Characters are the basis of just about any form of fiction. The characters are how you see the world, what drives events forward, and create the tense emotional stakes of just about any story. Video games have an interesting take on character because not only are they how you see the world, they’re how you interact with it. They’re quite literally the conduit that allows the player to affect and change the virtual world they find themselves in.
Naturally, with the huge amount of video games I’ve played, there will be some characters that stand out to me above the rest. There will be those characters that I connected with on a level that is so meaningful to me, I had to talk about it here. They could be anyone, a playable character, a companion, a rival, as long as they mean something important to me, then they made the list.
I don’t do these very often because I assume you already know there’s going to be spoilers on a list like this. However, this is one of those cases where I really want to emphasise that if you haven’t played any of these games and want to, then you absolutely should do so before reading this list. The stories will still be incredible, but it’s just different when you go in blind. You have been warned.
13 – Wario – Super Mario Franchise
This list is going to get deep later on, so let’s start off with a fun one.
Wario is…Mario but better and more fun. Where Mario is upbeat and always doing what’s right, Wario isn’t afraid to reach his goals by any means necessary. He’s presented as being evil quite a lot of the time, but really, he just lets his greed get the better of him. When we get to spend time alone with Wario, we see he’s more mischievous than evil, and the poor guy can never seem to catch a break.
I realise those are many of the same reasons as to why people love Wario’s counterpart, Waluigi, but I’ve always preferred Wario. This is partly because I think he has a more fun personality, but also for nostalgia-based reasons. The original Game Boy was the first gaming device I ever owned, and two of the games I played to death on that console were Wario Land & Wario Blast, so I’ve always loved Wario.
This one really isn’t that deep; I just think he’s a lot of fun.
12 – Shulk – Xenoblade Chronicles
Yes, I get it; he’s the one that everyone always jokes “who?” on the Smash Bros roster, but y’all just need to play one of the best JRPGs ever made.
Protagonists are always an easy choice for lists like this. They’re the character that you’ll likely be spending tens, if not hundreds of hours with as you play through a game. It’s almost impossible to spend that long with a character and not bond with them. So you’re going to be seeing a lot of protagonists on this list.
Shulk is an interesting choice because, as a whole, he’s a pretty straight-up hero. There are no complicated wrinkles about his morality or some dark secret he has to hide. He’s a good person who does good things for good reasons. Normally, I can’t stand that kind of hero because I’m a bastard. I like my characters to have layers, but there’s something about Shulk that is so incredibly genuine that I just can’t help but love the guy.
He’s just kind to people and will stand up for what he believes in. What more do you really need from a hero? He’s loyal to his friends and is entirely unashamed about how he always strives to do the right thing. It’s not super overbearing like he’s laying it on thick; his kindness feels highly authentic. He hits the nail on the head in terms of the philosophy of a good person. He just does what he does because it’s the right thing to do. Without witness, without reward – to borrow a quote from Doctor Who.
11 – Tressa – Octopath Traveler
Not the only Octopath Traveler character to appear on this list, Tressa represents the kind of people I love to have in my life.
There’s something about Tressa which is so unabashedly hopeful. This can lead her into trouble at times, and she is a little headstrong. However, her optimism and the joyful eyes through which she sees the world is the kind of traits that I’m always looking to have more of in my life; either through myself or those around me. Her desire to trust people and bond with them is something I’ve tried to emulate within myself in recent years, and it’s made me grow to love Tressa as a result.
On top of that, she’s deceptively clever. Her abilities as a merchant are second to none, being able to judge not just the monetary value of items, but their sentimental value too, as seen by the fact she picks the diary of all things when faced with countless valuable treasures. She’s surprisingly quick-witted in a pinch, too, being able to devise clever plans to outwit her opponents and being quite successful with such tactics.
Her youth, innocence and optimistic outlook draw me to her and fill me those same emotions, while her intelligence and wit make her an extremely strong person to aspire to be like.
