Initially appearing as a proud, yet arrogant and aloof swordsman who claims to be a former member of the elite paramilitary group SOLDIER, Cloud is hired by the insurgency group AVALANCHE as a mercenary to help them in their cause against the Shinra Electric Power Company. As Cloud's journey unfolds, he rediscovers his past and, alongside his childhood friend Tifa Lockhart and newfound friends within AVALANCHE, abandons his quest for power and fame in favor of fighting to defend his friends and their home planet Gaia.
Cloud was born in the mountain village of Nibelheim. During his childhood, his father died and he was raised by his mother. Due to his lack of close friends, Cloud, perhaps as a coping mechanism, considered himself to be superior to all the other village children, and thus did not enjoy their company.
Despite this, Cloud had a crush on his neighbor Tifa Lockhart while growing up, and the two became friends despite not being close during their childhoods. At the age of 14, Cloud, upon learning of Sephiroth's exploits and desiring to impress Tifa, left Nibelheim for Midgar to join SOLDIER, the paramilitary arm of the Shinra Electric Power Company, a megacorporation that effectively ruled the world.
Much to Cloud's dismay, he was unable to join SOLDIER, and became a mere infantryman. However, he was one of the few people selected to protect Professor Rayleigh from the insurgency group known as AVALANCHE, during which he displayed a great amount of skill with a sword in spite of his ranking. Around this time, Cloud would eventually befriend a 1st Class SOLDIER named Zack Fair.
Cloud's life was changed forever when he, Zack, and another SOLDIER named Sephiroth were sent to Nibelheim to investigate a faulty reactor. During the mission, Sephiroth discovered a lifeform named Jenova and came to believe that she was his mother. He went insane, destroyed Nibelheim (which killed Cloud's mother in the process), and wounded Zack and Tifa. Cloud retaliated by ambushing Sephiroth and, despite being impaled by his sword Masamune, managed to defeat him by using Masamune as a lever to hurl Sephiroth into a pit of Mako within the reactor.
Afterwards, Cloud and Zack were captured by Shinra's corrupt head scientist, Professor Hojo, and experimented upon to test Hojo's Reunion Theory, a facet of the Jenova Project. This experimentation resulted in Cloud effectively becoming as powerful as a 1st Class SOLDIER, but rendered him catatonic. Four years after being deemed failures during the experimentation, Zack eventually escaped with a weak and delirious Cloud in his arms and attempted to flee to Midgar.
However, Zack was ambushed by a massive army of Shinra troops; despite his best efforts to protect himself and Cloud, Zack was overrun and killed, although the troops subsequently ignore the catatonic Cloud and leave him for dead. Cloud manages to regain some coherence, crawls over to a mortally wounded Zack and, after a brief parting conversation, Zack bequeaths the Buster Sword to him and says that his legacy will live on in Cloud. Mourning the loss of his best friend, Cloud takes the Buster Sword with him as he trudges onward to Midgar.
The trauma of these events, combined with Hojo's experimentation, drove Cloud insane; his memories warped, causing him to believe that he was an ex-SOLDIER and to forget that Zack ever existed. At Tifa's behest, he joined the second generation of AVALANCHE led by Barret Wallace, and aided them in their battles against Shinra and a revived Sephiroth alongside allies including Aerith Gainsborough, Red XIII, Cait Sith, Cid Highwind, Yuffie Kisaragi, and Vincent Valentine.
Eventually, Cloud discovered that his memories were fake and, with Tifa's aid, came to terms with his past and was able to move on. Despite Sephiroth killing Aerith, Cloud and his friends eventually managed to defeat Sephiroth, saving the world.
In the years that follow, Cloud, Tifa, and the party go their separate ways. In the movie sequel Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Cloud and Tifa settle down in the city of Edge and set up a delivery business called the Strife Delivery Service. He also takes in two children; Denzel, an orphan suffering from Geostigma, a disease that has started to appear after the defeat of Sephiroth, and Barret's adopted daughter Marlene.
Cloud eventually sets out to find a cure for Geostigma, having been infected himself thanks to Hojo's experimentation. He discovers that Kadaj, Yazoo, and Loz, three manifestations of Sephiroth's consciousness, are responsible for the disease and have been kidnapping Geostigma-infected children with the intention of using the Jenova cells within them to revive her. Cloud confronts the trio but is outmatched; he is rescued by Vincent, who reveals that Geostigma is a plague caused by Jenova cells.
