The "love triangle" between Cloud, Aeris, and Tifa is probably the second largest debate about Final Fantasy VII, and, like the Aeris resurrection theory, is still argued to this very day. Throughout disk one the player must make decisions about who he likes more - Aeris or Tifa. This results in the "date" scene at the Gold Saucer; however, you may also "date" Barret or Yuffie by making Cloud friendlier to one or the other.
Despite the fact that it is up to the player to decide who he loves many people debate over it. They have names for each couple. Cloud & Aeris are called either Cloris/Clorith or Cleris/Clerith while Cloud & Tifa are called Cloti. Many fanlisting websites for those two couples have sprung up; however, a lot of "flaming" websites have sprung up as well. Square Enix has been very keen not to be direct about who the canon couple is because it would alienate a lot of fans.
Reasons For "Clerith"Edit
1. “Cloud was her friend, her *koibito* (lover in Japanese) - a symbol of what was important to her, and someone to be protected.” ~Case of Lifestream: White, Square Enix
2. Nomura of Square Enix admitted to not knowing the nature of Cloud and Tifa’s relationship after the HAHW scene: “For example, I was frequently asked if there had been romantic relationship between Tifa and Cloud for two years, after FF7 ended, but I don’t have any clue.” ~Nomura, Dorimaga interview, published at Flaregamer.
Additionally, in an interview with Nojima of Square Enix at the official website, he says the following about On the Way to a Smile: "First off, there's the premise that things won't go well between Tifa and Cloud, and that even without Geostigma or Sephiroth this might be the same…"
3. The Cloud x Aerith Golden Saucer date is confirmed as canon within the compilation:
“#111: The Planet’s largest amusement park is run by Dio. Cloud and company visit this place many times in their battle. They meet Cait Sith here. A PROMISED date [there is only one promised date in the game] that ends in a magical night. In the city of desire that floats above the sands, the light memory of the two people is asleep even now…Aerith: “I think I must have seen him again, in you… But you’re different. Things are different… No, Cloud… I’m searching for you…” ~Final Fantasy Art Collection.
“In Aerith’s case, if you play the game normally,the partner that generally comes will be Aerith.” ~Final Fantasy VII Dismantled
“Oh, Cloud…I enjoyed our date at the Gold Saucer. The view from the gondola that night was really beautiful. I’ll never forget it. I’ll never forget you, Cloud…” ~Aerith, Final Fantasy VII Dismantled, Square Enix
4. Cloud has a separate bed in his private room during Advent Children.
Cloud: “I want to drink alone.” Hearing that, Tifa lost control and said, “Then drink in your room.” ~Case of Tifa
People often say that because there is a lack of other furniture in Cloud’s room (like a dresser), it somehow invalidates the fact that Cloud has a bed in his room. But how does not having other furniture mean Cloud can’t sleep in that bed? The point is, it's hard to believe that SE would include a random bed in Cloud’s room just for the hell of it. If Cloud doesn’t sleep there, who does? Until we see Cloud and Tifa sleeping together, it only makes sense that Cloud sleeps in the bed found in his room. This suggests that a romantic relationship may not have begun between Cloud and Tifa after the Highwind scene.
5. The hand reach scene between Cloud and Aerith in Advent Children is referred to as a “homage” by SE, which highlights the relationship between Cloud and Aerith that may have continued into the spiritual world.
“The ending scene of the battle with Bahamut, the scene where Aerith reaches out her hand, is homage to the last scene from a previous production. It was Tetsuya (Nomura)’s idea….” ~Nojima, Reunion Files
6. “Each carries their own feelings and love for Aerith. In this story, Cloud also carries his undying feeling for Aerith even to this very day…” ~Nomura, Square Enix
When undying is applied to a feeling or emotion that someone has, it is eternal and forever. So although you can make the argument that undying when applied to a fictional creature doesn’t mean eternal and forever, when the word “eternal” is applied to a human emotion or feeling, it is eternal and forever. Therefore, it does not make sense that Nomura would be referring to Cloud’s guilt as undying when the entire point of Advent Children is to rid Cloud of his guilt.
It does not specify exactly what Cloud's undying feeling is for Aerith, but there is nothing else to be drawn from this but that it is something loving.
7. Tifa admits to not knowing if Cloud loves her after the HAHW scene.
"Do you love me?" Cloud opened his eyes. He looked perplexed. "Hey, Cloud. Do you love Marlene?" "Yeah. But… sometimes I don't know how to act around her." ~Case of Tifa
Also, Tifa expresses some jealously over Cloud and Aerith's relationship, as her character profile in the 10th Anniversary Ultimania describes:
"The thing which she is unable to hide in her irritation towards Cloud is the fact that he isn't merely dragging the past around, but because that reason might perhaps be related to Aerith.
FFVII: Seeing Cloud and Aerith developing their world together before her eyes, she inadvertently lets slip her peevish feelings.
Advent Children: Upon knowing that Cloud had been residing in Aerith’s church after leaving the place they had been living in together, her expression becomes complex.”
One of the lines specifically says that Tifa let her “peevish feelings” slip when she saw Cloud and Aerith developing their “own world” together. Why would Tifa be jealous if Aerith was only developing a world of friendship with Cloud? It is clear that Tifa is jealous of the world her “love rival” is forming with Cloud because the world he is forming with Tifa’s “love rival” is romantic, which is exactly why Aerith is considered Tifa’s love rival in the first place. Tifa continues to be jealous of Cloud and Aerith’s “world” during Advent Children, probably because she admits she doesn’t know if Cloud loves her.
Also, in the Dirge of Cerberus Japanese game manual, Aerith is referred to as “A girl with the blood of the Ancients flowing through her veins who is engraved in Cloud’s heart for the rest of his life”, which better suggests a romantic connection between Cloud and Aerith than Tifa simply being referred to as Cloud's "childhood friend".
8. In Advent Children, Cloud is shown to be very depressed and feeling guilty about letting Aerith and Zack die. However, about halfway through the movie, Aerith successfully convinces Cloud that he is not the cause of their deaths, and this finally makes him feel better.
Earlier in the film, before Cloud sets off to the forgotten city, Tifa tells Cloud "Don't run, let's fight it together. We can help each other, I know we can." However, he ignores this, claiming that he is not fit to help his family, his friends, or anyone.
The point being made here is that if Cloud is truly in love with Tifa, why did he reject his "true love's" offer to help him fight to live? And why was she unable to help him overcome his guilt while Aerith is the one who finally convinces Cloud that he was not the cause of her death?
While somewhat inconclusive, it can be drawn from this that Aerith is more of an emotional support for Cloud than Tifa, which is ironic, given that the latter is supposed to be his emotional support in the movie. It also implies a loving connection between Cloud and Aerith.
9. Love beyond death is not an uncommon theme in the Final Fantasy series (Tidus x Yuna, Shuyin x Lenne, Laguna x Raine, Ashe x Rasler, etc.)
Plus, in Final Fantasy VII, Vincent is shown to have a bond with Lucrecia. Vincent can see her and speak with her in Dirge of Cerberus, similar to the way Cloud can interact with Aerith in Advent Children.
