HK-47 (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic)
BioWares epic role-playing saga had the best characterization of any Star Wars game, before or since, and HK-47 was surely the most memorable cast member. At first he appeared to be the typically polite, C-3PO style droid until you dug deeper into the conversation trees and discovered his utter disdain for what he described as meatbags, nauseating piles of organs sloshing around inside a flimsy package of skin. Or, as you might know them, humans.
Over time, you realized just how psychotic HK-47 really was, with a preference to resolve nearly any problem with murder. Take him aside for a particularly lengthy conversation and you would discover his unsettling history, too, a past that involved working as hitman for a Hutt. Finally, if you paid close enough attention, youd learn that this seemingly harmless robot had eventually turned on (and executed) each and every one of his previous masters.
HK-47 assured you, of course, that this time would be different
King of All Cosmos (Katamari Damacy series)
This vengeful father figure provided much-needed context to Katamari Damacy, and kept the series fresh even as the gameplay remained essentially unchanged. Without his vast personage and wildly clumsy parties, after all, the tiny Prince would have no reason to roll Katamaris in the first place. He was always good for laughs, too, blurting out absurd insights, breaking the fourth wall and cutting you to pieces with eyeball lasers whenever you failed.
On a metaphysical level, the King helped remind us that the cosmos are a wondrous and chaotic place where logic doesnt always apply. He also proved that purple tights can be refreshingly masculine, when worn with the carefree flair of a supreme being. If there is a god calling the shots in our universe, we imagine this is as close as youll get to a peek inside its delirious head.
Kratos (God of War series)
Kratos is one of those characters that seems incredibly boring and generic at first glance. A bald, seething murder machine who sports cool swords tethered to his arms with chain whips, its easy to mistake his one visible emotion pure rage and singular fixation on killing things for shallow design. Spend a little time with Kratos, though, and youll learn that theres much more to him than wanton savagery, constant anger and a voice stuck somewhere between growl and roar.
In truth, Kratos is both an unstoppable force of nature and a broken, tragic man. Once a brave and respected general in Sparta, he sold his soul to Greek war god Ares in a moment of desperation, and was rewarded with a lifetime of servitude and torment. Tricked by Ares into murdering his own wife and daughter, Kratos spent years trying to atone for his mistake, grudgingly carrying out the orders of the gods in the hope that theyd eventually rid him of his pain. Instead, they elevated him to godhood and then betrayed him when he took his frustrations out on the rest of Greece, an act that drove him to declare war on Olympus itself. Kratos is cruel, brutal and an outright villain, but his story is so compelling, and at times so heartbreaking, that we cant wait to see how it ends in God of War III.
Master Chief (Halo series)
Hes the obvious choice for a list like this, but trust us, hell also be the most controversial. Master Chief barely talks! we can already imagine you shouting. He doesnt even have a personality! we hear you protest. And youre right.
Master Chiefs strength as a character, however, lies not in specifics. Hes a symbol and an icon, one that has broken through the boundaries of our hobby and into the cultural mainstreams consciousness. You can find him in toy stores and Times Square billboards. You can find him on t-shirts, French fry cups and Mountain Dew bottles. Hell, around the launch of Halo 3, you could find him practically anywhere (opens in new tab), including a weekly GamesRadar feature that ran for nearly 50 straight weeks (opens in new tab). Everybody knows about Master Chief not just gamers and increased exposure for the medium is always a good thing.
Plus, even haters have to admit the mask and suit are pretty badass.
Midna (The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess)
Despite a history that spans 22 years and dozens of games, The Legend of Zelda is remarkably devoid of memorable characters. In fact, we cant say we feel attached to anyone other than Link, Ganon and the eponymous princess, all around since the beginning. Then came Midna, a diminutive imp-lady that guides you around both Hyrule and the shadowy Twilight realm. She starts off as a grinning mischief maker thatd look right at home in The Nightmare Before Christmas, then through dialog and actions it becomes clear she has her own agenda. The question is, whos side is she really on?
Her constant berating makes her initially abrasive, though after a heroic act from Link, she opens up, reveals that she is the ousted, cursed Twilight Princess, and needs your help to regain her true form. Cue hours of puzzle solving and wilderness exploring, throughout which youre treated to more and more insight into her tragic fall from grace. When its all said and done, and her gorgeous true self is unveiled, you can feel the already strong connection between Link and Midna grow exponentially. In a series packed with amazing gameplay yet next to no standout characters, Midnas personal, emotional story radiated as brightly as the Triforce itself.
Miles Edgeworth (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney)
In a perfect world, Miles Edgeworth would have been the hero of the Ace Attorney series. As children, both he and Phoenix Wright shared the same noble, idealistic goal of becoming defense attorneys to protect the innocent. Unexpected tragedy and the stolen life of a loved one, however, took Miles down a darker path a path completely consumed by the need to punish criminals, no matter what the cost. A gifted prosecutor was born, but a childhood dream died.
