Did Aeris Know the “Real” Cloud? (2023)

A major argument against Cloud and Aeris’s romantic relationship is that Cloud and Aeris only interacted in disc 1 of the game – a period in which Cloud was knee-deep in his identity crisis, which was not resolved until the game’s second disc. Auxiliary claims allege that Cloud is actually role-playing Zack in disc 1, and therefore, Aeris’s interest in Cloud is only reflective of her interest in Zack – and even if she had some curiosity about Cloud, she never had the opportunity to meet his real self.

  1. Who is the “Real Cloud”?
  2. Did Aeris Know Cloud’s True Self?
  3. Conclusion

Who is the “Real Cloud”?

First, it’s important to address the question of what exactly a “real” Cloud means. No, Cloud is not “Zack” in disc 1. Cloud’s identity crisis and subsequent false persona incorporates several elements, including Zack’s role in the events of Nibelheim, but Cloud is rather acting out his ideal self. He convinces himself that he joined SOLDIER and succeeded at his dreams in being the cool, strong guy – rather than the weak, unpopular guy he always feared he was.

Did Aeris Know the “Real” Cloud? (1)

Read more about the topic of Zack and Cloud here. Cloud in disc 1 is only a version of himself that his subconscious convinced himself was ideal. Key elements that make up Cloud’s true self, such as his cool, aloof personality, remain even throughout the story’s first arcs. He uses Zack’s identity as a foundation for his SOLDIER backstory, but is not a vessel for Zack’s spirit, did not absorb Zack’s thoughts or feelings, and the only “memories” of Zack’s he may have is limited to the events in Nibelheim five years ago.

As an experiment, let’s compare two superficially similar scenes: Zack’s crash landing into Aeris’s church with Cloud doing the same.

Did Aeris Know the “Real” Cloud? (2)

Girl: Hell-llooo!
Zack: Mom?
Girl: Helloooo!
Zack: …Heaven?
Girl: Not quite. Church in the slums.
Zack: An angel…?
Aerith: No. I’m Aerith!
Aerith: You fell from the sky. Scared me.
Zack: So you saved me, huh?
Aerith: Not really… “Hell-llooo!” That’s all I did.
Zack: Thank you so much, Aerith. I’m Zack. I have to repay you somehow.
Aerith: Don’t worry about it.
Zack: No, no… Hmm… Aha! Hey, how about one date?
Aerith: What is that? Don’t be silly!
Zack: But…!
Aerith: Stop! Don’t step on the flowers!
Zack: Excuse me?
Aerith: Normally, people are more careful with flowers.
Zack: Well…I guess I’m not normal.
Zack: Huh? You don’t see a lot of flowers in Midgar. They’re like luxury items
around here.
Aerith: They only grow here. Although I planted some outside my house, too.
Zack: If I were you, I’d sell them.
Aerith: Hm?
Zack: Midgar’s full of flowers, your wallet’s full of money!
Aerith: Midgar, full of flowers…wallet, full of money… Never thought of it
that way…

Now for Cloud’s meeting with Aeris:

Did Aeris Know the “Real” Cloud? (3)

Flower girl: Hello, hello!
Flower girl: You okay? This is a church in the Sector 5 slums. It suddenly fell on top of me. It really gave me a scare.
Cloud: ……I came crashing down?
Flower girl: The roof and the flower bed must have broken your fall. You’re lucky.
Cloud: Flower bed……is this yours?
Cloud: Sorry about that.
Flower girl: That’s all right. The flowers here are quite resilient because this is a sacred place. They say you can’t grow grass and flowers in Midgar. But for some reason, the flowers have no trouble blooming here. I love it here.
Flower girl: ……So, we meet again. ……Don’t you remember me?

