Rosalina was an oddity on the 2007 scene; within the Super Mario Galaxy story, it is difficult to pin her down. Partially, she provides narrative and information, serving as the prototypical all-knowing side character. At the same time, Rosalina's storybooks tend to lend credence to the fact that she herself is somewhat of a child. Her home decor serves to reinforce that fact; cosmic power and knowledge has created a flying princess castle that echoes the sort of childish dreams of someone in a pre-adolescent state of mind. This strange dichotomy makes her one of the most intriguing characters to ever be introduced into the wide world of the Mario universe.
While Rosalina's bittersweet forsaking of her childhood is a dark and mature overtone to the excellent Super Mario Galaxy, it does not overburden the game, and that is important when constructing an all-ages title. Rosalina never becomes cumbersome to the storyline, a must for any new character entering a long-standing franchise. Rosie has since appeared in Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 7 thanks to fan-clamoring, and is among the most requested newcomers for the fourth installment of Super Smash Bros.
Story Time: Rosalina reveals that the entirety of Super Mario Galaxy 2 takes place in one of her storybooks. Once you collect the first 120 stars, Rosalina will appear and end the tale, setting up the player for the 120 green stars.
In the 22nd century, racism and xenophobia continue to fester and only the arena has changed. Instead of Earthly battles like Darfur and Kashmir, we found Galaxy-wide conflict of Turians and Quarians and the like. Andersonís actions, however, demonstrate hope for an equal Earth. Prior to his role as an aide to Commander Shephard, Anderson was the first human to be groomed for a role as Spectre. This prestigious occupation in Galactic law enforcement is extremely difficult to attain; the fact that a black man was offered this role is a testament to a future that has put the pre-established notions of inherent racial stereotypes behind itself in order to attain an equality unparalleled in modern times. Even more impressive is the possibility that in Mass Effect 2, Anderson can be promoted to the role of Ambassador at the very outset of the game (depending on certain actions from the end of Mass Effect 1). Joining the elite Council that in effect presides over the entirety the Milky Way is quite a leap for not only humanity but especially for a race that is traditionally given a backseat in video games. Instead, Anderson is a strong-willed man who recognizes his own limitations and wisely accepts that certain responsibilities must fall to him.
More importantly, Anderson is a dynamic character. Over the course of Mass Effect, the playerís interactions with him can determine his personality, his relationship with the ambassador, and even his actions. While Anderson can be forced down a path depicting him as a veteran of mistakes that weigh heavy on his world-weary shoulders, Shepard can also lift up Anderson as an example of perseverance in the face of an unyielding galaxy full of iniquity. There are few black characters of quality in games; even fewer are so deep and resonate. Instead of a two-dimensional stereotype, Anderson exists as an intriguing possibility for a bright and shining future.
Service Record: Anderson's voice is one that sounds very familiar to gamers; actor Keith David's game VA resume reads like a greatest hits list: Planescape Torment, Fallout, Saints Row 1 and 2, Halo 2 and 3, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 all feature David's voice. He even voices Chaos in the Dissidia Final Fantasy games.
The Sherlock Holmes of the DS, right down to a trademark hat and British accent, Professor Layton is everything we want out of a brilliant, family-friendly detective. Surrounded by an excellent supporting cast from his apprentice Luke to his sometime nemesis Don Paolo, Layton's interactions are affable and polite, never over-the-top and prim with a side of proper.
But outside of his British-ness, Professor Layton is just so damn cool. His voice is almost melodic in how classy it is, always priding and championing reason in order to deduce anything. He's just got this great aura of level-headedness about him that contrasts so well with the over-the-top characters that always seem to surround him, making Layton the perfect straight man. And yet, he doesn't fall in the typical straight man's trap of being boring as all hell; Layton's reserved demeanor just makes when he does something cool that much more awesome. Every time Layton is allowed to show his wits in application to a physical situation, it serves as a treat for DS gamers everywhere.
A Different Diabolical Box: In Unwound Future, a crate in Layton's office will produce the following comment from the Professor: "A gentleman always keeps an extra spare." This proves conclusively that Professor Layton actually is in possession of a second stove-top headpiece, creating the most chocking piece of evidence ever unearthed in a Professor Layton game.
Bohan is a truly landmark game character; prior to the debut of Heavenly Sword, voice acting and motion capture existed, but the level to which they were used never had reached the level of detail an nuance that they did under Andy Serkis' immeasurable care and talent for the character of King Bohan. Partially thanks to the constant march of technology, Bohan was gifted with a powerful processor in the PS3, a strong game engine and some talented designers at Ninja Theory who worked hard to make a character whose physical and vocal qualities felt more realistic and consistent than any character before him.
This is not to say that good gaming characters only run skin deep; au contrare, mon ami. Tyrannical monarchs seem to run a dime a dozen in fantasy titles, but here was one that felt like his machinations and rambling and power-hunger actually meant something. Nariko and Bohan provide an excellent and archetypal rivalry that works well in a fantasy-styled story with heavy Asian overtones. While the gameplay itself is lacking, the story and characters of Heavenly Sword are well worth exploring on your own if you haven't. Bohan is just a quality character in a quality story, and that earns a spot on this list.
