The emperor is dead! Long live the emperor! Bethesda began a new generation of consoles by effectively and definitively killing off the trappings of the previous generation, and that meant the end to the reign of one of the most effective and successful rulers in video game history. The early years of Uriel Septim's reign had seen the Cyrodiilic Empire aggressively expand its consolidation of power through the Black Marsh and, more importantly, the province of Morrowind. He was supremely successful in developing not only political strength in these far-reaching regions, but also using his agile mind to make strong economic ties with companies such as the East Empire Trading Company as well as major families of power such as the House Hlaalu.
Following a period of time spent in the realm of Oblivion as well as in the clutches of evil mage Jagar Tharn (see Elder Scrolls: Arena), Uriel brought about a Pax Romana-like period of peace and prosperity to formerly unruly areas such as Hammerfell, Wayrest and Orsinium (this can be read about in the classic in-game book "The Warp in the West"). By the year 433, Uriel had reigned 55 years and by the beginning of Elder Scrolls IV, had begun the final hours of his life. The opening moments of this epic, continent-spanning game are spent frantically following Uriel while on the run in the bowels of the Imperial Prison. Desperately fighting for his survival even in the face of the inevitability of fate, it is the Emperor who sets up the entirety of the game for you. It is his decades of graceful and wise rule that have created modern Tamriel, and it is his death that sets you on the path towards greatness.
A leader with as much grandeur in death as in life, Uriel's murder at the hands of assassins is only the start to one of the most ambitious video games in modern history. Voiced with the incomparable attention to detail of Patrick Stewart, Uriel is stalwart yet weary, passionate and yet graying. The very image of "heavy lies the head that wears the crown" is embodied in his appearance and demeanor. And, as the fifth Elder Scrolls game demonstrates, there are few men great enough to step into his shoes, resulting in a great Empire in the image of Roman excellence declining into a frail husk of its former glory. Uriel is ultimately a major force in a minor role; his life and death become inextricably intertwined with Tamriel, influencing the entirety of a franchise through his very presence.
Jobasha's Rare Books Trivia: Many of Uriel's lines in the fourth Elder Scrolls game are derived from Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," such as "Seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come." Ides of March, anyone?
Marcus Fenix is to Gears of War as Master Chief is to Halo. Both men stand as vital foundations on which their franchises have grown. Can you make a Halo without Master Chief? Yes. A Gears without Marcus? Yeppers. But at some point, the legions of addle-minded, trigger-happy fans will demand their darling battlemasters return, armed to the death and thirsty for vengeance on nasty ugly baddies.
Marcus' life is chronicled throughout the Gears series as one chock full obstacles to overcome. Assaulted by both the enemy and his own military hierarchy, Marcus spends nearly as much time on the battlefield as in a jail cell; the school of hard knocks is something Marcus wouldn't bat an eyelash at so much as swing a bat at. Constantly in a struggle to restore his own reputation as well as find his father (Doctor Adam Fenix), Marcus finds his troubles compounded by major world-threatening menaces such as the Locust and the Lambent. Marcus finds himself taken from a jail cell to the command of an entire squadron of soldiers has the world crumbles around him, and it takes his classic video gaming persona of "no guts, no glory" to turn things around for not only himself but the entire world. It's the classic archetype told time and time again: the most personal goals are inextricably intertwined with the broadest of common desires: finding your father is naturally bound with saving the world, and naturally your reputation can only be restored by detonating a light-mass bomb. But subtlety is not one of Marcus Fenix's strong suits.
The debut of Marcus marks us a major milestone (see what I did there?) in the direction of gaming storytelling. Games with mass appeal must cater to a more bloodthirsty crowd seeking the brutality brought by the advent of Halo for the first Xbox. Gone are the days of implied violence and shocking moments without gratuity. Marcus is a typical American gaming icon: loud, impetuous, prone to weapon usage... who's to say whether this is good or bad? It just is.
More Facts to RAAM Down Your Throat: Marcus is voiced by John DiMaggio, who also portrayed Wakka in Final Fantasy X. Wakka... Marcus Fenix. Wakka.......Marcus Fenix. Let that sink in for a moment.