Although his peers misunderstand his motivations, and often cast him as the heartless villain, Edgeworth chooses to keep his past hidden. He doesnt seek pity he seeks justice. And while he is a proud man, he never lets that pride blind him from the truth, even when it means admitting defeat to Phoenix Wright.
Stoic where Phoenix is blathering, and complex where Phoenix is one-dimensional, Miles was created to act as a counterbalance to the protagonist but often ends up eclipsing him. Plus, hes a way better dresser.
Nathan Drake (Uncharted Series)
Some characters, like Master Chief or Marcus Fenix, are heroes: always capable, always resourceful, always confident, always in control of every situation. Nathan Drake, by contrast, is almost never in control of any situation. Hes always outgunned, outnumbered and outflanked, and continually finds himself in situations where hes at an absurd disadvantage hanging from a tall signpost in the middle of a plaza while surrounded by angry mercenaries, for example. Somehow, his quick thinking, plucky resilience and Rasputin-like endurance always pull him through unscathed, but watching him completely lose his shit in the meantime is always entertaining.
Nathans charm extends well beyond his uncanny knack for getting in over his head, though. A globe-trotting, treasure-hunting thief with an apparently inexhaustible travel budget, he begins each game with completely selfish motives, but by the end hes always saving the world from international supercriminals who want to unleash some ancient evil on the world for profit. He also has the good fortune to be paired with (mostly) female partners who act as ideal foils for his cocky swagger and apparent inability to take anything completely seriously, and the screwball patter that erupts between them is part of why Nathan, and his adventures, possess a depth and humanity that most videogame characters can only dream of.
Prinny (Disgaea: Hour of Darkness)
Everyone roots for the underdog, and when it comes to downtrodden characters, no one is as heartwarmingly pathetic as the Disgaea franchises Prinnies. Their delicate penguin-like bodies house the souls of mortal sinners and are highly combustible. Thats why youll often see their cruel master Etna using her Prinny slaves as disposable bombs, tossing them straight into the gaping jaws of death without a second thought. The poor little guys are constantly beaten and bossed around, with giant beads of sweat flying from their stressed-out brows how can you not sympathize?
Despite their weak constitution, though, Prinnies can also be molded into a fierce fighting force. Keep grinding to level them up and youll eventually wield an army of powerful Prinny captains, generals, kings and gods. Only the hardest of hardcore Disgaea fans will ever have enough patience, but trust us, constructing a team of nigh-invulnerable Prinny wimps is one of the greatest accomplishments possible in the world of turn-based role-playing games.
Pyramid Head (Silent Hill 2 onwards)
Of all the characters in this list, none are as complicated, brutal and downright disturbing as Pyramid Head. The games protagonist, James Sunderland, first encounters this bloody behemoth inside an apartment building, where its violently raping one of the other gruesome monsters. This implies that not only is this thing something to avoid, but its also so overpowering and dangerous that it can literally have its way with the other things that are trying to kill you. Frightening on the most primal level, for sure.
Beyond that, we find that Pyramid Head is a manifestation of James own guilt for murdering his wife. While the other enemies in Silent Hill 2 are feminine projections of James masochistic desires, Pyramid Head is an invincible masculine tormentor that will forever hound James for his actions. Its not until the end of the game that James realizes what the monster truly is, and comes to terms with his unforgivable crime. In doing so, James finally kills what was nothing more than internal strife. This gut-wrenching tale of denial, delusion and unending purgatory has cast a shadow so long, so powerfully dark that its been impossible for the series to top. Even the 2006 film used Pyramid Head in its most memorable scene (opens in new tab) (keep a barf bag handy). What other character has caused an entire series to tread water for nearly 10 years in attempt to catch up?
Sim (The Sims series)
The game gives them no name. No personality. No appearance. No motivation. No nothing, really, until you the player step in to fill out all the blanks. Yet the Sims have somehow managed to capture our hearts and imaginations more than any other customizable avatar this decade. Why? Because unlike the frozen-faced Miis or utterly generic Second Life residents, the Sims are not puppets. Once brought into being, they take on a life of their own. You create them, you often control them, but you can never fully predict them.
As a result, every aspect of your pet computer peoples existence takes on special significance. Friendships, weddings, affairs, babies, kitchen fires and extraterrestrial pregnancies can be forced, of course, but they also evolve naturally and spontaneously. No wonder so many fans keep Sim screenshot scrapbooks, then share them online like proud parents. And even less wonder that The Sims franchise has already sold at least 50 million games and expansions, generating roughly 2 billion dollars in revenue. Mario, you may soon be eclipsed.