Kadaj eventually leads an attack on Edge to find the remains of Jenova. The former members of AVALANCHE reunite to face him, and Cloud manages to cure his Geostigma using Lifestream-infused water flowing in Aerith's old church. Cloud encounters Kadaj and defeats him in the ruins of Midgar, but Kadaj merges with Jenova's remains to resurrect Sephiroth. The two duel once again, and Cloud emerges victorious, resulting in Sephiroth fading away while his manifestations die immediately afterward. Cloud then returns to the church with the infected children and uses the water to cleanse the Geostigma out of them. He then says farewell to the spirits of Zack and Aerith, who had been with him throughout the events of Advent Children.
As Final Fantasy VII became the best-selling and most recognized game in its series, Cloud is widely considered the most famous Final Fantasy character. Despite the unconnected nature of each main game, Cloud is often used to represent the franchise as a whole (much like Marth for Fire Emblem), and frequently shows up in crossovers with other series. In some of his more notable side appearances, Cloud has been playable in every Dissidia Final Fantasy title to date, and has served as a boss, side character, or ally in multiple Kingdom Hearts titles.
Cloud was originally voiceless in his game of origin; although he is voiced by Kenyu Horiuchi and Nozumu Sasaki in the arcade and PlayStation versions, respectively, of Ehrgeiz, it was not until his appearance in Kingdom Hearts that he was given a consistent voiceover. From Kingdom Hearts up until Final Fantasy VII Remake, Cloud was voiced by Takahiro Sakurai and Steve Burton in Japanese and English respectively, with Cody Christian replacing Burton as the English voice from Final Fantasy VII Remake onwards. However, Burton was not asked to reprise his role for Super Smash Bros. due to conflicts regarding his voice actor contract with Square Enix.
As a playable character
Main article: Cloud (SSB4)
During a Nintendo Direct on November 12, 2015 , Cloud was announced to appear in Super Smash Bros. 4 as downloadable content. This makes him the fifth third-party character to appear in SSB4, and the first representative of Square Enix. According to series director Masahiro Sakurai, Final Fantasy characters were heavily requested by fans to appear in the Super Smash Bros. series, with Cloud Strife receiving the most support out of all of them. While discussing potential candidates from the Final Fantasy series to include in SSB4, Sakurai stated in an interview with Square Enix veteran Tetsuya Nomura that he could have included characters such as Fusoya from Final Fantasy IV, Bartz Klauser from Final Fantasy V, or Terra Branford from Final Fantasy VI. However, Sakurai ultimately said it was difficult to imagine a Final Fantasy character to include that was not Cloud, primarily owing to his design and iconic status.
Unlike most playable characters, Cloud has two distinct models that comprise his costumes: his classic Final Fantasy VII design (albeit with his slightly modified attire from Dissidia Final Fantasy) is his default costume alongside the Buster Sword, while his "Cloudy Wolf" design from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is an alternate costume alongside the Fusion Sword.
Cloud's strengths include highly disjointed range thanks to his Buster Sword, surprisingly fast attacks relative to his range and power, and quick overall mobility. Despite being a heavyweight, these traits collectively give him a heavily offensive playstyle that is useful for combos and excellent at aerial combat, especially edgeguarding. Additionally, Cloud's unique Limit Break mechanic slightly boosts his attributes and converts his special moves into fast and powerful KOing options once it is full, further improving his offensive presence to the point that he can score KOs even at fairly low percentages.
However, Cloud has some glaring issues, such as one of the weakest grab games among the cast, noticeable ending lag for some moves, polarized aerial movement, and a lackluster recovery that gives him very minimal off-stage endurance. Most notably, his KO potential fluctuates due to having very few easy-to-land KO moves outside of his Limit Break special moves.
Overall, Cloud, like Mario, boasts numerous advantages that are supplemented by a relatively low learning curve, which have contributed to him achieving very noticeable tournament results and representation. As a result, Cloud is ranked 2nd out of 55 on the current tier list, placing him in the S tier and rendering him as a top-tier character.
As a playable character
Main article: Cloud (SSBU)
During Nintendo's E3 2018 presentation on June 12, Cloud was announced to return as a playable character in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Although his moveset is largely unchanged, Cloud received noteworthy changes to his Limit Break mechanic; his Limit Gauge is now constantly displayed next to his damage meter, and a full Limit Charge must be used within 15 seconds before it depletes entirely.