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The 50 most iconic video game characters of all time

The 50 Most Iconic Video Game Characters
(Image credit: Nintendo/Square Enix/Microsoft)

GamesRadar+ presents the 50 most iconic video game characters in 2021. The entire GamesRadar+ team nominated a selection of their picks for the title, and then the brutal voting process for ranking our beloved characters began. Here are the top 50, chosen because of the impact they had on players and games as a whole, not just the bank balances or movie deals of their publishers. Some are obvious choices, others will remind you of past favorites, and a few are a little weird but utterly iconic when you really think about it.

This year the Golden Joystick Awards will also be celebrating 50 Years of Games at the show to mark the birth of an industry that began with the first coin-operated arcade machine, Computer Space, in 1971. Today voting opens for two special award categories, the ‘Ultimate Game of All Time’ and ‘Best Gaming Hardware of All Time’, and you need to register your votes before November 12.

Click to vote for your Ultimate Game of All Time!

50. Samanosuke Akechi

Onimusha

(Image credit: Capcom)

First appearance in a game: 2001
Notable appearance:
Onimusha 3: Demon Siege

Known as Tenkai Nankōbō to the people/demons he doesn’t brutally slay, Samanosuke takes the starring role in the first and third games of the Onimusha series. While he initially comes over as a fairly generic hero in Capcom’s original samurai slasher, Akechi blossoms into a kickass co-lead in Onimusha 3: Demon Siege, in part because acclaimed film actor Jean Reno does such a stellar job as the preposterously named Jacques Blanc. 

Steered by justice and a sense of honor, it’s a real pity Onmishua died a relatively early death. Despite claiming reasonably good reviews and sales figures, the franchise just didn’t have the legs of a Resident Evil, or even Devil May Cry. Loosely based on the historical figure, Akechi Hidemitsu, we can only hope we see this noble warrior reappear on modern consoles one day. 

49. Sylvanas Windrunner

Sylvanas

(Image credit: Blizzard)

First appearance in a game: 2002
Notable appearance: World of Warcraft

First introduced in Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos, Sylvanas has gone through one of the most satisfying story arcs in WoW history. Once a high elf ranger who died heroically protecting her homelands, Windrunner was turned into a banshee after her soul was ripped out during battle. 

Going on to play a pivotal role in World of Warcraft's superb Wrath of the Lich King expansion, the leader of the Forsaken faction is driven by the need for power and revenge. Happily, she becomes a teensy bit less consumed by her hatred of the living after she regains her free will. Regardless of whether she has undead agency or not though, Sylvanas remains an utterly iconic badass. 

48. Ratchet

Ratchet

(Image credit: Sony)

First appearance in a game: 2002
Notable appearance: Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time

One of PlayStation’s most likable mascots, the mechanically gifted Lombax has been wowing gamers with his incredibly fluffy space ears since the early ‘00s. Forming an all-time great duo with the tiny, impeccably polite robot Clank, Ratchet has saved the universe a ludicrous number of times. Despite being humble and heroic, the good-natured Lombax has always been a little glum, no matter how irresistibly chipper his dinky droid pal is. 

Up until A Crack in Time and Rift Apart fleshed out his backstory, Ratchet was thought to be the only surviving member of his species in all of the galaxy. Hoo-boy are we glad Rivet stole the show in the series’ first PS5 adventure to finally pick up the lonely Lombax’s spirits. 

47. Doomguy

Doom

(Image credit: Bethesda)

First appearance in a game: 1993
Notable appearance: Doom (2016)

John Romero’s icon goes by many names. "The Doom Slayer". "The Hell Walker". "Unchained Predator". "Mr Hugglebug". And we’ve only made one of those monikers up, promise. Debuting in iD’s formative FPS back in 1993, Doomguy’s snarling face was a pixelated wonder back in the days when Jurassic Park was awing cinemagoers worldwide. 

Without Doom’s legendary, incredibly violent marine, there would be no BJ Blazkowicz or Sam "Serious" Sam, let alone Microsoft’s iconic Master Chief. The daddy of the shooter genre, the shotgun-toting, chainsaw-revving legend made a triumphant reappearance in the series’ brilliant 2016 reboot. Three years later, the mute murderer was finally given some lines, delivered with grizzled panache by actor Matthew Waterson, in Doom Eternal. 

46. Dorian Pavus

Dorian

(Image credit: EA)

First appearance in a game: 2014
Notable appearance: Dragon Age: Inquisition 

Now this is what we call a soup strainer. Captain Price may have a pretty respectable ‘stache, but it’s got nothing on the gloriously twirly piece of hair sitting above Dorian’s beautiful face. A playful flirt from the off, the former Enchanter is a dreamy, expertly groomed romance option for those who choose to play as a male Inquisitor.

