Written by Rick Warren / Gfn2112
They are on the cover art when you buy a game. They are the icons that help distinguish gaming platforms. They are the characters that you play as when you enter incredible worlds that you could not explore anywhere else. They are video game protagonists, and these are my all-time favorites.
5.) Batman - The Batman: Arkham Series
Much like the inclusion of The Joker on my list from last week, “My Top 5 Video Game Antagonists”, this pick can absolutely be controversial. However, much like with the Clown Prince of Crime, The Dark Knight earns his spot on this list due to this series alone. Batman in these games was, quite simply, the perfect version of the character. We were shown the world’s greatest detective side of Batman multiple times, whether it be through the gameplay or the story. He was perfectly voiced (in the main trilogy) by quintessential Batman actor Kevin Conroy. Best of all, Batman got the chance to fight against every member of his incredible Rogue’s Gallery. With hundreds of hours’ worth of memorable locations, strong writing, and excellent boss fights, this Batman truly felt like a playable version of the one from The Animated Series (he even said his most iconic line from the show in Arkham Knight). With this being a perfect version of Batman, he needed to get a spot on my list.
Up next, one of the two playable characters in Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic classic...
4.) Joel - The Last of Us
Throughout the majority of The Last of Us, you fill the shoes of a man named Joel. His heartbreaking backstory is shown before the game’s opening credits, and sets the tone for the world that Joel would need to survive in for the rest of his life. Troy Baker has had plenty of iconic roles in his voice acting career, but to me, this is the best by far. Every line in every scene was expertly delivered, and Troy Baker was a key part in making the masterfully-written dialogue stand out. His relationship with Ellie felt so real, and it likely wouldn’t have without Baker’s performance. To this day, the question of whether Joel was right (regarding his actions at the end of the game) is discussed heavily. Ultimately, he’s a selfish character that did an incredibly selfish thing. I agree with him, though. I would have done the same thing. Few pieces of art have done such an effective job of showing a broken character, and Joel’s perfect characterization is what earns him his spot on this list.
Up next... the other playable character from The Last of Us...
3.) Ellie - The Last of Us
I’ve never had the same game take two spots in a row in one of my top five lists, but it would be inaccurate to order them otherwise. Joel and Ellie are so close for me that putting one any further from the other wouldn’t make sense. Both are so great because of their relationship. The way it grows (and the way they change) over time, the conflicts between them, and the way their characters are constructed. Ellie is a direct contrast to Joel in every scenario. She’s badass, yes, but she’s both nicer than Joel and naiver as to how the world works. Ashley Johnson deserves just as much praise as Troy Baker, if not more. She makes Ellie her character, giving her the personality that has made her one of the all-time greats. With the Left Behind DLC, Ellie received even more development. It’s amazing that Naughty Dog handled everything regarding the teenager so well, and her story being told with such care is what gives her the slight edge over Joel for me. Ellie is one of my favorite characters, and I cannot wait to see more of her in The Last of Us Part 2.
In the #2 spot... a Naughty Dog character. Again. They’re just that good...
2.) Nathan Drake - The Uncharted Series
The legendary treasure hunter, and protagonist, from the Uncharted series is arguably PlayStation’s most popular character. That’s for good reason, as he’s a huge part of what makes the series special. Each wild setpiece moment Drake survives is accompanied with his trademark humor, and Nolan North ensures that it always gets a smile or laugh from the player. Yet behind all the villain killing and treasure hunting lies a man torn between doing what he loves and being with the woman that he loves. His relationship with the woman in question, Elena Fisher, works so well because she sees through Drake’s façade. Nate has an equally engaging relationship with his best friend and mentor Sully, with plenty of fun back and forth moments that only add to the thrilling stories. In Uncharted 4, the curses and myths are abandoned for a focus on Drake himself, and it leads to a perfect ending that provides closure for this beloved protagonist.
Finally, my favorite protagonist! It’s actually not from a Naughty Dog game (shocking given the rest of the list, I’m sure)...
1.) Big Boss - The Metal Gear Solid Series
Hideo Kojima is a video game creator known for his cinematics and storytelling, and no characters benefits more from those than his protagonists. My personal favorite is Naked Snake/Big Boss, only because his story arc is so unprecedented in video games. For two decades, this character was built into what he is. From the original Metal Gear games where he’s a simple villain, to Metal Gear Solid 3 where he’s a tragic hero, to Metal Gear Solid 4 where he’s delivering a final, meaningless victory, Big Boss has filled every role there is to fill. He’s been a villain, he’s been a hero, and he’s been an anti-hero. He excelled at all of them. David Hayter delivered unforgettable performances as Solid Snake, but the ones that resonated with me the most were as Solid’s father, Big Boss. Metal Gear Solid is a series that has spanned four console generations, and the original Metal Gear games precede that. Solid Snake has played a part in most of the games, but only Big Boss has played a part in all of them. Whether what I was doing was right or wrong, every moment I spent as this character will be special to me forever.
That’s all for this week! Check out a series of honorable mentions down below, and share your favorite video game protagonists! As always, expect a new Top 5 next Friday!