Final Fantasy, really, is all about the characters. The characters drive the story forward. It is the characters who you fall in love with, who you care about, who you emotionally engage with. It is the characters, their design, personalities, and, of course, kick ass special attacks, that make Final Fantasy so beloved. To mark the release of the latest in the franchise, Final Fantasy XIII - read our verdict here - we thought we'd cast our mind back and recount our favourite characters from Square Enix's fantasy universe. Some are easy to predict. Some... less so. And yes, even some FFXIII characters make the cut.
Tifa Lockhart - Final Fantasy VII
Let's talk about love triangles. Cloud clearly fancied Aeris, but she was more interested in Sephiroth, or was that Zak? Anyway, she died, so that left Tifa, owner of the 7th Heaven bar and member of terrorist group AVALANCHE. She quite obviously fancied Cloud but wasn't really doing it for him. Got that? Good. Tifa's no-nonsense approach and brutal punches endeared her to those who found Aeris too sickly sweet to swallow. She didn't suffer any of Cloud's emo crap, and wasn't afraid to tell him to get over himself when he was sulking. She was as sexy as she was confident, too. She had nice legs and big breasts. What more could we ask for?
Cid - various
There's a Cid in almost every Final Fantasy game. From VII's chain-smoking Cid Highway to XII's wonderfully-named Doctor Cidolfus Demen Bunansa, Cid's usually an airship pilot, or a mechanic, or a tinkerer of some description. But in recent times he's expanded his skill set, and even taken an interest in the more villainous side of Final Fantasy character life. The aforementioned Doctor Cid was a bad guy - the first Cid villain in a Final Fantasy game. And, without wanting to spoil anything for you new Final Fantasy XIII owners out there, that game's Cid is a... how shall we put it... interesting fellow, too. Now, the question we want answered is: why? Why have a Cid as a recurring character name in the Final Fantasy series? What is it about the name Cid, that Square Enix loves so much? Answers on a postcard please.
Snow Villiers - Final Fantasy XIII
He might have a silly, effeminate name, but all Snow, the broad-shouldered, bandanna-wearing fist fighter from FFXIII, wants is to be a hero. But when his wife is turned to crystal, his world turns upside down. How he deals with this, and his difficult relationship with Lightning, and the young Hope, who blames him for his mother's death, is perhaps the most interesting aspect of FFXIII. On a more juvenile level, he's great because his punches sound incredibly meaty and he summons the sexy Shiva sisters, who come together to form a motorbike which he rides on. You don't have to be Professor Love Muscle to spot the sexual references here...
Aeris Gainsborough - Final Fantasy VII
Aeris' enduring appeal owes much to her shocking death halfway through FFVII. She's been martyred, in a way. Up to that point, she was a likeable, inoffensive love interest in the stereotypical Japanese fashion; a flower girl with secrets and a talent for spell casting. But she was valued more on a pure gameplay level: she was also extremely useful in combat, and one hell of a healer. After her heartbreaking death, and subsequent burial, players felt a hole not only in their hearts, but in their balanced front line party makeup. Still, her death ranks as one of the most memorable video game scenes of all time, and one of the bravest moves on the part of a game developer. Watching it on YouTube now, it's hard not to feel tears well up. Well, sort of.
Lightning - Final Fantasy XIII
Lightning is moody, monotone, and an ex-soldier. Remind you of anyone? Comparisons with FFVII's Cloud have come thick and fast, and with good reason. Even legendary Final Fantasy character designer Tetsuya Nomura has admitted that, for Lightning, he was asked to design a female Cloud Strife. While she may never prove as popular as VII's leading man, she's a worthy addition to this list. Her guilt over her sister's horrible fate lends her a determination during the first half of FFXIII. But she gets really interesting during the second half of the game, when revelations question her very being. Well, there's that, and the fact that she's slap-yourself-in-the-face sexy. There's something about pink-haired vixens and gun blades that get us all hot under the collar...
Bahamut - various
He's not a playable character, and he never talks, but giant winged monstrosity Bahamut still ranks as one of the most memorable Final Fantasy creations. He is, essentially, a double hard dragon you can summon, but his recurring appearance across the series has resulted in a "his master's dog" relationship with the player. He's always there if you need him, appearing from the heavens in a blaze of magic emblems and raining down the pain on all who would seek to harm you. His trademark attack, the Mega Flare, sees him charge up all sorts craziness from just in front of his terrifying mouth before blasting the whole world to smithereens. Boom.
Lulu - Final Fantasy X
Mysterious, calm, and sultry, Lulu is one of the best-designed Final Fantasy characters ever. Her dress, made up entirely of belts strapped to each other, was a work of art, and, occasionally, allowed you a thrilling glimpse at the wonder it concealed. On the battlefield, she excelled as a damage dealing spell caster. Physical attacks weren't her strong point - and it was easy to know why: her basic attack involved laying a doll on the ground and have it trot over to your enemy and smack them - a hilarious sight. But that was the only hilarious thing about Lulu. She was a serious, scathing girl, a bitch witch with an attitude. Square Enix, as it likes to, never missed an opportunity to exploit her lovely figure; when she cast a spell, she'd often provocatively lean forward, showing her ample cleavage to all. She was easily the most interesting character in Final Fantasy X. But that's not saying much: Tidus and Wakka, two of the most annoying characters in Final Fantasy history, were in that game.
Kefka Palazzo - Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VI's big bad villain was messed up. Proper messed up. Nihilistic to the core, Kefka wanted nothing more than to set the world aflame. The guy was horrible, killing millions at a whim and forcing everyone he spared to worship him. The game's epic conclusion - one listed by many as their favourite boss battle - is an intelligent philosophical discussion that puts the likes of Fight Club to shame. Kefka believes all life to be meaningless and mortal existence purposeless, and therefore wishes total destruction on the world. However, the player controlled party argue the toss, revealing the meaning in their own lives. Unable to reconcile this conflict, Kafka is enraged. Take that, Heavy Rain.
Cloud Strife - Final Fantasy VII
Spiky-haired emo with a big sword. That's all Cloud was. Now, the JRPG front man is a cliché, but in 1997, Cloud reverberated around the gaming universe. He was so cool - so cool! His sword swipe attacks looked incredible on the PlayStation (go Omnislash!), and his confused, dour personality struck a chord in the heartstrings of millions of teenagers across the world. We all loved him as much as we wanted to be him. He remains the series' most popular character, a poster boy for the entire JRPG genre. The entire gaming world awaits his return. Surely it must come? But will it be via a Final Fantasy VII remake, or something new entirely?
Sephiroth - Final Fantasy VII
If Cloud was plus, then Sephiroth was minus. Cloud had bright blue eyes and spiky blonde hair. Sephiroth had bright cyan eyes and long, platinum-coloured hair. Cloud had the big, fat Buster Sword. Sephiroth had the long, thin Masamune. The Cloud/Sephiroth rivalry drove FFVII's pulsating storyline to an epic conclusion. While Cloud eventually defeated his foe, you always felt that Sephiroth was more powerful than anyone who dared to oppose him. But he was just so cool, wasn't he? His nonchalant, condescending behaviour, his devastating sword swipes - really, we were rooting for Sephiroth as passionately as we were for Cloud. As much a victim of mega corporation Shinra as Cloud and his eclectic band of followers, Sephiroth's motivations were shrouded in mystery, and are still debated today. Final Fantasy, and indeed gaming, has never known a greater villain.