Thus, we arrive at the third entry of our series of the Top 10 Characters of every year from ’85 to 2010. If you’ve missed the excellent opening entries by Nazifpour and MotherKojiro, you can find those articles on the Top 10 Lists index page. They are most definitely worth a read.
As these lists are all part of a collaborative effort, it is important to remember that each of the authors agreed to a short catalog of ground rules. They are:

1) We take into account the following criteria for inclusion on our list: popularity of the character at the time of release, legacy of the character, the character’s impact on video game industry and innovation as a whole, and character development within the game (or series, if the character has garnered multiple games).

2) Only characters that debuted in a video game can be included on this list. Conversely, even if the character has been introduced in a game with an extended universe that was created outside of a game prior to the character’s introduction, that character can be included. A prime example of this is anyone from KOTOR, or the main characters from LotR: The Third Age.

3) The earliest date of release (whether Japanese, American, or European) is preferably the date we will use in respect to this list. If it is a multi-platform release with delays in between platforms, go with the earliest release again, regardless of the platform.

4) A character can appear in the series only once.
Without further ado, welcome to…

1987
The video game industry has begun to shape up into the competitive market for which it will become known. In ’86, Nintendo had released the Famicom Disc System (the Japanese forerunner to the NES), while Sega had entered the fray with the Sega Master System, inciting the beginning of a commercial turf war with Nintendo and others that would last until the demise of the Dreamcast. Meanwhile in the summer of ’87, Blockbuster had lost a lawsuit with Nintendo, forcing them to recall thousands of photocopied manuals included with game rentals – one of the earliest major anti-piracy lawsuits in gaming history. And near the end of the year, visionary Will Wright founded the integral developer Maxis, future creator of the Sims and SimCity.

Oh yeah, and there were some amazing characters as well. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Dave’s biggest contribution to the world of video gaming… is his death. Like Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination brought about World War I, Dave’s death kick-started something quite unique: the concept of permadeath in plot-driven video games. Only a couple games had utilized the concept of a lasting death in video games at all; mostly, games chose to categorize a permadeath as a “Game Over” situation. A few titles such as Ultima III would prevent players from reloading a save state prior to the character’s death; games such as these usually had additional outlets for a player to recruit new characters. However, Dave… Dave was a bit different.

Like the cast of any traditional horror B-movie, the protagonists of Maniac Mansion each provided their own unique set of traits and quirks. And just like any low-budget slasher film, these individuals could all die. However, it is traditionally accepted that an arbitrarily chosen “main protagonist” is given a free pass in this type of genre. Characters such as Dave are notable for their high success rate... Dave is a very noteworthy exception to this rule. The game will carry on without Dave, even though the original motivation of the brave protagonists stemmed from rescuing Dave’s cheerleader girlfriend. Not only did death create pathways to different results through each playthrough, but it enhanced the stature of other characters in the game. Permadeath is still almost a bad word in the video game community; MMORPGs would never be caught dead utilizing that functionality, and most other games easily gloss over death of protagonists unless it is mandated within the storyline. But the concept exists, and Dave was one of the first game characters to fall under its unforgiving fist.

Random Fact: While there are copious amounts of chainsaw fuel throughout Maniac Mansion, there is no chainsaw. Seriously, there’s not. Maybe if Dave hadn’t had to lag around useless ammo, he would’ve made it out alive.

Wonder Momo was a quite an oddity upon its release in Japan. For the time, the game was quite risqué. Momo is not the female star of this strange beat ‘em up arcade game, but actually the game features a young girl who develops super-powers while starring in a live stage adaptation depicting the real Momo. This girl repeatedly breaks the fourth wall from the moment the game is loaded, where she gifts the player an homage to the MGM opening sequence, where instead of a lion, Momo appears and gives a roar. Momo drops plenty of references to other pop culture phenomena throughout the game, as she battles faux robots and false blood-sucking flowers.

There are two main reasons that the actress portraying Momo deserves a place on this auspicious list: firstly, Momo is the first obvious Namco female heroine. Prior to Momo, the only other female protagonists on a Namco system were Ms. Pac-Man (who, let’s face it, is just Pac-Man with a bow), and a couple of Samus-like rip-offs that feature a heavily armored character who only turned out to be female in the accompanying manual. Early female characters were often disguised in this fashion in most games from this era; simply put, the detail necessary to adequately render a woman on these consoles was not available. It would be quite some time until female characters were able to stand on their own two feet while demonstrating their femininity in such a way that it was both unique and quasi-realistic. However, Momo exists here in 1987 as a pioneer for gal-gaming. Not only does she use Typhoon attacks to defeat zombies and hoop attacks to stop bosses, but she does so while wearing a mini-skirt and heels.

