JRPGs live and die by their characters. After all, it’s hardly worth the effort to sit through approximately 16 Avengers Endgames worth of content if you can’t stand a game’s characters. While every gamer has their favorite JRPG casts, most will agree that the party members of Final Fantasy 7 stand head and shoulders above some considerable competition.
It’s difficult to overstate the significance of Final Fantasy 7. The game showed audiences the power of 3D graphics and pre-rendered cutscenes, all while providing a story fueled by memorable characters and unforgettable moments. Final Fantasy 6’s Kefka Palazzo might be the best Final Fantasy villain ever because he actually succeeded in his plan to destroy the world and become a god (that is not up for debate), but Final Fantasy 7 features some of the best protagonists in this series’ history.
However, while Final Fantasy 7’s cast stands tall compared to most other JRPG rosters, not every party member is as important or even as powerful as their companions. Some Final Fantasy 7 protagonists are simply better than others due to their plot contributions or battle stats, and we’ll be taking all of those factors into account as we try to rank them from worst to best.
9. Vincent Valentine
Some people think giving a protagonist a brooding personality, a mysterious history, and dark powers makes for great character design. Vincent Valentine proves that isn’t always the case.
Vincent Valentine is one of Final Fantasy 7’s two secret characters. Unlike Cloud Strife or Tifa Lockhart, audiences can play through the entire game without ever recruiting Vincent or knowing he exists. In order to make that work, the developers gave Vincent basically zero plot relevance, so he never really evolves past his brooding phase. Moreover, Vincent only tags along with Cloud and the gang because they are trying to find Hojo: the mad Shinra scientist who experimented on Vincent. That is the beginning and end of Vincent’s motivation, which doesn’t exactly make for a compelling character.
In combat, Vincent is a gunner, much like Barret Wallace, but without the physical stats to back him up. Vincent’s greatest (or only) strength is his precision. All his weapons sport over 100% accuracy, which makes them ideal for the Deathblow Materia, but what really kills Vincent’s viability are his Limit Breaks that transform him into different monsters. You’d think turning Vincent into a fire-breathing, bipedal Behemoth would make him overpowered, but once he transforms, players can no longer control him. Where’s the fun in that?
Vincent Valentine might be a deviously hidden character in Final Fantasy 7, but he’s barely worth the effort.
8. Cait Sith
Every Final Fantasy game has at least one quirky, gimmicky character, and Cait Sith certainly fills that role. Unfortunately, he is brought down by a questionable dedication to his gimmick.
Cait Sith is a talking cat riding a giant Moogle-like creature, and he decides to join Cloud despite many protests. That’s not where Cait Sith’s strangeness ends, though. See, he is actually a remote-controlled robot operated by a Shinra agent, Reeve, and he initially tags along only to spy on Cloud. However, Cait Sith/Reeve eventually switches sides and lets the heroes eavesdrop on Shinra. Through it all, Cait Sith and Reeve remain the same personality-wise throughout. The only thing that really changes is their loyalty.
When it comes to stats, Cait Sith is built like a mage, but his usefulness fluctuates wildly thanks largely to his Limit Break. One of his Limit Breaks deals damage determined by a literal roll of the dice, and the other can do anything from instantly kill all enemies to instantly kill all party members. This randomness severely hinders Cait Sith’s combat potential.
Cait Sith is better left on the sidelines since he barely contributes anything to the combat or story. Still, if you can pull out a few good rolls with his Limit Breaks, perhaps you should take that luck to Las Vegas.
7. Yuffie Kisaragi
Like Vincent Valentine, Yuffie Kisaragi is a secret character, which means that some players might not ever encounter her. However, anyone that doesn’t try to find her is doing themselves a disservice.
Since Final Fantasy 7’s plot has to function whether or not players recruit Yuffie, she doesn’t impact really impact the main story. However, she is the focus of a memorable side quest that greatly enhances the game’s world. While Yuffie initially comes across as every teenage ninja ever (mischievous, rebellious, kleptomaniac), players will eventually understand how she ended up that way and will likely sympathize with her. Other than that, players could ignore Yuffie and the story wouldn’t really change.
