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Characters of the Generation (That Aren't Called James)

Oh hey, apparently one vitriolic forum-wide competition concerning the previous generation of games wasn't enough and Hailinel is busy working on a separate one that looks at the most memorable characters from the last eight years of modern console and PC games.

Because a lot of his/my nominated characters for that poll are from JRPGs, I figured some of them might require a bit of explanation for those who haven't played the games to which they belong. Beyond that, though, this is just my own little list of characters I've enjoyed. It might help people decide who to vote for in match-ups where one or both characters are from games they've never played, but probably not? I dunno if I'll get around to everyone worthy of acclaim but for the time being this is an unordered list of some of the finer folk I've met in my virtual ventures. There might be a spoiler or two here, but in most cases I'm discussing one of several possible endings.

(I'm doing the maximum of two per game, one of each gender, otherwise I'll be here forever. As well as the better developed characters, I tend to favor a lot of fun one-note badasses so you're going to have to take some of these with a grain of salt. As always, post your own suggestions both here and in Hailinel's nomination thread.)


List items

  • I keep wanting to type "Yuri Lowenthal". (He's voiced by Troy Baker, for the record.) Yuri's just a cool customer. Kicked out of the Imperial Knights for being too awesome, Yuri just kind of roams around fighting injustice his own way like an androgynous anime Batman. He's a lot smarter than most anime protagonists tend to be (*cough*Lloyd*cough*) and despite being somewhat laid-back can really throw dark at times. If you're playing a 60 hour JRPG (more like 100 in my case, damn grindy achievements), it's nice to have a main character that can constantly surprise you.

  • Pretty much Yuri's counterpart as far as not really giving a shit most of the time, Judith is a scantily clad spearmaiden of the elusive Kritya (elves, just... they're elves) tribe. While she's walking cosplay-bait, Judith's detachment is played up for laughs more often than not and she settles into a relaxed big sister role in the group, despite spending the previous section of the game as the party's chief antagonist. She's also one of the most fun characters to play as, since she dominates with air combos and juggles. Y'know, because all Tales games are secretly Street Fighter.

  • Hard to narrow this one down. I considered Riki, as a rare example of a mascot/comic relief character that didn't grate every time he opened his mouth (making him a middle-aged conman in heavy debt and with a Catholic-sized family of kids to feed was an interesting touch too), but Dunban wins because of the badass thing again. Despite being effectively crippled by the Monado, since he was very much not attuned to the devastating weapon for plot reasons, he still somehow managed to destroy an entire Mechon army with it singlehandedly. You know, because he could. He spends much of the game in a wise mentor role, but there are times when he absolutely loses his shit (disparaging his family tends to be a trigger) and it is a marvel to behold. Really a bad idea to piss off the greatest warrior that ever lived.

  • Fiora and Sharla both go through a lot of gnarly business, but their storylines end more or less on a happy note. Melia's does not. Groomed to be Empress of the isolationist High Entia from a young age, there's a lot Melia isn't quite prepared for: duplicitous and envious nobles, "trials" which seem designed to kill future rulers rather than test their worth and holy shit the last third of the game took its toll on her people. She doesn't even get the guy at the end either. Still manages a stoicism through it all that would make a British person envious, which implies an impressive inner-strength.

  • Zael's the only character of any note from The Last Story (comic relief are comic relief, Calista's a little too perfect, less said about Dagran's arc the better) but he's a solid hero type. Not happy being a mercenary all his life, Zael aspires to knighthood and the respect and admiration that comes with the position. Last Story doesn't really subvert cliches too much, so it's probably not a spoiler to say that the knight life's not all it's cracked up to be.

  • Pandora Tower's deuteragonist isn't the big hero her beau Aeron is, so while he's out gallivanting around towers and chain-whipping monsters like they were Homestar Runner at a bread sing-a-long, Elena quietly suffers her curse and makes the best of a bad situation. Excusing the whole helpless damsel angle for a moment, since I know that's a sore point with many, Elena's a well-established character whose backstory, hopes and dreams are slowly elaborated upon as the game progresses. The game really wants you to care about her so the plot punches at the end hurt all the more (though, in the interest of spoilers, I will say there are multiple ways the ending can play out).

  • Travis makes himself out to be a ruthless sociopathic killer, but really he's just an emotionally-stunted manchild and the No More Heroes games make no illusions about it. His violent and obnoxious attitude is as often played for humor as it is for the sake of a cool showdown, and that edge of self-awareness (on the game's part, not Travis' part) elevates Travis above most character action game badasses.

