So, a few weeks ago I talked about some of my favorite games from the SNES thereby introducing my love of video games to the Friday Five. Today, I’m gonna continue on that and discuss some of my favorite characters from the world of video games. Now, of course there are a plethora of great characters to which people get attached and some have the advantageous effect of being silent protagonists or a general blank slate to which you can project your own emotions and feelings. These characters are great when viewed from a gameplay standpoint such as Link or Samus being totally badass, but I’m here to talk about them from a narrative standpoint. Characters who you are meant to experience from outside like characters in a novel or a movie. So while Link and Samus while have their own stories, they are relatively dull characters in a narrative because we are rarely privy to their thoughts or feelings.
These characters serve a variety of purposes. Some are there for comic relief. Others are there with great character arcs and development. A truly great character has the ability to get a rise of emotion out of you, whether it be anger, joy, laughter or sadness. These characters are some of my favorites. In order to get on the list this week, the character must have a speaking role in a narrative environment and must be primarily recognized from a video game. So while The Joker in Arkham Asylum is an amazing chracter, he can’t get a spot on the list because he’s more recognized as a comic book character. So, with that noted, mentioned, stamped and stated let’s get to the meaty portion of this week’s Five.
Spoiler warnings for:
- Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
- Knights of the Old Republic
- Portal 2
from: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Without a doubt, my favorite franchise in gaming is The Legend of Zelda. I’ve been playing its various installments over the last 22 years with great joy. As the technology grew, so too did Zelda’s story to where you could tell sweeping narratives and have fleshed out characters. Discounting the central trio of Link, Zelda and Ganondorf, my favorite character in the series is easily Midna from Twilight Princess. In terms of game play, Midna takes over part of the role Navi had in Ocarina of Time. Where Navi was helpful but overly annoying, Midna comes in being rude, snarky, pompous and generally living up to her impish appearance. She isn’t endearing out of the gate, but she’s certainly interesting and entertaining. As the story progresses, you learn more about Midna’s current predicament and what she stands to lose if you don’t save the day as Link always does. Midway through the game, plans go awry and you need to save her. After being saved, Midna goes from being rude and bossy to genuinely helpful and appreciative. Even in her unintelligible language that you can hear (making her the first fully voice-acted Zelda character), you can hear the definitive difference in attitude from the first part of the game. The game weaves a wonderful arc for her and in the end when you part ways it is sad and bittersweet but makes her entry in the Zelda mythos all the more powerful and memorable. Not to mention the bonus fact that when she regains her normal form at the end of the game, she’s a smoking hot red-head!
from: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Inquiry: Who is one of the most awesome non-meatbag character from a video game?
Response: Knights of the Old Republic’s HK-47.
When I haggled this droid away from his owner on Tatooine, I had no idea what I was in for. HK-47 is one of those rare individuals who does his job with pride and gusto. It just so happens that his job is murdering people. He is a droid designed for assassination, but also for protocol and speaks a number of dialects. Story wise, his purpose is to help you get in with the Sand People (as he speaks their bizarre grunting talk) and learn more about a Star Map. HK is as rude as they come (referring to organics as “meat bags”) and revels in any opportunity to utilize his itchy trigger finger. Where HK shines is his in his dialogue and backstory. First of all, each thing he says is proceeded by a descriptor such as “Explanation,” “Inquiry” or “Expletive” that defines what he is about to say given the monotone nature of his voice. In his backstory, he recounts tales of previous owners who had sought to use the assassin droid to their own personal ends and met a gruesome end at the droid’s hands by some manner poor command giving. One owner, a businessman, tells him “Kill everyone involved in the scandal!” which by rights includes the owner himself. HK follows his orders, and kills everyone including his master. HK is a great character, with fantastic dialogue, dry wit and a brilliant performance and truly stands out not only a great game character, but one of the best additions to the Star Wars universe since the original trilogy.