As a ninja, Yuffie has expectedly high Dexterity and Luck, which means she pops off critical hits more than any other character. Moreover, Yuffie is one of Final Fantasy 7’s few ranged characters, which is certainly a benefit. Unfortunately, Yuffie is slightly held back by her Limit Breaks. She learns them pretty quickly, and they cover a variety of uses, but most characters have objectively better Breaks. This leaves Yuffie in an unenviable “jack of all trades, master of none” position.
Since Yuffie was designed as an optional character, she doesn’t contribute much to combat. However, gamers should still seek her out to experience her side story.
6. Red XIII
Despite appearing otherwise, Red XIII is an incredibly intelligent creature. He has a solid sense of loyalty and honor, and he also has some pretty strong feelings regarding his father (who he initially views as a coward). Red XIII doesn’t really become plot-relevant until players visit Cosmo Canyon, where he gives a veritable exposition on his backstory and offers some interesting world lore dumps. When Red XIII finally gets over his feelings towards his father, the canyon marks the end of his character arc.
As Red XIII is a weird four-legged lion…dog…thing, he is understandably fast. His dexterity is higher than any other character, so his ATB timer, which dictates how often a character can attack, charges faster than anyone else’s. Unfortunately, Red XIII’s Limit Breaks are nothing special. They deal decent damage, and, in two cases, give him Haste (one Limit Break even applies Haste to the entire party). Red XIII isn’t as good as other characters in battle, but he isn’t bad, either.
When you get right down to it, Red XIII has likely stuck with audiences thanks to his design. Other than red fur, a conflagrating tail, and a quadrupedal gait, what other traits come to mind when you think of Red XIII? You probably can’t answer.
5. Cid Highwind
Final Fantasy games have a long-standing tradition of inserting high-jumping, spear-wielding dragoons named “Highwind” into the party, and Cid Highwind fills in that role nicely. He doesn’t have the most crucial of story roles, but he is indispensable in combat. Well…mostly.
In Final Fantasy 7, Cid Highwind is best described as a crotchety old man (even though he’s only 32 years old). His dreams have come crashing down more times than he cares to count, which gives him a bleak and crude outlook on life. However, thanks to a chance encounter with Cloud, Cid can finally move on from his past failures. Cid’s biggest (and only noteworthy) contribution to the game is his prized airship, the Highwind. It’s strangely fitting that one Final Fantasy tradition begets another.
Since Cid is a dragoon, he has great physical stats but middling magic stats. His Limit Breaks are excellent for hitting multiple opponents, and his ultimate Limit Break is one of the strongest attacks in the game, but Cid’s true combat potential lies in his weapons. Each of Cid’s spears sports multiple Materia slots, and many have double or even triple AP growth, which makes Cid the perfect Materia experience farm. It’s not a glorious job, but how else do you expect to efficiently improve Knights of the Round?
While the story of Final Fantasy 7 doesn’t hinge on Cid, he more than makes up for it with sheer utility.
4. Barret Wallace
Every team needs a leader, and while Cloud Strife is the main character of Final Fantasy 7, Barret Wallace is the leader of the Avalanche environmentalist group. Barret essentially serves as the catalyst that sets off the game’s events, but he sadly trails off a bit through the rest of the game.
Barret Wallace is basically every loud-mouthed, hot-headed tough guy ever, but with a minigun for a hand. He rallies people behind him and even had the foresight to hire Cloud for mercenary duty, but Barret’s passionate anger can get the better of him. While it’s easy to sympathize with Barret, especially when he reveals Shinra destroyed his hometown, his narrative importance gets sidelined by characters like Cloud Strife and Aerith Gainsborough. While Barret started the fight against Shinra out of ecological concern (and vengeance), he doesn’t have half as rough a history as other characters.
Since Barret has a gun for a hand, he is understandably a ranged combatant. In fact, he’s the game’s only dedicated long-range party member who isn’t optional (Red XIII barely qualifies). However, since Barret’s a beefy-looking character, he also boasts beefy physical stats and makes for a good defensive tank. While Barret’s Limit Breaks are fairly straightforward, they are also devastatingly powerful. One of his Breaks, Angermax, challenges Cid’s Highwind Limit Break for sheer destructive potential.
While Barret Wallace’s narrative importance lags as Final Fantasy 7 goes on, he has more than enough combat potential to finish the fight.