  • Stocke's a big question mark upon beginning Radiant Historia. For one thing, he's considered one of the best agents of a paramilitary organization that more or less assassinates people and does other shady cloak and dagger business. It's initially quite hard to place where his allegiances lie or where his mind is at. Part of the game's brilliance is that he discovers who he really is as the player does, as he is forced to make more and more decisions about the fate of the world and processes the pros and cons of each possible outcome from the perspective of a guy who just wants to do right with the least amount of human suffering.

  • Just superficially speaking a big reason why I like Aht (also of Radiant Historia) is that she's a little girl character who isn't obnoxious or way too precious. Walking Dead's Clementine also pulls off a similar balancing act. What the game does a subtle job of is proving how much of an asset Aht can be, as her abilities as a Shaman make her one of the most powerful people in the world - yet at the same time she is still a child with all the willful obstinacy and naivety being that age entails. She's a veritable powerhouse, but also just a kid, and that makes for an interesting contrast. (It's fair to say also that I pretty much waltzed through the game with her help. Goddamn, those elemental traps of hers. Yowch.)

  • Nier spends much of the game a broken man. He devotes his entire being to the happiness and health of his daughter Yonah, and doesn't take it well when she is kidnapped by a shadowy figure. The ensuing pursuit is played out as they often are in these games, with him teaming up with a friendly sentient book and taking on increasingly powerful shadowy entities who may or may not know where their King is hiding. Upon a second playthrough, you really start to understand more about what this game is trying to say through its hero's single-mindedness and how little he seems to acknowledge his companions or anything outside of his grief-induced tunnel vision. His slow development eventually leads to what might be the most selfless act ever performed by a video game protagonist. In other words, think Kratos but with actual growth.

  • Intersex issues aside, Kainé is a deeply troubled soul who was body-hijacked as a child by a particularly vile entity and suffers immeasurably due to its presence. It takes the entire game for her to break out of her expletive-swinging shell and finally open up to someone, only for her curse to finally kill her. Well, in one ending anyway...

  • Sazh spends a lot of FFXIII's early running time as the comic relief character, a black man who has a Chocobo living in his afro, so from initial impressions he's not the most socially progressive construct in a game already filled with unlikable archetypes and the most anime animes who ever anime'd. FFXIII takes a long time to get good though, as any apologist will tell you, and Sazh's storyline gets quite tragic and subsequently impressively human as it goes on. A pivotal cutscene has him finally discover what happened to his missing son (an adorable kid who also has an afro because Jesus Christ, Nomura) and the revelation sparks a temporary leave of his sanity that all but pushes him to the brink of ruin. His cool head prevails though, and we finally see the true Sazh emerge from all his goofy slapstick shenanigans and "Michael from Lost" one-note motive (hint: that one note would be WALLLLT). The superpowers he earns from being an l'Cie never undermine what is essentially a regular-ass, down to earth dude in an unenviable situation. He's probably the most normal human being I've ever seen in a Final Fantasy game.

  • I feel like I could copy/paste most of what I said about Judith for FFXIII's resident amazonian sexpot. Evidently designed to appeal to whoever didn't find Vanille's shrill buffoonery enticing, which is hopefully everyone, Fang's another aloof big sister type with something of a dark side to her that emerges as the game gets good (see the above caveat about FFXIII getting good way too late into the game). She's actually just a pragmatic woman, and if destroying an entire nation is what's necessary for the survival of her and her (mostly extinct, though she doesn't know that) people, then maybe it's worth the one-way ticket to damnation.

  • Big Bo's a big favorite around Giant Bomb, but had that Quick Look progressed far enough to include all the game's characters, I'm sure Cain would've taken that spot. An unfailingly polite automaton from the French division of whatever future UN thing all the soldiers in Binary Domain come from, Cain's human partner is quickly dispatched and he follows the group around like a badass guns-akimbo C3PO. There's a major story reason for wanting to keep Cain around as long as possible too...

  • Falsetto's the brash and impulsive member of the resistance group Andantino, which Frederic Chopin and his young friends kind of fall into halfway through Eternal Sonata. She's depicted as honest to a fault, with the story choosing to focus on the more ambiguous Jazz and Claves, but Falsetto's my favorite character in the game by a narrow margin over Salsa. Both are exceptionally fun to fight as due to their high combo chains and "take no prisoners" attitude.

  • Sten's just a lot of fun. A stoic warrior from a very austere martial civilization, Sten's not used to Ferelden's culture and a lot of fish out of water jokes are made at his expense. Dude has a very straightforward way of viewing the world, though, and is a refreshing foil to the half-dozen sardonic quip machines in the party.

