Cloud was born in the mountain village of Nibelheim. He considered himself to be superior to all the other members of the village, and thus, did not enjoy their company; as a result, aside from his lifelong neighbor Tifa Lockhart, he never had any close friends growing up. At the age of 13, he left for Midgar to join SOLDIER, the paramilitary arm of the Shinra Electric Power Company who ruled the world.
Much to his 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, and despite his status as an infantryman, he showed a great amount of skill with a sword. Cloud would eventually befriend a 1st Class SOLDIER named Zack Fair.
His 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, and wounded Zack and Tifa, but Cloud ambushed and managed to defeat him. Afterwards, he and Zack were captured by Shinra's corrupt head scientist, Professor Hojo, and experimented upon for four years. This experimentation resulted in Cloud effectively becoming as powerful as a 1st Class SOLDIER, but rendered him catatonic. Zack eventually escaped with a vegetative Cloud in his arms and attempted to flee to Midgar, but was ambushed by a massive army of Shinra troops, overrun, and killed.
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, he 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. 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 new 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 various Kingdom Hearts titles.
Cloud was originally voiceless in his game of origin, and it was not until his appearance in Kingdom Hearts that he was given a consistent voice-over; he was voiced by Steve Burton and Takahiro Sakurai in English and Japanese respectively throughout later appearances. However, despite Cloud having an official English voice actor, Cloud has only been voiced by his Japanese voice actor in Super Smash Bros. Legal issues prevented Burton from reprising his role, as he is a union-based voice actor and must be credited by both his name and the name of his union for any work he takes part in. Since Nintendo does not work with trade unions, some union-based voice actors, such as Antony Del Rio (voice actor for Pit and Dark Pit) and Hynden Walch (voice actress for Viridi), work around the union clause by choosing to be uncredited for their roles. However, the terms of Burton's contract with Square Enix, which require him to be credited for voicing Cloud, did not allow him to take this route.
Main article: Cloud (SSB4)
During the November 12, 2015 Nintendo Direct, 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 Masahiro Sakurai, Cloud was the most requested Final Fantasy character to appear in the Super Smash Bros. series.
Cloud currently ranks 2nd out of 55 on the SSB4 tier list, making him one of three characters in the S tier. Cloud's strengths include a highly disjointed range thanks to his Buster Sword, surprisingly fast attacks relative to his range, and effective overall mobility, all of which give him a very offensive-based style that is capable at combos and excels at aerial combat, especially edgeguarding, despite his status as a heavyweight. Additionally, his unique Limit Break mechanic slightly boosts his attributes and converts all his special moves into fast and powerful KO options once it's full, further improving Cloud's 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, polarized aerial movement and a lackluster recovery that gives him low off-stage survivability. 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.
Main article: Cloud (SSBU)
Like all Smash Bros. series veterans, Cloud was confirmed as a returning fighter in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate during Nintendo's E3 2018 presentation on June 12. His moveset appears largely unchanged from his SSB4 incarnation. The most noteworthy changes he has received so far are 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.
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