Great Characters in Gaming: The Next Generation

After nearly a year long hiatus, Great Characters in Gaming is back with a version befitting our current generation of consoles (which are for some reason still dubbed next-gen).  This list follows the familiar format, but every character here is from a game released within the last two years, with one exception who made his debut back in 2007.  Characters featured in games these days need to bring more to the table than those of previous generations.  In the 80s, we were content with some pixels and a jump button.  The 90s saw a shift to a more character-driven gaming experience, but still lacked voice acting and quality dialog to speak.  It wasnt until the last decade (2000-2010) that we started seeing real effort put into character development, and the last five years in particular have seen a boom of believable players to star in the best of games.  Top notch voice acting combined with detailed writing has yielded us some memorable people, and below are just a few that I personally have found particularly wonderful.

John Marsten (Red Dead Redemption) One of the best things about John Marsten is that he is, in the simplest terms, a man.  To be a man seems a simple thing, but how many games star someone as just that?  Often the main character of a game is a superfluous mess.  We can either play as a completely unbelievable looking space marine, a hardcore punk replete with piercings and gnarly tattoos, or a pretty haired emo-king.  To actually play as a man is a rare experience.  John Marsten is that.  Hes seen things, as evidenced by the scars marring his face, yet hes come through them and found a life.  His quest is one of making that life survive despite the obstacles against him.  He has real motivations, and I think as players we can understand them immediately.  To add to this, Marsten has a great voice actor, and some of the best lines of dialog youll find.  He cracks jokes that are laugh out loud funny, but completely innocuous unless youre paying attention. My favorite scene below, though lacking any humor due to the seriousness of its subject matter, displays Marstens sense of honor.  It also gives a nice taste of a real western-style duel.

Oerba Yun Fang (Final Fantasy XIII) I knew I would like Fang the first time I saw her, before Final Fantasy XIII even came out.  She has a warriors aesthetic, but doesnt exude too much of the butch.  Playing through the game only solidified her image for me.  Her motivations are protection and defiance.  She is overly protective of anything to do with Vanille, while at the same time defiant not only at those set against her, but even to her own party members at times.  Despite her rough attitude and at times stern demeanor, she shows a soft side to simple things, like a fathers love for his child or a memory.  It is this dualism that makes her probably the best character in the game, and one of the best in the unconnected series.  Whats potentially more interesting is her past, which for most of the game is shrouded in some kind of cloud of forgetfulness.  When we finally learn who she is and whats shes done, it feels like the kind of moment where the hammer should fall.  However, in the end she is judged not by what shes done, but how she redeems herself.  The true Fang is not the monster, but the woman.  Below is a fan tribute video, and though it doesnt show off the wonderfully Australian voice acting of the North American version, it features one of my favorite, if overused, symphonic numbers.

Morrigan (Dragon Age: Origins) You may hate the decisions she forced you to make, and you may hate her for the ones she herself made, but theres no denying that Morrigan brings something to Dragon Age that no other character can quite match.  Shes snarky, clever, and almost impossible not to use whether you need a mage or not.  As with so many of their characters, BioWare has given her more than just a few dimensions.  Characters in JRPGs tend to be one-sided, simple to the point of humor, and while this isnt always the case, their dimensions can generally be guessed at by how spikey their hair is or how big their eyes are.  BioWare, on the other hand, creates characters you can understand.  They have complicated histories, interesting motivations, and speak in a way that we might expect real people to speak.  Morrigan is the best of all this.  We know what shes after, and could probably assume that its not going to be good for humanity or anyone around her, but we let her get away with it anyway because shes effing charming.  She has the best lines of dialogue in the entire game.  Taking her along for her ambient banter alone is worth the party slot.   One of my particular favorites:

Monkey (Enslaved) First appearances are not necessarily kind to Monkey, the main character of Ninja Theorys Enslaved.  He looks foolish in his tight pants, 80s haircut, and lack of shirt.  Hes also a bit of a jerk, though an understandable one, for the first half of the game.  But Monkey does something that few characters are capable of in any game.  Monkey changes.  This seems like an easy thing, change.  We all change when playing games.  We raise our attributes, we gain levels, we find new equipment.  But how often do characters actually evolve emotionally?  The fact is, they rarely ever do, and developers rarely allow them to.  Monkey changes his way of thinking, and by the end of the game is a different person than we was when he first made his way out of the slave ship with his companion Trip.  He changes from a selfish, self-minded person only looking to survive, to someone not only willing to help a young woman, but into someone who actually fights for the freedom of the human race.  Monkeys metamorphosis is part of what makes Enslaved such a good story to play through, and though he remains poorly dressed and somewhat foolish looking, by the end we can look past all that and see him for what he is.  Unfortunately, I couldnt find a video that really showcased his evolution, so instead, have a laugh.

Andrew Ryan (BioShock) Andrew Ryan is the literal voice for BioShock, one of the best games of this generation or any other.  He is the kind of man we wish existed in reality, a man to move mountains and forge rivers.  Much of his character was inspired by creations of Ayn Rand (so much so that when I read through Atlas Shrugged for the first time last year I pictured Francisco dAnconia as a younger Andrew Ryan), who he also shares a name likeness to.  In Ayn Rands books, characters like Andrew Ryan exist, and they change the world (or try to).  They are always larger than life and able to accomplish things that normal men can only dream of.  They rise above the riff-raff and carve their way into history books.  Andrew Ryan does this, doing things his way, and though it may have failed in the end due to the machinations of greedy, evil men, his accomplishment, the underwater city of Rapture, is so grand that even those of us outside the game wish that it were real.  We see it created in other games and revisited in sequels.  It is a paradise, fallen, but with a physical memory that we are unable to forget.  And it all came from the mind of this one man, this visionary who you are forced to kill.  Andrew Ryan is gamings tragic hero.