  • Morrigan just pips Leliana and Isabella for my favorite female Dragon Age character, largely because of her endless mystique. There's a lot still to be discovered about Flemeth's adoptive daughter and potentially not all of it good. Still, though, had to fit at least one sassy Claudia Black role on here somewhere. Sorry Chloe.

  • Mordin's just a wonderful character that provides the best of two worlds: one of the greatest dramatic arcs in the game and some of the best humorous lines. Most of Mass Effect's expansive cast of characters either get one or the other. It was tough choosing him over Wrex and Garrus though.

  • Tali's a much easier pick. What is essentially a space alien Gadget Hackwrench, Tali changes subtly in each game and each of her incarnations brings something new to the franchise: she begins with so much boundless enthusiasm that it almost approaches the border to "cloying", then Shepard's death makes her dedicated and independent almost to a fault and then it sort of balances out once her people all but abandon her. Mass Effect's characters all grow and change, and subsequently the best ones are the ones you've watched develop from the first game to the last.

  • Augus really embodies what Asura's Wrath is all about: spectacle and badassery. I could care less about Asura's quest to get his daughter back, and I think the game itself forgets about it almost halfway through. Augus is responsible for some of the best moments, one of the best boss fights and doesn't display the slightest trace of angst or drama. Dude is just having a ball stabbing guys through planetoids.

  • Someone said in one of the GotG threads, and I think it bears repeating, that Solaire is the closest thing the Chosen Undead has to an ally. The primordial worms are using you, the God/Lords believe you to be beneath them (until you kill them, that is), the vendors at Firelink Shrine want your valuable souls and everything else is trying to murder you. Solaire just wants his sun, and is racing ahead of you at every turn to find it. It helps that there's theories aplenty concerning his true identity raging on in threads across the fandom.

  • Quelana might seem an odd choice for favorite female Dark Souls character, being a high-level Pyromancy vendor that many players either miss or ignore, but she represents the Witches of Izalith and their ill-fated legacy as the sole non-victim of their disastrous attempt to recreate the primordial flame that granted Gwyn and his companions their power. Discovering the fates of her sisters (and brother) is a slow burn that becomes particularly painful when she momentarily breaks her stern scholarly demeanor to implore you to end their centuries-long suffering. Quelaag, the Fair Lady, the three cores of the Bed of Chaos, the lone Pyromancer standing vigil outside of the Bed of Chaos' door, Ceaseless Discharge and the lifeless body it protects so faithfully are all great tragic figures that, like everything else in Dark Souls, requires some inference and attentiveness from lore-hungry players to suss out.

  • Johnny's an interesting case, as far as Saints Row's convoluted legacy goes. Initially, he represented the "violent gangster" archetype in the first incarnation's trio of brains (Dex), brawn (Gat) and heart (Julius), back when it was still being a shameless GTA imitator. Roll the clock forward a bit and Gat becomes something of a legend and, after his "death", an icon. By SR 4, the guy is so renowned that the end boss pre-emptively abducted him rather than have him around during the invasion in case he decided to do something about it. Maybe it steals a bit of the Boss's thunder (whose reputation had also been built up to ludicrous levels of badass at this point), but the frivolous and anarchistic Gat represents the direction Saints Row was always going to head towards, whether the first game knew it or not. And now here it is, an open-world series greater than GTA by every metric that matters. Good going, Johnny.

  • Sup VGK. But seriously, the handful of alive characters in Fragile Dreams all have tragic histories, but the friendly if unnerving Item Merchant's backstory is a particularly messed up one. It's perhaps just as well that we never see what's under that chicken mask.

  • I dunno if this counts, since he began life as a literary character, but Geralt's just plain great. Possessed of cunning resourcefulness and some legitimate if understated magical powers, the guy has trained his body and mind his whole life to kill the unkillable. Also, I hear scuttlebutt that he's quite the hit with the ladies.

  • Saskia is introduced as a Joan of Arc type: a prodigious warrior and leader that emerged from nowhere to lead a beleaguered side to victory after victory and remains a constant mystery for much of the game. Let's just say she deviates from the Joan of Arc legend quite a bit in the latter half of the game... (The sorceresses of the game are all wonderful, layered characters too - especially the opportunistic Phillipa. She's like a buxom lesbian Loki. (Can't get that image out of my head now, dammit.))

  • Missile, the friendly and fiercely loyal Pomeranian of Ghost Trick, is a wonderful character because the writers managed to tap into a dog's best qualities and somehow translate it into dialogue. If you want a movie example of this, Doug from Up is kind of the same deal. That Missile keeps popping up in later chapters and grows to become the second most important (and the second playable) character is icing on the cake.