  • (Upon selecting “Yeah, I remember you……”.)
    Cloud: Yeah, I remember…
    • (Upon selecting “You were selling flowers”.)
      Flower girl: Oh! I’m so happy!
      • (If the player purchased her flower.)
        Flower girl: Thanks for buying my flowers.
      • (If the player did not purchase one.)
        Flower girl: You didn’t buy any flowers from me though. Well, that’s okay.
    • (Upon selecting “You’re the slum drunk”.)
      Flower girl: Excuse me, but that’s really rude!
      • (If the player purchased her flower.)
        Flower girl: But I’ll forgive you, because you bought flowers from me.
      • (If the player did not purchase one.)
        Flower girl: I don’t remember a thing. Well, that’s okay.
  • (Upon selecting “Never saw you before”.)
    Flower girl: ……I guess you don’t remember. You were walking in a daze.
    • (If the player purchased her flower.)
      Flower girl: But I’ll forgive you, because you bought flowers from me.
    • (If the player did not purchase one.)
      Flower girl: Well, that’s okay.

Flower girl: Say, do you have any materia?
Cloud: Yes, some. Nowadays you can find materia anywhere.
Flower girl: But mine is special. It’s good for absolutely nothing.
Cloud: ……good for nothing? You probably just don’t know how to use it.
Flower girl: No, I do…… it just doesn’t do anything. I feel safe just having it. It was my mother’s…… Say, I feel like talking. Do you feel up to it? After all, here we are meeting again, right?

  • (Upon selecting “I don’t mind”.)
    Flower girl: Wait here. I’ve got to check my flowers. It’ll just be a minute.
  • (Upon selecting “Got nothing to talk about”.)
    Flower girl: ……oh, I see. Ahhh. I wonder whose fault that is. It takes a lot to grow them, you know. Poor flowers.

Flower girl: Just a little longer. Oh! Now that you mention it…… We don’t know each other’s names, do we? My name is……
Aeris: I’m Aeris, the flower girl. Nice to meet you.
Cloud: The name’s Cloud. Me……? I do a little bit of everything.
Aeris: Oh…… a jack of all trades.
Cloud: Yeah, I do whatever’s needed.
Cloud: What’s so funny? What are you laughing at?
Aeris: Sorry……I just
Aeris: Sorry, bad timing on my part.
Aeris: Say, Cloud. Have you ever been a bodyguard?
Aeris: You DO do everything, right?
Cloud: ……Yeah, that’s right.
Aeris: Then, get me out of here. Take me home.
Cloud: OK, I’ll do it… but it’ll cost you.
Aeris: Well then, let’s see……
Aeris: How about if I go out with you once?

And Remake’s iteration of Cloud and Aeris’s meeting:

Did Aeris Know the “Real” Cloud? (4)

Flower Peddler: Hello in there!
Maybe you’re not okay…
Ah, he lives! Finally awake, are we?
Cloud: You’re…
Aerith: Aerith. It’s Aerith. And you are…?
Cloud: Cloud.
Aerith: Nice to meet you again.
Cloud: “Again,” huh?
Aerith: What? You don’t remember? What about…the flowers?
Cloud: Ohhh… The flower girl. And this is…?
Aerith: An old church in the Sector 5 slums. You came crashing through the roof without so much as a “look out below.” Fell right into my flower bed. Lucky for you. Like, really.
Cloud: S-sorry, I-I didn’t mean to—
Aerith: Don’t worry about it. They’re a lot tougher than they look. This place… It has a kind of power.
Before I forget—you dropped this when you landed.
Cloud: Thanks.
Aerith: I’ve got one too.
Cloud: You and everybody and their mother.
Aerith: Not like mine, no. It’s special. Mine’s not good for anything at all.
Cloud: Bet you just don’t know how to use it.
Aerith: Could be. Though, I really don’t mind. Just having it is enough. It was a gift from my mother.
Pretty crazy, huh? Us meeting again like this. You should stay awhile.
And just when I had finished tending the flowers here… Gotta start over… Just me, myself, and I…
Cloud: I could stick around a bit.
Aerith: Really!? You will!? In that case…
Reno: I’ll see myself in, thanks. And who are you?
Aerith: He’s my bodyguard. And a SOLDIER. Pretty cool, huh?
Cloud: Ex-SOLDIER.
Reno: Well whaddya know, you’ve got the eyes at least.
Aerith: You don’t mind, do you? Bodyguard work’s not too different from merc stuff, right?
Uh… I guessed! From the sword! Just do this for me, okay?
Cloud: Fine, but it’ll cost you. A lot.
Aerith: A lot, huh? One date ought to do it.

