Fighting game characters can have some of the most diverse designs of any video game genre, but more often than we’d like, there are a lot of similarities. Ken Masters is one of the original characters from the Street Fighter series, whose only goal has been to test himself and become stronger. Ryo Sakazaki first appeared in Art of Fighting, and later became a staple of the King of Fighters franchise. Both have blond hair and wear an orange gi, a rather uninspired design, which is what places them so low on the list. They fit the archetype of the standard character in a fighting game, which dresses down and uses traditional techniques. Most of these characters are designed in such a way as to cash in on the popularity of kung fu movies, stars like Bruce Lee, and the public conception of martial arts.
Who wore it best: Ryo Sakazaki While the design itself is rather bland in comparison to the imaginative looks of characters from fighting games, Ryo pulls it off just a bit better because of the relative uniqueness in his own fighting series. I don’t want to imply that Ken is little more than a palette swap of Ryu (and that Dan is the same in regards to both of them), because I know how many enthusiasts would be quick to silence me for such an accusation, but the fact remains that there are other, very similar characters wearing a gi in Street Fighter. Both game series have a breadth of imaginative fighters in their rosters, so any designs that are similar to others within the same game are a cause for concern. Neither Ken nor Ryo stands out from the pack as interesting or well-crafted from a visual standpoint, so the medal has to go to the one who has less to blend into.
A girl in the middle ages would probably be expected to wear a dress of some sort, in order to display her femininity, right? Not these two! Marle puts away the princess gown in Chrono Trigger and picks up the crossbow after acting as the catalyst to begin the entire time traveling adventure. Primm is named whatever you want to call her, and has little back-story other than mastering a slew of weapons to fight to restore the Mana Sword in Secret of Mana. Both gals tore a page from the book of medieval tomboys and raided M.C. Hammer’s closet for a pair of ridiculously puffy pants. Both also wear a strapless top and keep their blond hair in a practical, yet unflattering, high ponytail. While Marle is dressed primarily in white, Primm opts for a pink color scheme, and their similarities also lose a few points since both came from Square games.
Who wore it best: Primm Both girls are exceptionally similar, not only in static appearance but in movement and gesture. What sets Primm above is on the face of it a trivial matter, but nevertheless an important factor of character design and game design overall. Primm’s design is more congruent with her counterparts, and see is part of a more homogenous mixture of design between the three main characters of Secret of Mana. This is not to say anything negative about Chrono Trigger’s character design; in fact, the widely different characters in that game are a measure of its strength. But with steam punk robots and frog men, Marle by consequence looks much less interesting. By contrast, the other characters in Secret of Mana aren’t exceptionally different or interestingly designed, which means that the simple garb worn by Primm looks better. When everyone is somewhat understated, the simple things pop a lot more.
There are plenty of soldiers in video games that we can say look alike, and that’s the cost of everybody needing to wear the same clothes. But most of those guys are using firearms; how many soldiers are doing something principally unrelated to military operations, and lookin’ good at the same time? Guile is a soldier in the United States Air Force, and spends his free time creating fun theme songs and working hot metal over his hair. Lt. Surge is apparently also an American soldier, and is a key player in making Pokémon really confusing in how it relates to the real world for some reason. Both have camouflage cargo pants with what I can only assume are military issue boots, wear green tank tops to remind us that they have arms, and have blond hair with what I must admit are notably different cuts. The tank top is the reason I specifically compare Guile to the HeartGold/SoulSilver Lt. Surge, since this iteration bears the most resemblance.
Who wore it best: Guile Guile represents the ultimate American soldier, the one we see in movies and read about in books who is the best not because he follows orders, but because he is a renegade. He represents a very Japanese view of a very American hero, and it makes him just quirky enough to be quite endearing. It’s fun to see what the guys on the island think about what the guys in the States think. But really, it seems Guile has to win, because Lt. Surge’s ties to the U.S. military are quite suspect. He says he fought in the war and was saved by his electric Pokémon, but in all of my studies in U.S. history, I am yet to locate this war in which biological weapons were used, apparently to great effect. The rest of the Pokémon series kind of abandons this relation to the real world, and it makes it awkward when Lt. Surge shows up as this war hero in a pristine civilization where ten-year-old children can topple evil empires. I think he’s just impersonating an officer, which is a court marshal offense and an affront to all for which Guile stands.
