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May 8, 2013

The Volties: My Top 10 Favorite Game Characters

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this at one point, but I’d say that for the moment it’s impossible for me to make a “Top 10 Favorite Games Ever” list.  As you can imagine, I’ve played a lot of games.  And as much as I would like to make a definitive list, I don’t feel like I can without replaying the titles that would have been in the upper echelon.  And given that I don’t have a fair number of the games I’ve played (and the means to play them), seeing how they withstood the test of time and my “evolving tastes” probably isn’t going to happen.  

But then a thought occurred to me.  I might not be able to honor certain games, but I can still honor certain characters.  That much should be significantly easier…and possible.  All I need is a little consideration, some fond memories, and maybe a little root beer on the side.

So let’s have at it then, shall we?  These are my favorite video game characters…because if the Nostalgia Critic is doing it, then surely no one else has ever thought of it before.

10) Knuckles the Echidna (Sonic the Hedgehog 3)
Let’s start off with one of the OGs. 

You may find rather quickly that there’s a trend to my preferences -- that is, I seem to have a certain fondness for characters who speak with their fists.  Even though this is only a Top 10, there are plenty more characters I like merely by virtue of them applying blunt force beatdowns to anything in their path.  So it’s not all that surprising for me to see Knuckles on the list -- AND for me to regularly assert that he’s cooler than Sonic.

We all know that Sonic’s all about ROLLING AROUND AT THE SPEED OF SOUND, but I think there’s some value to be had in Knuckles for playing the role of a foil.  The blue blur is all about freedom and exploration (most of the time), which is fine for the series as a whole, but I’ve always found the red bruiser to be the more interesting of the two.  He’s duty-bound to protect the Master Emerald, forgoing Sonic’s carefree life for a task ordained by his people and his inlaid pride.  It’s a tiring, thankless job that he has to endure for as long as he lives, and it’s something so precious to him that he’ll cooperate with Eggman to reclaim his status.  In a way, you can think of his role as a means to add a bittersweet element to the canon -- a level of complexity that players might have breezed past if not for his enduring presence.

Also he punches stuff.  So that’s always cool.


9) D-Mob (Def Jam: Fight For New York)
Def Jam: Fight For New York is by far one of the greatest surprises I’ve ever gotten from a video game.  I knew literally nothing about it besides the fact that it was a sequel to a game I never played and it had rappers in it…but damn, it turned out to be one of the most over-the-top and exciting four-player fighters I’ve ever played.  It’s just a shame that it’s a property held by EA, and they had to go and run the name into the ground.  Jackasses.

Anyway, D-Mob.  The thing that immediately stands out about D-Mob is that voice -- a voice so deep and menacing that it shakes the heavens with every muttered syllable.  But in spite of that (and his ability to perform a quadruple power bomb), he’s actually a wise and compassionate leader; he and Crow -- i.e. kung-fu Snoop Dogg -- are staging a slew of underground fights to take control of the city, and the big boss wants to do things the clean way…”clean” being relative in this case, but whatever.  The game may be full of artists, real or not, doing moves that’d make Ultimate Muscle look sane in comparison, but his words speak spades about the nature of the fight and the hip-hop image: command the people through respect.  On top of that, while he has a voice that’d make God cower in fear, he’s more than eager to show a great deal of concern and trust for the player character.  So yeah, he’s a nice guy…and man, does he look good in a suit.


8) Makoto Sako (Devil Survivor 2)

Other than Tales of Symphonia, I don’t think there’s any RPG I’ve replayed more than the Devil Survivor games -- and there’s a reason for that.  They’re both damn good, with damn fine casts and damn fine stories.  I hold both games in high esteem, but between the two of them my favorite character of either cast has to be JPs agent Makoto Sako.  Mixing equal amounts of hardness and softness, Makoto isn’t just a highly-elusive “strong female character”; she’s a strong character overall, one that allows for weakness (questioning if her idea of justice has been compromised by loyalty to people and ideals she can’t dutifully follow) as well as strength (deciding that she’s allowed to dissent and find her own path, but nonetheless aligning with the person she chooses by virtue of her undying loyalty).

It makes me wish that there were more characters like her -- especially in leading roles.  Characters regardless of gender can and should show a range of ideas and emotions, and show some level of growth over the course of a story.  Makoto succeeds at this with aplomb, in spite of appearing on a cartridge that just barely uses 3D visuals AND appearing in a game alongside some thirteen other characters.  She’s just a cool, funny, badass character that I prefer to imagine stomping out embodiments of the gods underfoot.  Or with her fists.  DeSu hasn’t exactly been clear on how physical attacks are handled.


