|Match Date||Monday, September 1st, 2003|
|Cloud - 48.19%|
9 for - 24 against
|Cloud - 13.37%|
People figured that Cloud would be able to give Link a run after Cloud and Sephy annihilated Sonic and Mario in the Elite 8, but there was still the feeling that Link was invincible. Yes Cloud would do well, but actually win? Psssssh.
When the match began, the first thing that everyone noticed were that the vote totals were insane. I don't have the updates for that match saved anywhere (TRE for the save, maybe? >_>), but I'm fairly sure that the total was near 500 at the first poll freeze. That's ridiculous.
At the first freeze, Cloud was certainly giving Link a run. Link only had a double digit lead, and it was not a large one. But even then, Cloud was just putting on a show. He couldn't actually beat Link.... right?
When the next update hit, Cloud was not only winning, but winning by a large amount. This caused a bit of a stir, but people were still confident that Link was still going to win this match.
But when the next update came and it looked as if Cloud was running away with the poll, the board exploded into a massive cesspool of disappointment. Almost half of people that filled out brackets picked Link to win, and a running joke for a long while is that a first round match (Crash/KOS-MOS) would end up being more difficult to predict than the winner of the contest.
Even then, people still felt that Link would easily be able to come back and win this match. There was talk of a Link comeback even after Cloud built himself a lead all throughout the night. No matter, right? Link would simply catch the standard Zelda day vote and crush Cloud's lead into oblivion.
It never happened. The best that Link was able to manage were a few stall updates and a small time period in which Link took off about 20 votes per update. Cloud was always able to counter with something better, and the realization finally hit that we were witnessing the biggest upset of all time in these contests when Cloud took Link's best shot and marched forward as if nothing had ever happened. By the end of the match, Cloud dispatched Link en route to a fairly large victory of nearly 5000 votes.
The fallout from this match wasn't as bad as you might think, save for the massive amounts of whining and cheating accusations that took place. But I'm a believer that the cheating/rallying was equal on all sides in this match, so the cheating accusations were fairly standard blame game stuff. As for why the fallout wasn't that bad, most people wanted to see Link go down. Yes there were a massive amount of Link fans that either picked him to win it all or simply hated FF7, but there were also a massive amount of people who felt that Cloud saved this contest by preventing a repeat champion. This might not be too far from the truth.
It's also worth noting that on top of KHF being in the discussion more than ever before (and this wouldn't even be the match that fully cemented KHF's place in this contest), a lot of people blamed the fact that Link's fugly Wind Waker mug cost him this contest. I'm a believer that pics can account for a 1-2% difference in the polls, and this one falls within that gray area. You're also looking at wind Waker Link matched up against Kingdom Hearts Cloud, which was a definite imbalance that a lot of people were fairly upset about. To this day, many people still point out that Link has never lost a match in which he was fairly represented, almost as if the match against Cloud can be thrown out due to the picture.
Regardless of what happened or why during this match, it still remains as the biggest upset of all time. Even after Cloud's demolition of Sonic, people only felt that Cloud would come close. Few actually expected the victory, and those few who stuck with Cloud through this match were vastly rewarded once the final contest standings came out. This match also set records all over the place when it came to vote rallying and vote totals. We may never again see a match flirt with 150,000 total votes, not to mention a character breaking 70,000 votes in a loss.
The only thing left to do from here was for Cloud to bring the contest home, though in the final he would once again be the underdog. People have assumed Cloud to be weaker than Sephiroth since the Summer of 2002, and given that massive amounts of anti-voting that Cloud would have to deal with in the final his victory there was anything but guaranteed. Assuming Sephiroth even made it past Mega Man, that is.
2005 was a contest in which CJayC (and many voters) felt that Link, Cloud and Sephiroth were too strong for the main bracket. As such CJayC created the Spring 2005 Villain Contest as a free win for Sephy, then took all three out of the main bracket in Summer 2005 and put them in the Tournament of Champions.
Will Square ever be able to recover from all of this Nintendo love? It's possible, but Square needs to get their heads of their asses first. Ever since they almost went bankrupt making The Spirits Within, they've barely been a shell of the company they used to be. They were forced to accept Enix buying them out, and they should bend over backwards to thank Enix for turning around and allowing the union to be called a merger as opposed to the buyout that it truly was. Unfortunately, this hasn't much helped Square until very recently. They've had to release multiple cash grab titles (Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and Final Fantasy X-2 are all excellent examples of this) to a fairly ignorant fanbase to get back into the game, and only recently have they finally begun to rebound from their failed box office attempt.
Dragon Quest 8 and Kingdom Hearts 2 are seeing excellent success, and Square has promised that the final release of Final Fantasy 12 will not feature FFXI's horrendous MMORPG battle system in console format (the outcry from that demo packed in with DQ8 was murderous). Square looks as if they've finally begun to care about the people who have made them famous once again, but they need a smash hit Final Fantasy release to fully get over the hump.
What does this mean in the contest landscape? Cloud beating Link in 2003 was the last time Square did anything of note in these contests against Nintendo unless you count the Spring 2004 Contest. Up until and including Summer 2003, Square vs Nintendo was a good, even rivalry. In Summer 2005, Nintendo won 10 matches against Square. The only victories that Square had were Sephiroth's victory over Mario and Crono's victory over Mega Man. Square has tailed off recently, and they need to get it together if they want any hope of pulling off upsets like this again.
I am a firm believer that this single match saved the GameFAQs Character Battles. This anomaly of anomalies is one of only two times (Jay Solano excluded) that Link has lost a match, and the first time proceeded in spectacular fashion. Even after Link’s less-than-stellar performance against Magus and Cloud’s great performance against Sonic, few people saw this bombshell coming. Attribute it if you will to Link’s Wind Waker pics and Cloud’s Kingdom Hearts boost or whatever other factor you want to come up with, the fact is that Link lost. I remember Link having upwards of 70% brackets picking him to win… maybe even more. That’s huge, especially for just the second contest.
But Cloud won, and Cloud, not Link, would go on to the win the second character battle. Which brings me back to my first point – if Link had won again, I honestly doubt we would have gotten any more character contests. Why bother when Link won so commandingly two times in a row? Instead, this match affirmed the time-honored belief that the 2007 contest struck home yet again: anything can happen.