Cloud was far from one-dimensional. He goes from young country kid in over his head, to cocky schizoid/Zack clone, to a hero that conquers his fears. Cloud's awesome, and will always be the face of Final Fantasy for me.
That said, Lightning's got nothing on Cloud. Although I always thought her name was cool.
Exactly. Crisis Core transformed the polygons and text dialogue in FF7 into something that conveyed a realistic Cloud, who was more than just an emo "badass" silent protagonist that a lot of westerners say he was.
I've only played like the first quarter of XIII, but my understanding of Lightning is that while she probably has a more fleshed-out backstory, she's more just "emo badass" for the sake of being cool. And there's not much room to interpret the presentation of her character or give it the benefit of the doubt since the cinematic aspect is top notch. In reading, you have to do a bit of detective guesswork. I do think that's something that can be said about FF7--it came from a period of video games where your imagination and interpretation of the experience defined the game by necessity, whereas today that's a luxury that certain "avant games" can choose merely as an option.
Cloud was insane. He clung on to reality by pretending to be a person he wasn't. He wasn't Zack, He wasn't even qualified to be in SOLDIER. But that's how he presented himself. Of course, it all untangles eventually, and you get to see the real Cloud emerge, but you don't really know the guy until deep into the story. FFVII took a lot of risks, and having the protagonist chase the antagonist out of a madness that slowly becomes apparent really could have blown up the whole game, but they pulled it off. This is what makes FFVII great, it makes the circumstances in which Cloud found himself great, but it doesn't necessarily mean Cloud was a great character in and of himself.
However, Lightning is someone you can relate to a lot more. She's an orphan who raised he sister and did what she must to survive. She joined the military, which gave her the discipline to continue fighting in spite of becoming a fugitive. But she also came to realize that fighting was her way of running away from her painful feelings. That instead of having compassion for her sister when she got in trouble, she raged. And it's this "facing herself" where her character growth comes from. It's something anyone can understand much more than recovering from a fractured personality.
The tunnel motif is what gets people hung up about FFXIII even though it's inspired by "being pushed by circumstances beyond your control" a la Call of Duty (you know, what video game series customers buy like crack). But let's face it, the perpetual tunnel is also what they did for FFX, Yuna was by far the most wooden character out of all the ones who've been voice-acted, and Tidus the most grating, but that game turned out to be of a lost age of FF greatness while FFXIII was considered ****.
So, FFXIII was a "miss" as far as being fan favorite even though it was relying upon what should have been a sure thing. It happens. But I don't think it's fair to just dismiss a character outright because she was attached to something less than ideal. If you're going to simply compare Lightning to Cloud, I think you'll find that the writing for Lightning is a lot more convincing than for Cloud, while Cloud's writing takes more risks but inevitably creates a character that's more difficult to relate to because he turns out to be someone else entirely.