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So Far, So Good: Best Characters of 2010 (January – August)

So, here we are, at the end of July, and it has already been a ridiculous year for great video games. Now might be a good time for one of those “best of the year so far” lists, no? Come on, everyone loves lists! No matter what time of year!

One thing that I believe has improved in video games, quite marginally, has been truly memorable characters, and often not just “awesome video game characters” but, characters that people outside of the hobby might appreciate as well. That certainly isn’t always the case, but, it feels like storytelling in games has taken a major stride forward in 2010. This is my list of what I feel were some of the best characters to come out in games so far this year:

5) Bayonetta – Bayonetta

"Lets dance, boys!"

OK, look, I played Bayonetta from beginning to end. I tried. I really, really tried to follow the story and understand what was going on, but…I just couldn’t get it. However, that didn’t stop me from enjoying the hell out of Bayonetta. That game was an utter explosion of gameplay and style, but, it would have been nothing without the main character, herself, Bayonetta. From what I could gather from the story she was a witch. A very tall, very limber, and (to some kids out there) sexy witch with guns on every limb of her body who can basically destroy everything she comes in contact with. It’s important to remember that, these are video games we’re talking about. Characters must be just as fun and engaging to watch as they are to play, and, honestly, Bayonetta might have them all beat in that case.

4) Dutch – Red Dead Redemption

"Our time has passed, John."

As Red Dead Redemption’s main antagonist, I found Dutch to be a totally believable character, and a perfect villain. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see much of Dutch in the game. He comes in at the beginning of the final 3rd, but he makes a major impression on both John and the player. As we hear more stories of past crimes, we can interpret just how much Dutch has influenced and guided John throughout their history together. Marston’s no angel, but Dutch certainly had a part in crafting him to be the man he is. Dutch’s final words towards the end of the game (“Our time has passed, John”) sum up just about everything that Red Dead Redemption is really about. The age of the cowboy is over, and there’s no place for them in the new world. It’s important to think about what he says to John in their last meeting, and especially crucial to think about how that affects the rest of the story, from there on.

3) Francis York Morgan – Deadly Premonition

"Did you see that, Zach? Clear as a crisp spring morning!"

His name is Francis York Morgan, but you can call him “York.” Say what you want about the game all you want, but, you did not laugh harder at any other character so far this year. I haven’t finished the game yet, so, I’m not even sure how his story ends, but I don’t care. The man is insane, and I love him for it. Thanks to him, every morning I look for the F-K in my coffee, sadly always to no result.

2)  Thane – Mass Effect 2

"Grant that my hands be steady, my aim be true, and my feet swift. And should the worst come to pass, grant me forgiveness."

Arguably the most badass addition to the Mass Effect universe, this lizard/ninja/assassin seemed to take everyone by surprise. We all saw him in the trailers and on the box art for the game, and most of us thought he was a bad mutha’ already. Yet, still, from the second you meet him, Thane blows you away not only by his physical prowess, but, also with his demeanor. Mass Effect isn’t known for having loud or boisterous characters, but, there was something extra quiet and somber about the way that Thane carried himself. The fact that he claims to be slowly dying only made him more awesome. As an assassin, Thane is a character who carries years of sins on his back, and is willing to risk what little his life in an effort to save the galaxy, and himself.

1) John Marston – Red Dead Redemption

As far as I’m concerned, John Marston is, to date, the most well thought-out, believable, and fully developed character that we’ve seen in video games. A cowboy at the turn of the century, Marston is part of a dying a breed, and he knows it. Technology and civilization are advancing rapidly around him, and he can’t keep up. Nor does he want to. In fact there are many instances where Marston outwardly rejects the oncoming change, such as his adverse reaction to being invited to ride in the backseat of a car. RDR is the story of a man fighting his hardest to locate and protect his family, doing whatever it takes in the process. No matter what you do in the game, you can always feel the sense of conviction in his character; that he really would be doing the things you make him do. It also helps that, unlike previous Rockstar games (GTAIV being the guiltiest of them all) there isn’t much you can do that doesn’t feel out of character for John. Yes, you can do side missions that don’t really have much to do with the main plot, but, I don’t see Marston as the kind of man who would leave someone hanging if he found them in trouble, even if they were strangers. Ask anyone who’s played RDR, and most of them will tell you that they didn’t feel right shooting innocents, or lawmen, which is due simply to how Rockstar establishes the goodness in Marston. The shocking ending to the game may have felt wrong or disingenuous to some, but, the more you think about Marston’s journey from the beginning of the game; the reasons why all of these things have happened, and how they came to be; the more you might be able to see how there was no other way to finish the story. No matter how you cut it, Marston found his redemption, but, more importantly, he earned it.

Honorable Mentions:

Kratos – God of War 3

I didn’t want to include him on the main list because he isn’t new, but, it is worth nothing that God of War 3 gave us the finale we’ve been waiting for. By concluding the story is such an epic way, we finally got to see the full arc of Kratos’ journey. And, what a blood-soaked, revenge-filled ending it was.

Ethan Mars, Madison Paige, Norma Jayden, and Scott Shelby – Heavy Rain

These four characters, just barely missed the main list. As far as facial animations and body capture, for my money, only Red Dead Redemption holds a candle to the characters in Heavy Rain. I loved just about every character in this game…until the end, where, if they’re all still alive at that point, all of them do something that’s either entirely out of their nature, or something that’s actually impossible. It’s a shame, because that game gave me some of the best moments of the year, and I feel like it’s still the most harrowing and special (for lack of a better word) game I’ve played all year. Its just unfortunate that, no matter how you cut it, the ending just doesn’t work, and that, unfortunately leaves a black mark on these characters.

Alan Wake – Alan Wake

Personally, I didn’t much like Alan Wake, but, I can’t pin that on the character himself. Unlike those who even like the game, there are many people who didn’t really connect enjoy the character, and, while I wouldn’t say I could connect with him in any way, I do see potential in the character for future projects, should there be any. I just hope that next time, he writes a story worth telling.

The Watcher – Darksiders

In one of the more criminally under appreciated games of the year, The Watcher was one of those great villains that you love to hate. Keeping the main character, War on a leash, The Watcher is there at all times to “help” War figure out what he must do, all the while taunting War, reminding him to never “forget his place.” Voiced by Mark Hamill, there are many instances where you might find yourself reminded of his previous work as The Joker, almost to a distracting degree, but, that crazy evil voice really just adds to how much you grow to despise The Watcher, and, finally, cheer in your seat when he gets what’s been coming to him.

So, that’s my list. Some weird, some impactful, some just strange, but all totally different than what we’ve seen before.

What about you? Who do you think deserves to be on the list?

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  • Brian Heitzenrater (FrehleyzComet)

    What did the characters of Heavy Rain do that you didn’t like at the end?

    Oh and I 100% agree with John Marston. He is one of the coolest characters ever imo. Everything about him is amazing.

  • Tamar Blaauw

    I’m so glad you chose John Marston as #1. And to have two characters from the same game on this list should say something about the game. It had one of the best cast of characters I’ve seen so far.