I like Clank for many of the same reasons I have a fondness for Max. Similarly, Clank is the partner of the titular duo and while Ratchet can definitely be funny to go along with the good humor of the games, Clank is always the one I find to cause the most laughs through his sarcastic comments. However, whereas Max didn’t contrast with Sam, Clank has a very clear dichotomy with Ratchet in that Clank is rather lawfully moral and a clear straight man while Ratchet is more loose and temperamental than his counterpart. While this sort of contrast isn’t always needed, as showcased by Max, I feel it works extremely well here and, personally, I prefer the subdued sarcasm Clank has more than the overt jokes that are common with over-the-top characters.
Also unlike Max, you can actually play some sections of the game as Clank and his gameplay is always fun and shows how he is proving himself useful despite his small size and relative weakness. Even though it’s obvious that Clank couldn’t possibly save the galaxy on his own, he really wants to try and I appreciated that he was always giving that effort despite Ratchet doing the majority of the work. As the games progressed, you could always see Ratchet and Clank’s relationship developing to being best friends and the moments that showcased just how much they cared for each other, such as when Clank says that he always knew Ratchet would do the right thing after Ratchet realized what was really important after he focused on getting revenge on a particular enemy far more than helping the galaxy at large. Out of many duos with this sort of nature, I always felt like Ratchet and Clank had the best relationship of the bunch and that just added onto Clank’s already likable character, making him just as key to the game, if not more so, than Ratchet himself.
You’re probably noticing a trend by now, as here we have another member of a titular partnership in Daxter, the abrasive ottsel companion for our main character, Jak. I’ve always seen the Jak games and the Ratchet & Clank series as “brother and sister,” so to speak, where their developments started out mirroring each other and they even referred each other in their respective second installments, so I only found it natural to put both partners right next to each other. However, what pushes Daxter to the top of these titular sidekicks is the fact that he is basically a perfect blend of Max’s over-the-top humor and Clank’s low-key, sometimes lame jokes. He’s very abrasive and always acts like he’s the most important person in the room while, at the same time, he can be very clever in how he states his insults. Daxter steals practically every scene he’s in with that humongous ego and while the other characters can be helpful, Daxter is always there and, like Clank, is sometimes controllable to get past obstacles Jak can’t.
Daxter also provides a wonderful contrast to Jak, whether it be the innocent, silent youth from the first game, or the gruff, no-nonsense warrior he became in the second and third installments. This is especially true in the later games as they could get pretty depressingly dark and without Daxter’s colorful commentaries, much of the personality of the game would be lost and merely feel like another generic, apocalyptic scenario. Also, despite how much of a jerk Daxter can act like sometimes, there are definitely moments where you see that, underneath it all, he really does care about Jak and he won’t forgive anyone who seriously messes with him, such as when Veger from the third game insults Jak and his father after his father died in his arms. Daxter may not be the heart of the Jak series, but he is most definitely the soul and it wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is in the story or character department if he wasn’t there.
3.) Alyx Vance
I’m sure none of you are surprised by this choice, but there is a good reason for that. In Half-Life 2, Alyx was an important, likable character due to her believable personality and relation to Eli Vance, one of the key figures in the Black Mesa Incident that caused the alien occupation the Half-Life Earth was experiencing at this point. However, she wasn’t really a partner because she was barely by your side, until the Episodes came out. For these games, Alyx stuck with you for almost the entirely of each and you got to see her character develop more alongside her skills doing the same. She constantly helped you out by opening doors, providing supporting fire in all situations, including ones where you didn’t have a weapon yourself, and brightening the mood with jokes, such as saying a zombie Combine would be called a “Zombine.” Out of all partners I can think of, she proved to be more helpful than almost any other and that only made you want to be around her as much as possible.
In addition, as with nearly all silent protagonists like Gordon Freeman, having Alyx provided someone to interact with other characters for you in place of your character and expanded upon her personality to make her extremely three-dimensional. In fact, when Alyx was separated from Gordon under any circumstances after being with him for almost an entire game, something felt like it was missing from the whole experience. While Half-Life 2 always had surprisingly good characters for a FPS, Alyx really brought the human element of the entire situation to the forefront when she traveled with you, as she acted so much like you would expect a regular, everyday person to in these extreme circumstances, even if she had years to get as accustomed as anyone could to them. Alyx was a real person who also happened to be awesome and that was everything I needed.