Normally it’s safe to assume that a predominantly secondary color scheme is indicative of a villain, but in the case of these two characters, it simply makes one a savage, sub-human monster. Blanka made his first appearance in Street Fighter II, where he filled the role of crazy-looking savage man for those of us who find themselves drawn away from straight-laced martial artists and towards interesting, albeit sometimes goofy, hyperbolic fighters. Rico comes from Xenogears, where he is the demi-human alpha dog of a prison fight club until he joins the party and essentially drops out of the story altogether. Both are rather large, muscle bound, monstrous men who use hand-to-hand combat skills against their foes (that is to say, no weapons, such as swords or guns). But the features that truly stand out on both are their green skin and their wildly large, spiky orange hair. Their clothing is slightly different, but those physical features are bold enough to easily draw comparison between the two.
Who wore it best: Blanka Neither of these characters has specific reason to be green with orange hair above all other color combinations, but Blanka adds more to his game than Rico to Xenogears, and so has more of an impact by being so different. Blanka embraces his design as something less than human, and it’s echoed in his fighting style and overall gesturing, as evidenced by his stance and facial expression. Rico may as well not be green or have crazy hair, since he still acts the same as any normal person, right down to his wrestling-type battling. If I’m going to see a guy who looks totally wild, I want his personality to reflect that, and where Blanka brings a lot to the table to support his design choice, Rico is just boring. Not to mention that green skin is likely to draw comparisons to the Hulk, so it seems pertinent not to ignore that similarity but to embrace it, emphasizing the similarities between the two so as to note the differences. Blanka is both similar enough and different enough from that iconic character to become iconic himself.
This entry is exciting, because not only do we have a character from a game that looks like one from another, we have a pair of each! Alyssa Hamilton is the schoolgirl protagonist of Clock Tower 3, and faces off against Lord Burroughs in an extraordinary costume-change-off (and I guess they fight, too). Cervantes and Sophitia are recurring characters in the Soul franchise, fighting for the causes of evil and good, respectively. Lord Burroughs and Cervantes both have a suave, 16th century pirate getup, complete with a period inappropriate giant sword and flowing cape. Alyssa and Sophitia have in common, at least at some point, a white linen wrap reminiscent of ancient Greeks, as well as righteous sandals and circular clasps. And these pairs have cause to fight each other in their respective games, meaning that not only do they look similar as individuals, but as combatants.
Who wore it best: Cervantes and Sophitia I’m not entirely familiar with the Clock Tower franchise, or even the Soul franchise for that matter, but I do know that for the majority of Clock Tower 3, Alyssa is not dressed as a Greek goddess. She’s usually dressed as a schoolgirl, which really isn’t that big of a shift on the spectrum of teenage boy fantasy from toga lady. Sophitia engages with Greek gods, and has more purpose to dressing the way she does, even though it may be hyper-sexualized. Fighting games are expected to be crass in their depictions of the female form, but survival horror needs to be more identifiable with a sole possible protagonist as opposed to a character select screen. Cervantes also has a more interesting design, because “pirate captain” tends to lend itself more towards an elaborate and swashbuckling appearance. That’s not to say that Lord Burroughs is meant to be a pirate, but if he wanted to have a better character design, he would have considered the profession. When considering each pair as a whole, the Soul couple, by default of being featured in a fighting game, has a more aesthetically pleasing battle when compared to the understandably lachrymose portrayal found in Clock Tower, or any survival horror game. The nature of the genres they hail from gives fighters an edge over survivors.
Sometimes gamers are treated to a well-developed female character with a design that makes her relatable and human, which can make them feel like a hero or someone the player actually wants to be. Other times they could look like these two. Samus Aran typically wears a power suit that gives her a unique look and a boatload of abilities, but in Metroid: Zero Mission, she lost the suit for a time and had to recover it in a skin-tight leather ensemble. Jill Valentine also wears different clothes when given the option, but in Resident Evil 5, receives a drug that gives her the desire to wear trashy jumpsuits and dyes her hair a different color. Both wear extremely small blue leather bodysuits with built in platform heels, have blond hair tied into a ponytail, and are generally posed with their lower body quartering away while their upper body turns towards the foreground, so as to give ample view of their buttocks and the side of their breasts.