Roxas is Nobody special.
All right, with that out of the way, let's get down to business. After the runaway success of the original Kingdom Hearts, Square and Disney had virtually no choice other than to pull out the hair gel and create a new spiky-haired star to hack, slash and unlock with a Keyblade. Naturally, this Sora-alike became massively popular and ultimately grew out of the shadow of Sora to become one of the most popular characters in the Square stable. In fact, despite his relatively small role at the beginning of KH2, fan response immediately demonstrated to series director Tetsuya Nomura that Roxas' story was well-executed enough to sustain a game devoted entirely to more backstory.
It's likely that Roxas is popular simply because he is a likeable kid. There is no secret sauce of success involved in Roxas' creation. The character is fundamentally a nice guy in a pretty dark and depressing situation. Despite fate dealing him a pretty crappy hand, Roxas has survived in the franchise due to his charisma (as well as his Square-patented hair). A recent Famitsu fan poll ranked him in the Top 50 most popular video game characters, while GameSpy ranked him high on a similar fan-voted list, and this level of popularity suggests that Square tapped into a great line of storytelling around a well-designed character; much like Zack Fair from Final Fantasy VII, the inevitable doom that is always present in Roxas' prequel tales simply enhances these games with elements of inevitable tragedy.
Gamers, like readers of books and watchers of film, fall for archetype. The tragic heroes of yore, from Jason to Beowulf to John Henry, have always garnered the sympathy of readers through empathic heart-ache. Roxas carries on the tradition of noble spirit in ignoble circumstances, doomed to repeat the mistakes of yesteryear that are prevalent throughout literature. This gives him the essential ingredient necessary to go from good game character to great.
Ansem's Report Trivia: Roxas is voiced by Grammy and Emmy nominated actor/singer Jesse McCartney who also voices Robin on Cartoon Network's Young Justice. Robin and Roxas are much more logically related than Marcus Fenix and Wakka. Seriously. Marcus Fenix... and Wakka.
The first, most notable thing you learn about Frank West is that he "covered wars, you know." This of course completely explains why Frank is in the middle of Podunksville, Colorado, on the hot tip of absolutely nobody to cover a story he has no idea about. Okay, so Frank's setup into the world of Dead Rising isn't exactly rock-solid character work, but at least he is a veteran of foreign press coverage. When he touches down on the roof of the Williamette Mall, players aren't sure whether to shrug off Frank's irritatingly overambitious, cocky demeanor or just mute the cutscenes. But Frank's personality is a slow burn, and by the time zombies have killed the first few survivors, Frank and his ability to utilize anything as a weapon endear themselves into gamers' hearts forever.
And when we say "utilize everything," we mean ANYTHING. Running around the mall, every store is a zombie-killing paradise, whether Frank's in a Jack Nicklaus mood and ready to take out a five iron, a Capcom-ish frame of mind and prepped to cap every zombie with a Servbot mask, or whatever contents the player's bloodlust. Frank is the ultimate boy scout, always being prepared with anything capable of slicing and dicing, bludgeoning and beating, pureeing and sautéing, whacking and whipping, poking and prodding, shooting and sniping, drilling and killing... and on top of that, his camera is always in hand to snap that perfect photo of some wannabe model in front of a lingerie store infested with the undead.
Frank's appeal may not seem apparent at first, but fan appeals to Capcom were so prevalent that DR2 star Chuck Greene soon found himself in DLC saddled with the ever-obstreperous Frank. Not long after that, Frank usurped the starring role from Chuck in Dead Rising 2: Off the Record. Only a truly excellent character can outright steal the starring role from another character and slap his face on the box without hardly changing any of the game's content and make sales out of it. But remember this: Frank's covered wars, you know. Stealing a game is like taking Zombrex from a baby.
Otis' Tip: Frank is quickly becoming the Kevin Bacon of video gaming. After appearing in DR, he quickly made his way into several different Capcom fighting games including "Tatsunoko vs. Capcom" and "Marvel vs. Capcom 3." He also appeared in "Lost Planet 2" and even somehow found a way to spraypaint a message to Otis onto a wall in "Left 4 Dead 2." This makes it possible to connect Frank to Tony Hawk in 2 steps, Mario in 4, and Darth Vader in 5. Not bad for a 6-year-old.