10 – Claude – Fire Emblem: Three Houses
(From my Fire Emblem: Three Houses Characters Ranked list)
Claude is just pure and good and everything that’s right with the world.
I alluded to it in the previous entry, but here I can say that the Golden Deer route was absolutely my favourite and that’s largely thanks to Claude. Unlike the other two house leaders, whom I grew to like once getting to know them better, I instantly took a liking to Claude. Not only does his attitude stand in stark contrast to the formalities and nobility of the other two, but it was clear from the start he had an extremely keen mind; plus he uses a bow, which makes him cooler by default.
What really makes me love Claude so much is his drive to always do good by as many people as he can, but he doesn’t do it because “it’s a noble’s duty” or “for the good of the world” he does it because he believes that it is truly the right thing to do and he will stand by his convictions to the death. Despite having the tactical genius to wipe out armies with barely any effort, he instead focuses his tactics on extinguishing as few lives as possible. On top of that, I align with his idealistic goal of tearing down the borders and unifying the world more than I do any of the other leader’s goals.
His attitude is always upbeat and cheery, but he also doesn’t let anything get by him and while he may seem like he trusts easily, it becomes clear that it isn’t the case the more time you spend with him. He clocks onto the fact that The Church of Seiros is hiding something a lot quicker than anyone else and is even able to deduce Flayn & Seteth’s true identity, something that no-one else is able to figure out.
When he’s not fighting a war, Claude is an absolute joy to be around, doing everything in his power to keep spirits up, but when it’s time for business, his tactical ability and dedication to his cause is unmatched, making him – in my view at least – the most capable leader in the whole game and one truely deserving of achieving his ideals.
9 – The Fool – Sayonara Wild Hearts
While I’ve gone through a couple of rough break-ups in my life so far, I don’t think I’ve ever suffered through true heartbreak. At least, not the kind of heartbreak that is so often depicted in fiction. What I didn’t expect, however, is for a game about travelling through a magical realm doing all sorts of mad shit while synched up to music to be a really good way of telling a story about heartbreak and the acceptance of it.
It’s hard to talk about this one in any concrete way because some parts of their story are left open to interpretation, so I may see this in a different way to another who played Sayonara Wild Hearts. Regardless, what that character went through and how they came to accept the depression and negative emotions they went to was an incredibly moving experience to me. I’m wildly inconsistent with how I deal with conflict and inner struggles in my life, but the way The Fool processes it made me more willing to take a back step in those situations and process what’s going on before deciding how to deal with it.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say it changed who I am, but it definitely gave me a slightly altered perspective on how I deal with things, and I think it helped me understand one or two of my flaws and helped me change them. You could argue this is more about the game at large than The Fool specifically, but I think the way Sayonara Wild Heart’s story is told through them made me connect with them on that meaningful level that is important for this list.
8 – Companion Pokemon – Super Mystery Dungeon
I could’ve chosen almost any of the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games for this spot, but I think the way the companion character grows and how their story concludes on Super Mystery Dungeon hit me the hardest.
The Mystery Dungeon games have always had far more enjoyable stories than the main series Pokemon games. I’ve not played the non-Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games, but I’d imagine the studio there have an excellent narrative team because I think they knocked it out the park with every game in the series. Where this is clearest is the companion Pokemon. The fact that it can be any of the available Pokemon you choose is nice because it ensures it’ll be a Pokemon you connect with. From there is a masterclass in making you connect with a character.
They start off as your guide to the world as you’re thrown into a world you don’t really understand, but eventually, you become a strong force to be reckoned with. In Super Mystery Dungeon especially, they feel like a character that isn’t just tied to you as the protagonist. They have their own hopes, dreams and relationships with people. They grow as a person pretty much at the same pace as you do in the story, and by the end of the game, we were an inseparable force.
…then, the game separates us.
So, I’d played the Mystery Dungeon games before in the series. So I knew that these narratives normally climaxed with an emotional goodbye as your character has to return to the human world. I was ready for that. It was building to it really nicely with this game, with the mystery surrounding Mew, and it seemed like the direction was clear. Then it threw me completely through a loop when it made the companion Pokemon the special one that I had to say goodbye to.