Who wore it best: No one. Honestly, both of these women are characters that are already developed outside of these ridiculous outfits, and are only put into them for random sex appeal. Samus’ suit is part of what made her a powerful female figure, because playing as Samus wasn’t about playing as a woman, it was about playing as a fearless bounty hunter who could brave the direst of circumstances and blow them up. And Jill… well, she was already sexualized into miniskirts and tube tops, so why change veins when you already know that this same design exists on another, probably more recognizable character? Honestly, it was the blond hair on Jill Valentine that did it for me, because it seemed so unnecessary and out of place, only to have no rational explanation and no mention within the game or in the greater universe. There was no reason for Jill to be dressed the same as Samus without her space gear. I almost gave Samus the commendations by default, since her games are set in a future or alternate reality where perhaps suits are designed that way for a particular purpose, but the platform shoes? Those aren’t helping anyone, ladies.
Men with long white hair are not in short supply in the video game world, but those that can dress elegantly at the same time are not as easy to come by. Setzer is the airship piloting gambler who makes up a small part of the large playable roster in Final Fantasy VI. Alucard is the son of Dracula and a human mother, and began the Metroidvania style game, now a staple of the series on handheld game systems. Both are pale men with long white hair, and wear collar-accenting, comfortable looking gothic-style black clothes with gold trim, and a matching, flowing cloak. Not only that, but the in-game sprites of both characters have what appear to be huge shoulders, which implies that those big collars are really important for the design of these two men.
Who wore it best: Alucard Let’s face it: both of these guys look really good. It’s probably the toughest call, and if they were walking down the red carpet, I’d say both would fall into the best dressed category. But someone needs to come out ahead here, and I’m going with Alucard based primarily on the aesthetic of his movement. When Setzer moves, his sprite has a very simple motion, switching back and forth between two frames. It’s not his fault, but a consequence of the type of game in which he stars. It’s not particularly eye-catching or noteworthy. But when Alucard runs, his shoulders rotate in a rhythmic, buxom fashion that could only be described as… mesmerizing. It’s worth it to pop in that game just so you can see him run back and forth; with an enticing flow to his fluid gesture… the guy’s got it going on, I have to say. Not only is his movement superior to Setzer’s, it trumps the basic walking animation of the majority of video game characters that were created both beforehand and afterwards.
Ice is a common element in video games, used for its elemental properties as a weapon for battle or a setting for the best level, or for the design of the characters in the game themselves. With the wealth of different incarnations of ice-based or ice-wielding friends and foes, it’s surprising to find how remarkably similar these two are, especially in consideration of their specific design. Ice Man is a malevolent robot programmed by Dr. Wily, who obstructs the path of Mega Man until he inadvertently grants him support in death. Popo is one of two Ice Climbers who, well, climbs ice, with yetis and polar bears and eggplants galore. Both are relatively simple in their designs as a result of the limited graphical capabilities of the game system on which they were featured, sporting a blue Eskimo parka with white trim. Not to mention that they both have some degree of control over ice, much like your typical modern day refrigerator.
Who wore it best: Popo Both being featured on the Nintendo Entertainment System, in all of its 8-bit glory, the differences between a few pixels can’t warrant a decision of superiority in regards to dress. Each one, however, was digitally remastered and featured in a separate game with greater differences between each other, and Popo’s updated appearance in Super Smash Bros. Melee set him leaps and bounds above Ice Man. What sets him apart is the attention to detail that reinvents a simple outfit with a limited color scheme into a treat of subtlety and texture. Popo’s hammer has the look of wood, and his parka feels softer when we can see individual fibers, which is a feat Ice Man can not accomplish due to his limits as a robot. He has yet to be featured in a fashion that shows off the texture of the materials he’s wearing, which I can only assume to be metallic given my experience with robots. This duo, more than any other on the list, illustrates that visual texture can be an integral part of the overall experience of a character.
Two possible courses for a female character to take in a game are interesting, endearing, and identifiable protagonist, or squeaky, defenseless, dainty princess. What’s interesting is that two characters that fill these disparate roles can look so similar. Heather Mason is the playable main character of Silent Hill 3, a sassy, brave, and ultimately human girl who enjoys spending time at the mall and loves her father. Ashley Graham spends a lot of time in Resident Evil 4 requiring Leon’s assistance, hiding in dumpsters, and being the daughter of the president. Both are young women with short, blond hair, and wear boots that come up mid-calf, a short green skirt, and an orange top (Heather also wears a white vest on top of said… top). The similarities between the two can draw some ire for the relatively close release dates of their respective games and the somewhat similar genres of their respective franchises.
