Obsessive compulsive disorder is the ruination of joy. While Google’s definition of this mental health condition is simply described as “excessive thoughts (obsessions) that lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsions)”, this descriptor doesn’t do this all-consuming illness justice. Unlike media portrayals such as Hannibal or Monk, obsessive compulsive disorder (or OCD for short) is more than just being well organized, an intense over-attention to detail, or germaphobia. In fact, this mental illness is an extreme form of anxiety disorder. Those afflicted with OCD live in constant distress, double thinking and triple thinking even the most seemingly minuscule detail ranging from whether they locked a door or if they did a sin damning them to hell.
Whatever the case, dealing with these tumultuous thoughts is downright overwhelming, and I speak from experience. As someone living with this mental illness, I can personally attest that it’s monumentally difficult to lead a normal existence under the severe duress induced by obsessive compulsive disorder. When I was a teenager, I randomly worried about losing my arms for several days and became anxious that the police would come after me for driving past the speed limit. In adulthood, my intrusive thoughts have become more existential; I all too often ponder life’s meaningless intricacies. Even though I don’t desire to dwell on such a morbid idea -hell, I don’t even believe it’s true-, I can’t help but to spend hours and hours thinking about life’s lack of purpose. I’m trapped in my own head with repetitive negative thoughts. Unable to control these inescapable obsessions, I’ve had to fend for myself for most of my life.
And I mostly fought this illness alone. I rarely allowed people to witness me in such a vulnerable state, and instead, I spent a great portion of my childhood and young adulthood hiding my pain. I obscured my inner turmoil and often didn’t seek personal aid, or professional medical help for that matter, because I didn’t want to appear weak. Mental illnesses carry a profound stigma, and while I eventually sought help, I didn’t desire to be labeled with a condition containing such a negative connotation for the longest time. By my own action, I fought my inner demons in isolation even though I should’ve asked for assistance from friends, family, and healthcare professionals.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake reminded me of my past battles with obsessive compulsive disorder and my underlying depression. In fact, the newly released Square Enix reimagining of the 1997 turn-based RPG classic resonated with me in a big way. Beyond being a damn good video game and how much I related to the exemplary cross-dressing sequence, Final Fantasy 7 Remake struck a chord with me due to my turbulent history with mental illness. Yes, this silly game featuring a Chocobo cowboy with a Sam Elliot style drawl hit me incredibly close to home, and to explain why, we need to take a close look at Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s main protagonist.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s strong relatability stems from Cloud Strife. In the game, Cloud is a cypher. From the very start of the game, Cloud keeps his emotions and personal history close to the vest. To the other characters and the player, he’s an emotional brick wall. We know nothing in regards to his past, pain, and trauma. Cloud’s very existence and personal motivations are a mystery and one that Final Fantasy 7 Remake doesn’t resolve. Simply put: he’s the living embodiment of a question mark.
Admittedly, Cloud’s mystifying characterization can be perceived as a fault with the game. He is a man of few words, and compared with other key characters like Tifa, Barret, and Aerith, Cloud lacks personality. His character is a vacuum. Upon starting the game, we know little about Cloud, and his undefined character traits allow the player to easily project themselves onto him. Out of the core cast, Cloud has the least definition, letting players use him as their personal stand-in within Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s world.
This criticism, however, neglects a key part of Cloud’s character. Cloud may act like an empty void of a person, but there is conflict (or strife if you want to get really cutesey) brimming beneath the surface. Early on in Final Fantasy 7 Remake, we learn that something is amiss with Cloud. Throughout the game, Cloud becomes overwhelmed with a pain in his head and is forced to pause whatever activity he was doing in order to deal with this distress. While he’ll lie and claim he’s fine, Cloud is experiencing deep emotional anguish, and despite the severity of his pain, he won’t allow anyone to see him vulnerable lest he be perceived as fragile.
This is why I strongly connect with Cloud. Truth be told, I was just like him in many regards. For many years, I too shut out my friends and tried to deal with my intense emotional pain by my lonesome. Like Cloud, I desired for everyone to see me as capable of taking care of myself, and even though I endured several mental health episodes where I engaged in self-harm, fainted, and muttered to people who weren’t there, I tried to play it off. I just didn’t want to be seen as a weakling, and when playing as Cloud in Final Fantasy 7 Remake, I saw my own plight reflected back at me. It may have been a game, but it felt all too real.
Cloud’s character arc reminded me of my past mistakes. The most notable of these missteps was my long reticence to acquire help. Talking with friends, getting prescribed medication, and learning new coping strategies was ultimately beneficial. While opening up to others about my emotional wounds was frightening, I gained tools equipping me with the ability to finally combat my OCD. Sure, divulging my inner agony was difficult, but the rewards were worth it.
Cloud still needs to realize this truth. While he displays more personality as Final Fantasy 7 Remake progresses, Cloud’s inner demons remain locked away in his psyche. Even though he tells others that there’s nothing wrong with exhibiting emotions, Cloud doesn’t grant himself the same permission to express his own feelings. In order to overcome his trauma, Cloud must be strong by trusting his friends to support him. If he can manage this, then Cloud may finally end his strife.