The five best Final Fantasy heroes

Zidane Tribal (Final Fantasy IX)


After dealing with a long stretch of uptight anti-heroes (namely Cloud and Squall), the refreshingly hyperactive Zidane was a welcome change of pace. Instead of silently brooding, he always seems to be up for a fight or eager to flirt his way through a party. Sure, his strange design (complete with monkey tail) is childish when compared to the no-nonsense protagonists of earlier games, but it's this forest-fantasy appearance that makes Zidane, and all of IX’s colorful world, so exciting to see.

It does turn out that he’s a doppelganger to the game's villain, Kuja (and meant to replace him in an otherworldly invasion), but Zidane's soul-searching after learning his true nature proves he has a heart and isn't bound to repeat the same evil mistakes his "brother" has. If you can embrace his bouncy, playful attitude, it's easy to view Zidane not as a step backwards, but rather as a breath of fresh air and a fitting tribute to cheerful, non-pissy leads.

Cloud Strife (Final Fantasy VII)

Somehow both universally adored and panned, Cloud has been Square’s most popular anything for more than a decade. He’s starred in games, had cameos in others, headlined a CG movie and fronted a massive merchandizing blitz that’s still going strong. He’s easily the most iconic, instantly recognizable hero in all of Final Fantasy (and pretty high up the list for gaming in general), but how did he earn all this attention? Why the 50-50 mix of fandom and revulsion?

Above: Cloud’s sad because his friend died, and then he took his sword and then tried to get on his dead friend’s chick

The reasons for love are easy to spot – he looks distinct, has a badass motorcycle and comes off as a hardened, plays-by-his-own-rules warrior. Soon this harsh exterior chips away to reveal a conflicted, confused genetic experiment who’s loaded with memories that may not be his own. As Cloud realizes who and what he is, his original personality starts to climb to the surface and suddenly we have a cool, trustworthy leader who overcomes his guilt and uncertainty. It’s a convoluted metamorphosis, yes, but it works to great effect.

Above: Cloud’s main goal is the reclamation of his identity, as well as stopping the manipulative Sephiroth

So, why the hate? Because he’s popular. That’s about it, honestly. Cloud’s meteoric rise led to all the aforementioned products and spin-offs trying to squeeze some extra cash out of FFVII fans. Too much Cloud, too many side stories, too much attention to one character. We get that, for sure. But objectively we also have to acknowledge that he’s one of the most well-rounded and thought-out characters in the series.

Cecil Harvey (Final Fantasy IV)

Few heroes have made a journey as personal and stricken with loss as Cecil Harvey. Starting the game as the leader of the Baron Imperial Armada, Cecil had led a life of honorable fealty. When we join him high above the world in his military airship, he’s troubled by kingly orders to attack innocent townspeople and steal their magical crystals. Wracked with guilt at this inhuman order, Cecil rejects his role as a crown-sanctioned marauder and embarks on a journey of personal discovery, spending much of the game setting right what he and his superiors put wrong.

Above: Baffled by his king’s ruthless behavior, Cecil defects, starting a chain reaction that changes the entire planet

From there, he makes an incredible transformation from Dark Knight (badass, but tainted by evil) into a Paladin, pure of heart and imbued with even more deadly skill, thanks to being at one with the power of light. Cecil is one of the most unquestionably good-hearted characters in the history of Final Fantasy, but he's also one of the most mature, taking on his role as a bringer of peace with relish, eager to atone for his unforgivable sins. As he struggles to release the world from the tendrils of evil, he suffers plenty of setbacks and betrayals, but soldiers on.

Above: Cecil changes from tortured Dark Knight to righteous Paladin, all in the name of redemption

Finally, Cecil’s relationships to several main characters make the central plot more personable than other Final Fantasy games. He has something at stake with Rosa and Kain, earns the respect and trust of Yang, Edward and Tellah, and finds out a truly surprising twist regarding the game’s villain. Best of all, this is all accomplished in a 20-hour RPG, not another 50-hour epic that requires days and weeks of your time.

Think we got it all wrong? Agree that Cecil is the man? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Mar 2, 2010

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  • evoxpisces - June 17, 2013 1:39 p.m.

    THANK YOU for showing the love to FFIV! FFIV is my favorite by a very small margin for very many reasons and Cecil is just one of the reasons. Really an incredible journey in FF4 and Cecil and Kain just take the cake on this one. I love dynamic characters in games, books, movies, etc. and the way Cecil goes from Dark Knight, committing all these horrible atrocities to becoming a Paladin and trying to atone for his sins. Cecil is my favorite main character in the entire series and there's just a few reasons why.
  • Vigore5363 - July 25, 2012 1:43 a.m.

    I agree with Locke over Squall as well, but in my honest opinion I don't think people give Cloud enough credit sometimes (aside from his fan base of course)even if he isn't your favorite you can't deny that he is badass and completely deserves all the hype as well as any other character. Cloud's feud with Sephiroth was brilliant! He looked up to him like a hero since he was a child and dreamed of being like him, then watched him snap and become a monster with no regard for human life. After years of idolizing him, he still stood up to him knowing how powerful he was. To top it off i think the most amazing part of Cloud's story is the fact that after his first encounter with Sephiroth he shut people out, was always cold with little emotion but slowly opened up till his breaking point in the life stream with Tifa which in my opinion is probably one of the greatest scenes in the game because it was similar to Vivi's in FFIX but worse in a way. Your not a creation, your an experiment and a failed one at that, your memories are false and you have no potential to achieve your dreams let alone stop Sephiroth from destroying your world, and Clouds reaction to all of this is incredible because he has a breaking point unlike most of the other heroes. He almost gives up you start to realize that his battle with Sephiroth is more than physical, but with Tifa's help Cloud finds himself and his strength. It's just nice to see a hero that relies on his side characters to such an extreme. Still Vincent takes the fucking crown in this game for being such a badass.
  • Knopps - April 20, 2012 10:56 p.m.

