By putting you in the shoes of a playable character, allowing you to guide their actions and govern their choices, video games can often lead to players forming a deeper connection with a protagonist than any other form of entertainment or storytelling. That same connection can also make the actions of surrounding characters that much more profound. A villain’s attacks can feel more personal, and you may grow especially fond of supporting characters because they’re supporting “you.” Sometimes, games will worry less about a bond or immersion and just have you play as a super-powered goofball in a fantastical world. No real depth, but still fun as Hell. I’ve grown fairly attached to, hateful towards, and afraid of quite a few characters in my many years of gaming, and these are the ones that I’ll always remember.
Heads up: some of these entries contain mild spoilers.
Honorable Mention: The Boss (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)
I’ve never played the Metal Gear Solid games (I’m absolute garbage at anything that requires stealth), but I’ve watched playthroughs of the entire series and feel confident in saying that the Boss is one the most memorable characters in not only gaming, but from all fiction. She was a mother figure and mentor to Naked Snake (who would later be known as Big Boss), the biological mother of Revolver Ocelot, and the main antagonist in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. As expected of the woman who trained the legendary soldier Solid Snake was cloned from, the Boss is a formidable foe in virtually all forms of combat and is incredibly intelligent. Eventually, the the Boss’ reasons for betraying her country and Naked Snake are revealed, and it only further justifies her spot on this list. Although she isn’t the most prevalent character in the Metal Gear Solid franchise, she’s definitely the one I thought stood out the most.
Vaas Montenegro (Far Cry 3)
Far Cry 3 is the best Far Cry I’ve played by a country mile, and Vaas (brought to life with the voice and motion capture of actor Michael Mando) is one of the biggest reasons why. The deranged warrior toys with you through most of the game, gets the drop on you a handful of times, gives one of the greatest monologues ever, and has more than a few chances to straight up murder you far before you’re ready to face him. He’s like a Joker of the jungle: Unhinged, unpredictable, and unforgettable.
The Doom Slayer (DOOM 2016 & DOOM Eternal)
The newest iteration of the DOOM series’ anti-hero isn’t really a character as much as the embodiment of death to all things demonic, but walking a mile through Hell in his armored shoes is an absolute blast that redefines the term “power fantasy.” Slaughtering wave after wave of Hell’s armies never gets stale, and the equally strong and silent protagonist refuses to allow something as trivial as the story stop him from ending the lives of his foes in an almost hilariously brutal fashion. In most action/horror games you get trapped in a room with monsters, but in DOOM 2016 and DOOM Eternal, those monsters are trapped in a room with you.
Sumner (Gauntlet Series)
I’ve spent at least one thousand hours playing Gauntlet Legends and Gauntlet Dark Legacy combined, so Sumner’s voice is something that’s been ingrained in my mind for the rest of my life. He’s like an overzealous narrator, as he announces virtually everything that happens with booming declarations, but it somehow never gets annoying. Whenever you find a secret, level up, are close to death, or actually dead, Sumner speaks up to make sure everyone knows. He may be a badass wizard (and an unlockable character), but it’s his constant reminders that “RED WARRIOR NEEDS FOOD BADLY” and the like that are the first things that come to mind when I think of those beloved dungeon crawlers.
BT-7274 (Titanfall 2)
Early into Titanfall 2’s (extremely underrated) campaign, BT-7274’s (nicknamed “BT”) Pilot dies and leaves him with Jack Cooper, the player character. Through the course of the game, Jack and BT become a deadly duo capable of taking on the most dangerous Pilots and Titans the villainous IMC can throw at them. Along with their combat proficiency, the personal bond between man and mech grows as well, and it becomes clear that BT would gladly be destroyed to protect Jack, and vice versa.
Cayde-6 (Destiny & Destiny 2)
Despite the original Destiny’s story being fairly weak, – although there was some interesting lore on Cayde-6’s past – it was always a treat to rank up my Hunter because it meant going to see the robotic rogue Vanguard voiced by Nathan Fillion. When Destiny: The Taken King dropped, Cayde-6 played a large role as the biggest supporting character in the new campaign. In Destiny 2, developer Bungie made sure that the fan-favorite Exo spent a good deal of time in the spotlight yet again. Although Cayde-6’s luck will finally run out in the Forsaken expansion (his death was shown in one of the expansion’s early trailers), I’ll always remember his witty pep talks, bizarre demeanor of laidback badassery, and overall enjoyable shenanigans.
Aloy (Horizon Zero Dawn)
Aloy embodies most of my favorite qualities in a player character. She’s strong-willed, resourceful, compassionate, and a total badass who kills giant robot dinosaurs with just traps and a bow and arrow. Okay that last one was a little specific, but the narrative of Horizon Zero Dawn is only as engaging and awe-inspiring as it is because we get to experience it through such a great lens. Her curiosity matches the player’s, and her determination to find the truth about her past and the history of the world only makes you want answers even more too.