Lucas starts off as a whiny brat who you'd be crazy not to hate when you first wrap your mitts around "Mother 3." Before chapter four of the game, nearly every other character is much more interesting and engrossing than the striped-shirted crybaby you're forced to put up with: Duster, Flint, Hinawa... even Boney is cooler than Lucas. But there is a great level of maturity that begins to blossom once Lucas battles the Pigmask Army. This maturity really turns Lucas into a dynamic character with real, adult emotions and needs, creating an excellent rite of passage tale complete with a fetch quest of epic proportions (Seven Needles) and big baddies and mysterious menaces in tow (Porky and the Masked Man).
But these battles aren't joyous moments of victory, necessarily. Every step of the way, Lucas finds bits and pieces of truth about himself, his friends and the world around him that lead him to sad but realistic understandings about the nature of things. And without being a callous spoil-jerk, not everyone walks away from the ending feeling good that evil is defeated.
Lucas is unique on this list as the one character who has not had a starring role in an American-released game. Sure, he appears in Brawl, but alongside such icons as Mario and Link, great gems like Lucas tend to get lost in the shuffle (especially when a great number of Smash-fans dismiss you as a "Ness-clone"). There are fan translations of Mother 3 that can be found online, but the fact of the matter is that some truly exciting characters get lost in the shuffle. It's a cruel, harsh truth that we as gamers must accept. But if you can scrounge up that fan translation, you'll be treated to a fascinating journey of growth, both inside and out.
WELCOME TO MOTHER3 WORLD: Lucas, despite not appearing until the Game Boy Advance in 2006, actually was in the development for the game as early as 1994 on the Super Famicom (the SNES to you less-cultured readers). The game bounced from console to console for over a decade (even being branded at one point as "Earthbound 64"), until it finally appeared on GBAs in Japan.
#5: Bully (PS2)
A great top ten writer recently wrote an excellent entry on Jimmy Hopkins for a list entitled "The Top 10 Video Game Characters Whose Names Begin with the Letter J." I strain to recall who wrote it, but I believe that it still rings true for this list. Okay, so it was me, but here is the gist of it:
At first, Jimmy appears to be a cardboard cutout of a character; a young boy with a troubled home life, he's quite reminiscent of a character from The Outsiders, but with less originality. However, as the game takes shape, it becomes obvious that the situations Jimmy finds himself in are not motivated by greed or ruthlessness but rather a desire to protect. The game frequently features him in situations where he is outclassed; frequently Jimmy is cited as being less intelligent, less handsome, less athletic than his fellow classmates. However, this seems to do little to soften his resolve, as Jimmy becomes quite literally the king of Bullworth Academy in his effort to prevent the sort of bullying he appeared to support when the game began.
Jimmy is unique; ill-mannered, he comes off abusive to all of his classmates. But as the game progresses, this appears to be more of a superficial part of his nature as he is always quick to go out of his way in efforts to help anyone, from the nerds to the jocks, so long as it is in the interest of preventing major amounts of bullying. Jimmy is an interesting contradiction and a hidden gem of a character that can be easy to quickly dismiss.
From the standpoint of game development, Jimmy was a refreshing change from Rockstar's more adult-themed games. While not entirely without controversy, "Bully" actually promotes an anti-classist, anti-elitist moral to its story that would be a welcome mindset for many students who find themselves facing real-life bullying in their own schools. Jimmy is not necessarily Rockstar's greatest creation, but perhaps its most noble in heart if not in actions.
Bullworth Yearbook Notes: Noted anti-gaming activist Jack Thompson famously compared "Bully" to both the Columbine massacre and the Iran-Contra crisis in court. This is patent nonsense; neither of those tragedies involved egging girls' dormitories.