It was a wonderful bait-and-switch that caught me completely off-guard, and the tears were flowing. It provided a fantastic drive for the post-game story where you seek to be reunited with them, and it’s the kind of emotion that very few games can get out of me.
7 – The Boys – Final Fantasy XV
This is the only time I’m picking multiple characters in one entry, I promise. I feel justified in doing it here, though, because the whole thing that makes these characters great is their relationship with each other. Picking just one of this band of boys would be doing them a disservice.
The group dynamic is at the core of FFXV’s storytelling, and it takes every opportunity to make you care about their friendship. Every character has their own personal touches. Noctis is the protagonist, so he goes through a bit of a learning curve but still has a strong will and personality that shines through. Ignis is full of flair and cooks meals like no one else, along with being an excellent guide for the group. Gladiolus’ intense but caring teaching Noctis is hugely endearing, and his strength is a clear pillar of the journey. Then there’s Procto, who is an excitable and loveable best friend, and the pictures he takes each day are an absolute highlight of the game for me.
I think it’s one of the most realistic group dynamics I’ve seen in a game. They’re mates looking to have some fun and joke around with each other, but they understand their mission and support each other to achieve it. Everyone has their sillier and their more serious moments, and they all feel so perfectly in character because they feel like realistic friends. I laughed along with the good times, and when tensions ran high, those emotions seeped into me. The section where they’re having a major argument and the tension is at its highest genuinely got me to quite an angry place, but that’s precisely what the game wanted to pull out of me, and it was only possible because the dynamic established made me feel like part of the group.
FFXV’s story is full of epic battles with Gods and insane twists and abilities, but it’s the friendship between these four boys that put it up there as one of my favourites.
6 – Cynthia – Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum
I’d love to say there’s some deep & complex reason behind this one, but I just think she’s really bloody cool.
Platinum was the first Pokemon game I played, so nostalgia plays a bit of a part in this, but I think she’s by far the best champion any of the Pokemon games have ever had. From a gameplay perspective, her team was top-notch and could prove to be quite the challenge if you didn’t adequately prepare. On top of that, she looks super cool, she’s got an awesome battle theme, and that’s good enough for me.
Whenever a game gives me control over my character, I will play as a woman, and I will do my best o make them look as cool as possible; and Cynthia’s stylings are a huge influence on that. She was my first real exposure to a cool female character (which is pretty bloody sad when you think about it) and how her design and attitudes influenced the characters I’m drawn to in fiction significantly, and you can see that at several points in this list.
Like I said, not exactly a deep one, but I think it’s significant.
5 – Madeline – Celeste
What makes Celeste so incredible is that despite being the best platforming game I’ve ever played, what I ended up remembering most of it was the heartwarming story centred around Madeline.
I’ve had some small experiences with anxiety, but nothing too major. However, several of my friends have been a lot less fortunate, so I understand that odd, almost indescribable cocktail of emotions it conjures inside of you and how hard it can be to communicate to someone else what you’re feeling.
What amazes me with Madeline is how incredibly real it feels. Even when a writer is someone who suffers from anxiety when they try to portray that in fiction, it can come across as a little bit disingenuous. Many of the symptoms have to get overplayed because producers are worried the audience won’t “get it” if a character isn’t breathing into a paper bag. How Madeline portrayed is so amazingly realistic, though. That scene where Madeline is having a panic attack in the lift with Theo, I’ve literally had that conversation with people; it was such a powerful moment because of that.
On top of that, you have her interactions with Badaline. Here the metaphor became a bit more ham-fisted, but it was done in such a heartfelt way that I don’t mind at all. The slow acceptance Madeline has to come to, that her anxiety and depression isn’t something she needs to forcibly eject from her life. Instead, it’s something to listen to and understand so she can make it better. That journey is the emotional core of Celeste, and it works so well because of how genuine Madeline is in her emotions.
