Posted By Robert G. about 2 months, 1 week ago
Warning: This article contains spoilers. You have been warned.
What makes a good character? For over two years I have been asking that question and showing prime examples of video game characters and what makes them work. We have seen rampaging murderers, mythic heroes, tragic villains, and cerebral storytelling that many of us may have never considered before.
One of the best aspects of these character studies, however, is how new entries are introduced to the playing public. This year alone we saw a breadth of memorable personalities, some of which have become iconic gaming celebrities almost overnight. Sadly, I feel my colleagues at Blistered Thumbs missed the mark with their own list
Certainly, the cast of Grand Theft Auto V and Joel and Ellie from The Last of Us are shoo-ins on any list, but the overall piece felt flat in comparison to the richness of who else could have been mentioned. With this in mind, I figure the best way to honor these overlooked characters is to simply highlight them, together, in a good old-fashioned listing. So here is a group of memorable personalities that truly define what it means to be a character with character.
Many have touted Elizabeth, the time traveling deuteragonist, as the breakout character for Bioshock Infinite, and it is easy to see why. Being strong, capable, and completely vital to the plot gives her a little more depth than most characters in her position: a stereotypical damsel in distress. Yet, the most intriguing character to be found in Bioshock Infinite is perhaps the one you know the most about, and that is the maniacal leader of the floating city of Columbia itself, Zachary Hale Comstock.
“Father Comstock,” as he is often called, follows in the footsteps of fascinating villains in the BioShock series, right up there with the philosophical rambling of Sofia Lamb and the staunch beliefs of Andrew Ryan. Comstock is a self-styled prophet, a man who believes it is the god-given right of all men and women to be free–well, all white men and women. Along with his fanatical xenophobia against the undesirables of the world, his devout religious beliefs allow Comstock to manipulate his followers for the benefit of Columbia, even if it means harming its citizens, or Elizabeth, in the process.
However, Comstock is more than just a religious fanatic. His fabled baptism becomes essential to the plot, becoming a diverging point that Booker DeWitt, the player character, must contend with. Most of this, of course, stems from the big twist in Bioshock Infinite: Dewitt is actually Comstock, from an alternate timeline. After witnessing the atrocities of the Battle of Wounded Knee, DeWitt became baptized and took the name Comstock for himself, hoping to shed his past from him. His own inner demons fueled his fervor, and with the help of many of his devoted followers, he soon rose to power as a self-styled messiah in the sky.
What makes Comstock, and therefore DeWitt, so fascinating is the dichotomy of their choices. In a single moment in their lives, we have two wholly different individuals that, more or less, influence the world or are used by it for their own ends. While the alternative universe subplot was never a strong suit in BioShock Infinite, it was used to help us explore the protagonist, offering more complex motivations behind Comstock and his alter ego, DeWitt.
In any other Fire Emblem game, Chrom would be the main playable character. Headstrong, courageous, valiant, and loyal, Chrom is molded into the shape of every lord ever found in the franchise. Yet due to the inclusion of the Avatar tactician, Chrom is almost regulated to a secondary role for the story, a position that lords rarely hold in Fire Emblem.
Fortunately, Chrom is far from a cardboard cutout. As the leader of the Shepherds, a militia organized to protect the Halidom of Ylisse, Chrom takes his positive qualities and puts them to good use, showing how a lord in Fire Emblem works. Yet one of the more refreshing quirks about Chrom is his own imperfection as a leader. Much like Ike from Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, Chrom makes mistakes and is often too concerned about the little things. He also has a thirst for vengeance, especially after his older sister, and current leader of Ylisse, Emmerym, is killed.
These qualities almost drive Chrom to the brink of disaster, making him forget his gentler qualities and honest reputation. Through this though we see vulnerability in Chrom, something Fire Emblem tends to neglect in their overarching political plot-lines. None of this even touches on Chrom’s own personal destiny, or what his offspring, Lucina, represents in the game. Throughout it all, Chrom is a valuable addition to the Fire Emblem family, standing with popular characters like Marth and Roy in the minds of many players.
Remember Me is not one of the best games to come out this year. It is an opportunity squandered by a lackluster plot and a banal combat system, despite some unique gameplay elements and gorgeous aesthetic design. One of the standouts for me though is Nilin, the former memory hunter turned agent for the Errorists, an underground activist organization against the corporation Memorize. As the player character, Nilin is hit with a clichéd case of amnesia in the beginning of the game, but soon learns the secrets of her past, and how to cope with it as she slowly remembers herself.
What makes Nilin a good character is a combination of these two aspects. Her shadowy past and her struggle in the present are a breeding ground rife with good drama, and Nilin hits the ground running the moment she is introduced. Nilin starts off rather sarcastic and defiant to her comrades, much like the cynical Garrett from Thief. She questions the motivations of the Errorists constantly, and eventually finds sympathy for Memorize, the company that kept her in stasis. This internal shift is partially due to the regaining of past memories she remixed before her amnesia. Early in the game we start to see the shift as well; one of her first memory “remixes” involves Frank Forlan, a member of the Memorize corporation who, thanks to Nilin’s remixing, kills his wife and himself in cold blood.
