The 15 Greatest Women in Video Games

8. Terra Branford (Final Fantasy VI) and Tifa Lockhart (Final Fantasy VII)

Terra2It’s a twofer. While part of the same series, Terra and Tifa don’t exist in the same chronology, yet at this point in gaming history, a discussion of one isn’t complete without the other. These two, more than any in the now-spread-extremely-thin Final Fantasy series, set the bar for later FF women, and constitute the heart of a franchise that in over thirty entries has yet to feature a female protagonist in a standalone game (the sort-of exception is FFVIII‘s Lightning, such a block of wood that she could be any of FF‘s disinterested male heroes on paper).

While FFVI is known as an ensemble game, Terra is the first playable character in the story, and she’s the person everyone’s after. Since she’s part esper (ancient glowy people again), the oppressive Empire wants to harvest her magical powers. She’s made a good guy by simply not wanting to be harvested, and after she escapes the clutches of two mooks dubiously named Biggs and Wedge (in a story that features a group called the Empire – c’mon now), she embarks on a journey that for her, mostly concerns the internal conflict of what she is – a feeling human or a stony, reticent spirit-thing – while leading a team of treasure hunters in humbling the Empire. The way in which Terra discovers her humanity is one of the most memorable sequences in the franchise’s existence: she, by herself, saves the lives of a group of children orphaned by the Empire, and cares for them. Terra holds a rare spot in the FF canon: a woman in the main cast who grows as a person and maintains her own story arc without being hung up on the central hero dude.

tifa-fight-sceneTifa’s story is a bit different. In FFVII, Tifa owns a bar and possesses nearly unrivaled martial arts skills. On top of that, she’s second-in-command of a group of V-for-Vendetta-type “good-guy terrorists” called AVALANCHE (which also includes two redshirts by the names Biggs and Wedge) who work against the devious Shinra Electric Power Company (a big corporation that’s choking the world with pollution to one short-sighted end or another – let’s just call them the not-Empire) by sabotaging large reactors vital to the company’s operations. In any other game, Tifa would be the main character. Instead, we play Cloud Strife (straight from the Department of Obvious Character Names), a mopey, unfriendly, compulsive liar who won’t be nice to the other characters even if we want him to. Cloud joins AVALANCHE and sticks with them mostly because he and Tifa are childhood friends who made all sorts of promises to one another. While Tifa remains by Cloud’s side through all of his problems (which include regaining his memories and being poisoned to the point of complete debilitation), she never gets quite as hung up on him as he is on her. During the time they were apart, Cloud was a subpar soldier being dragged around by his superior friend, while Tifa was giving tours of a treacherous mountain, enduring the destruction of her town and the death of her parents, standing up to Sephiroth (the most infamous villain in the FF series), starting her own business, and risking her life to help people.

I struggled with Tifa’s inclusion on this list due mostly to the way she’s been marketed and the countless lists of “hottest babes” and “best chests” she’s been on, but as new FFVII spin-offs have been released, the intention behind her appearance has become more benevolent (i.e. now she wears clothing that a person might actually wear somewhere other than a beach party) and she’s taken on a life of her own. While Freud would have a few things to say about FFVII (read: Madonna-whore Complex), Tifa was Square-Enix allowing a woman, for the first time, to have her own desires outside of the plot and the hero. It’s no coincidence that she and Terra, Square’s first genuine attempt at giving a woman top billing, are fan favorites to this day, even next to characters like Cloud and Sephiroth.

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