The story of "Okami" is a love letter to the wonderfully rich legends of Japanese mythology, and Ammy is the crux of storytelling throughout the game, helping the developers paint a breathtaking tale of sacrifice, faith and virtue. As a goddess trapped in canine form, Amaterasu also takes on the most unusual qualities of both an immortal deity and a quite mortal wolf, resulting in one of the most unique personalities in video gaming history. Despite being forced into a form that prevents speech, Ammy's body language and facial expressions build a character that is funny, adorable and ultimately enduring. Amaterasu will fall asleep if game dialogue takes too long, and she will get very offended if other characters are insulting towards her. It's the paradox of the being trapped in such a humble form that plays on what we see in Ammy; her human-like characteristics are similar to the personification we put on our own pets. Only this time, these more evolved behaviors are actually part of the animal character.
Amaterasu drew a short stick in initial game sales, as "Okami" ultimately took several years to really gain the following it deserves. As time goes on, more and more people bear witness to the immutable truth that "Okami" is one of the most original and artistic games of this generation. Amaterasu's role, as well as her most notable in-game ability (the paintbrush technique), only served to compound this originality and artistic merit. Few games come close to the design level that sets "Okami" apart from the rest of the herd. Ultimately, Amaterasu does not need to rely on the highest definition of graphics, with Unreal engines and radiant AI; rather, she is a hand-drawn character bringing back long-forgotten fables to an increasingly historically-illiterate tech-centered present.
Powers Slashed?: Amaterasu's original concept art depicted her transforming through a variety of different animal forms, including a falcon and a dolphin. However, this was scrapped well before completion.
Zelda has a long history of jerks who constantly pester and harass you with useless trivia about boss fights and plot progression that make you want to rip of their fairy wings and pin them to a bulletin board. Consider Navi, a character fondly reviled for her non-stop "Heys," "Looks," and "Listens!" Of course, those who thought it couldn't get any worse were in for a rude awakening with the most irritating combo meal of sibling stupidity ever with Tatl and Tael. It was two annoying buzzing brats for the price of one. Then came the long-winded creaky old rink-a-dink King of Red Lions, who could drone on longer than it would take to find the Triforce pieces blindfolded without a Treasure Chart. And to top it all off, even the handheld Zeldas weren't safe - a squawking hat literally overshadowed your every move, blathering constantly about miniscule issues and minute problems.
The advent of the GameCube and the dawn of Wii brought about a brand-new version of the Zelda companion, however. Here was an adorable and mischievous little sprite who actually provided in-game use, whether it be a glowing orange arm of aid or a giant Tron-esque portal that dropped bridges into canyons. Midna was an ancillary character in a Zelda game that actually mattered, and what's more, she was likable. At first, Midna's lies of omission paint her as an unlikely freedom fighter from an alternate existence, but the truth grows to be far more interesting, as Link grows more and more entangled in the lives of both her and Princess Zelda. Her acerbic wit and intricate personality served to move the plot of Twilight Princess forward on a path that no previous of Zelda game had taken. In many ways, she was the mercurial Yang to Link's more laconic Yin, an opposites-attract situation that shouldn't be underestimated.
By the end of "Twilight Princess," Midna has gone from a brash, sarcastic imp to a layered, tragic figure with real heart and courage. It's difficult to say good-bye when the credits begin to roll, and that is the ultimate sign of character success in video gaming. Given her sizable fanbase (despite only ever appearing in one game), the future seems bright for this minion of darkness.
Midna's Lament: Midna was the most requested newcomer for "Super Smash Bros. Brawl" (excluding Sonic, a third party character). However, she never made it into the game, except through a couple trophies and stickers.
Every iteration of Final Fantasy provides gamers with a fan-favorite character, and in FFXII... it wasn't Penelo.
The most articulate character to ever appear in the Final Fantasy series, Balthier stole the show from the typical teenage-male character with unusually-sculpted hair and a depressingly large chip on his shoulder. Instead, Balthier's constant cynicism, extreme self-centeredness, and overly cunning wit ran away with the hearts of legions of PS2 veterans in what is easily the most sprawling story of any FF game to date. Despite the story of Final Fantasy XII being told from Vaan's perspective, it is Balthier who seems to have his hand in most of the major goings-on from throughout Ivalice. From his unusual parentage to his strong partner-bond with Fran, Balthier consistently provides both entertainment and insight. Of course, from a self-proclaimed "leading man," one would expect the whole kid and kaboodle.
