There’s something gripping about a good story, whether it be in a book or a game, and I strongly believe that this hold is what helps to raise the sentimental value of some titles more than others. And just what exactly is it that gives a story its substance? The characters. Sure, one can play a Halo over and over for the gameplay appeal, but where lies the emotional grip? In honor of some of my favorite games and characters, I’ve compiled a list of my top five most developed characters in gaming.
5.) Pyrrha Alexandra (Soul Caliber V)
Though Namco greatly let down the Soul Calibur community by releasing only a quarter of their written material for Soul Calibur V, they did slightly redeem themselves through the latest chapter of the Alexandra saga. Veteran character Sophitia’s children, Pyrrha and Patroklos, take center stage in the game’s storyline. Though Patroklos is a whiny, impulsive and brazen fighter, his sister, Pyrrha, is a dynamic warrior who is both the protagonist and antagonist of the game. Throughout the course of the game, she undergoes a series of hardships and changes that force her out of her comfort zone. She’s forced to confront demons (literally), choose between family or power, and continue Soul Edge’s legacy. Even when blinded by anger and betrayal, Pyrrha is able to see the good in the world and surmount her obstacles. The fate of the world sits in her hands, but she is able to control her own destiny and persevere.
4.) Cyrus (Pokemon Diamond/Pearl)
Pokemon characters usually fall on one end of the “really well developed” character spectrum or the other. The protagonists are barely fleshed out to allow for player relatability and some of the gym leaders are simple caricatures of societal stereotypes. However, the villainous leader of games Diamond/Pearl/Platinum, Cyrus, stands out as a dark gem against a mundane set of characters. Unlike prior villains, he is aloof, wise, and seldom foolish. His intentions (of creating an alternate, dark universe where he rules as God) are heavy, dark, and seemingly unfitting for a silly, kid-friendly RPG. Pokemon, in all of its glory, captures the spirit of a delusional psychopath exceptionally well.
3.) James Sunderland (Silent Hill 2)
For a game to grab me, there has to be some sense of realism – whether it’s manifested in the story, the characters, or both. In the case of Silent Hill 2, it was the character of James Sunderland that left a lasting impression. The game explores his struggles as a troubled man – when he first visits Silent Hill with his wife, Mary, she falls ill with some inexplicable and incurable virus that usurps the honey of life from her body. After providing months of tireless care (and having the love of his life practically stolen by the cold fingers of death), James is nearing the threshold of insanity. In a fit of rage at himself, his wife, and fate, he suffocates his wife to death with a pillow. Horrified by this uncharacteristically violent act, he returns to Silent Hill to take his own life, and instead finds himself on a soul-searching journey that only helps to reveal that he is far more psychotically deranged and tormented than he initially thought himself to be. Silent Hill 2 is a tragic, psychologically thrilling masterpiece, and captures a descent into total madness with bone-chilling realism.
2.) John Marston (Red Dead Redemption)
Rockstar never disappoints with story or game aesthetics, so it’s no surprise that lone ranger John Marston lands near the top of my list. Red Dead Redemption captures the essence of man more beautifully than any game ever has for me. John Marston is initially introduced as a tough, worn, and seasoned outlaw who can handle a rifle. As the story progresses, however, John’s character is broken down and the player is able to get clearer glimpses of his humanity – he has a wife and baby son at home, helps out local farmers, and tries to do good where he can to make up for his past. We see that despite his alleged wrongdoings in the past, John has grown as a character and fights for what is just. In fact, I had grown so emotionally attached to him that the game’s end completely shattered me.
1.) The Ashford Twins (Resident Evil Code: Veronica)
Humanity is explored over and over again throughout Code Veronica’s lengthy, detail-ridden story. For one, it’s a Resident Evil game, so there’s the obvious juxtaposition of life and death as the protagonists fight their way past undead creatures. Enter the Ashfords, Umbrella heirs whose lives comprise the majority of the game’s plot. Alfred, the less impressive brother, lives alone on his isolated military base. Journals and other in-game context clues reveal he is psychotic, abuses his workers, and obsessively guards his personal life. His private residence is explored and dissected by the player, revealing the lair of a hopelessly deranged madman who obsessively worships his sister. Alexia makes her debut in the game’s second half, a stark contrast to her emotionally erratic brother. She’s derisive, diabolical, and elusive, perhaps the closest counterpart to series villain Albert Wesker that ever was. With a thirst for power and control, she attempts to immortalize herself with her T-Veronica virus and take over the world.
Here we see the tenuous yet powerful tethers of a family relationship gone awry. Both siblings, lost in their own fantasies, fight to rekindle the honor once associated with their namesake. Character depth is fleshed out in personal diaries of both siblings, all the while explaining the instability of Umbrella Corporation’s success. That’s just brushing the surface – Capcom also seamlessly camouflages beautiful metaphors, motifs, and thematic relevance to preserve the game’s artistic unity. These two villains, obscure as they are, are my all-time favorite video game characters. For years I was enthralled by their story, and to this day I am still enamored of them.
To me, a well-developed character is a character who, despite his or her shortcomings, ultimately comes to face with humanity in some way or another. Forget believability – sure, the environments presented in games such as Silent Hill and Resident Evil aren’t entirely realistic, but both series boast characters that are raw and in some ways, relatable. As a casual gamer, it’s truly the emotional bonds that make me want to return to a game over and over again. Whether an outlaw, a warrior, or an heiress – all are human, each with life lessons to unearth and explore.