One of the few truly iconic characters in Dragon Age, Dorian’s magical ability and sharp wit make him a great RPG companion. The hunky spellcaster has lived quite the life, too. Born to the fancy-pants House of Qarinus, Dorian studied magic at the Circle of Carastes, but despite being a prize student, his love of dueling landed him in all sorts of bother. From roughing it in the elven slums of Tevinter Imperium to joining the Inquisition to help stop societal ills, Pavus is as complicated as his mustache is magnificent. 

45. Dog

Fable

(Image credit: Microsoft)

First appearance in a game: 2008
Notable appearance: Fable 2

Thanks to Fable 2’s See the Future DLC, this iconic Albion pupper can come in several shapes and sizes. Whether you raise it as a dalmation, bloodhound, or the original "mutt" breed, Dog plays a crucial role in the Xbox RPG. Found near Bowerstone at the beginning of the adventure, your Hero and Dog form a bond that defines the game. 

As the journey unfolds, your behavior and choices affect the look and mannerisms of Dog. Play like a total jerk and you’ll quickly have a devil dog on your hands; one that acts aggressively and develops jet black paws. If the Hero remains a do-gooder though, the pup will be a very happy boy who children rush to pet. Regardless of your moral choices, Dog proves itself iconic through a legendary act of sacrifice, taking a bullet for the Hero as the dastardly Lucien tries to shoot your character. And yes, we do have all the things in our eye. 

44. Bella Goth

Bella Goth

(Image credit: EA)

First appearance in a game: 2000
Notable appearance: The Sims 2

The most stylish Sim ever used to have such a lovely, boring life. Growing up in the Bachelor family, she was a good student whose Gothic side shone through in the collection of skulls she adorned her bedroom with. The iconic, impeccably dressed Sim’s life gets a lot more eventful in The Sims 2, when she marries Mortimer Goth, a b-movie star with an… um, unusual love of insects. 

Though Bella shares a happy relationship with her bug-hugging hubby at 165 Sim Lane, Goth vanishes from Pleasantview after being abducted by aliens. She’s been missing ever since – though a version of her does appear in The Sims 4, admittedly in an alternate timeline. Prior to being beamed up by E.T. and pals, Bella was last spotted hanging around Don Lothario’s deck, hinting at an extramarital tryst between the pair. Juicy! Beam this oh so stylish Sim back, you alien jerks! 

43. Alduin

Skyrim

(Image credit: Bethesda)

First appearance in a game: 2011
Notable appearance: The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim

This surprisingly loose-lipped lizard is a deadly dragon king, and easily the most iconic monster your Dragonborn encounters. And talk about an entrance. During Skyrim’s brilliant execution opening, Alduin saves your warrior from losing their head during a relentless attack on Helgen Keep. How? By acting like a dragon… that, and by summoning storms of meteors with his iconic roar. We never saw Drogon pull that off in Game of Thrones.

Such is his appetite for destruction, Alduin is often called "World Eater" – presumably by the soon-to-be charred corpses of his latest victims. Mercifully, the Dragonborn and a trio of Nordic heroes send Alduin packing through time thanks to the power of an Elder Scroll. Still, before he’s Back to the Future-d to oblivion, this iconic dragon is an awesomely grand, gloating villain.

42. Steve

Steve

(Image credit: Microsoft)

First appearance in a game: 2011
Notable appearance: Minecraft

Who? Yup, Mojang’s blocky cover star actually has a name. Rocking one of the most instantly recognizable silhouettes in all of gaming, this man-shaped stack of bricks is the enduring symbol of Minecraft. He may be a man of few – or more accurately - zero words, yet Steve’s role as a mute protagonist makes him the perfect blank slate to take in all the wonders of Mojang’s endlessly imaginative sandbox world. 

Also, that dude has not been missing shoulder day at his presumably block-built gym. Thanks to the game’s staggering popularity and a Steve-centric YouTube series made by Rise Animation, the Minecraft man is now so iconic, he even nabs a fighting cameo in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. That’s it, Stevie boy; give Mario and his cronies a brick-based beatdown.

41. Chloe Price

Life is Strange

(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

First appearance in a game: 2015
Notable appearance: Life is Strange

Starring in the most iconic time-fiddling friendship since Marty McFly and Doc Brown, Max Caulfield and Chloe Price form quite the duo in Dontnod’s disarming episodic adventure. When Max uses her magic juju to reverse time to save Price’s life after years of estrangement, the pair almost instantly rekindle their friendship.

