Game Heroines: Tifa Lockhart

Posted: October 7, 2014 in Game Heroines, Gaming
Tags: , ,

First appearance – Final Fantasy VII, 1997, Square

tifa-retroIn the Nineties, one genre that saw a mass emergence of female characters was the Role Playing Game. Mages, summoners and warriors could be found battling their way through epic worlds as both sexes took up their staffs and swords. Few have had the same impact as Final Fantasy VII, which spelled success for Sony’s new Playstation console on release. Boasting three discs and full motion video cutscenes, the game is credited with opening up the Western world to the Japanese RPG. Most notable was the emotional engagement of the player as a love triangle emerged between three of the main characters – Cloud Strife, Tifa Lockhart and the mysterious flower girl Aerith Gainsborough. While Cloud is the hero and the fate of Aerith culminates in one of the most tragic sequences in video game history, Tifa is arguably the most complex, engaging and relatable character. She’s certainly a longstanding favourite among fans of the series.

In Final Fantasy VII Tifa runs the Seventh Heaven bar, a front for the terrorist group AVALANCHE of which she is an active member. Her actions as an eco-terrorist may be morally questionable yet they do show her to be ethically minded with strength in her convictions. Prior to the events of the game she encounters her old friend Cloud, who is suffering from memory loss. Tifa takes him into her care and gets him involved with the group allowing her to keep a watchful eye on him, gain support for her cause and give him a sense of purpose. As events unfold they embark on a mission to defend the planet from Sephiroth. The CGI film Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, set two years after the game, sees Tifa reunite with her friends to save the world again while helping Cloud to relinquish the guilt of his past. She’s also appeared in other titles including the Vincent Valentine spinoff Dirge of Cerberus, the Disney crossover Kingdom Hearts II and the beat ’em up Ehrgeiz. Her characteristics don’t change – she’s always courageous, fiercely loyal and an powerful ally who can provide emotional support as well as watching your back in battle.

tifa_punch

Tifa’s design is something of an anti-love interest, meaning there’s nothing delicate or girly about her appearance. She’s the fighter of the group, armed only with steel capped boots and boxing gloves and no matter what the opponent – dragon, monster or mechanical titan – she’ll run up and start smashing it with her fists. Her limit break has her unleash a chain of devastating martial arts blows on the enemy, learning extra moves as she levels up. Likewise her dress-sense reflects her no-nonsense attitude and you won’t find any floaty pastel pinks in this girl’s wardrobe! Clad in plain blacks and whites (sometimes with red boots – “the better to kick you with, my dear”) her costume was made with mobility in mind rather than prettiness, readying her for action rather than passivity. By sheer coincidence this minimalist outfit happens to leave very little to the imagination… not that this has harmed her popularity! She graces many a list of the ‘hottest babes in gaming’ etc but this doesn’t cheapen her image. Her sex appeal stems from her strength, spirit and her unerring ability to kick ass.

What’s compelling about Tifa is tifa-portraitthat while she is practically a super woman in terms of fighting prowess, her emotional vulnerabilities are all too human. She is in love with Cloud, who barely notices as he is besotted with Aerith. Even when Aerith is gone, she casts a long shadow in which Tifa seems doomed to follow. Despite this Tifa does not treat Aerith as a rival but as a comrade, putting her own hurt feelings aside for the sake of the group. Some might argue that she is weak, solely motivated by the pursuit of her adolescent crush and conforming to the stereotype that a woman’s goal in life is getting a man. Not only does this do her a huge disservice (she was passionate about environmentalism, martial arts and ran her own business long before Cloud was back on the scene) but it also implies that she operates on purely selfish motives, which is far from true. Her relationship with Cloud (much like materia) is a double-edged sword as she becomes very close to him, frequently acting as his confidante, yet the constant sense of rejection begins to torture her. She endures it nonetheless and always acts in her friend’s best interests, not to mention saving his butt on more than one occasion. As his oldest acquaintance she is often the only person who can fully understand Cloud’s past and piece together his broken memory, which is necessary to help him escape Sephiroth’s control. In Advent Children Tifa continues to aid Cloud, both in battle and by encouraging him to move on past his regrets. By this time she appears to have laid her own feelings about Cloud to rest but her frustration in dealing with his emotional issues is often apparent. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the hero of Final Fantasy VII would not have gotten far without his childhood pal.

tifa-vs-aeris

Inevitably many elements of Tifa’s design contrast with the traditionally feminine Aerith to establish a practical ‘hands-on’ woman as opposed to the princess archetype. Just look at their careers at the start of the game – one sells flowers for a living, the other runs a pub. Aerith uses magic rods and healing spells in battle, Tifa uses her fists. However, there are more subtle differences between the two, which their music themes illustrate perfectly. Composed by the legendary Nobou Uematsu, the Aerith theme is tragic and moving (the first three notes alone are enough to make fanboys weep) but there is something hauntingly bittersweet about Tifa’s, conveying a sense of loneliness but also peace and optimism. It reflects her complex emotional state, something she’s often heavily guarded about, and is one of the most enduring and recognisable melodies of the acclaimed soundtrack. Aerith (while still likeable) is often distanced by her ethereal fantasy image, unlike Tifa who is more down to earth. Tifa’s the kind of person you might meet in real life rather than the one you made up in your head, which definitely feels like a step forward in terms of character development.

As an RPG the player’s social interactions shape the some of the events. The player’s responses in conversation affect the way Cloud relates to his companions, resulting in a ‘date’ scenario at the Golden Saucer with the one he has bonded with most. Each of the scenarios involves an intimate one-to-one conversation on an amusement ride while watching a fireworks display, giving some more insight into the character’s hopes, fears and motivations. If this happens with Tifa then you’ll see her struggle as she attempts to tell Cloud how she feels about him, choking on her words until the moment passes her by. Touching as it is to see the two friends having fun together, that last scene is quite heartbreaking. But hey, if socially awkward scenes with the ladies didn’t float your boat you could always take Barrett out instead!

Not only can Tifa take care of herself, she’s compelled to help others first. She’s an emotional character but one who’s strong enough to deal with her feelings, channelling her rage into fighting spirit and putting melancholy thoughts on the backburner when there’s work to be done. In short, Tifa may be a tough cookie but she still has a heart of gold.

 

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