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 heck. 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 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 series, 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 couple of times, gives one of the greatest monologues ever, and has more than a few chances to straight up murder you (it’s a miracle that he underestimates you for so long) 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)
Note: I had to used a gif because no single picture I found could do him justice
The newest iteration of the DOOM series’ “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 made me feel more badass than any other game that I’ve played in years. 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 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.
Flowey is the first person/creature you meet in 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 why I placed him on this list. To say any more would spoil a part from one of the best games in recent years.
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 add-on’s trailers), I’ll always remember his witty pep talks, bizarre demeanor of laidback badassery, and overall enjoyable shenanigans.
The Origami Killer (Heavy Rain)
I can’t really go into why the Origami Killer is so memorable without spoiling the best parts of Heavy Rain, so I’ll just say that I put this demented individual in the same league as the villain from Se7en, the most terrifying fictional serial killer ever.
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 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, papa Baker 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.
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 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.
Shadow The Hedgehog (Sonic Adventure 2 & Sonic Adventure 2 Battle)
Sonic Adventure 2 and its Gamecube port 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 super 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. Using Soldier 76 wasn’t fun because it felt like I was playing a 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 healers (or sometimes, any). After a few days of struggling, I decided to fix the latter problem and found my groove with the music-loving 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 offer up 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, 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 the most fleshed out of the supporting characters, and he’s much more relatable than the always grim Marcus. Unfortunately, Dom’s tale is mostly tragic one. As the you progress through the original trilogy, you see how much he’s lost during the Locust War and 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, badass feats of heroism in any game.
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’s not a very deep character, Falcon’s lines, moveset, taunts, and even his outfit are just so over the top (and this is in a series that has fighters like a dragon turtle 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 allies that I had to protect in a video game, and she’s also the reason I still hate escort missions so freaking much. 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, this is my favorite take on the deadly 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 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.
Handsome Jack (Borderlands 2 & Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel)
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, and he never lets you forget it. He occasionally pops up during your journey to barrage you with insults (most of which are super funny), tell you that YOU’RE the bad guy, and make sure you know that you’ll never beat him. All of his 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.
Asura (Asura’s Wrath)
Asura is one of most powerful video game protagonists out there, and playing as him can be best described with just one word: Epic. Armadas of angelic spacecraft, thousands of ancient monsters, and deities bigger than the planet all eventually fall before Asura’s overwhelming might during his quest to save his daughter. The game’s unique “interactive anime” style and totally bonkers action make both Asura’s Wrath and its title character completely unforgettable.
Zack Fair & Cloud Strife (Final Fantasy VII & Crisis Core: FFVII)
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 badass 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’ history. Their intertwining tales are action-packed emotional rollercoasters, and (in my opinion) no other stories or protagonists in the 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 protagonist of the Dead Space series, and faces all manner of grotesque monsters courtesy of the space-zombies known as “Necromorphs.” Adding to the insanity are the Unitologists, members of a crazy religion that want to kill Isaac and spread the deadly plague. Isaac is only able to survive so long 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 foes.
Fun fact: He’s named after legendary science fiction writers Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.
Double (Mega Man X4)
Through the majority of 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, one particular cutscene that was equal parts surprising and dark (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 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 palette-swapped brother, but 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 on almost every game the plumber brothers star in.
Tiny Tina (Borderlands 2 & Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel)
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 a gift for crafting high-grade explosives. She’s probably the most dangerous teenager on Pandora (and most likely anywhere else too), yet her exuberance and charm make her a fan-favorite NPC among Borderlands players.
Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII & Crisis Core: FFVII)
In a long-running series that features more than a couple of gaming’s greatest villains, Sephiroth stands above all the others. The One-Winged Angel was originally a hero, but he fell into madness after learning the truth behind his birth and ends up perpetrating some of the most memorable acts of virtual villainy that I’ve ever experienced (for example, the most iconic murder in gaming). His backstory, build-up, theme music, and boss battle are all top notch, making Sephiroth a phenomenal antagonist who has stood the test of time.
Joel & Ellie (The Last of Us)
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 her own tragic loss (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. 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.