Strange Bedfellows: Bohan's nemesis, Nariko is voiced by Fringe star Anna Torv. Bohan is voiced by Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings alongside John Noble (who played Denethor). Noble, of course, is a cast member of Fringe with Torv.
Full of cel-shaded richness and flamboyant arrogance, Touchdown was described by one reviewer as an "absurd, shallow and pitiful creature.... the poster-child for what anti-game extremists like Jack Thompson think gamers are like." I love this description as it's completely true. At its core, No More Heroes is a game devoid of morality, and Travis is its contemptuous protagonist. Reminiscent of the protagonists of books such as Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, Travis possesses a mindset that causes players to be drawn to his ultra-violent style and yet hold him at arms length.
Gamers cannot help but be partially disenchanted by the foul-mouthed jerk who is slaughtering his way to the number one spot. Everything about Travis screams amoral and unlikable, and yet players cannot help but flock to him like moths to a flame. His design is sleek and reeking with confidence; his beam katana is nasty and gratuitously fantastic. What does this say about us as individuals? Shouldn't we be more disgusted by the actions of this unapologetic and immature cretin? Ultimately Suda51 created something here that goes beyond characterization and asks anyone with a controller to examine there own internal psychology.
What's in a Name?: Travis is named after the main character of the 1984 drama "Paris, Texas." His personality and appearance are partially based on Johnny Knoxville.
Not much synopsis of Altair's career both in and out of gaming seems necessary, as from the start Assassin's Creed seemed to capture the attention of the gaming community. Altair's white hooded robe became synonymous with the game, easily recognizable to anyone with a controller. Popularity that so instantly garnered always deserves further inspection, and Altair held up well as a character under said scrutinization. Here was a man with definite iniquity (arrogance and some naivete).
Altair could seemingly do anything (except maybe giving a dual-handed high-five), turning parkour into a gaming sensation, and combining the stealth genre and the action genre into a new hybrid the likes of which gaming had never seen. Being the conduit through which a new form of gaming could be experienced would likely be good enough to land a place on this list, but there is more to Altair than meets the eye or controller. Altair represented to American gamers rationality based in a religion too often portrayed as intolerant; one of the beauties of Assassin's Creed was a juxtaposed view that reversed the media-developed roles of Islam and Christianity. This turnaround in my personal view helps to foster a greater understanding of unlike minds, finding a dichotomy of good and evil under the garb of any religion. Altair himself leads us through a morality play of sorts, serving as a conduit for us to explore historical morality and modern ethics simultaneously. And, if nothing else, you can jump into hay bales from 300 feet while doing it.
Hidden Blade... Extremely Hidden Blade: In Assassin's Creed: Revelations, the model for the original Altair design in Assassin's Creed 1 was partially reutilized for an aged Altair. However, designers did not include the short blade in Old-tair's arsenal; the upshot? Altair wears a short blade sheathe despite never utilizing one in AC:R.
Based on Ayn Rand and Howard Hughes, Andrew Ryan is exactly the kind of villain you need in an interactive first-person discussion of early 20th century morality. Of course, said discussion involves disfigured mutants and guns, but that's beside the point.
Ryan's true value lies in his moral philosophy - juxtaposed against the political climate around him, Ryan is the most twisted amalgamation of Stalinist Russia and New Deal America. While Ryan's appearances in BioShock are limited primarily to audio files, but the effects of his policies cause the player to question Ryan's motives in an imperfect utopia. In fact, it's this very real dichotomy between utopia and dystopia that makes Ryan so fascinating. Ryan's dream of a perfect society is coupled with unflinchingly despotic rule that ultimately destroys the very thing he hopes to create; what's worse, this combination is only exacerbated by his inability to change. Ryan is very representative of his malformed creation, as his dystopia is filled of other individuals driven to madness due to their own lack of adaptation.
Because the game is such a great, introspective piece of programming with some excellent story twists, I am loathe to reveal too much else about Ryan. Trust me - and critics (as BioShock was nearly unanimously praised and often chosen as Game of the Year) - on this. Andrew Ryan is a villain that forces the gamer to consider their own views on society and morality, and that's exactly what a great villain should aspire to.
A Man Chooses... a Great Voice Actor: Part of the Andrew Ryan experience is his haunting yet commanding voice. It might also sound oddly familiar to Trekkies, as Ryan's VA (Armin Shimerman) also plays Quark on Deep Space Nine.
After his less-than-stellar debut in Drake of the 99 Dragons... oh, these are the wrong notes.