10. "Looks good. You are perfect for each other!” “Aerith’s star and Cloud’s star! They show a great future!” — “Poor Tifa!” ~Cait Sith, Final Fantasy VII
“After solving the puzzle about Cait Sith’s replaceable body, he tells one last fortune of Cloud and Aerith’s affinity. Cait Sith’s lines, which seem to expect Cloud and Aerith’s wedding, now makes it more painful.” ~Final Fantasy VII Dismantled, Square Enix
The argument about Cait Sith’s prediction should not revolve around how reliable he is. The argument should be about what was SE’s intent for including this wedding prediction in the game. SE could have had Aerith ask Cait Sith about her future and Cait Sith could have said, “You will have a bright future full of many happy times!” — this would have set the player up to get their heart broken when she was killed by Sephiroth. Instead, they specifically decided to include a prediction about Aerith’s romantic future with Cloud. It was a romantic prediction about her future with Cloud, not just a generic prediction about her future. So given the context of the game and how things were progressing between Cloud and Aerith, it is obvious why SE included this wedding prediction — so the gamer would have the idea in their head that Cloud and Aerith had the possibility of sharing a romantic future together, which would then be destroyed by the hands of the evil Sephiroth. A generic prediction about Aerith’s future would not have been nearly as meaningful or impactful to the gamer, which is why they specifically made the prediction about Aerith’s romantic future with Cloud. The romance that was clearly developing between Cloud and Aerith, in addition to a prediction about a romantic future together, makes her death all the more sad. SE killed off a romantic love interest to Cloud because it would be more impactful to the gamer. If SE had killed Barret, I can guarantee you that it would not have been as memorable or as impactful to the gamer. One of the biggest reasons Aerith’s death is so sad is because she wasn’t just a friend to Cloud. Aerith had a possible romantic future with Cloud, which is exactly what SE wanted us to think, so that when they killed her, it was that much more painful and heartbreaking for those playing the game. Luckily, their love transcends traditional barriers and continues in the spiritual world.
Furthermore, SE refers to this prediction as a wedding prediction. Why would they refer to it as a wedding prediction if it was not meant to highlight the romantic connection Cloud and Aerith have in the game?
11. Final Fantasy VII: After Cloud and Aerith share a spiritual connection, Cloud's dialog implies that he wants to reunite with Aerith in the Promised Land.
He says in the final moments of the game, "An answer from the Planet… the Promised Land… I think I can meet her… there."
12. "You should have… An older girlfriend, one that would take care of you. I think that would be the perfect type for you.” ~Mrs. Strife (Cloud’s Mom)
I’m looking at this quote from SE’s intent. Obviously Cloud’s Mom saying this means nothing. But what was SE’s intent for including this? Why would they choose for Cloud to have this flashback while he was sleeping in Aerith’s house? Just to provide some context: Cloud had just met Aerith. He agreed to be her bodyguard for the price of one date. He had just spent time laughing with her. Protecting her. Then while Cloud is sleeping in her house, SE decides to throw in this flashback where Cloud’s Mother talks about girlfriends and dating someone older. Then right after this flashback is over, you see Cloud in his room and Aerith in her room. Clearly this was meant to set these two up as romantic love interests.
13. "Marlene is a sharp girl - Even though she’s only 4 years old, Marlene is perceptive and well attuned to the woman mind. The scene where she ascertains that Aerith has favor for Cloud and tells him so, then says “I won’t tell Tifa!” demonstrates this grownup behavior.” ~Final Fantasy VII, 25th Anniversary Ultimania
Therefore, this is the canon version of this scene:
Marlene: “Guess what? Guess what? Aeris was asking me lots of questions. Like what kind of person Cloud is. I bet she likes you, Cloud!”
Cloud: “Let’s hope so.”
Marlene: “I won’t tell Tifa.”
Cloud's response "Let's hope so" indicates that Cloud would like for there to be something relational/mutual between him and Aerith.
14. A statement made by Nomura himself clearly shows that Cloud's relationship with Aerith has carried on beyond death, and that she still is of significant importance to him: “As for Cloud… He sees Aerith several times throughout the film (Advent Children). It’s not that he sees her because he feels her presence. He sees her because her consciousness lives on inside him.”
A common counterargument made here is that because Cloud also directly communicates with Zack at one point in Advent Children Complete, it means that Cloud's visions of Aerith and Zack simply represent his guilt over being unable to protect his friends, and that she is equally important to him as Zack is. Henceforth, there is no actual romantic connection between the two.
However, if ones examines Cloud's visions throughout the film, he sees and hears/communicates with Aerith more often than Zack. This implies that Aerith means even more to Cloud than a symbol of his inability to protect his friends. What does that leave us with? The conclusion to be drawn here is that there is a romantic/loving connection from Cloud to Aerith and vice-versa.
Also, Dirge of Cerberus' character profile for Aerith refers to her as “A girl with the blood of the Ancients flowing through her veins who is engraved in Cloud’s heart for the rest of his life”.
15. Cloud and Tifa expressing mutual feelings =/= romantic relationship.
Although this is a reasonable assumption, it is not always the case that expressing mutual feelings means a romantic relationship begins. As we can see, Cloud and Tifa are living in a world of very rare and unique circumstances that may have prevented them from ever turning their mutual feelings into a romantic relationship. To an extent, this somewhat invalidates the "Highwind Scene" between Cloud and Tifa.
16. “The place where he awakens. That is Cloud’s Promised Land……” ~Final Fantasy VII 10th Anniversary Ultimania, Square Enix
Cloud says he wants to find Aerith in the Promised Land at the end of FFVII.
Then, during AC, Cloud realizes that Aerith will always be with him, so his Promised Land is wherever Aerith is — which is why it says Cloud’s Promised Land is the place where he awakens (ie: the place where he sees Aerith)
And the reason I connect this quote more to Aerith is because of Cloud’s line at the end of FFVII where he says he thinks he can meet Aerith in the Promised Land.
17. “Both of them share feelings for Cloud — Tifa was close to Aerith, who can also be called a love rival. With that point in mind, they were also good friends. Nevertheless, it is not hard to imagine that she carries complex feelings as a woman toward Aerith, who had built up a special bond with Cloud that was different from Tifa’s. Tifa’s complicated feelings continue even in AC, two years after Aerith had departed the world.” ~Tifa’s profile, FFVII 10th Anniversary Ultimania, pg. 42-47
18. “I never blamed you. Not once. You came for me. That’s all that matters.” ~Aerith in Advent Children
19. Various quotes from various sources show that Aerith's love for Cloud grows continually. Here are two examples:
“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.” ~Aerith’s monologue in Gongaga, FFVII Dismantled
“Although in the beginning Aerith felt close to Cloud is because he behaves like Zack, her interest in Cloud himself grows and she is attracted to him.” ~page 31, Final Fantasy VII Ultimania Omega, Square Enix
20. “First off, it bothered me how you looked exactly alike. Two completely different people, but look exactly the same. The way you walk, gesture… I think I must have seen him again, in you… But you’re different. Things are different…” ~Aerith, Final Fantasy VII
21. In FFVII, Cloud agrees to be Aerith’s bodyguard for the price of one date. Obviously Cloud would not have asked her out on such a date if he didn't have at least some interest in her.