  • It takes a while for players to warm up to Lost Odyssey's Jansen Friedh, and the game doesn't help by introducing him as a drunken, philandering idiot who may or may not be planning to betray the group at the first opportunity. Let's just say he snaps out of his conspiratorial inclinations, drops his womanizing ways when he falls in love for the first time and is one of the most versatile humans in combat (as opposed to the immortals, who vastly overpower their mortal companions) and eventually develops into a well-rounded individual. Just... I dunno, when it comes to his awkward drunken attempts to hit on Seth just stick it out.

  • Talking of whom, Seth's one of the four amnesiac immortals of the group that feature in Lost Odyssey, and the only one that isn't miserable all the time. Her backstory gives her plenty to be miserable about, having been trapped in a cave for years and giving birth to a son she's lost all contact with, but her carefree attitude as an immortal pirate queen stays with her even if her memories don't.

  • Marina's one of many Valkyria Chronicles recruits who probably wouldn't be allowed anywhere near a gun were the Gallian army not desperate. She's an antisocial loner who suffers from hayfever and will actually become less effective if someone else is nearby. She's also the best goddamn sniper in the game. Stick her up in a nest, far from everyone else, and she'll be taking down value targets every shot. Honestly, though, I guess she just appeals to the recluse in me. I'm with you, Marina; Hell is other people.

  • All right, so a flagrant shout-out character probably shouldn't count, but Vyse Inglebard of Valkyria Chronicles - who is totally not the Vyse of Skies of Arcadia but just looks a bit like him and has the same name - is a force of effin' nature. Almost all of his buffs activate whenever he charges into a situation where he would normally be completely outgunned, allowing him to Commando entire squadrons on his own should Lady Luck be smiling on you that day. Otherwise, he gets shot to shit. Wanna roll the dice?

  • Rucks's gravelly Sam Elliot-style narration, which cleverly molds itself to suit whatever nonsense the Kid might be up to, is one of Bastion's major selling points. In all honesty, I didn't much care for the Diablo-esque combat too much, but the presentation was something else entirely. Rucks remains an enigma for much of the game, and it's never entirely clear whether he's an ally or a foe.

  • Zia's the last survivor the Kid meets in Bastion, and while thankful for her rescue is not necessarily pleased with the state of things, nor particularly trustful of the people around her. She warms up to the Bastion and its inhabitants, eventually, and the player discovers that she's not exactly had a pleasant time of it as an Ura raised in Caelondia who was betrayed by a boy she liked. Bastion really had that "ship of lost souls" angle on lock.

  • The reticent hero of Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia follows in Soma Cruz's footsteps somewhat as a versatile warrior who uses her opponents' strengths against them. About time we got a kick-ass female protagonist for this series that isn't part of an ensemble or hasn't been retconned in the interim. It's a little cute how the small village of survivors that acts as a hub all kind of adore her, despite her lack of social graces.

  • Ellen of Folklore is a generic amnesiac hero who finds herself on one side of a fairykind civil war, but her counterpart Keats is somewhat more intriguing. A journalist of the paranormal, about which he is entirely skeptical, Keats is a reassuring presence for Ellen despite taking the other side of that aforementioned civil war. The mysteries behind his character start to deepen a lot more as the game progresses, and eventually the true reason for his being there in that tiny Irish hamlet beset by spirits becomes apparent.

  • Ezio's an interesting guy, but Haytham's just a really clever bit of storytelling magic. Heroic and taciturn in equal measure, he's quietly reproachful of almost everyone he meets and an early twist manages to completely throw the events of Assassin's Creed III's absurdly long intro into turmoil. It's a real "rewind and watch how they did it" type of reveal. It also helps that he was the best thing in that flawed game by a wide margin.

  • Kyle's your classic noir detective: rundown, borderline alcoholic and a lot more perceptive and intelligent than he's willing to give himself credit for. An ex-New York detective, he's now a salesman for an old friend, but this is largely an excuse to allow him to investigate a cold case of particular importance to him which becomes the crux of Hotel Dusk: Room 215's chief mystery. His terse interactions with people can often land him in hot water (or, in my case, constant game overs) but the goodhearted nature underneath his beaten down exterior tends to shine through. I probably should've added his boss's secretary Rachel too, since her playfully flirty interactions with him are always a highlight.

  • They straight up added a Saturday morning cartoon show "bully" character to Zelda and somehow it completely works for the setting. Groose is more or less Captain N's vainglorious yet useless Simon Belmont, almost as if Nintendo was returning the dubious honor, but he's taken on a second life as one of VGCW's most beloved faces. Really though, when it comes to new additions to Zelda's well-worn formula, Skyward Sword players took what they could get.