Nathan has for the past half-decade been the poster boy for linear narrative-based adventure games. A style of game that has gone in and out of fashion since gaming first took off, the Uncharted series needed more than just graphical ecstasy to win a sizable audience over, and that's where Nathan Drake came in. A charmer with a roguish attitude and quick wit, Nathan is the quintessential treasure hunting protagonist in the vein of Indiana Jones; while his personality doesn't break new ground, it's the attention to detail and polish that makes Drake feel fresh. While charismatic, it is important to note that Drake, unlike many video game protagonists, was not designed as a sex object. Unlike other adventure-stars (Lara Croft), Drake's appearance isn't overly exploitative, allowing for believability which turns into likability.
In a world where gaming stars have become increasingly dark and violent (Marcus Fenix and the Chief), Drake's light and flippant attitude is a breath of fresh air. Perhaps this is why the series is so well-received critically; Uncharted titles have regularly appeared at the top of year-end lists from gaming magazines and websites. In just five years, four Uncharted titles have hit shelves, and the three main titles have met with great acclaim. As the oft-titular protagonist of the series, one could say that this success rests mostly on Drake's well-defined but not degradingly over-emphasized shoulders.
Let Me Fillion You In: Nathan Drake is often compared to Nathan FIllion's character on Firefly. Uncharted producers claim the many similarities between the two are unintentional, but... same hairstyle. Both are anti-heroes who steal stuff. Both fight super-strong zombie-like enemies. Both have tough-talking war buddies with completely platonic relationships. Both hang around overly sweet girls who at one point appear to die but also have a sexier side chick with some history. Both get shot in the lower left side of the chest.
What can be said about GLaDOS that hasn't been written over and over to death a million times before? She's easily one of the most engaging and memorable baddies in this history of video gaming - indeed, the history of popular culture. Critics drool over her demented sense of dark humor, while fans eat up her sadistic hilarity like it was going out of style. There is something to be said for universal love: it's universal. The developers behind games such as Half-Life and Team Fortress went wild with the characterization of a quasi-dystopian crazed artificial intelligence. GLaDOS goes "Daisy, Daisy" faster and better than HAL-9000 ever did.
By Portal 2, just when you fear that GLaDOS will start to feel stale and overdone... bam! Now the player is thrown into a whole new relationship with everyone's favorite mad testing maven. In a plot reminiscent of X2, archenemies must unite to take down the even more menacing Wheatley (more menacing, at least, in his stupidity). Now GLaDOS has become utter comedy, with a streak of melancholy backstory thrown in for good measure. Not only do we love her AND love to hate her, but now we feel sorry for her. It's a testament to a well-made character that so many emotions can be involved in the perception of just one character. Given how short the two Portal games are, it is even more impressive that GLaDOS can leave such a long-lasting impression on players and impact on pop culture. Gaming characters are all about leaving the players with carefully crafted feelings, and that is exactly the result GLaDOS produces.
You Say Potato...: The fan community quickly began referring to GLaDOS' potato battery-based design as PotatOS; developers were tickled so much by this that the release of the official soundtrack features a track titled "PotatOS Lament," a homage to both the fans and the well-regarded Zelda track "Midna's Lament."
For years, Bioware had been developing more and more engrossing and mature narratives that sold players not just a gaming experience, but fully realized characters. Garrus Vakarian was further evidence of this excellent trend, hailing from Mass Effect, a game chock full of some truly memorable and moving stars. Garrus begins the game as a jaded space cop policing a Citadel of impotent bureaucrats and self-serving politicians (or vice versa), and depending on the actions taken by the player, Garrus can become a true paragon of justice, working to right flawed wrongs. If the player chooses, of course, Garrus can become further jaded, ultimately forsaking the societal mores around him in order to play judge and jury against a wide array of the galaxy's darkest and most devious.
Regardless of how you allow him to develop, Garrus will always be a valuable asset to the Normandy's crew. Providing a host of witty one-liners to go along with his prowess with a sniper rifle, Garrus' unique worth is that he provides the gamer with unique tools for playing as well as unique choices for plot and narrative. Characters like Garrus are few and far between; not many characters can claim supreme success in both the arena of gameplay as well as storytelling. The actions you allow Garrus to take - or, of course, the actions you prevent! - can have far-reaching consequences across the entire Mass Effect trilogy, making him a pivotal star in a well-regarded series. Ultimately, Garrus is the most prominent example of how player decisions can create a unique narrative for whoever is behind the controller; and despite the actions you take, Garrus' behavior and personality develops in a realistic and believable way. You KNOW him.
And if you don't like him, don't use him. I'm sure he has some calibrations to make.
Minor Calibrations: In concept art, Garrus uses Turian heavy armor. However, by game release Garrus was clad in light armor more sensible for a sniper-based character when designers released how unwieldy it would be. But by Mass Effect 2, he was back in the original heavy armor design scrapped during ME1's preproduction.
So endeth the list. A big thanks goes to Eesgooshee who helped formalize the final choices for this list. Drop by the Top Ten forums and tell us what you think of this installment, and check back soon for The Top 10 of '08 by the esteemed SubliminalFunk. I'm scarletspeed7 and that was the year that was.
List by scarletspeed7 (01/17/2013)
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