22. Cloud visits Aerith’s Church frequently after her death (even before being diagnosed with Geostigma). Remember, Aerith's Church is Cloud's Promised Land — the place where he finds supreme happiness and shares a spiritual connection with Aerith. After he is diagnosed with the Stigma, he continues to distance himself from his "family" and outright lives in Aerith's church, as Marlene and Tifa discuss in Advent Children. After Tifa finds out, she asks Cloud "Which is it? A memory or us?".
23. In Advent Children, when Sephiroth asks Cloud what he cherishes the most, the first person that comes to his mind is Aerith. Zack comes second, and Tifa, third. In the complete version, Aerith still comes first, but Tifa is second, followed by Marlene, Denzel, and Zack.
24. Cloud and Aerith share their first of two dates at Green Park in the Sector 6 Slum: “Date in the Park: In Scene 04-10, Zack and Aerith have a date in Green Park in the sector 6 slum. An identical situation is seen in “FFVII” as well, which features a scene of Cloud and Aerith on a date in the same park.” ~CC Ultimania, Square Enix
25. Cloud x Aerith have official SE artwork together, similar to other canon Final Fantasy couples, while Cloud and Tifa do not.
26. “It was the sound of Cloud’s heart cracking. It was the cry of his heart that could never be healed of the grief he had towards Aerith’s death, the blame towards himself and the hatred he had for Sephiroth…There was nothing she could do about Cloud’s suffering and the pain ached in her heart.” ~Maiden of the Planet, Square Enix
27. During the ending credits of Advent Children, Cloud is shown riding his motorcycle through numerous flower fields, although he is a delivery boy.
Nomura said in the Reunion Files that, “…we filmed the video for the ending credits in Hawaii. There are fields of flowers on both sides of the road, and the colors - yellow and white - are the same as the flowers in Aerith’s church.”
In addition, Nomura states, “With Aerith, ‘flowers’ have been her image throughout the series.”
28. Final Fantasy Dissidia: At the end of Dissidia, Cloud is seen entering a flower field. This flower field is eerily similar to the flower fields Aerith has appeared in, and the flower field shown during the ending credits of Advent Children. Cloud is also holding Aerith’s Holy materia. Before this takes place, it is stated by Zidane that each character is, “…returning to where we’re supposed to be.” Cloud is supposed to be with Aerith, which is why he returns to a flower field. Interestingly, Squall of Final Fantasy VIII is seen leaving when a white feather falls from the sky. This feather represents Rinoa. The parallels between Cloud x Aerith and Squall x Rinoa are obvious. During the game Cloud also says, “The one I really want to meet is…” And although he doesn’t finish his sentence, given the ending scene of Dissidia and the ending of Final Fantasy VII, it is clear who Cloud has a desire to meet in the Promised Land.
29. Final Fantasy Tactics: Cloud meets a Flower Girl. Cloud essentially has the same conversation with this Flower Girl as Cloud has with Aerith during the beginning of Final Fantasy VII.
Please read these similar quotes between FFT and FFVII:
Final Fantasy Tactics: Cloud: “My fingers are tingling… My eyes…they’re burning.” Final Fantasy VII: Cloud: “My fingers are tingling. My mouth is dry. My eyes are burning!”
Final Fantasy Tactics: Cloud: “I lost…a very important thing…” Final Fantasy VII: Cloud lost Aerith in Final Fantasy VII.
Final Fantasy Tactics: Cloud: “Ever since, I’ve been lost. Who am I? What should I do? What about this pain…” Final Fantasy VII: Cloud:“What about US… what are WE supposed to do?” Cloud “What about my pain?”
Final Fantasy Tactics: Cloud “Must go…to the Promised Land.” Final Fantasy VII: Cloud: “The Promised Land…I think I can meet her… there.”
30. Cloud: “Here I met a flower girl. She’s a girl with impressive eyes. She’s around my age, or older by one or two years but the innocent radiance in her eyes simply makes her suddenly look younger. (…) Maybe she’s pleased that the flower was sold, because the worried look on her face had vanished. If this smile costs only one gil, it is a good purchase.” ~Final Fantasy Dismantled
31. In Advent Children, Cloud finds Tifa injured in the church, and he quickly rushes to and holds her in his arms, desperate to know if she's okay. Many Clotis have called this scene romantic because the way in which he holds her is identical to when Aerith died.
However, a similar thing happens at the end of the film when Cloud holds Kadaj in his arms before the latter fades into the lifestream. The same also happens when Zack died in the original game. Neither of these cases were romantic, so the way that Cloud holds Tifa is not a sign of him actually loving her.
Many Clotis have also pointed out that when Cloud and Tifa pass out in the flowerbed, they lie in such a way that creates a Yin-Yang symbol, which is supposed to symbolize their love for each other. However, if you look closely, that is not true. They lie together in such a way that makes more of a curvy T-shape. Also, the scene depicts them both dressed in black, whereas the Yin-Yang symbol is actually black-and-white.
Henceforth, the way that Cloud holds Tifa when he finds her in the flowerbed, and the angles in which they pass out afterwards does not mean that the scene is romantic, and it is not meant to symbolize love between the two of them.
32. "After the explosion of First Reactor, Cloud met Aerith while running away alone. Cloud left the place, remembering the mysterious feeling he had for Aerith from the small conversation. He then reunited with AVALANCHE safely, and left for their base…" ~Final Fantasy VII Story Playback, Page 111
33. It is possible that Tifa's relationship with Cloud is more akin to that of a mother and son. For example, when he feels guilty about running deliveries without Tifa's knowledge and spending money on enhancing his bike without discussing this with her as well, then reveals it, she thinks to herself, "He's like a child."
At the prospect that the world Cloud knew was expanding, Tifa next thought to herself, "Yes... Maybe this is kind of what a mother feels like." As well, it's stated that she was happy with "the new emotions growing inside her."
This possibly indicates that Tifa's romantic interest in Cloud had begun to disappear at this point, being replaced instead by a motherly affection. This view is bolstered by a quote from Tetsuya Nomura in the Reunion Files (pg. 18), where he said, "Like Aerith, [Tifa] has a maternal side to her, but in a different sense. Not only was she looking after Marlene and Denzel, but she also felt a certain maternal bond to Cloud, who is a 'big kid' himself in some respects."
34. "And having two heroines, Aerith and Tifa, and having the hero waver between them, at the time that was something new.” ~Interview with the creators, pg. 8-13, 10th Anniversary Ultimania.
35. In the Final Fantasy VII 10th Anniversary Ultimania, Nojima described Tifa's dialog in the Highwind scene as "very risque and suggestive". Many Clotis believe that this means there certainly was a romantic/sexual moment between Cloud and Tifa under the Highwind.
However The definitions of these two words are "suggestive of sexual impropriety", and "tending to suggest something improper or indecent". If you notice, they only suggest something sexual or indecent; they don't actually confirm anything.
Furthermore, the terms "improper" and "indecent" are hardly suggestive of love, and feelings of love between two single, uncommitted people would not be described as either. This means that even if Cloud and Tifa did have sex, it wouldn't mean that they're in love. Only the most naive observers would believe that an uncommitted couple having sex means that they truly love each other and want to start a relationship.
