Weekend Hot Topic, part 1: Favourite video game hero

GameCentral readers discuss the most memorable video game protagonists, from Leon S. Kennedy to Max from Life Is Strange.

The subject for this week’s Hot Topic was suggested by reader Grackle, who asked who do you enjoy playing as the most and why? How much does their visual design and gameplay abilities play into it and how important is it that you like the hero in the game you’re playing?

We had an interesting mix of heroes with clearly defined personalities and others that are much more just colourful avatars or blank slates for you to mould. That meant that both Geralt and Link ended up equally popular, along with the Resident Evil pantheon and Bayonetta.

No Strife
I think everyone was kind of shocked that Final Fantasy 7 Remake turned out as well as it did, but what really surprised me was how much I liked the characters. Which has become almost impossible in modern Final Fantasy games, I’ve found. Tifa was a bit of a party pooper and I can’t imagine anyone not hating Wedge but I love Barret, Aerith, and most especially Cloud.

I felt certain they’d make Cloud some kind of insufferable edgelord but he was a really decent game. Confused and uncertain of himself but gradually his tough guy act disappeared and everyone got to see that he was actually quite vulnerable and innocent. All the characters changed and evolved over the course of the game, much more than they ever did in the original and I really like Aerith too.

In a game you’re playing for dozens upon dozens of hours that is so important. It’s why I’ve all but given up Japanese role-players lately and was pivotal to me enjoying the remake.

Die for Darkseid
My favourite video game protagonist has to be Ryo from Shenmue. The vast range of facial expressions and vocal intonations he exhibits throughout the games really draw you in and make you relate to him as a realistic, three-dimensional person.

OK, now that I’ve got the sarcasm out of the way the actual answer (more or less off the top of my head anyway) is Sam Fisher from Splinter Cell, specifically the Michael Ironside voiced ones. How can you not feel a total badass when your character’s voice was born of an unholy union between gravel and steel?

I love the lightness of touch in Sam’s portrayal, with just the right amount of humour in his quips and banter with his supporting team. This carries over to his interactions with the enemies but with an inimitable undercurrent of menace when he emerges from the shadows, placing their necks in a vice like grip after having silently stalked them, moving like a panther in human form with the precision born of decades of experience.

If I was a no-name video game grunt it’s Sam who I’d like to choke me out (oh grow up children, please!)
Meestah Bull

Everyone loves Leon
It’s very important to me to really like the character that I play as in games.

I’ve given up playing games like Grand Theft Auto because the characters are all so loathsome!

I’d much rather spend my gaming time with someone I’d actually like to hang out with in real life, so I’ll choose Dante (from Devil May Cry 1 only – he’s become far too nonchalant for my tastes in the later games!), Leon S. Kennedy from Resident Evil 4 and Nathan Drake from the Uncharted games.

All three are wise-cracking, good looking dudes that have a lot of heart and despite Nate being a roguish thief, all three are honourable and heroic.

I’ll play through lots of different games to finish the story and get Trophies, then I’ll move on to something new, but I always find myself returning regularly to hang out with these guys!

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Normal people
I would say Max and Chloe from Life Is Strange are the ones that have made the most impact on me in recent years. I don’t generally like story-only games but I played the free demo and really got drawn. Max is very different than most female game characters in that she’s not some badass warrior trying to outdo every man, she’s just a normal, somewhat shy, young woman with everyday concerns (and time controlling superpowers, admittedly).

Like many I didn’t like Chloe all that much in the first game, as I found her too domineering and arrogant but in the prequel you realise that it’s all bravado and she’s actually a very damaged and sympathetic character.

I worry about it ruining the two characters but I’d love to see them back again in another game, they just seem like such a breath of fresh air to other video game characters.

Real character
Although I have only played one game in the series, I am struggling to look past Geralt of Rivia as the best protagonist. I know that is cheating because he is was the lead of a series of books first and now has a television show too. This means he is naturally a bit more nuanced than most gaming leads.

