- Vaas Montenegro (FarCry3) – Errol Kerr
“Did I ever tell you the definition of insanity?”
One repeated sentence in one cutscene did more for the character development of FarCry3’s Vaas Montenegro than I ever thought possible. FarCry3’s secondary villain was responsible for the death of the protagonist’s brother in the opening sequences of the game, and no punches were pulled by this guy. Hell, he tried to set you on fire, drown you with a brick tied to your feet, and generally existed to make your life hell. Vaas is also in charge of a small army of violent drug-trafficking, people-trafficking pirates to boot, and throughout the game, you really couldn’t escape his influence across the Rook Islands.
What really makes Vaas such an engaging character is his unchecked capacity for violence, and throughout the course of the game, you discover that what initially seems like recklessness is thoroughly calculated. Vaas wants to provoke you throughout the game. He traps your girlfriend, Liza, in a building because he wants you to come after him. He hides in a truck because he knows you’re going to try to ambush him.
“Did I ever tell you the definition of insanity?”
Unfortunately for Vaas, Jason Brody is very, very, very hard to kill. Considering the lengths he goes to in trying to off you – finally shooting you point-blank in the chest (which you don’t get killed by) and then burying you under a few feet of corpses – Vaas at bare minimum is one of the most creative antagonists I’ve ever encountered. In every situation, even if you’ve planned ahead, even if you’ve been the stealthiest individual on the planet, Vaas is always about six steps ahead of you, able to predict Jason’s every move. Whilst the final fight with Vaas is a Quick-time event, it’s one of the most enjoyable sections of the game, as you enter a weird, trippy-as-hell world as you confront several visions of him and, enraged, Jason finally repeatedly stabs him in the chest. As you both fall to the floor, Vaas’ dead eyes suddenly lock with your own.
“Did I ever tell you the definition of insanity?”
- GLaDOS (Portal, Portal2) – Jared Liam Moore
The digital mastermind lurking within the bowels of Aperture Science is not only one of the greatest AI characters in science fiction (which she most certainly is), but a fantastically written and well fleshed out character in her own right. Initially designed as a cyborgic amalgamation of a cutting-edge supercomputer and the disembodied consciousness of Aperture CEO Cave Johnson’s loyal assistant, Caroline, GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disc-Operating System) ran the whole subterranean research facility single-handedly. However, her inclinations wandered toward genocide, and in a decisive stroke she gassed the entire facility with a deadly neurotoxin, killing almost everyone. The few remaining scientists affixed her with a ‘morality core’, stifling her murderous intentions, but the facility remained in her control and she eventually began her incessant, amoral ‘testing’ on the stock of stasis-preserved test subjects at her disposal – the apparently contented state in which we first find her.
In terms of her personality, GLaDOS is utterly fascinating. Her monotone PA system voice betrays a rich tapestry of emotions, mostly centering around her Shodan-esque contempt for organic lifeforms and her genuine amusement at tormenting them. Later in the game, GLaDOS opens up to show elements of desperation, her cold façade slipping as her scorn turns to violent hatred, and Portal 2 develops this even further. The second game sees GLaDOS turn from an antagonist, to a reluctant ally, to a genuinely sympathetic figure as the plot whirlwinds through changing circumstances and relationships.
What makes GLaDOS really shine as a character though is her wit. The soul of Portal’s exquisite black comedy comes from the juxtaposition of her utterly matter-of-fact tone calmly reminding you of the significant likelihood of your death during the tests, up to and including her impassive gratitude for your cooperation in the testing programme as she slowly lowers you into a roaring furnace.
- Yoshi (Mario Franchise) – Georgina Howlett
Yoshi has been my favourite video game character since I was six years old, having discovered him by playing Super Mario Advance 2. Since his very first appearance in the original Super Mario World for the SNES, he has remained one of the most recognisable characters in the Mario franchise, being a regular companion and helper to the Mario brothers and featuring in numerous spin-off series such as Mario Tennis, Mario Party, Mario Kart, and Super Smash Bros.
In describing why I love Yoshi so much, you first have to consider the various abilities he has. Not only does he have an extendable tongue which can grab distant objects and enemies in order to ingest them, he also can poop out green eggs to lob at foes and objects, hover by rapidly flapping his arms and legs around, and perform the signature ‘ground pound’ by slamming his butt on the floor or an enemy’s head. All of these make him a godsend when battling and exploring levels in the various Mario games, and in other games such as Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. he is an excellent choice due to his small size and light weight. I rose to the maximum rank on Mario Kart Wii playing him, and I’ll never forget my final ranked race where I secured a hit the person in front of me with a red shell and soared over the finish line in first place wheelieing and performing a fist-pump jump.
Finally, in addition to being both a highly practical and versatile character, Yoshi’s overall design is, you have to admit, adorable. With his rounded nose, huge smile and fashionable brown boots, you can’t go wrong; plus, his species comes in so many colours that you also can’t complain if green isn’t your favourite, as there’s a Yoshi for everyone. His voice, too, is brilliant – many a time I’ve burst into laughter listening to the various noises he makes around the racing track and whilst beating up another character in Super Smash Bros. If you don’t love Yoshi, then you’re doing something wrong.
