10. Riku – Kingdom Hearts Franchise
One of the most sympathetic “villains” to grace the JRPG scene, Riku is a really a kid caught between fighting his own inner demons that are consuming him and fighting for his friends. Especially in a game I think is targeted more towards kids, Riku’s character was surprisingly mature for his his age. He was also one of the best boss fights ever, and since then has been a great ally to Sora. It was hard to face him because of the issue his boss fight forces you to face. It served as a vivid example of the themes Kingdom Hearts aims to explore; the power and strength of friendship.
9. The Lone Wanderer – Shadow of Colossus
Another gem of a game that retained a cult favorite status (and for good reason), Shadow of the Colussus was a masterpiece of its time. The story is simple, a boy has come to save the love of his life from dying, and will do what it takes. He is told that killing the Colossi might bring her back, but gives an ominous warning that it comes at a price. This is what makes the game’s story so gripping in story; it’s something that anyone can relate to. It examines the depths someone will go to for the one they love, at any cost. It’s also a game that is able to convey things with barely any discernable dialogue (there were subtitles, but still). Just an incredible game to play.
8. Raz – Psychonauts
Let’s be honest here, Psychonauts to this day is still one of the most under appreciated comedic games. The writing was humorous and top notch in its oddity, and the cast did a great job bringing out the comedic elements of the story. Most importantly, the gameplay was built contextually to the tone of the story and world. Raz is a great protagonist, and it helps that his voice actor is the same one for Zim from Invader Zim. Overall, the cast is what makes this game so great, but Raz definitely stands out among the pack.
7. Wrex – Mass Effect Trilogy
Wrex was the most surprising character out of the colorful cast of Mass Effect. Some of the more interesting, and oddly profound conversation would happen between Shepard and Wrex. If there was nothing to say, he never came up with an excuse to not have a conversation, just a simple recognition of “Shepard”. Originally sold as a typical mercenary for hire, as the game progressed you got see he was WAY more than that. For someone who I was selfish (and still can be determining how you view this), his goal was to keep his species from going extinct. In one of the biggest moments of the trilogy, you really see to what depths he will do to fight for the chance to see his species thrive again. He was one of the characters I respected most, and truly appreciated for the game.
6. Charmander – Pokemon Series
I remember when I got Pokemon Red for Christmas, my automatic thinking was Red = Fire. So when the time came to decide my starter pokemon, I automatically went with Charmander. This fiery reptilian has gone on to be my favorite pokemon of all time, and set the standard for what starter I would always go to (Most of my choices have been fire, with one exception). Even though the first two gyms were a nightmare to get through (1st Gym = Brock (Rock) and 2nd Gym = Misty (Water)), I was glad to have Charmander by my side. It made the game feel all the more special, and I could not have chose a better companion going through my first journey in the world of Pokemon.
5. Crash Bandicoot – Crash Bandicoot Series
As a kid, I remember spending a lot of my Saturday mornings alternating between playing Crash Bandicoot games or Pokemon. Crash Bandicoot was a fun, vibrant platforming game that never felt too difficult or too easy; it had the right balance that allowed you to have fun while also being challenged. The game did not hold your hand along the way and let you figure it out on your own. Not to mention, Crash’s animations, aesthetic style and visual flair (most notably, Ooga-Booga) were all around a great time. Crash is up here because I believe he’s one of the more under appreciated, influential characters in video games.
4. Garus Vakarian – Mass Effect Trilogy
It was a tough fight edging out the Top 4 but I feel Garrus definitely earns this spot. Garrus was an interesting character because of how his moral convictions could (depending on how you played the game) play out. Where most games try to base characters’ morality on social norms, Garrus’ were based on his own perspective and he would talk to you about them. He would talk it out, and would listen to your advice if it seemed to make sense. Most of all, Garrus was personable, reliable, and showed that even the strongest of people had their own flaws. Garrus embraced them and worked them to become strengths. While Wrex certainly had some more comedic/memorable moments for me, Garrus was the guy I knew I could talk to and even question my character’s morality. While the trilogy deserves praise on its own (looking back, I appreciate the endings), every character in the cast could be a top character for anyone. BioWare did that great with the cast, Garrus just stood out to me the most. Plus…he’s always got to calibrate something, the guy is a hard worker.
3. John Marston – Red Dead Redemption
While many hail Grand Theft Auto as the best Rockstar franchise, I would argue that Red Dead Redemption was their best game. Red Dead’s world felt like what I envision the Wild West to be like. Every characters felt human; you may not agree with their views but you could understand. Most notably, John Marston was that once-evil-guy-now-reluctant-hero you grew to care for. His personality, his motivations and opinions were heavy, but simple in delivery. Overall, you could not help but feel like this guy needed a break from everything when the game was over. I won’t spoil the game (which, if you haven’t played it go get it now!) but by the time the credits roll you’ll be tragically surprised. It was a hard choice, but he was definitely one of the greatest protagonists I’ve gotten to play as.
2. Auron – Final Fantasy X (2001?)
The number one character for me was hard to make, and these last two could have easily been there. However, while my number one is there for a great reason, one of the hugest influences on my gaming preferences was thanks to the game Final Fantasy X. The writing, while cheesy, had a good complexity to the morality being explored. Characters were archetypal, but still seemed to deviate enough from their trappings to be compelling. Every character was great and complimented the stellar soundtrack, addictive gameplay AND fantastic graphics. However, the one character that stood out to me the most was Auron; he was strong in both physicality and emotionally. He was the rock of the group and was the sage/guardian. Plus, he’s a badass who wields a highly unrealistic giant sword on his back with one hand. It’s hard to argue against that.
1. Unknown – Journey
Journey is a beautiful game and achieved what I believe few games have been able to successfully achieve; effective communication without language. The character you control has no name, and is wandering across ruins symbolic of the passage of time and life. Your character can meet others along the way (if connected to the internet) to get through levels together, and if you need to communicate the only sound you get is a musical note. Yet, what was so interesting about that was how effectively you could communicate that way. I finished the game in 2.5 hours (it is a short game) but I felt I had experienced something profound. I thanked the person I played, and have not touched the game since. This is not because I would not want to play it again, but just because of how unique of an amazing experience I had. While some say game can never be art, this is the game I gesture to them to try out. This game is beautiful, and the game is a work of art I want anyone to experience.