7) Hakumen (Blazblue: Calamity Trigger)
“I am the white void.  I am the cold steel.  I am the just sword.  With blade in hand shall I reap the sins of this world, and cleanse it in the fires of destruction.  I am Hakumen!  The end has come!”

I’m just going to come out and say it: samurai > ninja.  And significantly so.  You want somebody to sneak around and use cheap tricks, you call a ninja; if you want a grown-ass man to cut down whatever comes your way, you call a samurai.  And Hakumen delivers in thirty seconds or less.  Striking visual design (his eyes are on his shoulders, chest, and shins), an overwhelming presence in the story, and some of the coolest and hardest-hitting moves in a fighting game -- there’s a lot to love.

Even so, there’s still more to Hakumen than just being a noob magnet.  He’s all about JUSTICE, yes, but he bears a great deal of weight on his massive shoulders.  If you don’t know the story behind this guy, here’s a hyper-condensed version: he’s a time-displaced future- cyborg version of one of the other characters in the game, and as such he’s in a position to see both past loves, threats, and failures in the flesh.  As such, he has a chance to reunite with someone that his other self should have treated better, and has a genuinely touching scene that shows there’s meaning to his push for justice.  It’s more than just empty words, and it shows just how powerful his convictions really are.

But seriously though, he’s so damn cool. 


6) Carl Johnson (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas)
I have to hand some praise to the Grand Theft Auto series.  Granted I don’t know the franchise in and out (most of my time spent with the game was finding the coolest thing to drive off of with a motorcycle and/or driving a tank), but I do appreciate that for the noted faults it still does its job remarkably well.

I ALSO appreciate that it’s entirely possible to interpret any one of its characters as whirling maelstroms of destruction, both in-canon and out of it.

I admit that my understanding of Carl Johnson is limited -- for the above reasons and more -- but he brings this undeniably destructive presence to San Andreas that I can’t help but admire, even if he is a hero…in the largest quotation marks Microsoft Word will allow.  If what I remember of him is right, all it takes is one altercation for CJ to kill his best friend.  Even if that’s not contextually true, there’s still the matter of the fact that he casually leaps back into the world of crime for reasons I’m not entirely certain are remotely justifiable.  But whether he’s a hero or not, he’s still a hell of a lot of fun to play as and explore with, thanks to his use of lines like “Gimme that paper!”  And “Shoulda run away!”  And my personal favorite, “I hate gravity!”  I heard that one a lot.


5) Yukiko Amagi (Persona 4)
So here’s a question for you readers: does being a strong female character rule out femininity?

I’m genuinely curious about how people will respond to that question.  My opinion should be obvious, but in the wake of roughly eighty zaptillion games -- and even beyond this medium, I suspect -- I wonder if there’s some stigma that associates being feminine with being weak.  This probably isn’t the place to discuss that without opening up a dump truck’s worth of worms, so I’ll just go ahead and say that Yukiko is an awesome character regardless of her being a GIRLY GIRL OF GIRLING.

In spite of some obvious differences with the aforementioned Makoto (one’s a well-trained government official, and the other’s a highly-insulated high school girl primed to take over the family inn), I’d argue that they’re not so dissimilar.  Yukiko may start as a fragile princess, but well before the end of the game she becomes a confident and bold character in her own right -- maybe one of the more passionate members of Inaba’s investigation team, albeit with a heat tempered by her sensibilities.  Again, she’s allowed to go through a range of thoughts and emotions, and explore her own story arc (by the player’s choosing) that picks up even after her main issue in the story is seemingly resolved. 

But what gives her a notable edge against Makoto is that while you have Makoto for about twenty hours -- and not even that full play time -- along with a dozen other characters, you have Yukiko for four times longer with almost half the cast.  There’s a level of intimacy to be had that DeSu2 just couldn’t provide.  Even beyond that, Yukiko’s full of far more surprises by virtue of succeeding her archetype.  Ignoring the fact that she’s got lines like “That bear needs to be disappeared” -- said with no shortage of malice, mind -- there’s the fact that I have to take Persona 4 Arena into consideration.  She may be girly and her best friend Chie may be tomboyish (or manly, if you prefer), but the latter’s theme is distinctly cute, while the former’s theme is harder-hitting…though it manages to capture her essence well.

Too much wrist action, indeed, Amagi-san.


4) Guile (Street Fighter II)
Ahem

So, what’s his deal?  Besides being a family man, a soldier, and a full-blooded AMERICAN?  Well, on a base level you’ve got a guy with a story worth telling and experiencing, simple though it may be.  He’s a man out to clear the world of Shadaloo’s dark presence, but one can’t help but wonder if he does so in the name of justice, or for the sake of revenge.  There’s a complexity, and a desperation to him that’s nestled within the canon.  Capcom may not do a whole lot when it comes to giving the characters the time they need to develop, but let it be known that they’ve done something -- and what they’ve done with Guile is more than satisfactory in my eyes.