Remembering these memories begins to gradually transform Nilin into a more cautious, less cynical character. No longer seeing all targets as the enemy, Nilin shows compassion and remorse for them all, including her parents, the corporate head-honchos of Memorize itself. From this, the climax of Remember Me is actually more emotional over logical, with Nilin finding out the truth of Memorize and her parents’ motivations for why they did what they did, but in a way that gives credit to those few flashes of brilliance within the games plot outside of the dystopian milieu of money, power, and control. If nothing else, Nilin stands above the memory holes in her own story to become a complex character in her own right.
Within State of Decay, almost every character at your disposal can die. This sort of life or death survival mode gives the game a greater sense of realism to it, especially considering how many of the survivors you meet can become named individuals with actual character development to them. Two survivors in particular stand out amongst the throng of unidentified, shambling masses: the brother sister team of Jacob and Lily Ritter.
Jacob is a fairly easy character to latch onto. Affable yet headstrong, he has a likable personality that makes him an easy fit into your survivor community, even if he is less skilled than some of the dominant members of your group. Jacob is also a caring person, risking his own life to visit and help out others around Turnbull county when necessary, including his lover Eli Wilkerson. In fact, you first meet Jacob as he and Eli share a quick tryst in an abandoned barn, before being attacked by zombies on all sides, and he is saddened by the loss of Eli later in the game.
Lily Ritter, in contrast, is the metaphoric heart of your community. Being the only character in State of Decay who can’t die due to her never leaving the radio in your stronghold, Lily serves as your navigator, cheerleader, spotter, and narrator all rolled into one. She is kind but logical about the situation, and rarely loses her cool against her fellow survivors. When she gets an idea, she is quick to share it. When she finds something interesting, she lets you know immediately. When a survivor dies, she delivers the final eulogy, stating how positive they were in the group and how much they will be missed.
Together, the Ritters represent the optimistic side of the zombie apocalypse. Unlike the cynical, ugly world that inhabits other apocalyptic settings, the Ritters stand defiantly against that almost Romero-esque bubble of hopelessness because of our human differences. If nothing else, the world needs more good-hearted people while you fight off the zombie horde, one day at a time.
With the Citadel DLC, Mass Effect 3 officially had its final encore before the curtains fell on the trilogy. The DLC itself was one of the most enthusiastic, endearing pieces of fan-service ever created, and it hit all the right buttons for many a Mass Effect player. Yet for all the quotable lines and memorable moments, the biggest addition, outside of a Armax Arena, is the introduction of Maya Brooks.
A popular character, Brooks is actually not her real name, which is still unknown. What is known, however, is the capabilities of Brooks within the series. A spy and agent who has worked with the likes of Cerberus, Brooks is a modern day version of a femme fatale, possessing the ability to charm and fight her way out of situations when necessary. Her infiltration into Shepard’s party was nearly flawless, while her pro-human agenda with Shepard’s clone gives her both a cause and a purpose within the confines of the DLC plot.
What makes Brooks so fascinating is her presence. Her skills give her a super spy vibe à la James Bond, and her backstory, currently being fleshed out in the Mass Effect: Foundation comics, is already giving the character more popularity. I wouldn’t be surprised if Brooks becomes a future squadmate in whatever the next Mass Effect game is, or at the very least, a presence within the universe in the future. Of course, providing you didn’t make the choice to kill her at the end of the final boss fight, at least.
For independent games this year, there really is one clear winner for me. Forget the teenage melodrama of Gone Home or the unorthodox commentary in The Stanly Parable. In the end, it is all about asking people for their papers in a communist country. While the experience in Papers, Please is one I can never fully grasp, for friends of mine who lived behind the iron curtain it is an uncanny reminder of the often unnecessary hardships many had to go through. Representing bureaucracy at its worst and giving players quick-thinking choices in increasingly stressful situations, Papers, Please defies the choices found in bigger budget titles because there are actual consequences for your actions in the game, consequences that can be deadly for you and your family if you’re not careful.
Papers, Please has many characters within it that can impact you, but it is the persistent Jorji Costava that steals the show. Displaying himself as a staunch patriot of your country, Arstotzka, Costava becomes a thorny, often annoying recurring character to your small border station. During the first half of the game he seems harmless, often giving you obviously forged papers or neglecting specific documents that deny him entry into your country.
Once he finally gains entry, he doesn’t stay for long in Arstotzka, coming and going while smuggling contraband into the country. Costava is fairly simple-minded in his position in the game; he is unafraid of the guards of the country and empathizes with the player’s hard task before them, to the point where he even offers to give you fake passports to flee your own country, subsequently setting you up for one of the better of the twenty endings in Papers Please. If nothing else, Costava remains as a recurring presence that represents the hardships of your task, all for the glory of Arstotzka.
Well, that is it. All of these characters may receive their own entry into the series proper, but for now this little taste will have to suffice. I hope you all enjoyed the list though. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please leave them below or contact me via twitter @LinksOcarina. Until next time, guys, have a happy new year!