Outside of those themes, she feels like someone full of life; she’s got the sass, she’s got the determination, and she’s got the heart. But it’s that down-to-Earth, realistic feeling of her as a person that makes me remember her so fondly.
4 – Bernadetta – Fire Emblem: Three Houses
(From my Fire Emblem: Three Houses Characters Ranked list)
Look, sometimes you fall in love with the weirdo, that’s just how it goes.
Sure, Bernadetta doesn’t have some big sweeping story arc or any major role to play in Fodlan, but when it comes to “ticking all my boxes”, no-one comes as close as this timid, nerdy recluse. She’s not nerdy in the modern sense, but she spends so much of her time by herself writing stories and doing drawings for those stories along with many other activities of that nature; which are the kind of things that I imagine would constitute “nerdiness” in that kind of world.
While her extremely timid nature invokes the instinct to protect and nurture, it becomes clear pretty quickly that’s actually not the case and she’s absolutely capable of protecting herself both on and off the battlefield. That said, I still find it totally adorable when she goes off on one about the joys of solitude and how she’d love to just stay in her room all the time (or slightly less adorable, her love for carnivorous plants). Her creative spark is something inspires me and I find it difficult to contain myself when she grows the confidence to let that creativity shine in front of people like Seteth and Linhardt because it’s so clear how much she cares about her creations and is overjoyed that – despite her expectations – people love them. I think you’re starting to see why I relate to her so much now, aren’t you?
It’s not all cuteness and hugs though and she just wouldn’t be a Three Houses character without a whole heap of tragedy in her past. I’ve talked a bit before about how emotional some of the other character’s backstories made me, but the only one that ever actually got a tear rolling down my cheek was when Bernie opened up and talked about her abusive father, which it lends all the more heartbreak to the moments where she clearly wants to be different, but can’t make herself do it.
Bernadetta just has a bit of everything that I like, her sensitive personality, her overwhelming joy (on the occasions she allows it to flourish), her major creative streak and even the fact she has purple hair all drew me in instantly, to the point where I just couldn’t help but fall for her as a character, because she embodies the best of what Fire Emblem: Three Houses has to offer.
3 – Thomas – Thomas Was Alone
I’ve chosen Thomas as the representative here, but really it could’ve been all the characters from that game.
At its core, Thomas Was Alone is a story about learning. Learning about the world, learning how it works and learning how to make friends. The vague context you get about the characters being AIs that became too advanced is almost immediately pushed aside for the real emotion that you end up pouring into these characters. They’re literally all just coloured rectangles. There’s nothing more to their visual design than that. However, it’s precisely that which draws attention to the masterful storytelling and character-building that Bithell exemplifies in Thomas Was Alone.
“Thomas was alone. Wow. A weird first thought to have”
From the first line of narration, I was endeared to Thomas because such a simple line of writing has tonnes of character poured into it. Immediately, there’s the whole “alone” thing that will always make me want to hug a character. Then, there’s the acknowledgement that not only is that a weird thing to start on, but it’s his VERY FIRST conscious thought. In the next few rooms, he’d go on to observe things, but it’s so endearing to me that this AI was created, looked around, and the first thought they had was that they didn’t have any friends around.
All of the characters in Thomas Was Alone have some sort of endearing traits like this. What’s genius is that, rather than actually hear them talking to each other, we get the narration of how they’re thinking about each other instead. That makes their relationships feel so much more genuine because their thoughts can’t be in any way falsified. We know it’s what they believe. It makes the group’s friendship so wonderful to experience and so heartbreaking when…well, I’ll leave it there.
2 – H’aanit – Octopath Traveler
(From my Octopath Traveler Protagonists Ranked list)
Thy may speakest liken a twat, but goddamnest I loven everything abouted thou.
I did consider writing like that for the whole thing, but that one sentence took 5 minutes so sod it.