But the reason I put him here on the list -- and by extension, everyone else up to this point -- is that he offers something more gameplay-wise.  Guile’s from one of the most infamous, important, and beloved fighting games ever created, and serves as an extension of many of its principles; it’s good to know combos and such, but what’s more important is learning and understanding the fundamentals.  Strategy.  Defense, as well as offense.  His fighting style isn’t the flashiest, but if you use him correctly the boundary between player and character lessens -- if not in the sense that you’ve become him, then in the sense that he’s your weapon.  Your shield.  Understand and use him well, and I’d wager you’ll understand a huge percentage of the game.  So in essence, Guile’s more than just a fighter.  He’s a teacher.

And a man.  Can’t forget that.


3) Robo (Chrono Trigger)
I feel no shame in admitting that I have a soft spot for robots…though now that I think about it, I wonder if there’s anyone who actually hates robots.  Neo-Luddites, maybe?

Well, whatever.  Add another one to the list of “Guys I Like Because They Punch the Shit out of Things”; Robo’s not only got an intriguing design, but a pool of moves that certainly made my life easier when it came to taking down Lavos…though considering that I did so in the DS re-release, I wonder if I’ve got the mettle to take on some of the bonus content.  Musings and bad ideas aside, Robo’s kindness and consideration give him a charm that I can’t help but look fondly on, even after all this time (and I’m guessing those that played it on SNES have even more attachment). 

But of course, the most legendary moment for me is the fact that Robo spends the course of centuries planting and restoring a forest.  Centuries -- centuries spent alone, while all you have to do is jump ahead to a different time period.  When you find him, he’s in a shoddy state, but Lucca’s efforts bring him back to 100% in a few scenes.  And when that’s done, Robo doesn’t care at all about you effectively abandoning him for hundreds of thousands of days and nights.  He’s back to his chipper self.  But then again, that’s to be expected from a robot that gets trashed by his brothers.  What a trooper.


2) Link (Do I really need to tell you this?)
Playing through Skyward Sword and Majora’s Mask has made me realize something (besides the fact that Link’s pretty friggin’ damn cool): Link doesn’t just have a personality.  He has multiple personalities.

With each new game and each new world comes a new Link -- one that adapts to the circumstances and the story, offering their own take on the Hero in the Green Tunic.  SS Link is different from MM Link, and if I play through Wind Waker, I’m willing to bet (and assume) that WW Link will offer his own magic to the game.  That variability is something to be appreciated…though I wonder if I’m in the wrong for naming Link the aggregate hero as my number two instead of a specific one.

…Fine, let’s go with SS Link until further notice.

In any case, when it comes to silent protagonists you probably won’t be able to much better than Link.  He’s expressive and thoughtful in his own way, but he remains unobtrusive when it comes to getting players into the world and the story at large.  It’s a thin line, and at times I find myself wondering if Link crosses over that line.  But for what it’s worth, the experiences I’ve had have taught me that Link’s in no danger of becoming, say, Master Chief anytime soon.  Link makes his presence known at the opportune moments, reacting as needed and shouting frantically in the midst of battle.  And he’s quite good at it -- the screaming, and the fighting.  Say what you will about Nintendo, but Link seems to be getting more and more hardcore in every new game; as a twelve-year-old, he stabbed a man in the head.  Doesn’t get more metal than that.


1) Phoenix Wright (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney)
Looks like I spoke too soon.

If you’ve seen some of my work in the past (and present) then this should be no surprise to anyone.  Once upon a time, Final Fantasy 7 taught me what kind of wild adventures that can be made.  And the Ace Attorney series took that lesson and took it several steps further…with more than a little tutoring from Mr. Wright.

He’s intelligent.  He’s passionate.  He’s funny.  He’s put-upon.  He’s serious about his work, but very rarely taken seriously.  He’s iconic.  He’s intense.  He’s impeccably dressed.  He may not be much in the way of fighting, but he brings his own style of combat to the courtroom.  He’s taught me the importance of “non-combative combat” -- that dialogue battles can be far more impactful and tense than just your plain old sword-to-sword combat.  He’ll approach any struggle with equal parts wild antics, calculated reasoning, and overwhelming manly spirit; in a lot of ways, he’s tougher than some of the guys on this or any other top ten list.  It’s little wonder, then, that I’ll gladly play Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 just for the chance to bring Mr. Wright onto the battlefield.  Even though it’s a remarkably poor idea most of the time, every once in a while I can pull off a turnabout of my own.  And when you get down to it, isn’t that what being a hero is all about?

