This is all about a game’s cast. It isn’t limited to the main character, but also includes party members, enemies, and NPCs that have an influence on the story. Having one great character won’t land a game on this list, but in the same vein, having a lackluster lead isn’t necessarily disqualifying — assuming the other cast members are awesome. Dialogue and writing obviously have a large impact on the success of a character, but I also want to highlight unique characters, ones with a good backstory, and well-developed relationships.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
Obviously, Aloy is a great lead. She’s strong, passionate, yet still naive. She also doesn’t give a shit about guys telling her she’s hot. But I also enjoyed several of the NPCs you come across in your travels.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm
Chloe can be immensely annoying and I thought some of the vocal performances were atrocious. But Life is Strange: Before the Storm at least deserves mention here for how it often nails the Chloe/Rachel relationship.
I didn’t get far enough into Nier: Automata for things to truly pop off in the story, but I liked what I saw of the relationship between 2B and 9S.
Again, I wasn’t able to finish this one, but plenty of the characters aboard the Tacoma were ones I wanted to learn more about.
What Remains of Edith Finch
The character stories in What Remains of Edith Finch are truly fascinating, and I really felt like I knew each one of them after only a few minutes.
5. Night in the Woods
The characters and writing are the best things about Night in the Woods. Mae is definitely a slacker millennial, but she’s also charming and dealing with many common struggles that I identify with. Bea is a total dick, but the perfect combination of rebellious and aloof that made me desperate to be her friend. Gregg is probably the best character of the year. He’s amazing in every single way. Angus gets less development than the other “best friends,” but he has a tragic backstory that really supports the kind of person he is. And that’s to say nothing of the extended characters in Night in the Woods, who all have great backstories and develop relationships with Mae over time — whether they’re poets, star-gazers, or simple tunnel fisherman. Also, Germ is pretty cool, too.
4. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
See my “lackluster lead” comment above. Yes, Vaan sucks and he sucks a lot. But almost every other party member is great, with plenty of backstory and drama that develops over time. Penelo is a bit annoying, but it is cute to see her and Vaan interact. Balthier is one of my all-time favorite Final Fantasy characters and perfectly fits that roguish pirate style that falls in line with a character like Han Solo. Fran is super mysterious and also sexy, and kicks some major ass throughout the story. Basch fits in line with the “broken hero” archetype, but he’s good at keeping the gang in check and on priority. Ashe is less interesting than some of the others, but she’s a strong person that bucks the damsel in distress trend. Personally, I found side characters like Larsa and Vayne to be a bit annoying, but the main cast is more than strong enough to earn a spot on this list.
3. South Park: The Fractured But Whole
Most of the characters in Fractured But Whole are characters we’ve known for decades at this point, but that doesn’t make them any less fun to be around. Pretty much the entire town of South Park is represented in the game in some form or fashion, and that’s awesome. Obviously, the kids take center stage, and I love seeing them interact and argue amongst themselves. The New Kid isn’t even really a character, but more a surrogate for the audience perspective. The game makes fun of that in more than a few fun ways. Butters is probably my favorite South Park character, so it should come as no surprise that I loved his involvement as Professor Chaos. And, of course, no South Park game would be complete without Cartman running the insanity, much to the chagrin of Stan and Kyle. Playing this game makes me want to watch the show, which I haven’t done consistently for a few years.
It’s easy to praise Pyre in most categories — the game just has such a fresh style. Its actual story is maybe a bit too obtuse for my tastes, but what does work is mostly because of the characters and writing. Perhaps most impressive, there were a few characters early on that I didn’t think I’d care much about, but as I spoke with them more over the course of the game, I really liked all of them for different reasons. Sir Gilman, Rukey, and Ti’zo are the best, though. The biggest thing that holds the characters back from being even better is the lack of true character animations. The stills do an admirable job of selling the meaning and emotion of the dialogue, but that just isn’t the same as actual facial animations. Still, the existing approach works well with Pyre’s vibe.
1. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
Just like in the graphical category, it almost isn’t fair for a video game to be compared to what Naughty Dog can do with their characters. Their writing is the best in the industry, hands down. And those efforts are only bolstered by excellent acting and motion capture. This is feature film level stuff we’re talking about, here. Chloe was always a standout character in previous Uncharted games, and Nadine made a strong impression in Uncharted 4, so it made sense to focus on those two for this off-shoot game (that hopefully is the beginning of a new series). But things aren’t only about them. Sam makes a fun appearance toward the end of the game, and the villain, Asav, actually has some understandable reasoning for his insane ambition and heinous acts. He actually reminds me a bit of Killmonger in Black Panther.
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