Before Tifa made an appearance in games with voice actors, many English-speaking players were confused on the pronunciation of her name. They were caught between /ˈtɪfə/ (as in Tiffany) and /ˈtiːfə/ (with the first vowel corresponding more closely to Japanese pronunciation). Once Advent Children was released, the name was pronounced consistently with its Japanese spelling as /tiɸa/ by the Japanese voice actors, which sounds to an English-speaker more like /ˈtiːfə/ than /ˈtɪfə/, yet some still speculated that the English release would change the name to sound more like "Tiffany". The unlengthened Japanese vowel "i" (as found in the Japanese version of Tifa's name) is often used to represent /ɪ/ (the English "short i" sound, which isn't found in Japanese phonology) and its long counterpart "ī" is typically used for /iː/ (the English "long e" sound). The name's pronunciation was confirmed as /ˈtiːfə/ in an interview with Rachael Leigh Cook, who described Tifa's character in Kingdom Hearts II. Tifa's last name is "Lockhart" in Squaresoft's official Japanese materials, but appears as "Lockheart" (with an additional "e") in the English version of Final Fantasy VII's instruction booklet, as translated by Sony Computer Entertainment. This inaccurate version also appears in a number of other second-party materials.
Tifa Lockhart was born in Nibelheim and grew up next door to Cloud Strife. Though they knew each other since childhood, circumstances prevented them from getting close, and Cloud was left to admire Tifa from afar.
When Tifa was eight, her mother died, and soon after, believing that her mother's spirit may have passed through the mountains, she decided to follow the path leading up the nearby Mt. Nibel. Her three closest friends, who were afraid to follow her up the mountain, abandoned her one by one. Cloud, however, who had been following them unnoticed, continued on after Tifa. When Tifa missed her footing on a rope bridge leading into the mountain, he ran to save her but was too late, and both of them fell into the gorge below.
Cloud survived the accident while suffering no more than scraped knees, but Tifa was in a coma for a week, apparently from a class III concussion. Tifa's father held Cloud responsible for the incident, and his relationship with Tifa remained distant.
At the age of fourteen, Cloud asked Tifa to meet him one evening at the well in the center of town. Cloud then told her of his plans to leave for Midgar and join SOLDIER. It is later revealed that this decision was largely influenced by a desire not only to become strong enough to protect Tifa, but also to impress her as well. Tifa was both surprised and disappointed at Cloud's news; she asked him to promise that if he achieved his dream and that if she were ever in danger, he would come to her rescue.
When she was fifteen, Tifa acted as a Nibelheim guide for a group of SOLDIER personnel inspecting the mako reactor on Mt. Nibel. The group consisted of the first-class SOLDIERs Sephiroth and Zack Fair, as well as two MPs, one of which, unbeknownst to Tifa, was Cloud. After the inspection, the group returned to town, and Sephiroth stayed in the basement of the Shin-Ra Mansion to read through the research notes left by Professors Gast and Hojo. What he discovered brought about a gruesome change in him. Without warning, he set fire to Nibelheim in the night and slaughtered the townspeople.
With her hometown in ruins and most of her loved ones dead, Tifa pursued Sephiroth as he returned to the reactor, only to find that Sephiroth had murdered her father as well. In a blind rage, she attempted to kill Sephiroth with his own sword. However, he proved too strong for her, and with terrifying ease he disarmed and inflicted critical injury to Tifa, very nearly killing her. As Cloud made his way into the reactor, he found Zack and Tifa both critically injured. After Cloud defeats Sephiroth, Zangan as well as people from Shinra appeared on the scene, Zangan took the grievously injured Tifa to safety, while Cloud and Zack were taken by Hojo for study.
Due to the severity of her injuries, Zangan carried Tifa to Midgar for medical attention, where he left her in the care of a doctor before returning to his travels. Upon recovering, Tifa set up a bar called "7th Heaven" in Midgar's Sector 7. There she met Barret Wallace, the leader of the Shinra resistance group AVALANCHE. Tifa joined his resistance faction, as she wanted revenge on Shinra for the events that had occurred in Nibelheim.
One day, Tifa found a barely-coherent Cloud sitting at the Sector 7 train station and took him back to AVALANCHE's base to recover. It was the first time she had seen him in seven years, though he would later say that it had only been five. Tifa soon realized that Cloud knew many things he should not have known, while apparently unaware of other things that he should have known. These abnormalities caused her great concern for his mental welfare, and she persuaded him to join AVALANCHE so she could be with him and watch over him.