- Andrew Ryan (Bioshock) – Gerry Hart
When I was asked to pick my favourite video game character, I found myself undecided on who to pick. Still, if any character has made an impression on me, it’d be BioShock’s Andrew Ryan. Andrew Ryan, a charismatic and intelligent businessman, is the primary antagonist of BioShock and the creator of Rapture, an underwater city created by Ryan to serve as a free market, Rayndian utopia where (according to Ryan) a person could reach their full potential without constraint. Indeed one of the first lines the player hears is a recording of Ryan questioning newcomers to Rapture “is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?” and throughout the game the player can find audiologs where Ryan praises the market and rails against the “parasites” who thrive on the hard work of others.
Rapture is Ryan’s pet project and it is as intrinsic to his identity as he is to its. This makes analysing BioShock’s philosophy a complex and fascinating affair, especially in the wake of the calamitous events leading up to the game itself. What makes Ryan a truly captivating character is the way he conducts himself throughout the game, the result of Armin Shimerman’s fantastic voice acting. Andrew Ryan is not one to waste his breath. Every word he utters has an intent and forethought behind it, which is usually expressed in a soft and erudite yet authoritative manner. Even as his calm veneer eventually starts to slip, he retains his eloquence amidst his desperate rantings and ravings.
This makes him an incredibly powerful orator who draws you in, whether you agree or not. Despite the myriad of potential interpretations, BioShock at its core is a game about the danger of unwavering adherence to an ideology. For all his verbose intelligence, Ryan is a man unable to acknowledge his flaws or question his beliefs, thus he persists despite the damage his dream has wrought. Andrew Ryan is as complex and thought provoking as BioShock itself and is easily one of the best characters the medium created.
- Samus Aran (Metroid Franchise) – James McCoull
Whether it’s for all the right reasons or all the wrong ones (looking at you DeviantArt), Samus Aran is a classic favourite, and her presence on this list shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.
A no-nonsense professional with a heart of gold and legendary combat prowess to boot, the beloved bounty hunter behind the visor doesn’t even have to utter a word to earn her place in her hearts. No, Other M doesn’t count, as if I have to clarify. Both inside and out of the iconic Varia Suit, Samus sports an astonishing array of abilities, from her daring feats of acrobatics to her hard-hitting fighting style, up close or at range.
She can take out swarms of hostile, unfamiliar aliens, reading their weaknesses in seconds; she can singlehandedly destroy whole pirate stations with nothing more than her Arm Cannon and a fierce vendetta; the most hulking and powerful creatures a deadly uninhabited world has to offer are mere obstacles in her unstoppable path. But beneath all of this, Samus Aran remains deeply compassionate, not hesitating to put her own life in danger for the sake of the innocent, such as the Luminoth, a race of creatures to whom she owes nothing, but for whom she goes above and beyond all standard Galactic Federation protocol to help. Her traumas – the raid of her colony at a young age, which left her an orphan in the care of aliens – become her motivation, such that she fights so that no child will ever be left lost and alone again.
In her three decade run of legendary games, no mention is ever made of payment, nor does Samus seem to act out of a desire for fame and glory. She expects no statues in her honour, trophies in her home or rewards in her pocket. The satisfaction of an evil vanquished and a job well done is all she needs. Samus is, simply put, an incorruptible force for good, and an unstoppable one at that. Other marines, mercenaries and mavericks, take note; Samus Aran is the benchmark against which all heroes are measured.
- Donkey Kong (DK Franchise) – Sam Blackburn
My favourite Video Game Character? Easy, Donkey Kong. Why do I like Donkey Kong? Because I do. He’s the ultimate hipster’s choice. Whilst Mario, Link and anything Pokémon is forced down everyone else’s throats, Donkey Kong is sat on the side line getting no love or praise. I like to think this annoys him, mainly because he is one of the original Nintendo characters (maybe the original?)
Why do I like him though? He’s big, he’s fat, he’s stupid and he’s tasked with saving his bananas in the Super Nintendo’s objectively best game (and possibly best game of all time) Donkey Kong Country. You see, Donkey Kong, despite not being human, is an everyman of gaming – all of us can relate to him. Being big, fat, and stupid and constantly getting my food stolen by reptiles, I feel like I can relate to Donkey Kong on a spiritual level. I also enjoy beating my chest in front of people for intimidation…
Maybe Donkey Kong doesn’t feel like a really inspired choice. After all, I imagine most people’s favourite characters are prepubescent teen with spikey hair from Final Fantasy Chocobos Crystal Shards VII Tactics XIII 2, or some really dark and well written character from The Last of Us or… some other current gen drivel I care little about. My response to the naysayers is play Donkey Kong Country and then try and tell me that this is not a good choice. The game is a biblical masterpiece of nightmarish proportions. It was crafted by the hands of God and when the world ceases to exist after the lizard people decide to move back to the moon and consume us all, the game will take its place in the halls of Valhalla where it belongs, amongst gods. Another good reason I’ve just thought about why Donkey Kong is the best video game character is the fact that he wears a dapper tie. This was a very hard topic for me to decide, but you’ve got to respect an ape who puts the effort in.