36. The official Square Enix commercial referring to Cloud and Aerith refers to them as "A story of a love that could never be…"
37. While Three Ultimanias have already explained that "Cloud and Tifa revealed their mutual feelings and confirm them to match" (assuming that the Highwind scene is canon), this does not mean that they love each other. Contrary to widespread belief, "love" is not merely having romantic feelings for each other. Love is when two people truly appreciate each other's goodness and respect each other enough to commit honourably. It's when two people have the mental maturity to ignore everything that bothers them and not let their emotions get in the way, but to be there for each other and respect each others standards in life.
If anything, Cloud and Tifa having mutual feelings for each other would only mean just that. It would not specifically mean that they love each other.
Reasons For "Cloti"Edit
1. Cloud had a crush on Tifa years before he met Aerith.
2. Before Cloud left Nibelheim, he promised Tifa that he would always be there for her. In fact, he left Nibelheim so that he could demonstrate that he was worthy of her.
3. Cloud and Tifa are confirmed as "childhood friends" and next-door neighbours by SE. They were never actually close then, but the fact of the matter is that they are much closer to each other than Cloud is to Aerith.
4. Marlene is "a sharp girl" as the FFVII, 25th Anniversary Ultimania describes, and she says to Cloud that “[she] won’t tell Tifa” of Aerith's interest in him. This makes it perfectly clear that there is (or should be) something mutual between Cloud and Tifa.
5. Tifa was the one who helped Cloud regain his true memories.
6. Tifa stayed and helped Cloud when he was hospitalized in Mideel. Also, the doctor in Mideel gave them his blessing.
7. Around the time of Advent Children Complete's release, an interview was posted on Square Enix's website in which Kazushige Nojima made the following comments about "Case of Tifa".
"First, there's the premise that things aren't going well between Tifa and Cloud, and that even without geostigma and Sephiroth, it would still be the same. I don't mean to get into my views on romantic love, marriage and family (laughs) After ACC, maybe Denzel and Marlene can get them to. Perhaps things would have gone well with Aerith, but Aerith's responsibility is big, I think."
Here, we have Nojima discussing Cloud and Tifa's relationship, in the context of a romantic couple. He talks about them in the context of love, marriage and family. Love and family are certainly a big focus of Case of Tifa, particularly where Tifa and Cloud are concerned.
Certainly, there'd be no reason for Nojima to mention these things if he wasn't saying his views on those matters had informed his writing of their situation. Furthermore, he's clearly not speaking of a romantic relationship between them in a hypothetical sense if there's not already something the two needed to work through. His line about Denzel and Marlene speaks of the time following ACC, so there must be something *for* the kids to help them work through.
Nojima keeps coming back to this topic of love and family with Cloud and Tifa, both in the interview and in his writing of FFVII-related material in general. Unavoidably, Nojima's own experiences with and views of love, marriage and family influenced his writing of Case of Tifa before it was initially released -- and likely did so again when he worked on the revised version. As well, the theme of family is prevalent in Advent Children/ACC, which picks up right after Case of Tifa and resolves many of the personal crises Cloud was going through during that story.
Were Nojima thinking of Cloud and Tifa as merely platonic friends in an arrangement of cohabitation, his comments about love and family would explain nothing of what he'd actually written. Particularly in light of the suggestion that Denzel and Marlene's presence in the family may be able to help Cloud and Tifa "work it out" -- described the way one might discuss trying to make a problematic relationship successful.
8. As said above, Nojima then continues the same line of thought a moment later when he discusses Aerith and her compatibility with Cloud. Though he posits that things may have gone better with her than with Tifa, he also suggests that even this relationship may have been troubled due to the great responsibility Aerith had as the last Cetra.
Of greater signifance, however, his choice of words identify Aerith as a former potential romantic interest for Cloud ("*Perhaps* things would have gone well with Aerith..."), speaking of her in a relationship with Cloud as a hypothetical matter that did *not* come to pass. Tifa, however, is treated as though she is a *current* romantic interest for Cloud, speaking of her in a relationship with him as a matter that *has* come to pass.
While it can certainly be argued that Nojima's comments don't offer a promise that Cloud and Tifa will stay together, the Love Triangle Debate was never about who Cloud would be more likely to have a fairy tale romance with. It was about establishing who Cloud had an interest in *being* in a romance of any kind with.
These comments from Nojima make it clear that Cloud has such an interest in Tifa, and has acted upon that interest. It's not presented as uplifting or with the sweeping sense of captivation, but there's more than one angle to present a romantic relationship from. For that matter, such relationships go through stages anyway. After two years, Tifa and Cloud can't really be expected to still be in a phase where their hearts go pitter-patter. All couples have problems. That's the unavoidable reality of sharing your life with another person who has their own feelings, thoughts and history that influence them.
9. Cloud cross-dressed to save Tifa.
10. Unavoidably, the Crisis Core Ultimania (pg. 24) clearly says that Cloud had "secretly fallen in love with [Tifa]".
11. It is obvious that Tifa has romantic interest in Cloud. For example, she expresses some jealousy towards Cloud's relationship with Aerith. Also, Tifa's storyline from "On the Way to a Smile" seems to revolve around her relationship with Cloud, while Aerith has a story that veers from Cloud.
12. Cloud, Tifa, Denzel, and Marlene are shown to be a "family" as indicated by the photo at the beginning of Advent Children.
However, it is sometimes argued that the family was already formed and that Cloud played no role in forming it. This is evidenced when Marlene says "I'll put Cloud in our family too" in the revised version of Case of Tifa. These words can be considered an "invitation" of sorts to Cloud to join a family that already existed and which he played no part in forming. This would imply that there is nothing relational between Cloud and Tifa that would lead them to form the family as a platonic/romantic couple. More significantly, the Clerith perspective holds that the family's structure no more favors Cloud as a father role to Tifa's mother role than it favors Barret. In fact, the perspective holds that Barret is better described as serving the family's fatherly role since he is the one who originally put the family together in founding AVALANCHE.
Another counterargument often cited in relation to Case of Tifa is that Tifa herself had the following thoughts during the story:
"They needed friends to live without being crushed by the guilt. Even if they all bore the same scars, shouldered the same sins, they never would have made it without comforting and encouraging each another. 'All right, then. Maybe it is safe to say we're a family. We just have to work together as one. Together with friends to call family, there's no storm we can't weather,' Tifa thought."
This passage is often cited as evidence that Tifa saw her living arrangement with Cloud as simply friends cohabiting -- and, indeed, that she just saw family as a circle of friends who support one another. However, I'd argue that this passage refers not to the arrangement she had with Cloud and Marlene (Denzel was not yet in the picture) but rather to the "extended" family that included the rest of AVALANCHE.
This is because Cloud is just one individual, so he wouldn't fit the plurality indicated by "friends." Also, Marlene wouldn't be included in the group who "all bore the same scars, shouldered the same sins," so she's not able to provide a plurality that would turn the residents of Seventh Heaven into a circle of friends with sins on their backs.