3. Aerith Gainsborough
If Final Fantasy 7 is famous for anything, it’s the sudden death of Aerith Gainsborough. Her legendary death scene comes out of nowhere and removes her from the player’s party. The event is remembered even today, and let’s be honest here, it wouldn’t have had half the impact it did if Aerith wasn’t such a great character.
On the surface, Aerith seems like a sweet, innocent flower girl, but deep down she has a strength of conviction that surpasses most other video game characters. She’s the driving force of many decisions in Final Fantasy 7 (including why Cloud Strife cross-dresses to sneak into Don Corneo’s mansion) as well as the heart of the team. Moreover, thanks to her ancestry, Aerith is arguably the most important character in the party, as she’s the only one who can stop Sephiroth’s Meteor. Of course, that puts a target on her back, and Sephiroth is more than happy to plunge his sword through it. But even when Aerith is dead, her presence is still felt. The remaining party members rally around her memory to defeat Sephiroth and save the world.
Every character in Final Fantasy 7 fills a classic Final Fantasy archetype in terms of their abilities, and Aerith basically takes on the role of a White Mage. Most of Aerith’s Limit Breaks are based around defense and support, buffing, and healing allies. She can also acquire her strongest Limit Breaks and weapons before any other character. However, that is obviously a concession to make room for her inevitable death. Plus, the whole dying thing kinda kneecaps her overall viability since you can’t exactly heal allies when you’re a corpse.
Aerith Gainsborough is arguably the most important character in Final Fantasy 7, but that is ironically due to a series of events that leave her permanently removed from the party. This decision to kill her off would be insulting if it wasn’t so poignant.
2. Tifa Lockhart
Most JRPG teams need a mother figure, and the healer usually fills that role. Here, though, the job falls to Tifa Lockhart: the character who solves most of her problems with punches. That unique dynamic elevates her in these rankings.
While Aerith Gainsborough might be the most important character to the game’s world, Tifa is the most important person to the game’s other characters. She tries to keep a level head, talks everyone out of disastrous decisions, and provides emotional support. More importantly, Tifa plays a crucial role in Cloud Strife’s recovery after he’s rendered catatonic by a Mako overdose. Furthermore, their childhood history together helps explain why Cloud became the man audiences love. Without Tifa, there would be no Cloud.
Even though Tifa isn’t built for protracted battles thanks to her low HP, she more than makes up for it with excellent physical stats and weapons that provide beneficial, though risky, buffs. One weapon, the Master Fist, doubles or even triples her damage output for every status ailment. This mechanic is as overpowered as it sounds, especially against enemies like the Malboro, And if that’s not enough, Tifa sports a unique slot machine-based Limit Break that rewards proper timing and a well-honed finger. Skilled users can use Tifa’s Limit Breaks to punish enemies with overwhelming damage.
If Aerith is the heart of Final Fantasy 7, Tifa is the brains and, when the occasion calls for it, the knuckles.
1. Cloud Strife
Cloud Strife is, for all intents and purposes, the main character of Final Fantasy 7, so he certainly has an advantage in this particular list. However, it’s not just the spikey hair and oversized sword that earns him this crown.
Since Cloud sticks around throughout the entire story, he undergoes far more character development than any other protagonist. He starts as an arrogant, coldhearted mercenary who is only interested in the job at hand (mostly because he’s getting paid for his work). However, the bombshell revelation that his memories are fake (and that he may or may not be a clone of Sephiroth) eventually turns Cloud into a more compassionate character. Final Fantasy 7 is as much a story about saving the world as it is a journey that shows Cloud what it means to be a true hero.
Cloud is also the first character players control in Final Fantasy 7, so he is arguably the most malleable. Even though Cloud’s giant sword screams warrior archetype, his stats are as high as they are balanced. This even distribution lets Cloud slip into any combat role, unlike other party members whose stats force them into different functions (e.g., Aerith will always be a mage due to her magic stats). Plus Cloud’s Limit Breaks are all consistently strong despite the fact that you acquire them a bit slower.
Most of the development team’s efforts must have gone into making Cloud, as he is the face of Final Fantasy 7 and the face of this franchise in the minds of many. He easily earns this honor with his game-wide character arc and his combat prowess.