My Top-10 Game Protagonists
Here’s an interesting challenge, making a list of my favourite video-game protagonists without immediately going to the obvious choices (Mario, Mega Man, Sonic etc.). So yes, I wanted to list the ten game protagonists I like the most but wanted it to be varied and interesting. Therefore, it’s not just enough that the character is fun to play as, this list also takes into account other factors about the character which I enjoy.
I would like to give honourable mentions, but that would form its own Top-10, so I’ll maybe save some of the entries that didn’t make it for another time.
So here we go, my ten favourite game protagonists…
Alright, if there was one entry on the list who really only got on because she was fun to play as, it was Dixie King. Introduced as Diddy’s girlfriend in Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, she pretty much stole the show with her extremely useful helicopter hair twirl. It’s little wonder why Dixie became the star of her own game, Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie’s Double Trouble.
She has been out of the spotlight for many years, but she’s finally making a return in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Really, Dixie is just one of the best platformer characters. Not only is she quick and nimble her hair is also ridiculously powerful. I’ve already mentioned the helicopter twirl which helps the player reach far away platforms, but then there’s also the fact that she can literally pick things up with it.
Dixie just had to make the list and even though it was probably on the least most notable credentials, she was just too cool not to be on here.
The cocky, testostorony, gun-blazing, one-liner spouting, alien blasting FPS hero was another no-brainer for this list. Duke Nukem possesses ridiculous amounts of macho energy and he’s absolutely brilliant in this regard. Story wise, there’s not much to Duke. He’s a musclebound hero who’s always out rescuing Earth’s women from evil space creatures.
What of course makes Duke so iconic is the brilliant voice-performance by Jon St. John. Whenever you play a game starring the character, you can always count on him saying a bad ass line, a quote from a movie or something else absolutely foul and entertaining. Duke keeps the player entertained by engaging in a one-man conversation where he’ll make fun of aliens, other games or just revels in his own bad-assery.
I felt the list needed at least a couple of purely trashy entries and Duke definitely needed a spot here. However, in the over-all there isn’t that much to him, so I felt like he really didn’t need to be higher.
I liked Beyond Good and Evil and of course I wanted there to be as many women as men on the top-10. However, at the same time, I was a little worried about having Jade on the list, because she really didn’t strike me as the most memorable female protagonist around.
However, the more I thought about it, the more sense it made to actually have Jade on the list. She’s a determined figure who will risk her neck to help other. She also has a loving relationship with her (literal) pig uncle Pey’j and is a character who has a lot on her mind through the intense adventure of BG&E. On top of that, she can really kick ass when push comes to shove, so she really seemed a like a shoe-in for this list.
Having said that, Jade really isn’t the most colourful character on the list, her personality is a bit of a rush-job and she doesn’t deliver one-liners all that well. But she’s reasonably likeable and the more you find out about her, the more you’ll sympathise with her. Not top-5 material, but still an exemplary female lead for a video-game.
I love smart-mouthed heroes and Conker really has a lot of charm for a drunk, irresponsible and greedy squirrel. Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a game that shouldn’t be missed for the world and one of the main reasons is due to the hero. Conker gets himself in all sorts of trouble in all sorts of themed worlds and he’s got a smart-ass comment for pretty much everything.
Conker is a little rude and mean, but actually all he really wants is to go home. He’ll rise to the occasion and face incredibly challenges (for the right reward of course) and he does have a smidge of heroism in him as well. Plus, with the finale of the game, it’s really hard not to feel bad for him.
So why didn’t Conker made it all the way to the top-5? Honestly, there really shouldn’t be any reason why he couldn’t be except for the fact that I just like the characters in the top-5 as much Conker. Conker is an awesome squirrel and the only reason I can’t have him in the top-5 is because there just isn’t room.
You’ll notice more than one couple constitute as single entries on the list. That’s because sometimes the inseparable gaming duo just makes up the best unit. This is most definitely true for George and Nicole from the Broken Sword game series. Now, George is an excellent main protagonist. He’s got sarcastic comments and great anecdotes for the player and his all-pervasive past tense narration just gets you invested in the story. He’s also heroic when push comes to shove which at times seems to be at odds with his laid back character.
However, Nico is just as clever but also saucy and can drop a funny line just as well as George. There times when she can act a little jealous and mean towards George, but she’s such a wonderfully intense character that she perfectly complements George’s occasional silliness. It’s a bit of a mystery to me why these two can’t seem to stay together. Despite their differing personalities, they always work great together.
George and Nico again, just barely missed being in the top-5. Nicole perhaps has gotten a lot less screen time due to her reduced role in the first and fourth games, but regardless, these two are a perfect pair of adventurous conspiracy busters.
Samus is another character to whom there would appear to be very little at off-set. Sure, she’s one of the first notable female leads in a video-game, but for a majority of her career she was just an anonymous face in a powerful armour, killing aliens and busting some space pirate ass. A formidable figure, but quite one-dimensional.