Did Aeris Know the “Real” Cloud? (5)

There’s a few obvious differences here, and not much for similarities besides Zack, as of Crisis Core‘s continuity, falling into her church just as Cloud does in the original game.

  1. Zack is flirtatious and silly, whereas Cloud is awkward and cool. When Zack wakes, he asks Aeris if she is an angel, and then immediately tries to ask her out. Cloud has options to pretend he doesn’t remember Aeris, and try to be smarmy with her – for instance, pretending not to recognize her to look cool, or telling her she doesn’t know how to use her materia.
  2. Cloud apologizes for crash-landing into her flowers. Zack doesn’t – causing Aeris to reprimand him.
  3. Aeris teases and flirts with Cloud, already running social circles around him, whereas Zack is the one being friendly and flirtatious with her.

Again, it should go without saying, but if Cloud were literally a vessel for Zack’s spirit or was otherwise trying to role-play him, the scenes should be virtually identical. As they aren’t, let’s turn to how official materials describe how the two act around women – specifically Aeris.

Did Aeris Know the “Real” Cloud? (6)

A woman-loving playboy? Another face of the soldier Zack

“Zack loves women, a real lady’s man” – as Aeris recalled in FF7, Zack is very good at picking up girls and is skilled at flirting. In BC, he hits on a female Turk during a mission; in CC, he also invited Cissnei, another member of the Turks, to dine together. Since “if it happens once, it happens all the time,” Aeris, who had loved Zack, must’ve felt impatient about all of this?

10th Anniversary Ultimania, page 85

Now to compare how Cloud is stated to act around girls:

In particular, during the nighttime flower field scene in Chapter 14, Aerith tells Cloud “You can’t fall in love with me. Even if you do, it’s not real.” For those who are familiar with the original story, this line carries a lot of meaning.

Nojima: To be honest, some staff actually told me that this line made it seem like Aerith was looking down on Cloud, so it got rejected a few times. If you know Aerith’s fate, then this line would really pull at your heart strings, but if you did not know what happens to Aerith, then you might interpret the scene in a completely different way. I thought the gap between the two interpretations was very interesting.

On another note, in Tifa’s scene in the flower field, I wanted Cloud to not look cool in this scene. Even though Cloud and Tifa are close in age, he has a 5 year blank slate, and he doesn’t have enough life experience to consider himself an adult. Even though most of the characters are around 20 years old, there’s one guy, Cloud, who has the mentality of a 16 year old, and that person tries to be like an adult. I really wanted to write that into the story. After the Sector 7 plate fell, Barret comforted Tifa with the temperament of an adult, and Cloud saw that and wanted to do the same for her [in the flower scene], but it didn’t go as planned. I wanted to try writing him as being awkward.

Nomura: On that same note, when recording Cloud’s voice, we had his voice actor perform his lines slightly differently depending on who he was talking to. For example, when Cloud speaks with Aerith, he stands up and tries to act cool, with Tifa he loosens up a bit, with Jessie he sounds confused. When Cloud speaks with Aerith, he’s too self-conscious and gives weird replies.

Nojima: Cloud isn’t able to keep the distance between Aerith and him, right? (laughs). He seems pretty impatient with Jessie, but she finds that amusing and pokes fun at him for it.

Final Fantasy VII Remake Ultimania

So, Zack is a ladies’ man, skilled at flirting and picking up girls – something that bothered Aeris. On the other hand, Nojima and Nomura call Cloud awkward, unsure how to act around most of his female companions. Cloud does mimic another man in an interaction with Tifa – but that man is Barret Wallace, not Zack.

Cloud’s resemblance to Zack, therefore, is pretty superficial. Aeris in no way would literally think some reincarnation of Zack fell into her flowerbed. The Cloud she gets to know would struggle to be more different from Zack than he already is.

Still, that leads to the issue of whether or not Cloud’s fantasy-self is enough to say Aeris “knows” him – especially since the official literature itself tosses around phrases like “true self.” So, could Aeris have known Cloud’s “true self” when he himself didn’t recover it until after she died?