And again, she kills GIANT ROBOT DINOSAURS with traps and a bow and arrow. I doubt Nathan Drake or Lara Croft would fare nearly as well as she does in her post-apocalyptic world.
Claptrap (Borderlands series)
Claptrap is the only entry on my list that’s been a playable hero, a supporting character, and a villain. Not only that, but he has failed spectacularly and hilariously in each role. Whether it’s trying to lend you assistance during a mission, unleashing his ultimate skill as you control him, or trying to take over the planet of Pandora, Claptrap will inevitably screw it up somehow. Oddly enough, he’s still a plucky little robot that makes everything in the borderlands so much more enjoyable, despite living a life of constant disappointment.
Jack Baker (Resident Evil 7)
Resident Evil 7 was a much-needed return to form for Capcom’s horror franchise. It’s a terrifying game that features more than a few memorable encounters with some totally twisted creatures, and Jack is the most nerve-wracking of them all. Seemingly unkillable, the Baker patriarch occasionally pops up to chase and scare the crap out of you through the game’s early, and best, hours. His big line, “Welcome to the family, son” may have been memed to Hell and back, but my memories of fleeing from Jack Baker are still ones I try to avoid thinking of when it’s dark outside.
Needles Kane (Twisted Metal series)
The vehicular combat tournaments of the Twisted Metal games tended to draw in some seriously messed up people, and Needles Kane was considered crazy even by their standards. His origin and goals changed multiple times through the series, but I’ll always remember him for driving the suped up ice cream truck Sweet Tooth, wearing a clown mask and flaming hair, being completely insane, and gleefully creating as much carnage and destruction as he possibly could.
Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII series)
In a long-running franchise that features more than a couple of great gaming villains, Sephiroth stands above all the others without even trying. The One-Winged Angel was originally a war hero, but he was driven mad by learning the truth behind his birth and eventually ends up perpetrating some of the most memorable acts of virtual villainy that I’ve ever experienced. His horrific backstory, terrific build-up throughout FFVII, hair-raising theme music, and boss battle are all top notch, making Sephiroth a phenomenal antagonist who has stood the test of time, and Final Fantasy VII Remake may have given him a chance to become an even more formidable foe than ever before.
Andrew Ryan (Bioshock)
Three little words. That’s all Andrew Ryan needed to drop the biggest twist in all of gaming and steal the show as the most memorable part of the entire Bioshock franchise, which is a herculean feat considering how many memorable settings and characters are in it. I won’t spoil it here, but anyone who’s played through the 2007 classic knows exactly what I’m talking about. The last sentence from a fictional character that impacted its audience like this was Darth Vader’s “No, I am your father,” and even the Sith Lord needed five words.
Shadow the Hedgehog (Sonic Adventure 2)
Sonic Adventure 2 introduced Shadow the Hedgehog, and is the best Sonic game I’ve played, not to mention one of my all-time favorite games ever, because of it. Sonic gained a new rival that not only matched him, but actually beat him – the “true” ending takes place after Shadow wins their duel on the ARK space station – and that blew my twelve-year-old mind. Shadow’s tragic past and darker attitude also made him just that much cooler than the happy-go-lucky heroes or other bumbling villains the series had produced so far. I’m not holding my breath for another half-decent Sonic game that isn’t fan-made, but I’ll always look back fondly on the first outing of the black edgehog.
Get it? Cuz he’s a hedgehog that’s edg- You know what, nevermind.
I struggled quite a bit to find a character to main (use most of the time) when Overwatch first launched. Soldier 76 wasn’t fun because he felt like any generic FPS, I couldn’t use Junkrat as well as I’d have liked to, and I died far too quickly as almost everyone else because there were never enough (or sometimes, any) healers. After a few days of struggling, I decided to fix the latter problem and found my groove with the music-themed support character, Lúcio. Switching between beats to boost my teammates’ speed or heal them felt so fluid, knocking my opponents off the map with sound waves was always hilarious, and my win/loss ratio drastically improved. I’m not a big fan of competitive multiplayer games, but I stuck with Overwatch much longer than most thanks to Lúcio.
Cole MacGrath (inFAMOUS & inFAMOUS 2)
Cole MacGrath is the player character of the first two entries in Suckerpunch’s superhero series, and it’s entertaining to watch him change as a person no matter what path he takes. By the end of both games Cole/you can choose to become a hero who saves the city from a seemingly unstoppable antagonist (one of whom has a special connection to Cole that helps earn him a spot on my list), or take their place as a an even bigger, deadlier villain. Both paths are enticing to the player because of Cole’s personal stakes in the story and being good or evil opens up opportunities for different powers, allies, and meaningful consequences. inFAMOUS’ karma system allows us to see two distinct versions of Cole, and even years later I still can’t decide which one I like more.
