Whether you prefer hyper-stylised icons like Mario and Sonic, complex and relatable people-alikes such as Arthur Morgan or Ellie Williams, or those in between like Kratos or Aloy, the pantheon of video game characters is an embarrassment of riches for anyone contemplating the ‘best’.
Nonetheless that’s the challenge we set our community of veteran gamers, and as we’ve come to expect, their taste and expertise shone through. What follows is a non-exhaustive list of their favourite characters in this brilliant pantheon, some that you might expect, and other underappreciated deep cuts that you might not - an eclectic yet authoritative mix as only a community could produce. Read on!
Geralt of Rivia - The Witcher
@avrona gets us started with a classic. “I’ve always liked Geralt,” he says, referring to the professional monster hunter and title character of The Witcher series of RPGs. Adapted from the fantasy novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, CD Projekt Red’s first Witcher game released in 2007, but it was 2015’s outstanding The Witcher III: Wild Hunt that brought Geralt to wider attention - and won him a devoted fan and live-action actor in Henry Cavill.
No matter the medium, Geralt of Rivia is “sharp-witted, cynical, and has a more mercenary attitude than most of the big heroes in games.” For Avrona, it’s this tension between Geralt’s duty - he’s motivated by his “mission and place in the world” - and his “almost misanthropic” personality that’s so intriguing.
Garrus Vakarian - Mass Effect
BioWare’s original Mass Effect series is an enduring triumph of character writing. Not only do the characters themselves live long in the memory, but so does the delicious chemistry between them. In a crowd of worthy contenders, it’s Garrus who “takes the crown” in @scrbzy’s eyes, for many reasons “beyond the fact that he’s a grade-A badass.”
BioWare had ample time to flesh out his character across the three games, provided you recruit him in the first place. During my first playthrough, he was the only constant. Experiencing his growth through our shared adventures, eventually becoming my character Commander Shepard’s best friend, was a truly joyful experience.
Scrbzy refers to the much-loved shooting contest in Mass Effect 3, Garrus and Shepard’s last hangout before confronting an apocalyptic threat. They’re there to finally settle the question of who’s the best shot, and there’s plenty of banter to be given or taken depending on the outcome. It’s one of the best bonding scenes in gaming, and feels doubly authentic if you’ve been through three games’ worth of adventures together. “I always choose to miss on purpose; Garrus rinsing Shepard is never not funny to me,” says Scrbzy.
On a more technical note, Brandon Keener nailed his part as Garrus’s voice actor, and his character design is sleek. I sincerely hope he makes a return in the next instalment of the Mass Effect series—forever my wingman and best friend.
Balthier - Final Fantasy XII
Final Fantasy XII is, as @LetitiaTHELemon points out, “one of the more underrated” entries in the legendary JRPG series. Part of this is probably due to high expectations - each of its five immediate predecessors are all-time greats - and XII took a lot of risks.
History has been kind to it, however, as has its Zodiac Age re-release, and more players are coming to appreciate its many qualities. One of these qualities is Balthier, a “suave and silver-tongued charmer”, to borrow Letitia’s words, who is widely recognised as FFXII’s breakout character and “dominates the game” as soon as he arrives.
He’s a very complex character with a troubled past, but he never lets that past define who he is. As the game progresses you learn more about who he is and why he is that way. His voice actor, the talented Gideon Emery, expresses these depths extremely well. While sometimes flirting with the wrong side of the law, he has a good and noble heart as any ‘leading man’ - which he claims to be several times - should. A lot of thought and care went into crafting Balthier and that’s what makes him so iconic - more so than the actual main character of the game (sorry Vaan).
Our resident Final Fantasy superfan Lanah Tyra endorses Letitia’s nomination here, saying “he’s one of my favourite FF characters as well!” What more testimony do you need?
Emet-Selch - Final Fantasy XIV
@lanah_tyra’s own pick is, with ever-delightful consistency, another Final Fantasy character, but it’s a bit of a curveball. “Instead of some childhood favourites I’ve picked a recent one,” she says: Emet-Selch from Final Fantasy XIV. “Emet-Selch is one of those epic villains you both love to hate and hate to love - who you can’t help but feel sorry for.”
Spoiler warning: if you play FFXIV and haven’t completed Shadowbringers yet, you might want to skip ahead to the next entry.
Even though we know he’s our enemy and he doesn’t try to deny it, he joins us on our adventure as an observer. He’s one of the few Ascians who remembers the world as it was before it got split into 14 shards. Through him we learn why they’re trying to rejoin the shards and make the world whole again, even if it means destroying life on it as we know it.
When we walk through the illusory city he built to remember the old world, the realisation hits that he has lost everything and would do anything to see his loved ones again… and wouldn’t we all do the same? There were a few moments in this game which made me cry; I didn’t expect his final words to be among them: “Remember us. Remember that we once lived.”
The God King / Raidriar - Infinity Blade
Finally, we’ve got a real connoisseur’s pick from @tyrannosaur. “Before Epic Games created Fortnite they had the coolest game on iOS”, he says. That game was Infinity Blade, the first iOS game on Unreal Engine, and the fastest-grossing app in the history of iOS upon its release. Fantasy author Brandon Sanderson wrote two novellas set between its sequels, fleshing out the world and its villain, The God King. Here’s Philip on why The God King is his pick, but do note that there are spoilers ahead for the Infinity Blade books and games:
A man named Uriel developed a technology that made immortality possible. When his son Jori was hit in a car accident, he gave up his opportunity for immortality to save his son’s life. Jori lost all his memories and was reborn as the Deathless Raidriar, The God King. Unaware of his own origins, Raidriar embraced his godhood and was corrupted by the power.
As the game’s protagonist, Siris, you defeat the God King with his own weapon - the Infinity Blade - but it turns out you’ve just unleashed “a greater evil” that he was containing. Siris and Raidriar then set aside their mutual hatred and work together to stop “the Worker of Secrets from destroying the world, and in the end Raidriar sacrifices his own life to distract the Worker and give Siris a chance to succeed.” For Philip, Raidriar is memorable for these plot twists in Sanderson’s novels, which show this “evil” video game villain in “a whole different light.”
Some text has been amended for brevity. You can find the original wording at the bounty post. Which is your favourite video game character and why? Let us know in the comments and remember them for the next time we run this bounty!