Secondly, Momo not only demonstrates many quite obvious female characteristics, but she revels in her feminine sexuality. Momo remains one of the harbingers for characters like Lara Croft and Joanna Dark, who are glorified for the womanly attractiveness the so blatantly flaunt in later titles. Momo was one of the first to cross the border of sex in gaming. When Momo uses a jump or jump attack, her panty line was visibly clear. One of the enemies of the game was a photographer in the audience who could stun Momo if he is able to get a picture while Momo’s aforementioned unmentionables are exposed. Even more adult-oriented were the images of Momo wearing only a towel that would often grace the stage curtain at the outset of each level. In fact, Namco was worried about these sexual images so much that they decided to cancel the release of Wonder Momo in America.

Random Fact: Momo makes a brief cameo in Baten Kaitos. And by brief, I mean that she appears on a playing card, not someone’s briefs. Although given Momo’s history, it wouldn’t be implausible for that to occur.

A protagonist who appears in several titles in the Phantasy Star series, Alis is a 15-year-old female whose quest begins when she witnesses the death of her brother. Alis is a traditional RPG hero; she utilizes swords, light armor, and healing magic. This sort of archetypal character had been used with limited success prior to the debut of Phantasy Star. But Alis is actually a benchmark character in the world of gaming. Instead of catering to the D&D system most frequently used in the RPGs of the time, Phantasy star introduced more sci-fi elements into a role-playing game universe dominated by swords and sorcery. The unique blend of those two genres meant that, naturally, the characters in the games would suffer some strange innovation. Surprisingly, this change would truly benefit the cast of the title, but the legacy of the series as well.

Alis is one of the first RPG characters to be given a unique voice and personality. When playing similar titles of the era (notably the original Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest), the main characters are either silent or given a very basic, non-descript style. Alis, however, was living on the edge; Phantasy Star not only utilized event cutscenes on a much more massive level than any other game prior to its release, but it also depicted its dungeons in a quasi-3-D layout. You literally couldn’t help but see Alis in a different view than any other protagonist of the time. The technical innovation helped propel the success of the Phantasy Star series, but Alis and developer Sega refused to rest on their respective laurels. Alis would go on to help maintain a continuity that rarely existed in the RPGs of the day. Very little connection exists between the titles of the Final Fantasy series; however, the life and exploits of Alis were not only repeatedly brought up as the series, but are given evolution and impact for the other games in the series. Rolf, the star of Phantasy Star II, is her descendant, for example. Alis’ exploits did not end as the oft-dreaded words “The End” crossed the screen. This makes for much more dynamic and engaging character. After all, gamers are more likely to replay prequel games when the impact from those games can be palpably felt in proceeding installments. Thanks to Alis, the concept of continuity found a solid ally.

Random Fact: Alis is mentioned or appears in seven later titles in the Phantasy Star series, which is six more sequels than Superman 64 warranted.

Final Fantasy is known for each of its installments being independent from one another. However, several concepts often creep their ways into each game, such as airships, characters named Cid and most notably… Bahamut.

Introduced in the original Final Fantasy, the King of Dragons is given a crucial role for the first time, giving players the first and only chance to upgrade their original class choices from the beginning of the game to something much more powerful. However, as each subsequent Final Fantasy has emerged, Bahamut has become much more powerful, much more deadly, and much more of a fan-favorite. By Final Fantasy III, Bahamut has become a character unbeatable at his first meeting with the main party. By FFIV, he is a powerful boss with numerous encounters throughout the game. By FFV, party members can earn Bahamut as a summonable power once they defeat him, and each subsequent game from FFV makes the summon of Bahamut even more menacing and devastating.

A character like Bahamut is extremely important to a list like this because of a perpetual endurance that relies primarily on the back of fan-support. Bahamut is part of the Final Fantasy gaming culture; any fan of Final Fantasy can recall several incarnations of Bahamut with nostalgic ease, as the King of Dragons has become an integral aide to every player’s FF experience. While protagonists like Cloud Strife or Squall Leonhart have come and gone, it is only a tertiary character like Bahamut that has been able to repeatedly break out of the Final Fantasy syndrome and move into each of the main series’ installments, evolving with each edition of FF. The character’s iconic status has even earned him cameos in several other non-Final Fantasy related titles, including the cult classic Super Mario RPG. Ultimately, Bahamut has made appearances on 97 million discs and cartridges, making him one of the most widely proliferated characters of all video games.