Who wore it best: Heather Mason Heather’s aesthetic design is an important part of her character development and her relation to the player, because of her flawed features when compared to a sea of picture-perfect sex objects that other games purport to call women. Her tussled blond hair reflects her carefree, teenage personality, and her freckled skin and puffy eyes tell so much about her without even hearing her say a word. This is a person who lives, as though she could exist in the world regardless of whether you play the game. Then see Ashley Graham, who can wear the same clothes and remove the human element in an effort to be an attractive person you’re meant to want to save for her looks (since you sure won’t save her for her personality). I might be willing to give her more credit if her face weren’t so annoying, but I will say that her design adds more to the campy feel of the game she’s in, and Resident Evil as a whole. Both ladies add to the value of their game franchises by making them better fit the mold of what they are intended to be. But Ms. Mason simply does a better job at that, and reinforces what many would see as a deeper and thus more legitimate goal for the theme of a franchise.
What sets these two apart from all other entries on this list is the sheer number of similarities between their designs, including character models, movement, and gesture, juxtaposed against the vastly different positions they hold in their respective games and as separate species. Raziel is the vampire first lieutenant of Kain, who cast him into the abyss and reduced him to a hideous form that now sucks souls rather than blood. Zeratul is the mysterious representative of the Dark Templar, who separated from the rest of the Protoss and started their own home world to practice their unique gifts. Both have an overall blue tone to their bodies, emaciated features, glowing eyes, no mouth to speak of, a tattered shroud covering their face and billowing behind them, a reduced number of fingers and exaggerated toes, a glowing sword extending from their right forearm, the ability to phase into another plane of existence, an acrobatic movement style, and a tendency to pose for character art in cat-like positions. So you could say they’re pretty similar.
Who wore it best: Raziel Without exposing too much of the rich storyline behind the Legacy of Kain, what makes Raziel’s design interesting is how much it relates to the overarching plot of the entire series, and how every feature alludes to an important figure in Nosgoth history. In an effort to not spoil anything, I’ll just say that there is a reason he is blue, a reason he shrouds his face, a reason he has rags fluttering behind him, a rich history to his glowing sword, etc. Zeratul, while also a well designed character and a visually striking unit (I always make a lot of dark templars when I play Starcraft, even though it usually costs me the game), simply doesn’t have as much depth to his depiction. But the real treat here is how much a wraith-like vampire and a telepathic extraterrestrial can have in common, coming from two different designers and two wildly different games. And not only do they share this wide range of similarities, but this design is interesting, striking, and simply cool. If any character design is going to be duplicated, I’d be glad to have this be it.
Sometimes it's hard to tell if you're treading into already charted territory when you design a character. You can be so excited about the ideas you've implemented that you don't realize it's been done already, or you think you've done it better. Some might look at this list and think that developers are short of ideas or originality, but this is really only a microcosm of the large number of designs we have in games today. What's more, striking and simple designs like these are losing ground to the Darksiders of the common era, and it's unfortunate that some might think adding more constitutes originality. Oh, and I've found out through writing this that fighting games have a lot of character designs in common. Is there some kind of fighter conspiracy that I don't know about?
Thanks go out to all who contributed to the board topic, especially FreshFeeling and 03Valentine, whose suggestions made it onto the list. Every piece of input I received was exceptionally helpful.
For the heck of it, here are some honorable mentions:
Every customized protagonist and anyone - You can make them look like whoever you want!
Giygas (Mother) and Mewtwo (Pokémon) - They definitely would have made the list if not for common developers.
Flynn Scifo (Tales of Vesperia) and Ky Kiske (Guilty Gear) - These two were barely edged off.
Duke Nukem (Duke Nukem) and Albert Wesker (Resident Evil) - A recommendation that seemed good - from the neck up.
Palette swaps, cameos, and tributes - On top of failing the criteria, looking alike intentionally sort of breaks the spirit.
Spiky-haired, teenage, effeminate JRPG star - I count them as a species in themselves.
Drop by the boards with comments, other look-alikes you've discovered, and general discussion on the list!
List by gettfor (01/23/2012)
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