Tenderly played by Aloy actress Ashley Burch, and by Rhianna DeVries in the prequel Life is Strange Beyond the Storm, it’s Chloe’s complexity that makes her such an iconic character. Fiercely loyal but quick to blame others, brave while still crippled by fear, compassionate yet cold, Price is a complete one-off. The sensitive handling of Chloe’s mental health and addiction issues makes her not only one of the most iconic characters of the 2010s but one of the most truly three-dimensional to ever appear in a video game.

40. Cayde-6

Cayde

(Image credit: Bungie)

First appearance in a game: 2014
Notable appearance: Destiny 2

Everyone’s favorite quip-cracking Guardian is a brilliant example of how the right voice actor can completely make or break a character. Pitch perfectly played by Nathan Fillion, this Hunter Vanguard goes through one of the most satisfying character arcs in Destiny lore. Though he was underwritten in Bungie’s original looter shooter – who wasn’t?! – the constantly sarcastic Cayde really gets a chance to shine in Destiny 2.

The driving force of the plot in the sequel’s excellent Forsaken DLC, the Hunter is given a truly ennobling, against all odds death scene. To this day, Destiny’s Tower has never quite filled the hole this charming lover of loot left behind. We’d be sadder, but we’re just relieved he bequeathed our Guardians his incredible Ace of Spades exotic hand cannon. 

39. Dogmeat

Dogmeat

(Image credit: Bethesda)

First appearance in a game: 1997
Notable appearance: Fallout 4

Who’s the best (slightly irradiated) boy?! Though his breed and appearance has never quite stayed the same throughout Bethesda’s legendary RPG series, one version or another of this pup has always acted as a loyal companion to the Vault Dweller. Inspired by the unnamed pooch that appears in the first two Mad Max films, Dogmeat’s original name was.... ahem, "Dogsh*t"... at least around the offices of Interplay Productions back in the late ‘90s.

Thankfully, the iconic dog got a more PC-friendly nickname, alongside a considerably more cuddly redesign, in Fallout 4. Whereas previously he’d been portrayed as the sort of mangy, slavering mongrel you’d expect to run into during the nuclear apocalypse, the most recent version of Dogmeat to hit our screens is a gorgeous, totally unkillable German Shepard. You better believe he deserves all the treats. 

38. Garrus Vakarian 

Garrus

(Image credit: EA)

First appearance in a game: 2007
Notable appearance: Mass Effect 2

Shepard’s Turian BFF might just be the best virtual sidekick ever. Strangely though, Mass Effect’s most popular character initially makes an underwhelming first impression. At first, he comes across as a stuffy C-Sec officer, but as the original trilogy evolves and improves, the avian-looking alien’s backstory becomes more nuanced and satisfying.

Despite his professional obligations, Garrus is a natural-born rule-breaker, which is why he and Shepard get on so famously… providing you don’t choose to kill him on the multiple occasions the trilogy dangles the choice in front of you. Keep Vakarian alive right until the end of Mass Effect 3, and one of the most effective portrayals of wordless, video game friendship reveals itself in arguably the series’ best cutscene. 

37. Captain Price

Captain Price

(Image credit: Activision)

First appearance in a game: 2007
Notable appearance: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

The most famous mustache in video games belongs to the most charismatic character ever to appear in Call of Duty. As cockney as a plate of gun-toting jellied eels, John Price is the breakout star of Activision’s landmark rebooted shooter, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Though he’s really only playable via flashbacks and the ridiculous ending sequence of Modern Warfare 3, the good captain steals every last second of screen time he appears in.

Unflappably loyal, a little jaded, and never anything less than an undisputed badass, Price was the first Call of Duty character who was really worth paying attention to. Initially voiced by veteran English actor Billy Murray, a younger version of the character once again stole the limelight from the series’ conveyor belt of mute protagonists in 2019’s rebooted Modern Warfare, this time portrayed by Liverpudlian actor, Barry Sloane. 

36. Isaac Clarke

Isaac

(Image credit: EA)

First appearance in a game: 2008
Notable appearance: Dead Space 2

Waaaaaay before The Mandalorian, Isaac Clarke made hiding your face carbonite cool. Even though you don’t see his mug until the sequel, this near-mute systems engineer makes an indelible impression in EA’s survival horror series merely by having one of the coolest costumes we’ve ever seen. 

Part Darth Vader, part slimmed-down Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine, Clarke always looks awesome, whether he’s floating through the debris of a ruined intergalactic station, or being sliced and diced by one of Dead Space’s rotting Necromorphs. He may not have the one-liner skills of Resident Evil 4’s Leon, but Isaac makes up for his lack of chat by being one of the keenest crack shots in the galaxy. 