What I like about Geralt is that he is not a perfect hero and is essentially just a travelling sell sword, albeit one that specialises in monster hunting. He is not even well liked, with some people being openly aggressive towards him, yet he tries to avoid unnecessary conflict. He is even willing to set intelligent monsters free, if he felt it was inappropriate to kill them instead of just completing the quests for the money.

Generally, Geralt tries to make the best of a bad situation and always seems to attempt to find the morally best solution even when it is usually unclear which path is the right one. Then when he inevitably choses poorly he is a realist who accepts what went wrong. The Witcher 3 is probably the only game where I can honestly say that I did not reload a save to choose the other option, despite how badly things went and that is in part due to Geralt but also good game design.

Generally, I prefer pre-set characters who engage with the other people in the game and have personality traits. I find it more interesting to make decisions for another person and try to be in-keeping with how I see them, than play as a blank slate character who inevitably turns out to be an insufferably good pariah by the end of the game. Although that is generally due to the bad choices in games being cartoonishly evil to the point I never chose them.

I am not that bothered by customisation options either. I am not vain enough to make characters that look like myself, so generally make people that look as far removed from me as possible. Which usually means female and Black or Asian.

I also really cannot see the point in silent, non-customisable characters, even iconic ones like Link. What is the point of a fixed character if they have no personality? Even Mario talks and he has arguably far less reason to than Link. I am starting to think Link never actually learnt to talk and just stares blankly at people until they stop speaking. Which I guess explains why he spends 200 hours wondering around Hyrule collecting Korok seeds and exploring shrines instead of helping Zelda.

A special mention should also go to Kassandra from Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

Don’t you agree, Zach?
It’s got to be Francis York Morgan for me. The original version of Dead Premonition was a revelation to me as never have I enjoyed anything with so many obvious flaws so much. The character of York is just amazing, it’s not even as if he’s especially well written or voice-acted but somehow the game just comes together with this amazingly surreal atmosphere that is half-intended and half complete accident.

But even though the sequel is nowhere near as good York is still great in it, which as far as I’m concerned cements him as an all-time great.

Catch up on every previous Games Inbox here

Generic rage
I think the character you play in a video game is important as you can spend tens/hundreds of hours as them. If your character is not relatable then, for me, there’s a significant disconnect to the game. Case in point: Kratos. Whilst he might have redeemed himself somewhat in the latest God Of War, his depiction in every previous game was utterly repugnant. Playing as a joyless, misogynistic, murder machine just doesn’t equate to enjoyment.

This issue reminds me also of the evolution of the Prince Of Persia character, who evolved from an Aladdin-esque hero to a thoroughly charmless character designed to appeal to angry teenagers. GameCentral’s own words on The Warrior Within described the Prince as a, ‘snarling, unlikeable boor filled with generic rage’. What design committee at Ubisoft agreed that was an enjoyable way to play through a 12 to 15 hour campaign?

As a counterpoint to both these examples, and a study in how to create a likeable protagonist, is Mr Nathan Drake. Whilst he can still rack up a kill count in the thousands, his light-hearted, quippy adventures through exotic locales show his humorous and unwaveringly optimistic personality. He’s the adventurer we all wish we could be.

Suave, self-deprecating, quick with a one-liner and charismatic in almost equal measures. I have at times felt that Naughty Dog mask a lack of substance in their games with bucketloads of style but, boy, do they know how to bring the style. And having a character that the player actually likes (take note games industry) makes a game more enjoyable.

As a storytelling medium video games is still evolving. The discussion of whether our hobby constitutes art will continue for some time. But the games are undoubtedly becoming more adventurous, more confident. The storylines and characters in The Witcher or Metro games are multi-layered, complex, and ambiguous. They are not simply good or bad; a hero to slay a villain. This depth enriches the game world and deepens the connections with the player.
ProEvoSan78 (PSN ID)
PS: I look forward to upcoming titles such as Cyberpunk 2077 as a game likely to offer a strong narrative connection between player and protagonist. Whilst I personally feel a first person perspective is a backwards step in this regard, I recognise others feel immersion is heightened in the first person. It will be interesting to see what the reviews have to say.

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The small print
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