Did Aeris Know Cloud’s True Self?

The answer might have been a matter of interpretation, if only official sources did not provide us a clear answer. Yes, Aeris was able to perceive Cloud’s true self while she was alive. This should be treated as canon.

Let’s take a look at some of the many sources that confirm that Aeris a) understood that Cloud was not acting out his “true self” and b) that she is able to see the “true essence” of Cloud.

First up: Final Fantasy VII Ultimania Omega, which says the following.

Did Aeris Know the “Real” Cloud? (7)Did Aeris Know the “Real” Cloud? (8)

Aeris senses an overlap between Zack and Cloud, and detects that Cloud isn’t his normal self. She saw into his true existence, which he himself wasn’t even aware of, so lines like “I’m searching for you” and “I want to meet you” have deep meaning.

Ultimania Omega, page 31

Although Aeris felt affectionate to Cloud because he behaved like her first love Zack, she gradually became interested in Cloud himself, and she is attracted to him.

Ultimania Omega, page 31
Did Aeris Know the “Real” Cloud? (9)

She’s looking for the real Cloud

“I’m searching for you.” / So you don’t have a breakdown.” Her words to Cloud have many layers of deep meaning. She seems to have perceived that the Cloud in front of her wasn’t his real self, even though they had just met. Perhaps it’s due to her innate mysterious power.

An impressive scene where she appears in Cloud’s dream and leaves him with caring words concerned about the collapse of Cloud’s heart.

Ultimania Omega, page 29
Did Aeris Know the “Real” Cloud? (10)

クラウドの夢枕に立ったエアリ スは、彼をいたわるように、こう 忠告する。 エアリスがクラウドの 本質を見抜いていたことがうかが えるセリフだ。

Aeris appears in Cloud’s dream in order to care for him with this advice. This line suggests that Aeris has seen through to true essence of Cloud.

But just as she feared, later on, Cloud…

Ultimania Omega, page 156
Did Aeris Know the “Real” Cloud? (11)

「クラウド・・・・・・あなた、なにもしていない。 あなたのせいじゃない」

“Cloud… You haven’t done anything. It’s not your fault.”
-After Cloud gives the Black Materia to Sephiroth

目の前でクラウドがヘンになっても、 エアリスは彼に 「なんでもない」と 安心させるように言いつづけ、半狂乱の彼になぐられても無抵抗をつら ぬく。 まるでセフィロスの人形としての彼が本来の彼ではないと承知で、 クラウドの不安をやわらげるかのように……。

Even when Cloud acts strangely before her eyes, Aeris continuously consoles him with “It’s nothing,” and doesn’t fight back when Cloud, who has lost his mind, attacks her. That’s because she knows that this Cloud who is Sephiroth’s puppet is not the real him, so she tries to soothe his anxiety.

Ultimania Omega, page 31

A single one of these snippets alone closes the case: Aeris’s lines on her Gold Saucer date refer to her comprehending Cloud’s “true self” and understanding that his current persona is based on a false identity. Furthermore, Ultimania Omega confirms that, while Aeris was initially attracted to Cloud due to reminding her of Zack, it’s Cloud’s real self whom she comes to love.

Final Fantasy VII Dismantled, released shortly after the game itself in the late 90’s, confirmed this as canon even earlier.

Did Aeris Know the “Real” Cloud? (12)

At first when I met Cloud, I believed he was similar to Zack. Little actions, the way he spoke… his kindness. But Cloud is Cloud. I now, undoubtedly, love Cloud much more than Zack.

Final Fantasy VII Dismantled, page 159

The Final Fantasy VII 10th Anniversary Ultimania also corroborates the same conclusion.

Did Aeris Know the “Real” Cloud? (13)

Though she realizes that Cloud has lost sight of his true self, Aeris harbors feelings for him. She was determined to fulfill her duty as an Ancient, but on the other hand, he was weighing upon her heart until her final moments.