- Solaire of Astora (Dark Souls) – Michael Hicks
Some of us know what we long for on this road we call life, others hope to find something which gives them purpose during the journey. Solaire of Astora is the latter. Lordran, the world of Dark Souls, is an infamously melancholy place. Lordran will do everything it can to grind you down. There are savage monsters, looking to brutally kill you in the most horrible ways imaginable around every corner, and around every other one is an insane chancer looking for his next poor soul to rob and kill. Lordran is decaying, its golden age long since passed living memory for most.
Everyone still sane in Lordran is a broken shell, resigned to their bleak fate, and longing for their chance at the next life. All of them except for Solaire. The player meets Solaire early on in the game, located on the bridge just after the first major boss of the game. A tall, proud man. Armoured in chainmail, adorned with a green and white tunic baring an insignia of a smiling sun, staring gallantly at the sunset. Where as everyone else has either tried to kill or backstab you, Solaire offers a much-needed helping hand to the player in the name of “jolly co-operation”. He is a man on a quest. The same quest we are actually; to enact the prophecy of the chosen undead, slay the beasts that plague the once fair land and link the First Flame, prolonging the golden age of Lordran. And, along the way, he hopes to find the meaning in his life; his own personal ‘sun’.
Solaire isn’t just talk either. He is the leader of the Warriors of Sunlight; a covenant consisting of selfless players willing to help their fellow undead out during difficult boss fights. Solaire himself can be summoned for some of the more difficult fights, armed with the powerful Lightning Spear miracle. He can throw lightning bolts, and he is willing to pass this sacred (and badass) art to you. Whenever Dark Souls is at its darkest, Solaire and his band of merry men will be there to make sure that the bad times aren’t as bad as they need be.
- Linebeck (Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass) – Richard Liddle
The Zelda series has a long history of providing companions for your adventures in Hyrule, from the decent (Tatl) to the slightly odd (the talking boat in Wind Waker) to the downright infuriating (Navi HEY LISTEN HEY HEY), but among all the magic fairies, sword spirits and ghost princesses, one companion stands head and shoulders above the rest.
I am of course talking about Linebeck; loveable coward, bullshitter extraordinaire and all-round best bro.
The first time you hear of Linebeck in Phantom Hourglass, he’s made out to be a real man’s man, a fearless, swashbuckling explorer. When you actually meet him in the Temple of the Ocean King it’s clear that’s not the case – he’s sat trapped and terrified in the middle of a spike trap which he makes you free him from, then he insists he’s sprained his ankle and makes you retrieve the treasure he’d gone into the temple for in the first place. He doesn’t make a great first impression, but he makes up for it as the game goes on.
Despite all his bluster and ineptitude, it’s hard not to love Linebeck. By far his best moment is knocking over Link’s statue-ified friend Tetra in the background of what is otherwise one of the most serious scenes in the game. His backstory is also brilliant: he once accidentally rescued the pirate Jolene from a monster, somehow made her fall in love with him, then stole her treasure and ended up pursued by her relentlessly (naturally whenever she turns up it’s your job to fend her off while Linebeck hides in a barrel).
But even though he’s a coward, Linebeck manages to prove himself as the best of Link’s many companions during the final boss battle with Bellum, taking up the Phantom Sword to defend Link from certain death even though he’s quite literally quaking in his boots. Linebeck’s progression from insufferable coward to indispensable ally in my opinion makes him not just the best Legend of Zelda character, but one of the best characters in any game ever.
Fassad (Mother 3) – Alex Ridley
You first meet Mother 3’s Fassad in the game’s third chapter, where the player is inexplicably given control over a pathetically weak monkey fitted with an electrical collar. A man with a prominent moustache, an annoying laugh and clothes out of Lawrence of Arabia, Fassad is assigned as your handler, chivvying you across the desert with searing electrical torture and verbal abuse. Though soon you’ll be itching for a shot at him, his meaty bum-rushes and military-grade weaponry are your best defence against the local wildlife.
But when you arrive at the town of Tazmily, this smug army officer suddenly becomes a salesman: forcing you to dance to advertise his Happy Boxes, weird TV-like devices that somehow make you happy by making coloured light and sound. Slowly, the town, which thus far didn’t even understand electricity or money, warms to him, and soon he’s turned the Nowhere Islands into an industrialised nightmare. He can be found in later chapters proselytizing in the centre of town, surrounded by fawning ladies and adoring fans.
The genius of Fassad is the way he combines entertaining moustache-twirling villainy with insidious, worrying rhetoric that destroys what the player is fighting for. By the time you’ve destroyed many of the Pigmask Army’s forces and facilities, his preaching has left Tazmily a dead village. Its inhabitants have become so addicted to the consumerist lifestyle they’ve abandoned it for the mysterious New Pork City, whose bright lights and expensive burger joints obscure sad, stinking tenements and creeping despair.
And though you do get to fight Fassad, retrofitted into a cyborg who can only speak through French horns grafted to his face, your victory really means nothing when the way of life you grew up with has long since been dead. Not many villains manage to be both hilarious and soul-crushing in such a relatable way.