Random Fact: Bahamut does not appear as a character in FFXII, but instead is a name given to an airship in that installment of the series. Most likely, his absence is due to a falling-out during his contractual negotiations with Square Enix.

In the year 2633, only two men can stop the terrorist organization known as Red Falcon: neither of which realized that the bandana went out of style somewhere in the 1970s. Bill and Lance were two heroic muscle-sporting, gun-toting freedom fighters that starred in a game traditionally recognized to be one of the most difficult games to complete. The popularity of the game came not only from its difficulty, but from the uncommon integration of a multiplayer style, in which both Bill AND Lance could team-up to defeat the nemesis of Red Falcon. This interactivity truly gave personality to characters that would otherwise fade into the deluge of side-scrolling badasses that clogged up the shelves of many early game racks. You and a friend portrayed these two characters, whose vigilancy and persistence could only match your own. Could you will yourself to continue in the face of these over-powering odds? Could you convince your temporary comrade-at-controller to do the same? The characters’ unique sprites made them easily identifiable. Oftentimes, the only visible differentiation between Player 1 and 2’s avatars were minute palette variations, Player 1 being red and 2 taking blue. However, here were Bill and Lance, extremely inimitable from each other. The countless amounts of time two players would put in with their choice of Bill or Lance just further separated the characters from each other, creating an intertwining yet immutable personality that relied on both the game and the emotional interaction on the other end of the joystick to create a much more definable being.

Bill and Lance continued to team up together for three installments of the long-running Contra series, before Bill decided to break up the act in favor of a solo career. Bill continues to star in this enduring franchise, facing all sorts of enemies, from terrorists to aliens and even a malevolent Colonel named Bahamut (that dragon even wormed his way into Contra!). Of course, we’ll always fondly recall the days of 8-bit yore, when two rough-and-tumble resistance members fought against a nigh-omnipotent evil menace in what will always be one of the most frustrating games ever made.

Random Fact: Bill and Lance are a lot like Bill and Ted from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure; Bill/Keanu Reeves went on to have a successful career while Lance/Alex Winters faded into obscurity after a few sequels of lesser renown.

Persistency is a key to being an influential game character. Like a bad case of herpes, Leisure Suit Larry continues to flare up every now and again to offer us new outings full of Animal House-style shenanigans, replete with gratuity, semi-nudity and frivolity. Larry’s general modus operandi is to seduce attractive women, although this usually fails miserably. Larry became developer Sierra’s marquee name of the 80s and 90s, and thus he is still a recognizable name and face today. Larry was also extremely unique by continually pushing the envelope for raunchiness in the early 16-bit era. Looking back, one can see from where the pedigree for games like Conker’s Bad Fur Day comes.

Larry’s popularity would wane after several entries, owing his decreasing star power to a lack of new explicit content. Larry’s continuous ability to up the gratuitous ante in each installment had made Larry the top name for racy content; however as time went on, it became apparent that the originally saucy content Larry reveled in was not keeping in step with the more adult-themed games of later generations. Nevertheless, Larry is still remembered as one of the original contributors to the creation of the ESRB rating system.

Random Fact: Larry is originally based upon a friend of developer Al Lowe’s named Jerry. Not very subtle, Al.

Shadow Link, aka Dark Link, is the antithesis of all that is the protagonist character of the Legend of Zelda. A dark doppelganger of dubious derivation, this faux Link first appeared in Zelda II as the malevolent baddie who is the final test for Link to obtain the Triforce of Courage. However, the character’s popularity propelled him into several future installments of the Zelda franchise. Dark Link continued to menace his more colorful counterpart through six other entries in the series, and he is widely recognized as the inspiration for several similar silhouetted stalkers such as the Dark form of the Prince of Persia and the Cosmic counterpart to Mario in games such as Sunshine and Galaxy. The film version of Scott Pilgrim even makes a reference to Dark Link with the introduction of “Nega-Scott.”

Shadow Link is a very psychological entity. When you accept the role of Link by picking up the controller, you tacitly confer upon yourself all of the properties of said character, in effect making yourself Link. In that sense, Shadow Link is a twisted, warped mirror image of YOU. To do battle with yourself… to overcome all that is dark in your own soul… is that not a daunting task? Dark Link’s very existence makes every gamer ponder, if only for a moment, the duality of humanity that stems from those moral conundrums that plague the very base line of mankind. The beauty of Dark Link is his/its utter simplicity; while he is simply Link using only a black texture, he fulfills one of the major archetypes that Joseph Campbell presents in his seminal work “Man of a Thousand Faces”: facing ones inner demons. Without attempting to confer intimate knowledge of the player, Dark Link embraces the universally acknowledged tenet that all people are capable of both good and evil. Therefore, the duels with Dark Link provide every gamer a context to examine not only their skills as a gamer but also their worth as a human being.