Tifa was not originally present in the early drafts of Final Fantasy VII's story.
Tifa, along with Cloud, is one of the main characters of Final Fantasy VII Advent Children. Her role in the film sequel is mainly that of emotional support for Cloud, urging him to come to terms with the unwarranted guilt he places on himself. She also displays a great deal of concern for the children in their care, particularly Marlene and Denzel. Tifa takes part in a one-on-one battle with the new villain, Loz, and later joins in the fight against Bahamut SIN. Tifa's original length of hair in Advent Children was cut shorter due to the difficulty of animating its sheer length and color and lighting effects proved difficult while working with black hair. Tifa was one of the only characters, along with Cloud and a few kids, that Advent Children featured in its very early stages when it was still meant to be a 20-minute special for the fans.
Tifa also makes an appearance in the OVA Last Order: Final Fantasy VII. Last Order, narrated by Tseng, retells the events of Nibelheim's destruction based on flashbacks in Final Fantasy VII. Though she has relatively little screen time, Tifa is shown following Sephiroth after Sephiroth had set Nibelheim aflame, later reuniting with Cloud, and finally shown being carried by her martial arts instructor, Zangan.
On the Way to a Smile: Case of Tifa is a story from Tifa's point of view, set after Sephiroth was defeated, and before the events of Advent Children. Cloud and Tifa move to Edge, a new town being constructed just outside of Midgar, and set up a new 7th Heaven as they attempt to build a family life for themselves. After Barret leaves to settle his past, Cloud and Tifa tend to the orphan Denzel and Barret's adopted daughter, Marlene Wallace. During the story, Tifa tries hard to maintain a sense of family unity and the concept of a "normal family" itself. She particularly concerns herself with Cloud, as he begins isolating himself from her and the others as time goes on.
Tifa has a small role in Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII, appearing most notably during the World Regenesis Organization's full scale conflict with the Deep Ground organization. She goes into the battle with Barret and the WRO ground forces, sends Vincent the map of the Shinra building, and later throttles an enemy soldier helping to clear the way to Omega Weapon. She is seen at 7th Heaven in the final FMV, where she and Yuffie talk briefly about Vincent's apparent disappearance.
In Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Tifa appears, albeit in a different attire then her previous outfits, to be a tour guide to Sephiroth, Zack Fair, and two grunts, one of whom is Cloud. She appears throughout the course of the Nibelheim mission, but is absent afterwards.
Tifa's first cameo appearance is as a playable character in the fighting game Ehrgeiz. She is one of the last bosses in the arcade version, and her theme song was switched from her original theme from Final Fantasy VII to the "Final Fantasy Prelude". Players can also unlock additional costumes for Tifa in the game, which happen to be her mountain guide costume and a red version of her original costume, similar to art by Yoshitaka Amano. Tifa was originally illustrated in red clothing, which was later used as her alternate outfit in Ehrgeiz. Tifa also appears in the electronic board games Itadaki Street Special for PlayStation 2 and Itadaki Street Portable for PlayStation Portable. She is shown in her Final Fantasy VII costume. A poster depicting Tifa appears in a room in the city Etrenank in the PlayStation RPG Xenogears.
Tifa makes a cameo appearance in Kingdom Hearts II, seen in her Advent Children attire. She appears in Radiant Garden, but when Sora, Donald, and Goofy meet her, they learn that she is searching for someone. In the Heartless war later in the game, she is seen to have spotted Cloud, who meets with Sephiroth briefly, to find that he has left, leaving her to fight the Heartless that quickly gathers. During the war, Sora fights alongside her in Radiant Garden, as well as against her later, in the Olympus Coliseum. In battle, she uses her famous "Final Heaven" Limit Break, as well as several other of her Limit skills from Final Fantasy VII, such as "Beat Rush" and "Water Kick". Tifa also gives Sora the Fenrir Keychain if he defeats Sephiroth in an optional boss battle. Despite appearing with them in her original game, Tifa has no interactions with her fellow Final Fantasy VII characters (Cid, Yuffie, or Aerith) with the exception of Cloud, who was off searching for Sephiroth.
Tifa was originally planned to appear in the Final Mix version of the original Kingdom Hearts. Because of time constraints, the staff members chose to incorporate Sephiroth and leave out Tifa.
In 2008, IGN voted Tifa as the thirteenth best Final Fantasy character of all time . In a later poll, ranking the reader's top characters, Tifa placed first.