    No Terra? Hell actually...No Locke? Good list...but I would of put Locke in Squalls place. Because like it or not in my opinion he is as much as important as Terra as far as main character status in ffVI I can accept Cloud. Probably closer to 5. in the 5 to 1 ordering. But yet again that may be me.
  • funkdafresh - March 2, 2011 5:20 p.m.

    Cloud, boring. Squall, boring and brooding. The best are the ones with a likeable personality. Zidane was awesome and hilarious easily my favorite main character. TIdus was thoroughly entertaining as well. Glad they're featured on the list.
  • tkv - December 2, 2010 5:50 p.m.

    I almost had a heart attack when I saw Vann. However, I thought Ashe was a great character; she was more of a lead character to me than Vann was. That all being said, I am happy with this list. Squall and Zidane are my two favorite heroes. I'm always surprised Cloud has such a fan base because he always seemed to be trying to one-up Sephiroth. I'm sorry, but I like Sephiroth more than Cloud, even though he's a villain. I'm happy with Cicel. He was a good character and I'm always happy to see the older games recognized.
  • rtw85 - July 23, 2010 5:27 p.m.

    if spin offs were allowed zack fair should be #1 coolest character ever also died to protect his friend and the buster sword in crisis core is cool
  • mellypelly - June 24, 2010 10:02 p.m.

    Now these rankings are better than your god-awful FF game ranking. Cecil isn't my first choice, but he deserves to be on the list. Only one I disagree with is Squall. Bartz (or Butz if you're old school) deserves his place. I never cared for anything that happened to Squall during the entirety of VIII. Pretty lousy hero if you ask me.
  • kerikerropi - March 16, 2010 1:59 p.m.

    i really love squall. i was kinda hoping he'd make the #1 spot but cecil being the one is no problem to me. I developed a liking to him since dissidia. I haven't played ff4. And it made me smile that cloud wasn't #1. No offense to Cloud lovers out there.. I just think he is famous enough as it is. And he doesn't need any more publicity. lol. I do hope they make a movie of final fantasy VIII too... I'm sure it will be a blast as well...
  • Conman93 - March 7, 2010 7:07 p.m.

    @RogueRed, I agree, he was like a sophisticated jack sparrow Having only played 7 and 12, cant really say much in any of this weeks articles. btw, can u even call vaan the hero of 12. Ashe and Basch got most of the attention, I noticed.
  • CARNAGEragnarok - March 7, 2010 2:39 a.m.

    F That, whotha F is cecil anyway? some fag...zidane as well, cloud should be #1, not cuz hes one of the most exagerated characters of all time, but because he is maga BAMF and can use a gigantic friggin sword like a toy and kill the eff outa ppl
  • hhbx - March 5, 2010 12:27 a.m.

    I think it's a bit more of the hate for Cloud being more then the over simplification of just being popular. Properly closer to him being almost literally the poster boy for the pretty, angsty amnesiac character that JRPGs just seem to revel in. That, and you have to admit that a good part of his popularity comes from what he is and does rather then anything involving his backstory.
  • Vigore5363 - July 25, 2012 1:55 a.m.

    You have a very solid point there, that's why I cant stand alot of Cloud fans a majority of them know nothing of his story and some only know him from KH1 and KH2 and call themselves fans which is ignorance at it's prime. My favorite FF characters would have to be Vincent and Auron. Vincent mainly because you have to go out of your way to find out what his story is and I loved it.
  • Xplosive59 - March 4, 2010 4:03 p.m.

    cecil is the only protagonist of a final fantasy game i like other than the ones from final fantasy 6
  • BelovedBookworm - March 4, 2010 4:41 a.m.

    Cecil is definitely the man- he's by far my favorite FF protagonist of the series. Good choice for number one, not that I'm surprised.
  • Squander - March 4, 2010 12:32 a.m.

    talking about "Heroes"... Auron is worth called a legend!
  • DavidMacphail - March 4, 2010 12:11 a.m.

    No way is Cecil #1. Tidus should be #1 with Cloud in second place.
  • SumCallMeTalent - March 3, 2010 11:41 p.m.

    guessed them all but Zidane Tribal (never played FFIX) would have to see Vinvent though because he is badass
  • Thantos410 - March 3, 2010 10:35 p.m.

    Cecil is great. I laughed at the Crisis Core picture and following caption though.
  • FalconMbuster - March 3, 2010 9:58 p.m.

    Cecil is by far my favorite main character. I've never played VII or VIII, so my only exposure to Cloud and Squall have been from Kingdom Hearts, Advent Children, and Dissidia. With that background, I hate them both.
  • metalgatesolid - March 3, 2010 8:40 p.m.

    Apart from Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy X has the greatest cast in a game ever. Auron is my all time favourite Final Fantasy character and the support characters are great!!!!

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