Another point brought up to suggest that Tifa didn't see the family with Cloud as legitimate is how often she tries to convince herself throughout Case of Tifa that they are just a normal family. The Clerith perspective would argue that she does this because she knows that their family situation isn't normal -- one with two parents in a romantic relationship raising children. This is also evidenced in Advent Children when she says "I guess that only works for real families".
While this does make for a cohesive, relatively consistent analysis, it also requires dismissing several pro-Cloti factors on this list. I'd argue that the reason for Tifa's choice of words is that they had become much less of a family -- Cloud had abandoned them. Thus, Tifa's line doesn't mean that they weren't (considerably) a "real family", and it certainly doesn't mean that they don't become one again after AC when Cloud is cured of his Geostigma.
Furthermore, to the idea that Cloud had to be invited into Marlene's family by her and that he himself played no role in forming it, I say this: The FFVII 10th Anniversary Ultimania outright said that Cloud and Tifa were "forming" the family.
While Barret's FFVII 10th Anniversary Ultimania profile says that he rushes to Edge to aid his family, Barret himself is never included in any itemized description of Cloud's family -- not Cloud's profile in the same book where the family is said to consist of he, Tifa and the children, nor in a later passage where Barret is outright differentiated from Cloud's family and would fall instead into the category of "his friends": "When he awakes, there was his friends. There were the children, freed from their fatal illness. Tifa and Marlene, and Denzel asking for Cloud to heal his Geostigma-- his family were waiting."
Tifa, Marlene and Denzel, however, *are* identified as Cloud's family here.
While the family of Seventh Heaven had certainly been originally created by Barret, it had been completely restructured in the time since Biggs, Jessie and Wedge died, as well as by Barret's own departure after the new Seventh Heaven was built. Barret was still part of the family, of course, but had become more a part of the "extended" family that included the rest of AVALANCHE mentioned above.
There was nothing formal about Marlene's "innocent offer," as it's described, to include Cloud in the family. She was simply a child recognizing that the structure around her had changed -- along with the structure of the family itself -- and that Cloud was now part of her family.
To put it simply, Barret was the founder of the "extended" family, AVALANCHE, while Cloud and Tifa were the ones who formed the "real family" that consisted of Marlene, and themselves as the "parents".
13. Although it is shown for a second, Cloud smiles at Tifa first at the end of Advent Children. This happens while Cloud is surrounded by the children in the water, and she smiles at him too.
14. Cloud's broken mind molds memories of Zack's stories into his own memory, thus making it quite probable that Aerith simply thought Cloud was cute, and Cloud had a confused notion that she was his girlfriend (or should be), thus making the relationship an "accident", whereas Tifa is the one to pull Cloud out of the mess.
15. "And having two heroines, Aerith and Tifa, and having the hero waver between them, at the time that was something new.” ~Interview with the creators, pg. 8-13, 10th Anniversary Ultimania.
16. Aerith is dead.
17. There is a famous "Highwind scene" between Cloud and Tifa at the end of disc 2 where the party splits up before the final showdown with Sephiroth, and Cloud and Tifa are left alone together. In the High affection version of this scene, they talk for a while and Tifa remarks to Cloud that "Words aren't the only way of expressing what you're thinking." The screen fades black, and they wake up the next morning leaning against each other. This implies that something romantic occured between the two of them.
18. According to the Crisis Core Ultimania (pg. 33), on that night, in "the final stages of the story," Cloud and Tifa "communicate their feelings" to each other, and thereafter, "in Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus, they live together".
The FFVII Ultimania Omega makes the same claim on three separate occasions -- once in Cloud's profile, once in Tifa's profile, and once in the Story Playback section of the book (pg. 198). In the latter, the phrase "reveal their mutual feelings" is used, and likewise on pg. 118 of the FFVII 10th Anniversary Ultimania -- though in the latter's case, it also adds "and confirm them to match." That statement is also made next to a numbered notation that is matched to a numbered screenshot from the high affection version of the Highwind scene: Cloud and Tifa are shown sleeping together in the early morning with Cloud saying "This is probably the last time we'll have together...", a line he only says in the high affection version of the scene.
In addition to both choices of phrasing frequently being used in Japanese much the same way as "realized their feelings for each other" is in English, a study of the low affection version of the Highwind scene reveals that Cloud communicates pretty much nothing to Tifa in that version. Thus, it wouldn't fit the various descriptions of the scene. On the other hand, in the high affection version, he has quite a bit to say and is left trying to find the words to communicate "a lot of things I wanted to talk to you about" when Tifa suggests they employ a physical demonstration. The fact that their feelings were said to match is quite telling and pretty straightforward, as we know that Tifa is both extremely affectionate and respectful of Cloud.
This all confirms that the High Affection version of the Highwind scene is, in fact, canon.
19. Nojima and Kitase of SE refer to the Highwind scene as a toned-down representation of the original idea for the scene, in which Cloud would walk out of he chocobo stable on the Highwind, followed by Tifa a moment later, checking around her as she left -- the implication being, of course, that they had sex in the chocobo stable. This sort of visual language is a classic indicator of an intimate moment shared off-screen, similar to the pan and fade that made it into the final version of the game.
While this "more extreme presentation" didn't make it into the final game, what did was described as diluted. This means that the original idea was not abandoned, just toned down and given a different presentation.
Given that Tifa had said "Words [weren't] the only way of expressing what [one] is thinking", given that this version of the scene is the high affection version for a reason, and given that Tifa and Cloud were confirming matching feelings of mutual interest in one another -- what does that leave us with?
The exact details depend on the viewer's imagination, but there's no other conclusion to be drawn from this but that there was some sort of romantic moment between them.
20. In the Final Fantasy 10th Anniversary Ultimania, Nojima of SE described Tifa's line "Words aren't the only way of expressing what you're thinking" as "very risque and suggestive".
Many Clerith's have also pointed out that the definitions of "risque/suggestive" are "suggestive of sexual impropriety/tending to suggest something improper or indecent". Feelings of love between two uncommitted people would not be described as either. Also, it is argued that because the dialog is of such nature, then Cloud and Tifa having sex means that they do not truly love/respect each other.
However, if one looks closely, Nojima's quote only describes Tifa's dialog as risque and suggestive, whereas the actual scene, Cloud's response, and presumably Tifa's intentions are not. It's easy for anyone to say something indelicate and improper/indecent when their intentions may not be. Plus, the words only suggest something suggestive of sexual impropriety or indecency. After all, the FFVII series has largely portrayed Cloud and Tifa's relationship as modest and respectful. It is likely that Nojima only used the words to imply some sensuality, rather than use them according to their true meaning.
More importantly though, it is unknown whether or not Cloud and Tifa actually did have sex anyway. Since they weren't committed at the time of the Highwind scene, it's quite plausible to say that they simply "made out" (similar to Tidus and Yuna) and slept in each other's embrace, which is quite romantic. It would actually prove that they do have love and respect for each other (see the next reason below).
Many still insist that they did have sex though because the Highwind scene was a toned-down representation of the original idea for the scene (see above). However, the most obvious reason why the scene was toned down was because SE did not want Cloud and Tifa's romantic moment to be too obvious. By changing the original idea to instead show a pan and fade, the players can decide for themselves what actually happen between the two. There certainly was an intimate moment between them, but the idea of them simply "making out" as opposed to having sex is certainly plausible, since out in the open on jagged rocks beneath a loud Highwind is hardly a practical place to engage in sex.