  • Buck Wad's a jive-talking business executive who gets the player to perform a series of dangerous stunts to promote the most nefarious looking commercial products and services imaginable. He's also a disembodied pig head wearing shades. Just part of the menagerie of bizarre characters that star in Amped 3's sublime story sequences.

  • Raymond's about a dozen action movie archetypes rolled up into a single character. He has the tragic past, the dead partner, the sister of said dead partner to make amends to, an absurdly high tolerance to pain and gunfire and an uncanny knack to survive around seven major natural disasters in one day. Oh yeah, he can also disarm nuclear bombs and take down Metal Gears singlehandedly. All part of his International Rescue Team training. (Man, is Disaster: Day of Crisis an amazing hodgepodge of game ideas and Hollywood clichés. I wish we got that sequel where he blew up the asteroid heading towards Earth.)

  • The almighty Time Goddess of Half-Minute Hero turns out to be spectacularly unhelpful to the nameless protagonist, demanding tithes for her time-rewinding services despite the fact that the world's end is always 30 seconds away. Hey, a girl has to eat. (She's always quick with a quip too, but then l'esprit d'escalier isn't really a factor when you can rewind time.)

  • Capell's the protagonist of Infinite Undiscovery, but his arc is an unusual one. Initially a bumbling and cowardly fool of a bard who becomes embroiled in a fight to save the world due to his uncanny resemblance to an actual bona fide hero, he gradually matures into the figure he needs to be just when his dead ringer unfortunately becomes literally so. Even then, there's a lot more going on with his pariah "unblessed" status that comes to the fore during the game's second and third acts. There's even a great sequence where he loses faith in his mission and becomes deeply cynical for a time, reflected in the cruel new titles (a feature borrowed from Tales) given to his party members.

  • Liane's the unspoken hero of Jeanne d'Arc: a young lass with Joan's courage but none of her talent for warfare. She's just about a capable fighter, but outmatched by many of the playable characters that the player recruits as the game progresses. Still, she's the heart and soul everywoman of the group, and (SPOILERS!) her eventual fate is a punch right to the gut.

  • Talking of literal punches to the gut, Emma's is a tragic arc that does well to honor her status as a prolific swordswoman. Paste this - - into a browser if you're not concerned about Last Remnant spoilers. Kind of sums up everything great about the veteran warrior.

  • That above video sums up a lot of great things about the Conqueror too, who is an enigmatic badass for much of Last Remnant. He's not an entirely unsympathetic foe, as it turns out, despite doing some unforgivable things. Man, does the game do a deft job of making him intimidating though.

  • Elika's a subversion of the damsel in distress: she saves the hero repeatedly, not the other way around; the hero's more emotionally invested in her than she is in him; and the story really revolves around her struggle to save her kingdom from a shadowy demon, with the claw-wielding Prince just there to help out in his own way. Like Farah, she's an entirely capable deuteragonist and an empowered heroine, diaphanous dresses be damned.

  • Wei Shen gets the glory, but his craven childhood friend overcomes quite a few trials of his own on his quest to become whatever the made man equivalent for the Triads is. Jackie's story runs largely parallel to Wei's, and Wei can't help but feel responsible for dragging the petty hoodlum with a good heart into a high-stakes game he just doesn't have the chips for.

  • Sam's another one like Raymond Bryce (or Nathan Drake for that matter) in that he was stitched together from scraps of stereotypical Hollywood action movie heroes and given just enough of a personality to allow players to care about his struggles against an army of evil Russian robots. Whether it's his proclivity for smoking in areas where it really shouldn't be allowed, or Vanquish's incredibly fun and frenetic gameplay that only partially resembles the uninspired cover-based shooters we were all momentarily inundated with, but there's something about Sam's otherwise by-the-numbers heroic archetype that appeals. I think Nathan Drake probably could've used more rocket boots, huh.

  • Tales of Innocence, of which I'm largely ambivalent about, has a cast of characters that are able to recall previous incarnations of themselves as a race of demigods that once ruled the Earth. The plucky street orphan Hermana was actually a powerful dragon and a close friend to the protagonist's former self, Asura. This dragon eventually outlived all of her companions, however, and lived the rest of her life in solitude, the loneliness of which still profoundly affects Hermana from time to time. Like Falsetto and Judith, Hermana's a character that is a lot of fun to play as due to her rapid attacks and combos. She has a weirdly cute Southern belle type accent too (which I believe is a common course for translators whenever they need to localize rough-n'-ready Kansai dialect).

  • Captain Viridian's a perpetual optimist, even in spite of the many, many, many deaths he might suffer as a result of the unstable universe of VVVVVV. His courage is unshakable, his dedication to his friends unflappable and that Brad Muir-ish grin is just downright infectious.