H’aanit was the first traveler I picked when starting up the game, so I don’t think it’s that surprising that I like her as much as I do, since across my two full playthroughs there’s literally never been a time when she wasn’t in my party and that’s the kind of thing that tends to endear you to a character.
I know most people hate how she speaks, but I find it pretty cute. It’s so unnecessary that I can’t help but wonder how such a speaking pattern evolved in S’warkii. Did one guy just start doing it one day and everyone caught on? Did they just never move on from a time where it was commonplace? Either way, I think it helps exemplify who H’aanit is a character, someone who doesn’t quite fit in with the world around her.
She’s a respected village member in S’warkii of course, but I always got the impression that she didn’t have a close connection with anyone there other than Z’aanta. Immediately the story takes away the only person she had a real connection with in the world and it makes it so interesting to watch her try to fit in with all of the other characters in the world because you can tell she feels a bit out of her depth, yet soldiers on anyway.
Even things like the travel banter with the other travelers shows us that she doesn’t understand a great deal about the world outside her village, constantly asking questions to understand why many of the other travelers do what they do in their stories. Even when she starts to understand, she can’t help but draw parallels to hunting, because that’s all she really knows, it’s the only context she has with which to understand the world and I can’t help but find a character like that extremely endearing.
The changes in her at the end of her story are subtle, but when you think about them, they’ll make a huge impact on her life. In her early chapters, it often feels like she’s feigning confidence in unfamiliar situations and towns and there’s always that small sense of nervous energy to her, but by the final chapter that’s gone; it’s not fake confidence anymore, it’s the real deal. H’aanit was forced to experience the world without the one person she could rely on to teach her and it’s made her an infinitely better-rounded person. Saying she “becomes the master” is a bit of a stretch, but I definitely get the feeling that she’s got a new outlook on both the world and herself by the time her story comes to an end. It’s so subtle and yet so powerful.
Looking at the gameplay side of things, H’aanit is an absolute powerhouse if you build her correctly. Combining her abilities with that of the Warrior job makes for an extremely powerful physical attacker that can buff the rest of the party in the process; not to mention Leghold Trap is one of the most vital skills in the whole game. In the late game, giving her the Warmaster skill makes her pretty much unstoppable, easily being able to deal out over 50K damage per hit with Winnehilds Battle Cry. I don’t know where I’d be without her on my team.
H’aanit is a character that I feel like very few people like as much as I do and I can see why, but my personal experiences with the character have made me connect with her so much that I can’t help but draw myself towards her whenever I can.
Oh and also, she has a Snow Leopard that’s one of the most beautiful animals I’ve ever seen, so shove it.
1 – 2B – NieR: Automata
This one feels like a bit of an odd choice, considering she’s dead for half the game, but I think she’s the character that best represents the overall feelings I got from Nier: Automata.
I find the horrible and complicated relationship 2B has with 9S and her mission almost impossible to process. I’ve never been in a situation even close to what goes on there, and I think the emotions involved are so ludicrously complex that to even describe them breaks my brain a little bit. The immense tragedy at the heart of everything 2B experiences is so intense, and what’s even more heartbreaking is that you never get to understand it until you finish the game and everything is revealed.
Despite being dead, 2B remains the driving force for the main characters (‘protagonist’ is a subjective term here) in the second half of the game, and because of how that story is told, it almost feels like the player is seeing it through her eyes. As 9S slowly descends into madness, you can’t help but feel the ironic tragedy of how things could be different if he knew the truth.
I find almost everything about NieR: Automata hard to put into words, but 2B acts as the centre point for which the entire story revolves around in one way or another. While her closed-off demeanour that slowly fades is endearing the first time you play through the game, once you’ve finished it and experience the story a second time, knowing the truth of the story, she becomes this mix of tragedy and love and all kinds of other things that leave me feeling an incredible attachment to them.
And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post. Please, let me know what characters you love the most, either in the comments below or on Twitter @SStyleSmark. Finally, make sure to come back here this time next week, where I’ll be doing some fantasy booking of WWE in 2020!