21. In Advent Children and Case of Tifa, it appears as though Cloud and Tifa do not share a bed, which would imply that the two of them are not in a sexual relationship. Many Clerith's believe that this means Cloud and Tifa's relationship had not elevated since the Highwind scene, and that it had actually gone downhill.
However, it is never confirmed whether or not Cloud and Tifa actually had sex under the Highwind in the first place, so the two of them not sharing a bed doesn't mean that there relationship had gotten worse, and it certainly doesn't exclude the possibility of their relationship improving overtime. In fact, Cloud and Tifa NOT sharing a bed is actually a sign of compassionate love for each other; delaying one's sexual desires until a point really late in a relationship (e.g. engagement or marriage) is a serious indicator of mutual respect and self-restraint.
If that doesn't convince you, allow me to make a different argument. Perhaps "Cloud's room" is only used for his delivery services and paperwork. Many Clerith's have counter-argued that because there is a bed in the room, it only makes sense that he would sleep there, but Barret was also living in Seventh Heaven earlier, so perhaps that was just his bed or a guest bed. If that is true, then that means Cloud sleeps elsewhere; with Tifa.
22. It is sometimes argued that Cloud and Tifa's night under the Highwind was just two people in the throes of passion before they died. Not a declaration that they wanted a life with one another.
That's where the larger context of the newer Compilation materials comes into play. Speaking now to that wider context, the Ultimania quotes about the two communicating their feelings would seem to confirm that the affection Cloud and Tifa shared that night was an indication of wanting a life with one another.
For further indication of this, in Case of Tifa, just days after the Highwind scene, Cloud tells Tifa that he thinks he'll be able to start a new life because "I have you." When she says that he's always had her, he says "I mean from tomorrow on," while smiling -- the context clear that he means in a different way than before. In the revised version of CoT, published at the time of ACC's release, Cloud's line after Tifa says "You've always had me" actually is "What I mean is kind of different," explicitly identifying that he means their relationship with one another has changed.
And what might be different now? What may have changed the dynamic of their relationship just days before? That's right: They expressed romantic feelings for one another and were intimate. Here in Case of Tifa, Cloud was expressing that he wanted her with him not just as an ally in battle, but as a companion.
Also, not long after that initial comment, Cloud tells Tifa that he'll be there to remind her how strong she is whenever she forgets, blushing as he says it. The blushing points to that kind of nervousness one might expect from an awkward, bashful guy saying something romantic to his love interest. At the very least, the accompanying line shows that he planned to be with her indefinitely.
23. Because pg. 118 of the FFVII 10th Anniversary Ultimania says that Cloud and Tifa confirm that their feelings match, and because Tifa obviously loves Cloud, it goes without saying that Cloud does love Tifa. However it is sometimes counter-argued that he doesn't because Tifa doesn't know if Cloud loves her after the HAHW scene, as hinted by Case of Tifa:
Tifa: "Do you love me?" Cloud opened his eyes. He looked perplexed. Tifa: "Hey, Cloud. Do you love Marlene?" Cloud: "Yeah. But… sometimes I don't know how to act around her."
However, the main theme of CoT is the struggles that families often go through at difficult times. The reason why Tifa asked if Cloud loved her is because she just needed reassurance, given the challenges they may have been facing at the time. Cloud being at loss for words when she asks if he loves her may also be for the same reasons, not to mention Aerith's death. None of the aforementioned quotes actually mean that Cloud doesn't love Tifa. All romantic couples struggle with thoughts and feelings of love, especially during difficult times.
24. The official Square Enix commercial referring to Cloud and Aerith refers to them as "A story of a love that could never be…", which seems to imply that Tifa may ultimately be the one for Cloud.
25. On the Way to a Smile: Case of Barret, the very second line of the story says that Barret helped Cloud and Tifa build *their* home. One they would be sharing together. Later, when Barret talks with Cid, the former says that Tifa is whipping Cloud into shape and Cid says, "In the end, it's the women that wear the pants." (I imagine most people reading this are familiar with the idiom of "wearing the pants in the family"). Cid, who wasn't even around Cloud and Tifa for long after FFVII's events, was speaking of them in the context of romantic partners.
This is because he was one of the members of AVALANCHE who witnessed/overheard Cloud and Tifa sharing their moment under the Highwind, and then playfully teased them about it the next morning. Certainly something gave him an indication that they might have been moving toward a romantic relationship. This all shows that other characters think of Cloud and Tifa as a romantic couple.
26. A common counterargument against Cloti is an observation that the FF 20th Anniversary Ultimania File 1: Character identifies Cloud and Tifa as "childhood friends" rather than identifying them as a couple or showing them with mutual "favor arrows".
However this is also the case with Celes and Locke for Final Fantasy VI's chart, and Squall and Rinoa on FFVIII's. By not identifying such a couple with regard to FFVII, the book isn't making a statement that there isn't a couple to be determined from the game or wider Compilation materials. The chart isn't taking into account the entirety of the Compilation, nor even the entirety of the original game for that matter.
The line going from Cid to Shiera says "to treat cruelly/unkindly". It's not true that Cid treated her unkindly by the end of Disc 2, where the Highwind scene occurs. Also, the chart obviously doesn't mention that Cid and Shiera are married by the time of Dirge of Cerberus, so there clearly is a point where these charts stopped keeping track of what was going on.
Not even Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus' own charts in the FFVII 10th Anniversary Ultimania provide any greater illumination on the matter of who Cloud is in love with, lacking "likes" arrows altogether. DC's chart doesn't even have an arrow or line running from one to the other, while AC's has them again identified as "childhood friends," no arrow from Aerith to Cloud, and the only arrow from Cloud to Aerith reading "sense of guilt" -- the same arrow running from Lucrecia to Grimoire Valentine on DC's chart.
Furthermore, the book's chart for the original game doesn't even include "likes" arrows from Aerith and Tifa to Cloud -- unlike the flowchart in the FFVII Ultimania Omega -- nor does even its DC flowchart include the fact that Cid and Shiera are married as of that time. Also, AC's chart we once again have Cloud and Tifa being identified only with "childhood friends," that identification really doesn't preclude them being anything else in addition. Only the arrow running from Cloud to Aerith actually says "sense of guilt," but we know Cloud has a sense of guilt in AC where Zack is concerned as well. However, the line between the two on AC's chart only says "former best friends".
As with the FFVII chart, those for FFIX and FFX bear incomplete data. For that matter, the line running between Lulu and Wakka identifies them as "childhood friends", the same as Cloud and Tifa are always identified in these charts. Given that Wakka and Lulu married only half a year after FFX ended, it's hardly indicative of people who certainly don't have romantic interest in each other.
To argue that the chart in the FF 20th Anniversary Ultimania File 1: Character (the most recent character chart involving Cloud) not having arrows running between Cloud and Tifa is a sign that there's no canon pairing applicable to them is to argue that Cid still treats Shiera unkindly by the end of FFVII, and that the relationships between Wakka and Lulu, Squall and Rinoa, as well as Tidus and Yuna, are ambiguous.