I bet you thought we were through with titular partnerships, huh? That’s not the case quite yet, as we have yet to mention the most caustic and entertaining of the entire bunch. Kazooie, on nearly all accounts, is not an outright good person under any criteria. She constantly insults nearly everyone, if not everyone, that she meets and uses the game’s self-aware status to constantly demand to be taught awesome moves as quickly as possible. She is an exact opposite of the helpful, rather kindly Banjo, causing Banjo to constantly and rightfully chastise her whenever she says something nasty. In the same vein as Max and Daxter though, it is nearly impossible to not be entertained by her behavior. The dynamic the two have with each other is pitch-perfect and, despite Kazooie’s abrasiveness, you can see that they do care about each other, especially evidenced by Banjo helping Kazooie out in their first ever meeting. However, despite that, all she really wants is to go on an adventure and defeat the evil Gruntilda because she thinks it would be fun and, unlike many other partners, she pulls her weight just as much, if not more so, than Banjo.
Nearly all the moves in the game require Kazooie in some fashion or another, from firing out eggs as ammunition to pecking enemies to death. It’s even stepped up in Banjo-Tooie, where you get the ability to split the two up and the work the two do separately matches rather consistently. This is a truly rare occurrence and I like to see game designers use a partner in gameplay just as much as they would with characterization and character interactions. As you can probably tell by now, I always like having a partner who is both funny and has a great counterpoint to the main character and Kazooie additionally having such a huge role in gameplay just makes her that much better in my eyes.
Okami is one of my favorite games of all time, from its beautiful calligraphy-like artstyle to its very interesting gameplay involving the Celestial Brush. However, what surprised me most about the game was how so many of the characters, both major and minor, really endeared themselves to me through relatively little interaction. I cared about nearly all of these people and, as I went on the journey to bring life back to Nippon, the one I cared about the most was almost always by my side. Issun is based on the Japanese legend of Issun-boshi, or the One-Inch Boy, a story of a very tiny boy who eventually left home to find his place in a world of those so much bigger than him and eventually ended up regular sized with a princess as a result of a good deed.
The Issun of this game, while tiny, is a relatively loose take on the character, due to his lecherous ways, big attitude, and constantly funny quips. He is forward and cutting with his comments as many characters on this list are, but he’s not an overt jerk and, while he initially comes with you for no other reason than to learn all of the Celestial Brush techniques as you regain them, you can clearly see that he does want to do good from the beginning and he grows to care even more about helping the world and the people in it on the journey. Also differing from many characters on the list, he does provide a voice for a silent protagonist, but Amaterasu has a clear personality and can, and often will, cut Issun off if he starts to get inconsiderate as he is prone to do, so they have the interaction a silent protagonist and talkative partner oftentimes can’t have. He perfectly mixes biting, genuinely funny commentary and strong character with ample development in order to form someone who is constantly growing.
This all comes to a head in the ending, which I’m going to spoil in the following sentences, so if you haven’t played the game and care about spoilers, skip the next few sentences. Before getting to the final area, Issun separates from you, saying he’s learned all the brush techniques and doesn’t need to travel with you into the dangerous Ark of Yamato. While he does reconsider, circumstances prevent him from coming with you and you can only watch as you go in without him. In the final battle with Yami, victory seems imminent when Yami grabs Amaterasu and drains her of all her powers, thus causing the sun to disappear. When all seems lost, you hear Issun’s voice saying that you can’t give up now and then you hear more voices from practically every character you’ve met in your travels, all praying for you so you can regain your power. As it turns out, Issun immediately became your “Celestial Envoy” and went around telling everybody he could about all that you, the sun goddess, had done for them without asking for anything in return to increase your power and give you the ability to stand up to any challenge “Ammy” was facing. This is the clear conclusion of the development of Issun’s character and shows that, while he was sarcastic and selfish at times, he really grew through your travels and realizes what he can do to help give back for what you’ve done. It’s this moment that made me like Issun above any other partner I’ve ever known, as this story was just as much Issun’s as Amaterasu’s. I’ve never seen a true, single companion handled better and I have strong doubts I ever will.
I hope you enjoyed reading this list and that I introduced you to some great characters you may not have known. I obviously couldn’t get to all the great partners out there, so if you think I missed any, please comment and tell me your favorites. As always, other comments, critiques, and suggestions are totally welcome and completely appreciated.