters, Tifa has nothing to lose. She isn’t particularly special, and she’s very selfless. She’s there to help others and remind them to be strong.
The thing is, this is a role-playing game. There’s not just the main story; there’s plenty of side missions as well. Yuffie, for example, has an expansive story told over two side missions that detail her motives. It doesn’t add to the main story, but it gives a lot more context to the lore of the world, and specifically to one of its areas. Red XIII‘s story is told while sidetracked during the main story and adds crucial information about the planet.
Games after Final Fantasy VII have had plenty of chances to expand on Tifa’s backstory. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children featured her as a main character, but we didn’t explore her character at all. The developers had another chance in Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy when she had a story mission, but instead, they just swapped Cloud for Kain and made her a footnote again.
Tifa started out in life as just an ordinary girl in the town of Nibelheim. Tragedy struck at an early age when her mother died, and a few years later, the Sephiroth killed her father. Out of rage, she went after the Sephiroth, but martial arts tutor Zangan wounded her and took her to Midgar. She continued to train before joining the eco-terrorist group AVALANCHE because she cares about people and is still mad at Shinra.
It’s a believable back-story, and for some, relatable. She lost her family, and with nothing left to lose, she decides to fight for the planet. But it leaves a lot to be desired and is much less interesting than the other characters. Take Barret Wallace, for example. He was a coal miner who cooperated with Shinra, believing that replacing coal with Mako energy would revitalize the town. Instead, Shinra took advantage of his village and killed everyone. As a result, Barret joined and led AVALANCHE. Unlike Tifa, he also has something to lose: Marlene, his daughter.
Aerith is another example of a character with a rich backstory. She is the last of an ancient precursor race known as the Cetra. Raised by humans, she grew up coming to grips with being a Cetra, despite Shinra trying to exploit her powers. When meeting AVALANCHE, she joins them to fight against Shinra. In many ways, Aerith is the opposite of Tifa. Tifa is the ordinary, vulnerable, and shy girl who fights with her fists, while Aerith is the outgoing and flirty precursor race girl who fights with magic. While Aerith’s more interesting background receives focus, Tifa’s does not.
More Backstory to Explore?
There’s already a big gap in Tifa’s story where we have room to explore: from when she’s rescued by Zangan in Nibelheim to when she joins AVALANCHE and fights for them. That’s an experience that must have been traumatic for her. Already confused and lonely without her mother, how would she have felt losing her father and most of her village on the same day? One of the features of her character is how much humanity she has. This is the perfect opportunity to showcase that side of her.
There is also a notable difference in her personality between that period. As a young village girl, we saw she was outgoing and popular. While she’s always been brave and daring, when younger she was almost reckless, charging head first at Sephiroth and crossing a blatantly unsafe bridge. This is a stark contrast to the shy and motherly girl we see today.
The best back-story we could see is focusing on her training with Zangan. Show us how she matured over that period, and every time she tells another character to “be strong”, have her own loss in the back of players’ minds. Remind the player that when she comforts the other characters, she’s doing so because she relates to them. As Barret says, she’s tough, and she’s been through a lot herself. Show how she became a martial arts badass who can suplex giant robots.
Opportunity for the Remake
When it comes to Tifa, there are two totally different camps: one believes that she’s perfect as is and doesn’t need to change while the other feels she’s bland and lacks a character of her own. For me, both sides have some merit. If her appearance is as realistic as she was in Advent Children or Dissidia, then nothing needs to change. Except maybe she can change her attire when in the Great Glacier — there’s no way she climbs freezing mountains in a crop top and a miniskirt. Her personality can also remain the same, but given a bigger role and backstory.
While Tifa doesn’t need a complete reboot, she just needs a more expanded and richer story of her own that connects with new players and older fans alike. I have no doubt that by developing Tifa further, it could solidify her as one of the best characters in gaming.
In the end, however, fans won’t get 100% of what they want in the Final Fantasy VII Remake, so it’s better to judge the game for what it turns out to be, rather than what we expect it to be.