Blue (Pokémon Red & Pokémon Blue)
Blue is your rival in the first entries of the monstrously successful pet-fighting simulator series, and his arrogance was a huge source of motivation for me to become the very best, like no one ever was. Every time this entitled jackass showed up to mock me for being one step behind him, I felt another big push to get strong enough to make him eat his oh-so-aggravating words. Ending his five-minute reign as League Champion is still one of the most gratifying achievements of my gaming career.
Dominic Santiago (Gears of War series)
The best friend of player character Marcus Fenix, Dominic Santiago, A.K.A Dom, is the greatest Gear in the Gears of War series by a landslide. His story is more fleshed than most of the franchise’s other characters, and he’s much more relatable than the one-note Marcus. Unfortunately, Dom’s tale is mostly tragic one. As the you progress through the original trilogy, you learn how much he’s lost during the Locust War and eventually experience the worst moment of his life in Gears of War 2. Despite all that, Dom still manages to be a surprising source of levity in the mostly humorless series, and eventually performs one of the most selfless, epic feats of heroism in any game.
Aerith Gainsborough (Final Fantasy VII series)
I see Sephiroth and Aerith as polar opposites. The former is essentially the embodiment of darkness, hatred, and evil in the lore of Final Fantasy VII, and the latter represents all the wonder, beauty, and good in its world. Aerith is kind, compassionate, and willing to put herself in harm’s way in order to protect others. It’s not all that shocking that she was able to win the hearts of two different protagonists – and many gamers around the world – with her overwhelmingly positive and cheery attitude despite enduring a great deal of trauma throughout her life. The time spent with Aerith in Final Fantasy VII left me with some of the most powerful, memorable moments I’ve come across in gaming, and I can’t wait to spend even more with her in the upcoming remake.
Captain Falcon (F-Zero & Super Smash Bros. series)
I haven’t played many of the games in the F-Zero racing series, but Captain Falcon is my favorite character in any fighting game thanks to his appearance in each entry of the Super Smash Bros. franchise. While he’s not a very deep character, Falcon’s lines, move-set, taunts, and even his outfit are just so over the top – and this is in a series that has fighters like an electric mouse and a tie-wearing gorilla – that I can’t help but smile every time he’s onscreen. And since he’s one of the characters I use most in Smash, I end up smiling a lot.
Also: His signature move, “Falcon Punch” is AMAZING.
Natalya Simonova (GoldenEye 007)
Natalya was the first of many defenseless, seemingly aimless allies that I’ve been forced to protect in a video game, and she’s also the reason I still hate escort missions with the white-hot intensity of a dozen suns. Considering how casually she’d stroll into enemy gunfire or block most of my shots with her entire body (damn you, friendly fire!) it almost felt like Natalya had some sort of death wish. Her constant lack of concern for her own safety frustrated me, and many others, to no end. She’s certainly memorable to those who have played this N64 classic, but not for any of the reasons a character should be remembered for.
Rocket Raccoon (Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series)
There are at least a dozen of different incarnations of this gun-toting trash panda in Marvel’s many different comics, TV series, and films, and the best of them manage an extremely delicate balance between humor and tragedy. While his past his usually depressing, I had never experienced an interpretation of it that actually made me cry until Telltales’ 2017 episodic adventure. Not only that, but Rocket’s “charm” and humor in this game are second only to Bradley Cooper’s performances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Overall though, this is my favorite take on the furious fuzzball to date.
Kratos (God of War series)
In the original God of War trilogy, Kratos blindly pursued vengeance regardless of who got hurt in the process. During the side-story titles, we got to see even more of the damage that the gods and their pettiness had dealt to Kratos and Greece as a whole, which made Kratos’ rage a little more understandable. However, it’s the newest title that earned the ex-God of War a spot on my list. After getting his revenge, Kratos has finally calmed down and seen the fallout of his actions. He’s resentful of himself, and for the first time since his wife and daughter died, fearful. It isn’t death that scares the Ghost of Sparta though, it’s fatherhood. Kratos wants to do right by his son Atreus, but is terrified that the boy might become a monster like him. Santa Monica Studios turned a previously one-dimensional demigod into one of the most human and believable characters in gaming. That is some legendary character development if you ask me.
Handsome Jack (Borderlands series)
When I think of villains I love to hate, this is the guy that immediately comes to mind. Handsome Jack is an egomaniacal monster wearing the mask of a hero, both literally and metaphorically, and he never lets you forget it. He pops up often during your journey to barrage you with insults (most of which are super funny), tell you that you’re actually the bad guy, and remind you that you’ll never, ever be able to stop him. All of his arrogance and bravado makes each of your victories that much sweeter, as he gets more angry, more despicable, and less sane the closer you get to finally shutting him up for good.