Then thankfully, we had Metroid: Other M which finally gave Samus a bit of back story and showed us that she really was human inside that hulking suit. Samus was shown to have real human relations and actually interacting with other people she had a personal connection with. Best of all, this was done without overtly dramatizing her character, she remained just as cool as ever, but now we actually knew why that was.
Samus is just an iconic figure in gaming and although she’s rather tight-lipped, I’ve always quite enjoyed her. I felt that out of all my favourite female game characters, in the very least, she needed to make the Top-5.
The Sonic franchise is not known for its powerful female protagonists. With the exception of Amy Rose and the animated versions, the entire game franchise remained very male dominant throughout the first decade of its existence. You can imagine that I was quite elated with the introduction of Rouge in Sonic Adventure 2.
She’s a determined treasure hunter who can hold her own against the boys. She’s introduced as a slightly conniving and greedy character with a secret agenda, but she also shows a lot of sympathy, especially for Shadow. Rouge was also definitely one of my favourite characters to play as in Sonic Adventure 2, since I really loved the gem quest segments.
Now again, Rouge does perhaps fill up the trashy quota on the list and I’m not gonna deny that her sexiness also played a part in her getting on the list. But seriously speaking, she definitely stands out in Sonic’s cast and I like her a lot. The classic platformers rarely put a woman in the thick of the action, so I appreciate the Sonic franchise has at least given Rouge that opportunity.
This character was one of the first I thought of when I started compiling this list. Manny Calavera is one of the coolest, most awesome characters from any movie, comic book, novel or video-game. Until you’ve played Tim Schafer’s 1998 master piece, Grim Fandango, you will have never suspected how you could love a paper skeleton so much.
An outwardly callous and weary figure, Manny in fact has a heart of gold (like Humphrey Bogard in Casablanca). He sells travel packages to the recently deceased to help them cross the Land of the Dead into the 9th Underworld, the Land of Eternal Rest. However, Manny discovers a web of corruption at his employer, the Department of Death, and joins a resistance movement that attempts to uncover those who would rob the dead of their sweet here-afters.
Manny is a bad ass who goes to the (literal) ends of the earth in search of Meche, a woman who has her number-9 ticket stolen by the mobster Hector Lemans. Apart from his determination, great comments and wit, what makes Manny so cool is the brilliant voice-performance by Tony Plana. This list would not have been complete without the cigarette smoking ex-Grim Reaper.
Quite possibly the least surprising entry on the list. The inept pirate hero of LucasArts’ longest running adventure game series, Guybrush has seen and done it all: sword fighting on land, sword fighting at sea, looking for hidden treasure, sliding down cables with a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle, defeating evil Australian land-developers and defeating a vengeful undead pirate several times over.
What makes Guybrush so likeable is his confidence mixed with wimpyness. He’s clever and witty but also simple-minded and a little careless. Everybody loves a loser who can pull through against all odds to save the day (at least his wife does at any rate). Guybrush is just inherently likeable, you cheer for him and also laugh at his misfortune. However, apart from being a goofy pirate (or pirate wanna-be) Guybrush also endures a lot which really comes through in the fifth instalment of the series, Tales of Monkey Island.
Guybrush was a shoe-in to get this high on the list and he’s definitely one of those game characters who just provides endless delight for me. He could have easily been number-1, but I decided that the spot really belonged to one of my favourite gaming couples out there.
1. Gabe & Grace (Gabriel Knight)
The Gabriel Knight series really shot to the top-end of my favourite adventure game series when I finally got to play the first two instalments last year, but Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned was already one of my favourite games of all time. Apart from the games’ excellent story-lines which mix real history with fantasy elements. However, one of the main reasons I love these games is obviously because the main hero, Gabriel, played by Tim Curry in the first and third games and by Dean Erickson in the second. Gabriel is a womanizing and opportunistic author who discovers he belongs to a lineage of Shadow Hunters. Starting care free and reckless, he becomes increasing more serious as the series goes on and shows more heroic qualities. He’s still a pig and a bit of a jerk, but his heart is always in the right place (can’t say the same about some of his other organs though).
However, Gabriel’s adventures wouldn’t be nearly as interesting without his trusty side-kick Grace. Actually, that’s not doing Grace justice – she owns in GK3 by deciphering the mysteries of Le Serpent Rouge and generally her historical know-how and inquisitive nature come in handy during Gabe’s adventures. Though she starts off whiney and jealous, by the third game she’s actually a far more relatable character. Also, as a history fan myself I find her excitement about ancient stuff extremely relatable. She’s the hero-geek of the games, Gabriel is the jock. And together, they are unstoppable.
It’s a shame that there hasn’t been more Gabriel Knight games, because with a duo like this, who doesn’t love playing an adventure game.