And that'll do it for now, guys.  Hope you enjoyed this little peek into my mind; maybe now my preferences will be a lot more traceable from now on.  And who knows?  Maybe there are other awards I can dish out some day in the future...

8 comments:

  1. I've been wanting to do a feature with my favorite video game characters for some time. But I have so many that I love that I'm unsure if I'd be able to narrow things down to a set number.


    Really neat picks you have here. I've only played one Phoenix Wright game (the first one) but that's all it took for Phoenix to become one of my favorite video game characters. He's so human. Yeah, we play video games to escape reality, but every now and then, I don't mind being reminded of the real world and Phoenix is the best example of a realistic character in the world of gaming.

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  2. Worst case scenario, you could just pull names out of a hat. That could even be the title of your post: "My Favorite Game Characters According to My Nicest Hat."


    I admit that I've only played a couple of Ace Attorney games -- second and third -- but like you said, that's all you really need to know you can't go wrong with Mr. Wright. (Wow, that line had 250% more corniness than I expected.) He and his games are overflowing with style, and that hot-blooded infectiousness is hard to get over. Hard to say how many AA fans there are out there, but I'd bet they're a satisfied bunch. I certainly am.

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  3. I find it amusing that Mr. Wright is your top pic despite not playing all the games. The most character development for 'Feenie' is done in the game you don't play as him. Apollo Justice really puts the final touch to an already fun character.


    Without spoiling anything. It's one thing to have someone that shines during success, but it is failures and trials that truly define a hero. There's a reason every good anime hero ever gets his butt kicked shortly after his introduction.


    It's also ironic you never played Justice for All. As it contains the case that entertained a very serious ethical question for a lawyer. That said. This isn't me saying OMG poser! (Ok. Maybe a little, hehe.) It's me saying, he gets better.

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  4. Regarding Shadow. I can't unsee the game: Shadow the Hedgehog. Knuckles gets the spot.

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  5. Yeah, I'm pecking away at Wind Waker every now and then to see how it holds up, and I can see why people like that version of Link. Actually, there's a lot worth saying about that game, but I guess that's a post for another day...


    In any case, I actually prefer tank-like characters over the speedy types in games. Tekken's Paul Phoenix and Final Fight's Haggar narrowly missed being on the list; they're not much in the way of speed, but their sheer MANLY FORCE compensates for it. Haggar's rightfully become a legend thanks to his Pile Driver, and Paul's infamous "Death Fist" has been known to take more than half an opponent's health away with one hit. So yeah...you don't wanna get hit by that.

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  6. I actually started watching a playthrough of Apollo Justice a while back because I couldn't find the game -- and now that I've seen the game around once or twice, I feel like I can't grab it because I've already seen the action for myself. Quite a bind, that...but oh well. Might as well watch the rest one of these days.


    And actually, I DID play Justice for All -- in fact, that was the FIRST one I played, if you can believe that. (I'm a rebel, I know.) And indeed, that was a real test -- for me the player as much as Mr. Wright. It seriously made me antsy about whether or not I was doing the right thing...and even if I was, at what cost. Of course, that still doesn't compare to four little words in T&T that made me stare at my DS for a solid five minutes. I needed a moment to compose myself...and pick up the pieces of my skull.


    I may not have played all the AA games, but I don't need to in order to decide that Mr. Wright is one dope-ass character...in my honest and ever-so-humble opinion.

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  7. Funny that you added Knuckles. Although Shadow was always my favorite overall (*stupid me and stupid jerkasses*), Knuckles comes pretty darn close. I loved playing his story in the first Sonic Adventure (it was probably the first of the six story lines I completed in my first play through). But I'm in the camp that prefers doing more than just sprinting from point a to point b to beat the stage. Knuckles might not be very speedy, but he's just an unstoppable tank. 'tis a shame he's often played as an idiot in many recent games and spinoffs. :'(

    Oh, Wind Waker Link is brilliant. With the art style of the game and the expressiveness of the characters, the greed-clad hero of the winds is pure comedy gold. His face... just so priceless beyond words. Many consider him to be one of the best Links in the franchise for that reason. (Though Twilight Princess Link had his own subtle expressions and personality I liked a ton...)

    Anywho.

    Interesting list that was fun to read. It's refreshing to see a list with characters I was not expecting... meaning it really was based on YOUR standards and opinions. (I figured you would put Yukiko on here based on one post awhile back...) Nothing seemed to obvious for the list, save Phoenix Wright. Never played one of the AA games, but his hamminess is so well-known and crazy it's hard to not smile. XD

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