Coming into Final Fantasy VII Remake, voice actresses Britt Baron and Briana White—the women behind two of Final Fantasy’s most beloved female characters, Tifa and Aerith—knew they were grappling with a long, expectant legacy of fans. But one thing they didn’t quite expect? Those fans dividing themselves into devoted legions over their characters.
Although Tifa and Aerith are not the only female heroes—supporting cast member and Tifa’s fellow Avalanche member Jesse, and mysterious magical artifact-swiping ninja Yuffie Kisaragi say hi—their fundamental roles in the overarching story and giant-sword-toting hero Cloud Strife’s arc have catapulted them to the forefront. And that’s not just when it comes to VII, but the wider Final Fantasy saga’s swath of fantastic female characters. But that position has also bred a particular corner of Final Fantasy fandom that positions itself in an endless debate over one specific question: Are you Team Tifa, or Team Aerith?
“I had questions creatively, because on the internet there is a lot of Team Tifa/Team Aerith and I was confused,” Baron, who plays the former object of these two faction’s affections in Remake, recently told io9 over the phone. “Are we playing into that? Is this a competitive relationship?”
To be fair to fans, this is not necessarily a particularly aggressive conflict, rooted less in which of these women is the more attractive or capable and more about just which hero is their favorite when it comes to Cloud’s relationships. It’s arguably a debate Final Fantasy VII sows the seeds of itself. Its early story arcs set up the potential for romance between Cloud and either Tifa—his childhood friend who he clearly carries a lot of affection for—or Aerith, who finds herself drawn to Cloud due to familiarities with a former paramour of her own. At one point, when visiting an entertainment mega-complex known as the Golden Saucer, players can choose which of the two he can take on a date (he can, of course, also end up with fellow party members like the aforementioned Yuffie or, played as a joke back in 1997, male ally Barrett).
But while there are seeds, the game never treats Aerith and Tifa as two women competing for the love of our male hero, and neither does Remake. Instead, it treats them as one of the strongest friendships in the game—something Baron and White were both surprised and glad to hear, having heard about the murmurs of “Team Tifa/Team Aerith” discussions ever since they were cast. “It’s so interesting because I think Britt had mentioned when we were at [gaming convention] PAX East together that it did take her a little bit by surprise,” White added, “that these girls were not going to be pitted against each other...and it took me by surprise, as well.”
“Early on, it was very clear that no, Tifa and Aerith are two strong women that work together, and fight alongside each other, and care about one another, and that was really exciting for me,” Baron noted of her relief that Tifa and Aerith would not be at odds over their feelings for Cloud. “I feel, especially in this time, it would have been disappointing if we had played into the ‘women are always pinned up against each other/fighting for this man’s affection.’ I just wanted it to be a representation of two strong females who are different but can work together and be friends, because that’s real life.”
For White, the bond between Tifa and Aerith, and between their fellow heroes, was one that echoed throughout Final Fantasy’s long history. “One of the things that’s true in so many good Final Fantasy games is the connection between characters,” she added. “And you really see it. I’ve seen it in XIV, in XV. But there’s something about the way Final Fantasy makes a character that makes you fall in love with them...but they also all fall in love with each other, and have special bonds with each other.”
“I think that’s what makes me gravitate towards these characters. You get to see their humanity in every character. So it just seems to make so much sense it’s the same in Remake,” White continued. “It makes so much sense that Aerith and Tifa are in this together and they see a teammate in each other. It just seems so natural. Like, ‘of course—’ and it makes me think, ‘How wild is it we came in with expectations they’d be pitted against each other?’ How backwards is that?”
“I have many female friends that I love and adore and support and build up and I think in the media, we often see depictions of women fighting against each other, backstabbing one another and that’s not true or real to my experience,” Baron concluded. “I loved Tifa and Aerith’s relationship throughout this whole game—it was exciting to me. And it was exciting to finally meet Brianna in real life. Because I’d spent so many hours, you know, talking to her voice [in the recording booth]!”
Plus, White noted: Tifa and Aerith have got other priorities to deal with instead of fawning over Cloud. “They’re trying to save the planet. Why wouldn’t they love each other and work together, you know?”
Like, say, dressing Cloud up (literally) for VII’s infamous mission to the Honey Bee Inn? “Exactly,” White laughed. “Cloud is the best girl. Everyone knows this.”
Debate settled, then.
Final Fantasy VII Remake officially launches—finally—tomorrow, April 10.
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