From: Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
Given the circumstances of his continued existence, Raziel has every right to emo nitwit that he is. However, at least Raziel is a badass emo nitwit with vengeance streak half-a-continent wide. Raziel was the First Lieutenant of the vampire leader Kain. In Raziel’s first outing into the gaming world (in what was a stunning cinematic CGI piece for its time) isn’t very happy. He has a vampiric evolution that surpasses Kain’s own, by growing bat-like wings. In (what appears to be) an act of jealousy, Kain rips the bones from Raziel’s wings and has him cast into a torrential maelstrom (moving water is lethal to vampires) to burn for eternity. Raziel torments in agony for what feels like forever, and eventually comes to move once more, but as a fractured remnant of his former self. From this point forth he becomes a wraith serving under the Elder God, and hell bent on exacting revenge against Kain and his brothers. Raziel is a tortured anti-hero in every sense and provides masterful and poetic narration to events that dictate the course of his trials including when he finds his clan no longer exists and laments his “once proud kin, wiped from this world like excrement from a boot.” Raziel has a interesting story arc over his games where in all his attempts to be a free agent, he becomes someone’s unwilling pawn because of the pivotal role he plays in shaping Nosgoth’s fortunes. I’d try to cover it here, but the story of the Legacy of Kain games is notoriously amazing and convoluted. And I lack the space or mental where-with-all to discuss it here. He is dark, brooding and all sorts of confused and messed up, but his tragic nature and story make him a compelling character enough that you want to see his tale through to the end.
from: Grim Fandango
Grim Fandango is what I would consider to be Tim Schafer’s best game ever and is truly the masterpiece of the old-school graphic adventure genre. It features excellent design, great characters and witty writing. While Manny Calavera (the hero) is a great character in his own right, his trusted friend and companion Glottis steals the show. Glottis is an elemental spirit summoned the Land of the Dead to fulfill a singular purpose: TO DRIVE!! Or change oil and change timing belts if no driving jobs are available. Glottis ends up being your mechanic, driver and confidant over the course of Manny’s journey. Glottis is just plain fun. He’s the comic sidekick to provide comedy for (mostly) serious hero. He’s over the top and a total goof-job with brilliant dialogue. If you see Glottis, you can except to get a good hearty laugh. After all how many game characters have you seen rip out their heart in a bout of depression only to get it back and seem none-the-worse for it?
from: Portal 2
In the original Portal, it was just you and GLaDOS. The incredible sequel introduced two new major characters in the astonishingly awesome Cave Johnson, founder of Aperture Science, and the helpless inept AI Core named Wheatley. Cave is pretty awesome, but it is truly Wheatley who steals the show in Portal 2. Masterfully voice by Stephen Merchant, Wheatley brings a new level of humor to a series that had already established itself as top-notch in the comedy department. I’m a fan of that sort “British Ramble” style of dialogue, and Wheatley brings it to near perfection. While his overall story is less interesting than other characters in Portal 2, he is easily one of the most entertaining and lovably inept villains ever. His ability to not do anything correct is funny, and his general sunny disposition is charming and fun. I played through large portions of the game multiple times to get achievements and found myself laughing at his dialogue pretty much every time. And in the end, he seems truly remorseful which is a nice touch because even though he tried to kill me, I still wanted to be his friend.
Honorable Mention: Urdnot Wrex
from: Mass Effect
Wrex receives an honorable mention because I’m still playing Mass Effect for the first time, but Wrex has so far managed to weave his way into my pantheon of favorite characters. The reason he doesn’t get a top billing is because I’d like to finish the game first before I pass final judgement on whether or not he would have truly earned a place on the list. So far as I’ve seen Wrex he starts out with the heartless exterior of bounty hunter (I originally thought he’d be Mass Effect’s “HK-47”) but as time has progressed I’ve seen the more hidden side of Wrex as person concerned with the plight of his people and seeks to right the wrongs committed against the krogan race. Even though most other krogan might not care, Wrex at least went out of his way to try and help. Wrex can be a cold-hearted bastard on the outside, but deep-down is a tragic hero with a lot of baggage. That’s the kind of character I get behind because its a much more interesting story.