10th Anniversary Ultimania, page 50

Note that I’ve translated 好意を抱くin this case as “harbors feelings for him” to be as neutral as possible, but the term certainly suggests romantic interest and could be translated as “like” or “love.” Since we know from other sources that Aeris loves Cloud, I can say without reservations that the conclusion here is that Aeris is aware that Cloud is not acting true to himself, and loves him anyway.

In the game itself, the scene intended to address this is her date with Cloud at the Gold Saucer.

Did Aeris Know the “Real” Cloud? (14)
「……はじめはね“……first off,
 そっくりだったからit bothered me how you
 気になった」looked exactly alike.”
「全然別人なんだけど、そっくり」“Two completely different people,
「歩きかた、手の動かしかた……」“The way you walk, gesture…”
「あなたの中に彼を見ていた……」“I think I must have seen him again, in you…”
「でも、ちがうの」“But you’re different.”
「いまは、ちがう……」“Things are different…”
「わたし、あなたをさがしてる」“I’m searching for you.”
「あなたに会いたい」“I want to meet you.”
「俺はここにいる」“But I’m right here.”
(うんうん、わかってる……でも)I know, I know…what I mean is…
「あなたに……会いたい」“I want to meet…you.”

It should be noted in Japanese, her lines about Cloud and Zack’s similarities comment more on their superficial likeness than their essence, and that the line “I want to meet you” has romantic connotations. Kotaku.com’s Tim Rogers does an excellent breakdown of the date scene in Japanese, including nuances lost in the English translation, and it’s worth sharing:

Rather than interpret this as some confession from Aeris that she does not “know” Cloud, consider it a gentle invitation that one day, she would like Cloud to speak with her honestly, embracing his true self, acknowledging his faults, no longer pretending to be something he is not. She knows who he truly is already: she wants Cloud to know himself, too.

Another great source addressing the topic is the Itadaki Street: Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary event, which contains the following scene.

Did Aeris Know the “Real” Cloud? (15)

“When we were riding on the gondola, I’m sure Aerith was aware of the real me, whom I looked away from.”

Cloud Strife, Itadaki Street: Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary event

While not part of the Final Fantasy VII continuity by most fans’ definition, this is an official Square Enix product, released as part of Final Fantasy’s 30th anniversary event. Essentially, that ought to make it even more “canon” than Ultimanias, which are still written by third party writers. The question of whether or not Aeris knew Cloud is conspicuously addressed and put to rest.

If whether or not Aeris “knew” Cloud in life is ambiguous (as demonstrated above, it’s not) then whether or not Aeris “knew” Cloud in afterlife shouldn’t be.

Aeris’s story does not end when she dies. We know for a fact that she remains a conscious entity in the Lifestream that watches over Cloud, and even appears to him in visions. FF7 Lead Writer Kazushige Nojima penned the Advent Children novel, “On the Way to a Smile,” which has a short chapter called “Case of Lifestream: White” told entirely in Aeris’s point of view.

Did Aeris Know the “Real” Cloud? (16)

(literal translation) Cloud was [Aerith’s] friend, her lover [beloved] – he represented something precious, an existence that she must protect.

On the Way to a Smile, Case of Lifestream (White)

In this three-part short chapter, each segment is dedicated to Aeris’s feelings for and desire to protect Cloud – even as she’s a spirit in the Lifestream. If Aeris is watching over Cloud even in death, then her statement that Cloud is someone beloved to her must be taken as indication that she is aware of Cloud’s true self, and that is who she loves. Were this not the case, her statement ought to say she loved the part of him that she knew, or otherwise acknowledge that her feelings for Cloud were now, she understands, just a reflection of her feelings for Zack.

(Incidentally, she does not mention Zack a single time in On the Way to a Smile, which perhaps says enough about her feelings on the issue.)


Yes, Aeris absolutely knew the “real” Cloud.

It is not debatable: Square has confirmed this clearly in a number of official sources, making it a matter of fact. Conversely, there is zero material suggesting that Aeris did not know the real Cloud, or that her feelings for him are fake or misplaced.

Whether it was due to her innate emotional intelligence or her magical Cetra powers, Aeris senses Cloud’s true self and falls in love with him, even before he himself is aware that his persona is based on falsehoods.

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