GameCentral readers discuss the most memorable video game protagonists, from Commander Shepard to Bayonetta.
The subject for this week’s Hot Topic was suggested by reader Grackle, who asked who do you enjoy playing as the most and why? How much does their visual design and gameplay abilities play into it and how important is it that you like the hero in the game you’re playing?
We had an interesting mix of heroes with clearly defined personalities and others that are much more just colourful avatars or blank slates for you to mould. That meant that both Geralt and Link ended up equally popular, along with the Resident Evil pantheon and Bayonetta.
The man, the legend
The real answer to this question is Kazuma Kiryu, lead of the Yakuza games (up until this most recent one). If you haven’t played the games you won’t understand the appeal but despite being part of the Yakuza he’s a good guy, a good father figure, and the coolest video game character ever seen.
He’s over the top but can still be brought back down to earth enough for some serious drama when needed. But when doing the sillier side missions I’ve never laughed more at a video game character. More than that I’ve never wanted to BE a video game character more. I wish I was as cool as Kiryu and so do all other video game characters.
PS: Ichiban Kasuga is okay too but you can improve on perfection.
I have to say I’ve got a soft spot for all the Resident Evil crew. Maybe not Chris so much, because he really is a blank slate, but Jill, Claire, Leon, Barry, and Wesker are so much fun to play as and against. I know they’re barely characters but I’ve had so many happy hours of gameplay with these dorks that they seem like old friends by this point.
I really like how they rarely appear twice in a row, so there’s always a bit of a gap before seeing them again, with one game being more focused on one or the other. Over the years they’ve all expanded their own little crew and it’s all so charming and homey, which is a bit of weird thing to say about a survival horror but there it is.
I don’t think game characters really need to be deep, they are usually just an avatar for you as the player, but they do need a bit of charm and not to be portrayed as so horrible you don’t want to be them. I’m thinking of Kratos when I say that, who I loathe.
Bit of a deep cut here but I’d say either Manny Calavera from Grim Fandango or Guybrush Threepwood from Monkey Island. Modern video games seem to think they invented the idea of telling a story in a game but these old LucasArts games are filled with amazing characters.
I mean these are only the two leads, but even size characters like Murray the skull and Glottis the mechanic are amazing and far more memorable and original than the grimdark brooders you get nowadays. I don’t want to play as a psychopath, I want to play as real, interesting person, even if they are a skeleton or a demon monster.
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Half and half
I’ve been mulling this over for a while and weirdly I find myself coming back again and again to Commander Shepard even though he/she isn’t really a fully fledged characters like the others in Mass Effect. Shepard is you but I think that’s the appeal for me. Whenever you’re playing a named character, like Geralt from The Witcher 3, it always seems too much like I’m following a script the developer wants me to play out – which sometimes I literally am.
With Shepard though you’ve got all your dialogue choices, but all your relationships with your crew, and your moral decisions about the war and the people you meet. For me it’s the perfect mix between storytelling and interactivity. You’re not quite you and you’re not quite just a puppet for the developer – you create the character for Shepard as you play and for me that’s the best way to do it.
Oh and obviously I play as female Shepard. The voice-acting is miles better than the male version and they better not change a damn thing in the remaster!
Fly me to the moon
I’m going to have to cheat and say I have two (yes, two!) joint favourites: and that would be Link and Bayonetta.
I think the last time you did this topic I would have said Link and Dante. Though that can’t be right, Bayonetta is now over 10-years-old. Anyway, I choose Link because he can do anything really – he’s got bows, bombs, boomerangs, super strength, he can climb any mountain, cross every sea – and isn’t too bad with a sword. Depending on which instalment you play.
That said, Link has only had a personality in two of the games I played: The Wind Waker and Majora’s Mask. And I’m being generous with Majora, as you have to read a lot into it.
Bayonetta, who is also pretty capable, definitely has a personality. She’s about the only one who does in her game. Rodin and Jeanne are tolerable if bland, Luca is somewhat irritating, and the Joe Pesci-alike guy whose name I haven’t even bothered to look up is someone I wanted to die the moment he was introduced. I don’t imagine there is anybody in the world who feels differently.
I do love a fun, witty character though and the Umbran Queen has it in spades. And whips. And lightsabres. And grenade launchers. And demons bigger than a planet.
Oddly, my favourite line of hers is right at the very end of the first game where Luca questions if her perfume has extra ingénue in it (I am completely ignorant in the world of fancy pongs). She says: ‘It has a bit of rosemary in it. In the language of flowers, rosemary equates to remembrance! Suits me now – doesn’t it?’
I get a little bit of the feels, every time that I hear it.
I’d like to say Kat from Gravity Rush. She was such a nice person and that’s such a rarity for video game characters. She was super powerful but just wanted to help everyone and be good.
I was actually quite upset when I found out her creator had left Sony, even though it was obvious they wouldn’t make another one as the games were never a hit. I blame them being on portables but really they are my favourite Sony games and Kat my favourite hero.
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Enjoy your character
A great gaming character protagonist I had some amazing fun with, was with the original Bayonetta in 2010.
When I read and saw the demonstrations and write-ups about the game, it was like a breath of fresh air for video gaming and character-led games in general. It was definitely character led, as the storyline was just bonkers, but the protagonist was just such a breath of fresh air! Nothing was going to rain on this video game’s character’s parade.
She is so dominant, confident and has a hold no punches persona that you could be quite overwhelmed at first meeting her. But soon you’ll get use to her style and just become captivated by the attitude and bold humour of Bayonetta. She is a strong kickass protagonist, that is also able to have that openness and emotional moment that can take your breath away.
I have witnessed many great characters, of which I have had the pleasure to game with over the years. Special Agent Francis Morgan from Deadly Premonition, Shephard from Mass Effect, and Jade from Beyond Good & Evil are some of my all-time favourite gaming characters ever! All coupled with fantastically realised worlds and environments to explore, plus awesome gaming to top it all off.
It can be very difficult to create a character that people can enjoy and to not be an annoying character in any way is quite an achievement. It takes good artwork and fantastic voice-acting, as well as a great script to work with, and only then will they reach the very top tier of the characters. To enjoy your protagonist makes gaming that extra bit special and can turn a good game into a great game. And let’s face it, we all love an endearing heroine or hero to live our gaming dreams through.
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