35. Tom Nook

Tom Nook

(Image credit: Nintendo)

First appearance in a game: 2001
Notable appearance: Animal Crossing

The most ruthless businessman since Gordon Gecko… and don’t let that fact he’s a cartoon fuzzball fool you. First appearing in the original Animal Crossing on GameCube, this economically-savvy scoundrel is one of the canniest, most conniving characters in Nintendo history. He may seem all sweetest and light when he’s selling you that first house, but the mortgage payments come along soon enough. Who says Nintendo never handles adult issues?

Hilariously, Nook becomes an even more brutal negotiator as the series goes on. You thought he was a tough customer to deal with in the first Animal Crossing? Wait until the house he initially offered you is downgraded to a tent in the likes of Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Greed is good… and the surname is Nook.

34. Niko Bellic

Niko

(Image credit: Rockstar)

First appearance in a game: 2008
Notable appearance: Grand Theft Auto 4

GTA’s most emotionally conflicted lead character is a Balkan badass with a twitchy trigger finger and a tortured past. Rocking a cheap sweatsuit more effectively than any other character in gaming history, Niko is a far more complex individual than any of the one-dimensional leads that appeared in the original Grand Theft Auto trilogy.

Unable to shake his shifty past and overwhelmed by the excess of modern American life, Bellic steamrolls through Liberty City like a perpetually downbeat bull in an incredibly violent china shop. If it wasn’t for his cousin’s love for bowling and other, more X-rated pastimes, Niko would barely lighten up during GTA 4’s 93 story missions. 

33. Kassandra

Assassin's Creed Odyssey

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

First appearance in a game: 2018
Notable appearance: Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

Though you technically don’t need to choose her as the main character of Odyssey, we’d rather play a stare-off with Medusa than pick Kassandra’s half-brother, Alexios. Her baby brother may be fine(ish) - if a smidge dull - but it’s Kassandra who really shines when you start exploring the vast lands of Ubisoft’s Ancient Greek kingdom.

Played with a smile and a wink, this Spartan mercenary is as charming as she is homicidal. Whether rubbing shoulders with iconic historical figures like Socrates or slicing and dicing enemy soldiers like a Terminator in a toga, Kassandra is both a furious warrior and a slightly murder-y maker of mirth. As the first female player character in a mainline Assassin’s entry, Melissanthi Mahut absolutely nails the role, giving Kassandra a serious yet also charmingly sassy side. After AC II’s legendary Ezio, this kickass, quip-loving Greek is easily the most popular character in Ubi’s long-running series. 

32. Parappa the Rappa

PaRappa the Rapper

(Image credit: Sony)

First appearance in a game: 1996
Notable appearance: Parappa the Rapper

As far as mascots go for the original PlayStation, Parappa is definitely a left-field choice.  This skinny cartoon pooch is obsessed with rap… and wearing blindingly bright beanies. The cuddly hound is also one of the most relentlessly upbeat characters on the PS1. As he tries to out rap the likes of Joe Chin, Parappa chirps “I gotta believe” if he’s struggling during a beat battle. 

The rapping pooch’s name means “paper-thin” in Japanese, which neatly explains Pappa’s ultra expressive, almost origami-looking 2D art style. The unique look and premise of the first game made Parappa a breakout star, earning him sequels, his own anime series, and even a slightly strange face-slapping rivalry with Ape Escape’s Spike in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale.

31. Pyramid Head

Pyramid Head

(Image credit: Konami)

First appearance in a game: 2001
Notable appearance: Silent Hill 2

With a noggin the shape of a scalene triangle, one of the most infamous monsters in the history of survival horror was initially known as “The Bogeyman” in Japan. Brandishing a knife roughly as long as a school bus, the relentless butcher sinisterly scrapes his sword-like weapon across many a surface in pursuit of James Sunderland in Silent Hill 2. 

Introduced to players through one of the most heinous acts of violence in video game history, the bloodstained abomination is the main threat of Konami’s classic horror sequel. In a heartless (and kind of ingenious) “f**k you!” to players, the game actually throws two Pyramid Heads at you during one of Silent Hill 2’s closing battles. To this day it remains a triangular act of gaming treachery. 

