The Nameless One's living record
Like Enslaved's Monkey, Planescape: Torment's The Nameless One also used his body as a mobile diary. Unlike Monkey, however, Black Isle's immortal brute relied on said tattoos to keep track of his past lives and protect himself against a long list of enemies. As a result, The Nameless One (TNO for short) became one of the more unique characters in RPG lore.
As the old-school crowd will fondly recall, tattoos in Planescape: Torment doubled as inkable armor, granting players numerous perks, defensive traits, and stat enhancements. By the time his journey was over, TNO's body became something of a living sketchbook for runes, stories, spells, and battle scars. It doesn't get much sicker (or more uncomfortable) than that.
Clayton Carmine's family tribute
The Gears of War games are riddled with bro-worthy tattoos, but in the end it's Clayton Carmine's right arm tribute to his fallen brothers that gets our vote. Call us sentimental, but there's something about an inked homage to dead siblings accompanied with the image of Mk 2 Lancer Assault Rifle and the words Born to 2 Saw that brings a bro-tear to our bro-eyes. Clayton's arm tattoo makes us want to simultaneously hug this bacon-loving member of the Gears squad and choke out the nearest Lambent Berserker.
Honorable mentions go to Tai Kaliso's face paint, and Dominic's angelic tribute to his late wife. Sorry bros, maybe next year?
Darth Malak's head paint
A perk of becoming Dark Lord of the Sith is that you have the freedom set your own fashion statement and strike down any and all who oppose it. Not that Darth Malak, the chief baddie in Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic, ever needed to defend his blue-grey head paint because, come on, those are just plain cool. Technically, Darth Malak (born Alek) applied the head tattoo well before he assumed his dark side duties, but the tattoos are best remembered for their Sith Lord affiliation. Well, that and Malak's prosthetic jaw, but that wasn't so much a fashion choice as it was a necessity for chewing solids.
Star Wars aficionados will argue Darth Maul is a more appropriate choice to represent the franchise's affinity for face tattoos. This is true, but we wanted to highlight a Sith who was made specifically for video games, and one who did more than dance around for 15 minutes before falling down an exhaust pipe.
Death Metal's body art
Not all assassins are content with skulking about into the background. Take No More Heroes's Count Townsend (aka Death Metal) for example. Here's a man/monster who prefers to wear his proficiency for death and dismemberment on his sleeve, shoulders, back, face, and pretty much every inch of available skin. Not one for subtlety, Death Metal is painted head to toe in demonic imagery, the sum of which speaks of an assassin who prefers to make a scene, rather than deal in shadows. Sure, it's not the most effective method, but who are we to critique?
Death Metal's tattoo scored its own place in No More Heroes's trading card meta-game. This was a boon for fans who wanted to recreate the tattoo in real life, but not-so-great for the same fans who also wanted gainful employment and/or a stable relationship.
Agent 47's barcode
The perfect ink for the perfect assassin, Agent 47's barcode is proof a tattoo doesn't have to be flashy to be sick. As anyone who's been on an assignment with IO Interactive's stoic killer can attest, the symbol stamped at the back of 47's skull is a lot more than a random grouping of lines and bars. Translated up close, the barcode identifies baldy as one of The Agency's genetically engineered super-assassins, and includes the number 47 as inspiration for his codename in the final two digits.
Fun fact: The barcode displayed at the tail end of the 2011 trailer for Hitman: Absolution was initially attached to a bag of dildos. I guess we know how Agent 47 spends his downtime?
Final Fantasy XIII's L'Cie brand
If you can overlook the fact that being marked with a L'Cie brand in Final Fantasy XIII meant becoming a meat-puppet for a race of demi-gods, those futuristic tattoos were pretty rad. After all, Cocoon chicks dig tattoos that say, I'm playing an important role in the future of all mankind, while also suggesting that you might transform into a homicidal monster or be enslaved in crystal prison at any time.
From what we gather, L'Cie brands come in two flavors. Those bestowed by Pulse L'Cie resemble overlapping black arrows guarding a central eye that opens as the wearer grows nearer to his Cie'th fate. Those bearing the brand of the Cocoon fal'Cie wear an emblem of the god Lindzei, which also grows over time. Both can be burned out a number ways, thus saving the wearer from their fate. But what's the fun in that?
Kazuma Kiryu's dragon
Kazuma Kiryu's back tattoo is as legendary as the fictional Yakuza bigwig himself; and for good reason. The intricate dragon illustration is the inspiration for Kiryu's Dragon of Dojima nickname and highly symbolic of his alpha male nature.
Tattoos have long been a significant part of Yakuza tradition. They're meant to capture the soul of their wearer and express one's dedication to the Yakuza lifestyle. And then, if you're Sega, Yakuza tattoos can also be used as a cool promotional giveaway. In March 2011, the developer awarded one Fari Salievski with a $9,000 version of Kiryu's back tattoo. Thankfully, Salievski also happens to be a 7th degree martial arts master, so if the real Yakuza come knocking, at least has a fighting chance.
Derek O'Toole's assassin tattoo
Is it any surprise that the raddest member of the Tattoo Assassins made this list? It shouldn't be. Derek O'Toole's chest tattoo is easily one of the sickest tats in gaming, because a) check out that detail and b) seriously, have you ever seen anything more awesome? As the Shakespearean tale goes, O'Toole was a former rock star who took shelter in the underground club scene after being accused of having terrorist connections. In retaliation for this most heinous allegation, O'Toole signed up as a Tattoo Assassin and wreaked brutal vengeance with his magically enhanced skull tattoo.
We know how this looks. You think we only included a character from Tattoo Assassins because it was the first game to pop up in our Google search for video games and tattoos." You couldn't be more wrong. Tattoo Assassins represents a pivotal turning point in game design, and a unparalleled achievement in tattoo desi-... ah screw it, you caught us.
Faith's Runner tats
We don't actually know anyone who makes a living delivering information in a repressed futuristic society, but we're pretty sure the last thing anyone in that job wants to do is stand out. Nevertheless, Faith's tattoos fly in the face of Mirror's Edge's totalitarian regime, and that's what makes them special. In a world where Runners live and die by their ability to avoid identification, Faith's angular eye and circuitry tats stand out as a bold middle finger to oppressive powers-that-be.
The symbols also flesh out the history of EA DICE's free-running rebel. In Wildstorm Productions's limited run of Mirror's Edge comics, fans learned that the sharp tattoo around her right eye was applied to celebrate Faith's first successful run, and her digitally-inspired arm sleeve was drawn up after her assault on Silvine Security Systems.
It takes a certain physique and cocky attitude to pull off the upper-body snake tattoo, and Street Fighter's Vega certainly fits the bill. The shirtless sadist has worn his purple tattoo with pride ever since debuting in Capcom's fighting series, even incorporating it into his winning taunt in Capcom vs. SNK 2. Snaking across Vega's torso and wrapping around his right arm, the tattoo is a defining mark of this nobleman turned psychopath. It also happens to be a logistical nightmare for Street Fighter cosplayers.
Designers outfitted Vega with the snake tattoo as a means of identifying him as a villain to Japanese players, who associated body tattoos with those worn by members of the organized crime group, Yakuza. And speaking of Yakuza...