I’m a gamer, but as I’ve said before, sometimes I wonder if I really am because my gaming collection is scant by many standards. But the games I do have usually involve good story, and by extension, good characters. I’m drawn to character-driven books and stories (in what I choose to read, and what I myself write), and have found that I have the same taste in games. I actually could not finish Dead Space because I had no connection to the character. I couldn’t get into his motivations, or care about him. So I find that when I’m into a character and enjoy them and their story I enjoy the game more.
So how do I decide what my favorite character is, if most of the games I’ve played are character-driven?
When I was younger my favorite character was Samus Aran. I grew up gaming on the NES, and the early games of its heyday focused on male protagonists. The Princess was relegated to other castles; Zelda waited for Link to save her from Ganon. Mario and Link had the adventures; Orpheus went to save Helene from Hades in the underrated Battle of Olympus. These were the games I enjoyed, but I felt something missing in my experience.
Imagine my surprise when I read a Nintendo Power issue that exposed the JUSTIN BAILEY code, where you could start Metroid as… a woman?! Of course I put that code into the game, and played the galaxy’s biggest badass bounty hunter as a green-haired woman in a purple unitard. And for the first time I connected to the game in a new way, because I was playing as protagonist I could understand. Metroid had atmosphere; it had rudimentary story, that sort of made sense (more sense than a plumber saving mushroom people anyway). And it had a character I related to; because of that I could get into the game, and experience the loneliness of Zebes and the fear of the space pirates and the Metroids themselves.
Samus Aran worked alone; she never spoke, and you only saw her face if you finished the game quickly enough and with enough items to get the ending where you saw her in her true form. Early on it was probably fanservice, to show her in her swimsuit-like under armor, but as the games advanced the more she became a character unto herself. Sure, many other female protagonists came up after, but for me at least, Samus was the first.
I liked Samus because she was smart and confident enough to go into those lonely scenarios, kick ass, take names, and go collect her payment at the end of the day. She was capable and didn’t wait to be rescued, instead doing the rescuing herself. She brought down pirates; she blew up planets. And she did it with finesse and without apologizing for any of it.
She’s since changed as a character; I don’t care for the direction Nintendo’s taken her. It started with Fusion when we saw a more introspective sort of character. I didn’t mind that, but I did mind the way they started to make her dependent upon the Adam AI. She’s been a different sort of character since Metroid Prime 3, when she was pitted against and put with other bounty hunter characters. And then Nintendo went and made Other M, where they expanded upon the Adam character and it changed everything about Samus’s character. I haven’t played Other M because I don’t have a Wii, but what I’ve seen of videos and trailers and listened to of cutscenes, I’m not a fan. Maybe someday I’ll try it, and maybe it’ll change my opinion.
In the last few years I’ve started playing other types of games, and among them RPGs that allow for character creation. My favorite game so far is Dragon Age: Origins. I’ve played all the origins, but like the human noble most. My personal character, Fianna, is among my favorites, though I feel like it’s a little bit cheesy to say that my favorite game character is one I’ve made. However, DA also has that character of King Cailan, whom I’ve come to really love.
The irony is Cailan’s not playable, and he dies within the first 90 minutes of game time. Maybe it’s because I created my own personal headcanon/backstory for him. Maybe it’s because I thought he was cheated by his writers. Maybe it’s because he comes across as foolish, then dies violently, and I wanted there to be more to him. He’s not even that vital a character to the game. And yet I love him and think he’s fascinating. Again, maybe it’s because I created what I thought he could be through fanfiction. I don’t know; I do know that there’s something about him that makes him a favorite.
So when all’s said and done, I really love characters and how relating to and loving a character can make the game more enjoyable. But from past to present, the characters I find as favorites are characters who seem to have more to them than the game lets on.
Tomorrow: A game that is underrated…