In other words, such an argument is unfounded. The charts are meaningless to the Cloti/Clerith Love Triangle Debate, and they offer absolutely nothing of value as far as the LTD or any of the Final Fantasy romances are concerned.
27. Various official materials refer to Cloud and Tifa as being in one. For example, Cloud's profile from the FFVII 10th Anniversary Ultimania (pg. 38; pg. 40 in the Revised Edition) that says he, Tifa and the children "lived together like a family."
Also, the book's profile for Tifa says "The present Tifa isn't just Cloud's childhood friend, but also the mother of the 'family' they were forming in Edge." "Case of Tifa" also says that Cloud looked like a father when hanging out with Denzel and Marlene. These two structures alone imply more than simply sharing quarters.
There's also a comment from Kazushige Nojima on pg. 70 of the Reunion Files where he says this about conceptualizing the story of Advent Children: "Inside, I felt one thing was for sure: Cloud and Tifa would be together. Everybody would be back home where they belonged."
28. It's sometimes argued that Tifa's relationship with Cloud is more akin to that of a mother and son, and that Tifa's romantic interest in Cloud had disappeared, being replaced instead by a motherly affection. This view is bolstered some of her thoughts in Case of Tifa, and by a quote from Tetsuya Nomura in the Reunion Files (pg. 18), where he said, "Like Aerith, [Tifa] has a maternal side to her, but in a different sense. Not only was she looking after Marlene and Denzel, but she also felt a certain maternal bond to Cloud, who is a 'big kid' himself in some respects."
However, only the English translation used the term "maternal bond" -- Nomura's actual statement (in Japanese) was merely that Tifa "also looks after Cloud" in addition to Marlene and Denzel. This can be said of many women where their romantic partners are concerned. A maternal bond isn't necessary. Even had Nomura's actual statement included the term, however, it should go without saying that such qualities are not uncommon to find in women, nor is the presence of a "certain maternal bond" between a woman and the man she has romantic feelings for.
As far as the notion goes that Tifa is more of a mother to Cloud than anything else, that isn't supported by a later passage where Tifa observes Cloud, Marlene and Denzel seated at a table in Seventh Heaven. There, the comment is made -- obviously incorporating Tifa's perspective -- that "you might have said Cloud, Marlene and Denzel resembled a father and his kids."
Also Aerith doesn't go without an analogy as Cloud's mother herself. When Cloud feels her presence as he's dying near the end of Advent Children, he says "Mother?" aloud, prompting Aerith to say he's too big to adopt. Also, in the Reunion Files (pg. 29), Nomura says that Aerith's maternal essence lingers at the City of the Ancients -- and says it in the context of why this is a place that Cloud avoids while simultaneously feeling drawn toward.
Basically, both Tifa and Aerith have motherly qualities to them, as Nomura said in the Reunion Files (pg. 18), and both are motherly toward Cloud in their own way. Again, these qualities are not uncommon in women, so it does not mean that Cloud is like a son to Tifa.
29. While the Dirge of Cerberus character profiles refer to Aerith as “A girl with the blood of the Ancients flowing through her veins who is engraved in Cloud’s heart for the rest of his life” the FFVII 10th Anniversary Ultimania makes it clear that Cloud isn't the only one within whom Aerith lives on in such a way.
"Two years after returning to the planet, Aerith still lives on in the hearts of her friends who saved the planet. And in particular to Cloud, as a symbol of his failure to having being unable protect those dear to him, she was a major factor in causing him to close himself off."
In Advent Children, Marlene and Tifa are both shown to have a connection with Aerith as well. It also points out that Aerith lives on specifically for Cloud as a symbol of his inability to protect those he cares about. Ultimately, the point made that Aerith lives on inside Cloud applies to Zack as well. He also appears to Cloud, and on more than one occasion. During one of those appearances, Zack even reminds Cloud that he is his "living legacy."
Henceforth, Aerith may not live on in Cloud's heart much more than anyone else's. It is possible that Cloud isn't in love with Aerith, and that she may simply be equally important to him as Zack. This would also explain why he goes to live in her church AND frequently goes to Zack's grave after being infected with Geostigma.
30. In the revised version of Case of Tifa, Cloud apologizes to Tifa for "doing things without consulting" after he tells her he's begun a delivery service -- certainly not something he should have felt the need for if they weren't in a relationship as described above. Roommates don't have a need to apologize for how they spend their free time if they don't first gain permission. This suggests a romantic relationship between Cloud and Tifa.
31. There's a consensus among some fans that Cloud and Tifa are "friend-zoned" and can't be together.
There are many reasons for this argument. One is that Cloud seemed to love Aerith more than Tifa (or as it would appear), and the former's death has left Cloud hung up about being unable to protect her, thus leaving Tifa unable to compete/compare and be with Cloud.
The second reason for this argument is that in Advent Children Complete, it is shown that Cloud is still visiting Aerith's church even before he got Geostigma and abandoned his family. Not just that, but Tifa also says "You never call" and the message history on his phone displays up to three pages (at least two months) of missed calls. The overall point here is that if Cloud loves Tifa, why would he ignore so many of her calls for so long and keep going to Aerith's church in solitude?
The third reason has to do with the fact that Cloud abandons Tifa, Marlene and Denzel in AC/ACC as a result of his Geostigma. It states that if Tifa (his "romantic partner") and the rest of the family aren't enough to make him feel better, then he isn't in love with her, nor does he want to be with her.
While these do all make for a fair and valid argument, it also requires dismissing various other Pro-Cloti factors explored on this list, including those from Case of Tifa.
For starters, it is unknown whether or not Cloud does love Aerith more than Tifa. While, the scenes between Cloud and Aerith in AC/ACC are depicted in a brighter, more light-hearted tone than those between Cloud and Tifa, remember that the point of the movie is to rid Cloud of his guilt regarding Aerith's death; the differences in tone simply convey Cloud's progress in doing so. Also remember that in AC/ACC, Cloud has a sense of guilt concerned with Zack's death as well, so for all we know, they may both be of equal importance to him, and that he frequently goes to Zack's grave as well as Aerith's church before the events of AC/ACC.
Of further importance, in AC/ACC Cloud is not shown/implied to feel any better when he is in Aerith's church or at Zack's grave; he appears to be in the same depressed state as when he and Tifa are at Seventh Heaven. Thus, I would argue that Cloud did not go to Aerith's church to feel better, but rather because he didn't want to hurt Tifa by letting her know he was going to die. Cloud knew he was fatally ill and thought that he couldn't care for anyone else. Therefore, it actually makes sense for Cloud to sacrifice his remaining time with his family, because he doesn't want to complicate things or burden them by admitting his imminent death; a serious indicator of his love for Tifa (and the kids).
This would also explain why he continues living with them after AC/ACC and DoC. Furthermore, if Cloud wasn't in love with Tifa, then why would he try to start a new life with her in CoT, forming a new family consisting of them as the parents raising two children?
Most significantly though, Case of Tifa was written using the premise that at first, things aren't going well between Cloud and Tifa, quoting Kazushige Nojima in reason #7 above. All romantic relationships struggle, and keep in mind that throughout their lives, Cloud and Tifa have faced the destruction of their hometown, a love triangle, the deaths of Aerith and Zack, the near-destruction of the world, depression, guilt, insecurities, domestic problems, and a terminal disease. They have gone through the worst of the worst.
