Big boys don’t cry.
In order to be a lead character in Final Fantasy, you need to fulfill certain criteria.
Wielding a sword is a desirable attribute, particularly oversized ones that defy the laws of physics. Attractiveness is paramount, but it must be in a non-threatening way that makes you accessible. You need to be marketable, after all. Candidates who display considerable levels of angst will be of particular interest, so long as it doesn’t come at the cost of the aforementioned attractiveness. A sort of sexy angst, if you will – perhaps even sangsty. It may sound to some like a zesty flavor, but it’s critical to your success, dammit!
With all of that being said, we turn our attention towards two particularly preeminent protagonists (alliteration is also a plus) in Final Fantasy lore – Cloud Strife, the spiky blond grunt of SOLDIER fame, and Squall Leonhart, the decidedly less spiky SeeD hireling. Since they first graced our screens in the late ’90s they have been popular figures in the series’ echelons. Wars have been fought over who is the superior hero, however today we look to settle a different debate.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time at long last to decide – of Cloud and Squall, who is the bigger crybaby? Prepare for spoilers. Prepare for clinical research and intense debate. But most of all, prepare for sangstiness. Sweet, delicious sangstiness.
In the blue corner is Cloud Strife, Final Fantasy VII’s Materia-brandishing darling. When the game opens, he is stated to be a former high-ranking member of the military consortium SOLDIER, now working to bring down Shinra Inc. as part of the small insurgency organization called AVALANCHE. Are these groups capitalized because they are acronyms? Or because they are VERY EXCITING? It’s hard to say, exactly.
As the plot unfolds, we discover that Cloud was actually living a lie, having failed to join the ranks of SOLDIER and only getting as far as a lowly infantryman. Through a series of traumatic events he had unknowingly assumed the identity of his mentor, Zack, which seems as effective a way of attaining affluence as any other.
At the beginning of Final Fantasy VII, Cloud is aloof, indifferent, and curt. He’s simply a mercenary hired to do a job and couldn’t care less about the people around him. He develops into a more sympathetic figure as he learns of his past and shifts majestically from a rude introvert into a mopey one. Indeed, the peak of Cloud’s personality sees him isolating himself to a life of miserable solitude, plagued by feelings of failure and inadequacy. The death of his friend Aerith (or Aeris if you’re a heathen) haunts him, and no doubt he’s constantly second-guessing his mistake of not giving her a Phoenix Down, despite usually carrying twenty of them.
In the black corner (because it’s just that much edgier than blue), we have Squall Leonhart. A withdrawn orphan from Winhill, Squall has had a past filled with abandonment that has led to him becoming cynical and dismissive. He spends much of Final Fantasy VIII brushing off opportunities for conversation and friendship, acting only out of an arbitrary sense of duty. He is the very definition of a petulant teen and possibly a closeted furry to boot, considering his obsession with the mythical winged-lion Griever. Chances are strong that he has written tomes of fan-fiction about Griever, where it also breathes fire, shoots lasers, and is totally cool when talking to girls.
Upon his graduation from the mercenary academy of SeeD, he meets Rinoa Heartilly, a member of a group of freedom fighters known as
AVALANCHE the Forest Owls (which is totally not the same). Squall is dispatched with a few fellow SeeD members to assist the Owls in their struggle against a corrupt government, though he doesn’t play very nice with others and consistently manages to make things harder for everyone with his insistence on being a lone wolf.
Based on personality alone, this seems an easy win for Squall. His “woe is me” temperament and perpetual scowl are hallmarks of a sniveling crybaby along with his penchant for ending conversations with “whatever.” Cloud’s inwardness makes him less inclined to express his misery, mostly content to hold it all in and possibly channel it in poorly written poetry.
All that being said though, Squall at least has a determination that pushes him to always be the best. Meanwhile, Cloud’s inability to achieve his ambitions suggests that he’s a no-talent quitter and doesn’t even have the gumption to properly settle on a partner. He callously juggles the affections of Aerith and Tifa up until the pointy end of Sephiroth’s sword makes his decision a whole lot easier, and even that’s just not good enough.
On the relationship front, it’s something of a toss-up. Squall initially chooses to push people away as a front to stop himself from being hurt. He has reasons and justifications for this and over time he begins to see the value of love and snuggles. On the other hand, Cloud may have genuine fondness for his childhood friend Tifa and seems keen to show off the sweet persona he’s appropriated like a brand new Edgar suit, but he’s either unwilling or unable to open up to others, as in the case with the game’s pointer icon (Huh? Finger!? What the hell?).
Indeed, even after he mellows out some, Cloud opts for a lifetime of lonely sulking. Why wouldn’t he want to hang out with his pals? One of them is a talking plush cat! That sounds like all kinds of fun, and if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, his party also includes a foul-mouthed pilot and a puppy with a flaming tail.
It’s perhaps this obtuse nature and lack of overall development that makes Cloud a strong candidate for top crybaby. While the newest Final Fantasy protagonist, Noctis, likes to go on road trips with his buddies, Cloud proves to be the antithesis, riding a motorbike in an ultimate show of selfishness. He won’t carpool with anyone because that may lead to conversations, and golly does Cloud hate those.
Unconvinced? Consider, then, that during his climactic duel against Sephiroth in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, the two share an exchange where Sepiroth asks, “where did you find this strength?”
Cloud’s response: “I’m not about to tell you!”
Rejecting Sephiroth’s offer for friendly discourse (maybe he was even fishing for a compliment?) and throwing it back like a toddler who won’t share his secrets isn’t just childish, it’s downright rude. Who would do such a thing? A crybaby, ladies and gentlemen. A coquettish, bantering crybaby. As such, we officially anoint Cloud Strife as the biggest Mr. Frownypants in what could only be described as an upset victory, quite literally. His trophy is suitably deep so as to catch his many tears.
Do you agree, or has our decision driven you to woe that only Cloud could understand? Be sure to sound off in the comments below! Those written in the form of prose will be particularly favored, for that is the ultimate display of sangst.