30. Guybrush Threepwood

Guybrush Threepwood

(Image credit: Lucasfilm Games)

First appearance in a game: 1990
Notable appearance: The Curse of Monkey Island

Guybrush Ulysses Threepwood is a rarity in the video game world: a comedy character who’s actually funny. He’s a great example of a protagonist who thinks he’s more capable than he actually is but is still fun to play, as you quip, spit, and flail your way through five Monkey Island games, facing down the evil undead pirate LeChuck and romancing the spirited Elaine Marley. His forename comes from the Deluxe Paint tool used to create his sprite, and his surname is lifted directly from P.G. Woodehouse’s Blandings stories. Guybrush is famous enough that he’s featured in numerous other games, including Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2, Sea of Thieves, Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, and even an oblique reference in the Uncharted series. 

29. Arthur Morgan

Arthur Morgan

(Image credit: Rockstar)

First appearance in a game: 2018
Notable appearance: Red Dead Redemption 2

One of the hardest things to do in a game that lets you go anywhere, do anything and hogtie innocent strangers is providing some sense of depth and realism to your protagonist, no matter how they behave. But somehow, Arthur Morgan in Red Dead Redemption 2 manages to bring a nourishing sense of humanity to almost everything he does. Actor Roger Clark provided motion capture and voiceover for the troubled outlaw, and he took his inspiration from Toshiro Mifune, the legendary Japanese leading man who starred in many of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films. It’s a leftfield choice until you remember Kurosawa was deeply influenced by classic John Ford Westerns, and that many of his films were adapted again for a wild west setting. Those layered subtleties are just part of what makes Arthur Morgan stand out as a stoic, amusing, often tragic character.

28. Max Payne

Max Payne

(Image credit: Remedy Entertainment)

First appearance in a game: 2001
Notable appearance: Max Payne

Think of Max Payne and the chances are you’ll visualize slow-motion dives and hear the desperate rattle of painkillers. He’s trauma in a leather trench coat; a man who, having lost everything, somehow contrives to lose even more. Across the course of three games he’s battled every kind of mafia organization conceivable, worked as a private security contractor and even shaved his head in an ‘I can’t take this sh*t anymore’ cutscene. In the first game he’s played by writer and designer Sam Lake, largely because the Remedy team couldn’t afford to pay actors (Lake’s mother even portrays the game’s villain), but he was remodeled in the second game to resemble actor Timothy Gibbs. Mark Wahlberg played the role of Max in 2008’s critically-eviscerated movie adaptation, which holds a 16% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. A different kind of trauma altogether. 

27. Sam Fisher

Sam Fisher

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

First appearance in a game: 2002
Notable appearance: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell 

Sam Fisher is the reason most gamers can’t walk through a narrow corridor without looking up to check for three green dots. He’s got the sort of career history that makes Solid Snake look like a wheezy recruit in the Territorial Army: a highly decorated Navy SEAL, former CIA clandestine officer, member of a top-secret NSA initiative, and commander of his own covert unit. He’s been performed by chainsaw-voiced veteran actor Michael Ironside in five of the six Splinter Cell games but in the more action-focussed Blacklist, Canadian actor Eric Johnson took over voice and performance capture duties. Fisher is a big enough deal that a film adaptation of Splinter Cell has been in pre-production since 2005, with Bourne director Doug Liman briefly attached, and Netflix is currently producing an anime series adaptation with John Wick writer Derek Kolstad serving as executive producer.

26. Big Daddy and Little Sister

Bioshock

(Image credit: 2K)

First appearance in a game: 2007
Notable appearance: BioShock

There’s something magnificently weird about your first encounter with Little Sisters and their protective Big Daddies in 2007’s BioShock. There’s a sense that they have a purpose outside your firsthand experience - that you’re an outsider intruding upon something real. And BioShock is brilliant because it doesn’t let you ignore them: if you want to succeed, you have to engage. The fights that follow are the game’s best - desperate, terrifying arm wrestles, which require you to throw all of your dwindling resources at your lumbering, elephantine opponent in an elemental fight for survival. And that shocking eruption of violence serves to frame your treatment of the Little Sisters: Do you rescue them and make the game more difficult for yourself? Or harvest them for improved magic bee hands? You rescue them, obviously, you monster. 

Keep reading to find out which icons made it into the top 25, and who gets the trophy for being the most iconic video game character in 2021...

Rachel Weber

Between Official PlayStation Magazine, GamesIndustry.biz and Rolling Stone I've picked up a wide range of experience, from how to handle the madness of E3 to making easy conversation with CEOs and executives of game companies over seafood buffets. At GamesRadar+ I'm proud of the impact I've had on the way we write news, and now - as managing editor in the US - the huge traffic successes we're seeing. Most of all I'm proud of my team, who have continued to kick ass through the uncertainty of 2020 and into 2021, and are what makes GamesRadar+ so special.