There is naturally more to Balthier than meets the eye; in many ways, Balthier is reminiscent of Han Solo from Star Wars; the sky pirate life is akin to the space smuggler career, the outwardly cunning but hardened exterior belying the fundamentally noble spirit that has been successfully tucked away for quite some time. Balthier is a supremely successful character in not only flawlessly playing into a well-regarded archetype, but also providing clean, logical reasons for plot progression and filling holes in the team's character that would be left otherwise gaping. FFXII could not exist without Balthier, much less be the massive world-building exercise that it is. A large game requires players become intimate with one or more of its leads, lest the grander world outside turn stale with player apathy. It's an important and oft-glossed over fact in gaming: the core of the game comes down to two things - character and story. And story can't exist without strong characterization. Ultimately, Balthier proves to be the most adept roleplaying character of the current generation in both character and plot.
Rare Hunt: Balthier shares his last name, Bunansa, with Mustadio and Besurdio Bunansa from Final Fantasy Tactics. Given the already well-known connection between the two games, it is quite possible that Balthier is a distant ancestor to them.
Immersion is the ultimate goal of video gaming. After all, entertainment in general is geared toward escapism; what better way to create a virtual reality than to create a scenario where the player is simply a part of the game itself? Instead of taking control of a nameless protagonist, the reins handed to the player drive a pixelated version of said gamer within the game itself. The Wii crashed through new frontiers by creating the Mii, the first cross-game fully customizable character based entirely on the player's username and appearance.
It may not seem like such a major step forward; after all, customization has been full-bore since "The Sims" (and you should look back at the Top 10 Archives to read this series' entry on that game). Other games also had highly customizable main characters that could be tailored to any specification a player desired, but with the dawn of the Wii, the concept of a player-character spread to multi-game usage. Suddenly, you were attached to your name and appearance. From Wii Sports to Mario Kart Wii to Mario Party to Wii Fit... you could continue to play as yourself. And it hasn't stopped at the Wii, either; with the release of the 3DS your Mii could become a part of that handheld's main features. With the upcoming WiiU, Nintendo is looking to make the Mii usage even more prevalent, drawing you even further into the games you play.
It doesn't stop with Nintendo either. Both Sony and Microsoft have championed the idea of the Mii in their own unique, copyright and trademarked way. Most notably, the Xbox 360 has developed the avatar, which has greatly changed the way Mii-type characters are used. With tons of fully customizable options, avatars can be extremely tailored to look like whatever the player desires. With more communication on consoles outside of games, players routinely run into the avatars of their friends, and these avatars have quickly become short-hand images that represent players. Instead of a name, you often seek the face instead.
The question of "Are these really game characters?" is surely crossing your mind. That's okay; it definitely brings up real questions about the future of stories in video gaming. Are regular characters being pushed aside in favor of this more customizable experience? It could happen. However, many of the greatest games are intensely story-driven; the ability to create memorable characters is of paramount importance to writers and developers, meaning that the odds of seeing a full-scale change in the way we play games isn't necessarily in the cards. But you can be sure that eventually, your avatar will be in the pocket under center in future Madden installments, and your Mii will be at the helm of a jet ski in the next Wave Race.
Mii64?: During the days of the Nintendo 64, and the development of the Nintendo 64DD, serious work was produced on a possible avatar maker by Talent Studio. However, due to the 64DD's failure it was put on hold. When the e-reader debuted in 2002, progress was made for the Game Boy Advance's own version of an avatar. Ultimately, both versions found bits and pieces in the development of the Mii. Luckily, in no version of the Nintendo avatar was it ever voiced by Wakka.
Love it or hate it, that's the list. And if you love it, stop by the Top Ten forum here on Gamefaqs to let us know! If you hate it, feel free to stop by the forums of a different website and link this Top 10, so we can at least get more hits. Next up, Eesgooshee is back with a vengeance to bring you the Top 10 of '07. This is scarletspeed7, and that was the year that was in 2006.
List by scarletspeed7 (07/13/2012)
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