Asura (Asura’s Wrath)
Asura is without question one of most powerful video game protagonists out there, and playing as him can be best described with the word “epic.” Armadas of angelic spacecraft, thousands of ancient monsters, and deities bigger than friggin’ planets all eventually fall before Asura’s overwhelming fury and might during his quest to save his daughter from a group of Gods he once fought side by side with. The game’s unique “interactive anime” style and totally bonkers action sequences make both Asura’s Wrath and its title character completely unforgettable.
Flowey is the first person/creature you meet in the indie darling Undertale, and the one that left the biggest impression on me by the end of the game. He may seem like nothing special at first, but I’m certain that those who’ve gotten far enough in Undertale know exactly why I placed him on this list. To say any more would spoil a part from one of the best video game stories in recent years.
Zack Fair & Cloud Strife (Final Fantasy VII series)
Cloud Strife (right) is one of the most iconic characters in gaming, but I felt it was necessary for him to share the spotlight with his predecessor and equally awesome protagonist, Zack Fair (left). Both star in my favorite games on their respective consoles (Cloud on PS1 and Zack on PSP), and are two of the most memorable characters in the series’ decades-long history. Their intertwining tales are action-packed emotional rollercoasters, and in my opinion, no other stories or heroes in the entire Final Fantasy franchise come anywhere close to matching them.
Isaac Clarke (Dead Space series)
If you combined the survivability of film heroine Ellen Ripley, the ingenuity of TV hero MacGyver, and the fortune of internet meme Bad Luck Brian, you’d end up with someone like Isaac Clarke. This poor bastard is the player character in the Dead Space series, and faces a particularly grotesque foe, the space-zombies known as “Necromorphs.” Adding to the insanity are the Unitologists, members of a twisted religion that want to kill Isaac and spread the deadly plague across the universe. Isaac is only able to just barely survive each onslaught thanks to his high intelligence, extreme willpower, and knack for utilizing typical engineering tools – well, typical futuristic ones – as weapons capable of quickly dismembering his enemies.
Fun fact: He’s named after legendary science fiction writers Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.
Double (Mega Man X4)
In X’s (the upgraded Mega Man) campaign in Mega Man X4, Double is your closest ally. As your operator, he gives you details on the locales you’re heading to and information on upcoming bosses, and it seems like he would genuinely do anything to aid you on your missions. While none of that is truly memorable, Double earns himself a spot on my list because of his role in – and the fallout of – a particularly dark cutscene that shocked me as a kid (especially considering the game is rated E for “everyone”). He may look goofy and have some pretty stilted voice acting, but Double still managed to make a pretty big impact on eight-year-old me.
Here’s the cutscene in case you’re wondering what it entails: SPOILERS
Luigi (Mario series)
I’ve always liked Luigi more than Mario. Not only because I’m a younger brother, but because Luigi’s way funnier. He’s just about as capable as his elder sibling, yet he almost never gets his due. His lack of recognition is a running joke in many different games (especially the more recent RPG Mario titles), and it’s one that always elicits a chuckle or two from me. Plus, Nintendo tends to give him comical and often powerful abilities in many different series, which always make him a worthwhile choice to play as. I’ll concede that Mario is more memorable, but only because it’s his name alone on almost every game the plumber brothers star in.
Tiny Tina (Borderlands series)
The Borderlands games are full of funny and quirky characters, and Tiny Tina is one of the funniest and quirkiest. This little girl has a fondness for throwing tea parties, a love for her stuffed animals, and an unprecedented gift for crafting high-grade explosives. She’s probably the most dangerous teenager on Pandora – and most likely anywhere else in the Borderlands universe too – yet her childish exuberance and endearing charm make her a fan-favorite NPC among Borderlands players.
Joel & Ellie (The Last of Us series)
After playing through what might be the most soul-crushing prologue ever, it’s easy to understand why Joel, the player character is so cold and detached from almost everyone in his life. But then Ellie shows up and starts chipping away at the emotional barriers Joel has had up for decades. Joel’s dourness is no match for Ellie’s humor, curious nature, and perseverance. Even after suffering through her own share of tragedies (one of which is further explored in the Left Behind DLC), dealing with scores of infected, and getting far too close for comfort with the worst that humanity has to offer, Ellie is still a mostly normal teenager. In a world where there isn’t much left to fight for, Joel stumbled upon something worth protecting and caring about, and he’s eventually willing to sacrifice anything and everything to protect her. Seeing the bond between them slowly grow is developer Naughty Dog’s storytelling at its absolute finest, and cements the pair as two of the most memorable characters in all of gaming.