I think all of these traumas have hindered their relationship. Thus, it makes perfect sense for Cloud to ignore Tifa's phone calls while still living with her in 7th Heaven, being in a romantic relationship and raising the children. Consider this: Cloud has lost two people that were very near-and-dear to him; Aerith and Zack, so in turn, it makes perfect sense for him to be romantically involved with Tifa while keeping a reasonable distance from her. He doesn't want to get too close to her because of his personal issues that are eventually resolved at the end of AC/ACC. Also, it's highly plausible that Cloud fears something bad could happen to Tifa if he gets too close, further supporting the notion of him spending time with and away from her to keep her safe.
Also, it is possible that Cloud got his Geostigma shortly after CoT, before Denzel was brought into the family, and that Cloud only abandoned them after he failed to cure Denzel and his sickness got worse. The scene where Cloud meets Denzel and he is shown to have ignored Tifa's phone calls takes place shortly before the events of AC/ACC, when Cloud had already begun to distance himself from them due to his Geostigma, before outright abandoning them later.
And let's face it: if you feel guilty about something you did or didn't do to someone else, it would almost certainly require that the person you wronged be the one to forgive you. Since Aerith and Zack are dead, almost nothing could help Cloud overcome his guilt completely. As a result, the fact that he frequently goes to Aerith's church and Zack's grave between FFVII and AC/ACC doesn't mean that Tifa "isn't enough for him", especially since the traumas in their lives caused their relationship to struggle.
In AC/ACC, Tifa reminds Cloud that he hates being alone. Whether or not she was referring to his proximity to others or a romantic relationship is irrelevant; since Tifa knows Cloud all too well, it simply doesn't make much sense for Cloud to go on without devoting himself to someone.
Additionally, following the death of a loved one it is only natural for a close friend or lover to seek the companionship of others. This would explain why Cloud and Tifa open a new 7th Heaven and live together, and why Cloud still fusses over Aerith and Zack's deaths until the end of AC/ACC.
Based on these observations, it is safe to say that Cloud and Tifa are not "friend-zoned" and that for a variety of reasons, their relationship is just seriously struggling up until AC/ACC, when Cloud overcomes his guilt and everything is fixed. This is supported by a comment from Kazushige Nojima on pg. 70 of the Reunion Files about conceptualizing AC.
"Inside, I felt one thing was for sure: Cloud and Tifa would be together. Everybody would be back home where they belonged."
32. Tifa is Cloud's emotional support in Advent Children.
However, it is occasionally argued that because Aerith is the one who finally convinces Cloud to overcome his guilt regarding her death, it means that Cloud is not truly in love with Tifa. This is because he rejects her offer to help him while at Seventh Heaven, but after being rescued by Vincent, Aerith convinces Cloud to try and overcome his guilt.
However, these are two steps in Cloud's character progression, and they are directly related to the reason above. Even though Tifa doesn't successfully convince Cloud that Aerith and Zack's death wasn't his fault, she does convince him to depart for the forgotten city for the kids (step one). After being rescued by Vincent, Aerith lets Cloud know that it wasn't his fault (step two).
Even though Tifa wasn't able to make Cloud overcome his guilt, that doesn't mean that he doesn't see her as his true love; his character changes gradually over the course of the film to a much happier state, and it is because of Tifa that he passes the first step. Henceforth, the argument about Cloud not seeing her as a romantic partner because of her inability to make him entirely overcome his guilt is invalid.
And let's face it: if you feel guilty about something you did or didn't do to someone else, it would almost certainly require that the person you wronged be the one to forgive you. Since Aerith and Zack are dead, almost nothing could help Cloud overcome his guilt completely, until the end of AC/ACC.
33. One argument in favour of Clerith states that even though Cloud and Tifa "reveal their mutual feelings" under the Highwind, it doesn't confirm that they actually love each other because love is not simply having romantic feelings for each other. What love really is consists of respect and mature appreciation for each other's goodness. It involves looking out for each other and tolerating each other's way of life.
While this quite literally is true, there are several aspects of Cloud and Tifa's relationship that actually do consist of the aforementioned qualities of love. You'll notice, there is never a single point in the compilation where they try to change something about each other; they are completely tolerant of each other's lifestyles, and the only time they do try to change each other is when one desperately needs help.
For example, while Cloud spends a lot of Advent Children in depression and solitude, Tifa doesn't necessarily approach him about it until she sees that he desperately needs help. This may be partially attributed to her emotional shyness, but the point is that she is careful around and looks out for him.
Another example; Cloud leaves Tifa and the kids is because he fears that his learned helplessness will hurt them. He doesn't want anything bad to happen between them, so he leaves in the hopes that it will be for the better. He puts his romantic feelings for Tifa aside in favor of assuring that he doesn't hurt her.
There are other elements from the compilation that fit this category. It all makes it clear that Cloud and Tifa do look out for each other and respect who each other is. This, combined with their romantic feelings, more or less confirms that they are in love.
34. In Advent Children, Aerith repeatedly encourages Cloud to "move on" following her death. It is unclear whether or not she means for him to stop feeling guilty, or for him to be with Tifa, but it does not discriminate either possibility. At the end of the film, Cloud takes her word and decides that he is going to enjoy the present rather than obsess about the past. Also, it appears as though Aerith and Zack continued their "Crisis Core" relationship in the lifestream.
Furthermore, Aerith was supposed to be paired up with Zack. So by all logic Tifa is perhaps supposed to be paired with Cloud. This is further evidenced in Advent Children Complete when Cloud apparently plants Aerith's flowers at Zack's grave, and Zack's sword in Aerith's church. So it's possible that even Cloud thinks she should be with Zack instead of himself. All of this information combined suggests that Cloud may turn to Tifa.
It is safe to say that both relationships are real, as Aerith did die, so they can't exactly have a true, corporeal relationship if she is dead. Cloud could have dated Aerith in Gold Saucer but after Aerith died he learned to love Tifa. Maybe Cloti is possible after Aeris died, as at the end of Advent Children, Zack and Aeris seemed to have continued their relationship from Crisis Core in the Lifestream, so maybe Cloud and Tifa started one. Also, many fans state that Cloud might love Aerith, but that he is IN love with Tifa and vice-versa.
Aerith is dead. If Cloud had more interest in her than Tifa, he may simply have not chosen and instead continues his life without devoting himself to anyone. It is also possible that he may do this out of fear that Tifa's life may be threatened.
Whether or not Cloud could actually be with Aerith after her death is also debated. Many fans claim that Cloud cannot have a real relationship if she's dead and he's still alive, which depends on the theory of Aerith being resurrected.
There's also a consensus among some fans that Cloud and Tifa are "friend-zoned" and can't be together. However, most of the pro-cloti evidence would suggest otherwise (see Reasons for Cloti #31).
There is no definite conclusion to this debate, as both relationships are real, but the relevance of each reason and counterargument for either seem to balance out evenly. Endless opinions and statements can be made, but it ultimately depends on who you as an individual believe Cloud ends up with and/or loves most in the end, as Square Enix intended.