Random Fact: Even though Dark Link is supposed to be a complete doppelganger of Link, in Ocarina of Time he can easily be walloped with the Megaton Hammer, owing to the fact that he is not in possession of one himself. Developer oversight or yet another example of the fact that Link is a dirty rotten cheater? You be the judge.

It’s difficult to sum up deep and effective characters such as Big Boss without either A) not doing them justice or B) spoiling the excellent games in which they appear. But suffice it to say, over the course of both the Metal gear franchise and more specifically the Metal gear Solid series, Big Boss’ history and personality became deeply-fleshed out aspects of a truly engrossing and unique character. Throughout the series, Big Boss would wear many hats: soldier, commander, political leader, sometimes-father, and much more. His morality was a deep and vague shade of gray that was fans of the series questioning whether he was a good guy or a bad guy to this very day. To attempt to sum up with ease the various aspects of his video game career would take thousands of words I just don’t have.

However, the popularity of Big Boss is not something that is at all in question. Starring in several Metal Gear games, both Solid and otherwise, Big Boss is a fan-favorite character who has left an indelible impression on one of the top-tier titles in gaming. Big Boss boasts a major role in arguably one of Sony’s two most enduring franchises. What else needs to be said?

Random Fact: Big Boss is fluent in both Russian and French. I have no idea why this is important.

Ryu is the star of the first Street Fighter game, and has arguably become THE marquee character for the franchise. He also appears in nearly every Capcom crossover game that has ever been made. Ryu just loves to fight, and fight he does. Through comic book adaptations, film remakes, animated TV revivals, and of course a plethora of video games, Ryu has been one of the most consistently-used characters in the fighting genre. He consistently is recognized by gaming critics with praise, garnering tons of goodwill and great reviews. In that sense, there is very little that needs to be said about Ryu’s impact on the gaming world.

However, what makes Ryu different from most characters on these lists is not some sort of unique personality but rather his easily identifiable demeanor. Ryu is at first sight a very nondescript character who only stands out due to his trademark white gi, the standard garb of a martial artist. For a gamer, a nondescript appearance makes it easier with which to identify. Naturally, that has helped propel the Street Fighter series from installment to installment. Designer Manabu Takamura has often stated that this is what makes Ryu an enduring character; without a more bland and universal appearance, it is harder to accept protagonists who aren’t customizable. Ryu is certainly not an outstanding design, but that is what makes him a good playable character… a lesson that designers of current-gen games should go back and relearn.

Random Fact: Ryu has appeared in every single Street Fighter-related game, comic, movie, and TV show… except Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. Which is good, because that movie was terrible.

In the year 20XX, robotics genius Dr. Thomas Light worked to create a humanoid robot (though in some direct translations he is referred to as a cyborg). This robot would demonstrate an advanced artificial intelligence program that would allow it to make decisions for itself based on stimulus and basic directions. He called the robot project "Robot Master", because the resulting robot would be able to supervise the work of other, less intelligent machines.

Thus the genesis for one of video games most enduring and prolific stars came about. Since then, he has become one of the Capcom's primary original characters and continues to be one of the video game industry's most recognizable icons. Having appeared on many gaming systems since the Nintendo Entertainment System, Mega Man has had a wide gaming audience, and his games continue to evolve with the ever-changing hardware demands of modern gaming systems. Mega Man, Mega Man X, Mega Man Battle Network, Mega Man Star Force, toys, collectibles, comics, anime, a cartoon series, and an upcoming live-action film… Mega Man is not one to rest on his laurels. His games have become speed-running staples; his weaponry has become the subject of heated debate (Which is best? Which is utterly useless?). There is very little about Mega Man that has been left unsaid.

Random Fact: Before settling on the Japanese appellation of Rockman, Mega Man went through several name phases including but not limited to Rainbow Man, Mighty Kid, Miracle Kid, Battle Kid and my personal favorite Rainbow Warrior Rock Kid.

That about does it for 1987. The next stop on this walk down Memory Lane will be brought to you by the incomparable MotherKojiro, creator of some truly excellent Top 10s. See you all in’88.

List by scarletspeed7 (02/11/2011)

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