Undertale is a great example of this, I think,because it totally relies on its characters being good for the whole thing to even work. All the great mechanics aside, the game fundamentally requires you to care about even the random monsters you encounter along the way. Fortunately it works because the characters are just that good, but it’s pretty striking to realize just how badly it would have failed, should those characters have been poorly-written.
I’ve got some pretty obvious favorites (Garrus and Tali, basically every character from Portal) but to give a more interesting answer:
I put a frankly embarrassing amount of hour into Star Wars The Old Republic, and I genuinely really loved a lot of the characters in that game, specifically the Bounty Hunter companions. Like Austin said in the article, they are kind of caricatures but they’re absolutely memorable and I really did grow to like them (except Skadge, seriously fuck that guy). There were times when I literally sat for several minutes at a moral choice in that game cause I knew the choice that fit my character best would upset Mako. I got really close to finishing the main story, but then my laptop crapped out and it was a while before I had a computer that I could play it on and I never really went back to it. I still regret that to an extent and there’s also a weird anxiety about it, because I know that as an MMO the game will eventually be unplayable and I’m worried it’s gonna happen before I have a chance to see the story through to the end.
Two characters from Nier: Emil, my favorite child character in a Japanese role-playing game. And Kaine, an intersex woman who’s the only party member aware the protagonist is committing genocide, but lets him do it because she hates the shades that much
I also really liked Nagatsuki, one of the heroines from a visual novel called “Forest?” She’s a sex worker from Shinjuku who plays comic relief, constantly joking around and getting the cast into trouble. But she’s also the most aware of her status as a fiction (in a game all about fiction and our responses to it) and that self-knowledge really comes to haunt her over the course of the game. I have a weak spot for fools cursed by self-knowledge, really (Sans from Undertale, too!)
Man, I have a bunch. Couple of my favorites:
Henry and Delilah (Firewatch): I don’t know if any two characters have ever resonated with me more. I loved how broken, dark, paranoid, and flawed they were.
Ish (The Last of Us): Not really a character, but his journal entries in TLOU were a beautiful, heart wrenching way of building out that world and illustrating how brutal it is.
Sera (Dragon Age: Inquisition): She’s a goofy little idiot, but she’s also a tough, bad ass character that I loved going out of my way to spend more and more time.
Honestly I will take a thousand Prey’s over more Persona’s at this point. I am so done with games about teenagers made to sell power fantasies about being a teenager again to adults. The people in Prey may not be as memorable but they sure feel a lot more real than what you see in a lot of other games
eric sparrow from THUG is the closest a game villain has ever gotten to the Shakespearean antithesis. THUG itself is basically othello with kickflips which imo makes it a straight upgrade
Tactics Ogre and FFT spoiled me when it comes to make every character matter. You never know what will happen next, it keeps pushing the boundaries of its system to make something unexpected happen. It’s not just about writing good characters, it’s also about making them constantly relevant in the constraints of a 40h game.
I can’t speak to System Shock 1, but 2 had no “dialogue” interactions. You only see a few living people, and, they, uhh, don’t last too long. (Which has also been my experience with Prey so far.)
My most recent standout character is the Bloody Baron from Witcher 3. I hated him at first, and never truly came close to even liking him, but I was able to empathize with him. He is well written, well voiced, and his backstory is nuanced in a way many NPCs never are. The arc that you participate in is painful and transformative, as his hard as nails persona gets dented by his acceptance of his own shortcomings. Trying to be a little vague for the 7 people on earth that haven’t experienced this masterpiece yet <3
The literal first thing to pop into my head was Final Fantasy 6. Nothing says “memorable” like watching a character suplex a train, and as such Sabin is very very memorable. For the opposite reason, the entire fireteam in Ghost Recon: Wildlands is also very memorable, because nobody talks like that. Ever.
But, as many hours in to Prey as I am (I don’t want to look) I’m not feeling a lack of characters - more that there’s a real sense that this was a place people lived in, really lived in, and that they’re all dead or near to it. The few living people I’ve met feel more real than most characters I’ve encountered in games, and I guess to me that makes them more than “just” characters. The chef, for instance, was an amazing moment, and genuinely showed off just how well written the game is. Plus, I keep spotting EGM alumni names all over the game…
Serious answer: Clementine from The Walking Dead S1. I definitely fell hard for the surrogate father conceit and always played from a position of doing right by Clementine. I only ever reset and changed my decision once and that was when I killed one of the cannibal bros and Clementine will remember that. The best parts of S2 were when the towering echoes of Clem’s relationship with Lee colored her actions. Haven’t dived into S3 yet so I can’t comment.
Joke answer: Louisoix from FFXIV 1.0. Having only played for a few months before the ill-fated original version of FFXIV’s shutdown, Louisoix was just a random old wise quest giver who happened to figure slightly more prominently in the hastily thrown-together apocalypse plot. However, when he died in the trailer that played when the game shut down, his influence and importance loomed way larger in my mind. RIP in piece; Louisoix died for our sins.
legion from mass effect 2 is probably the most memorable robot character in any videogame i have played. i loved the geth in me1 so i was overjoyed at the notion that i could have one as a companion (normally games don’t let me befriend the creatures i’m most interested in…). legion itself was an interesting character with a lot of subtle quirks that immediately endeared it to me. it was also cool to have a robot on the team given mass effect’s themes about artificial intelligence.
generally the characters who stick out most to me are ones i can relate to or characters that do something that i really want to see more often in games, and legion fit the bill for both
speaking in regards to the idea of memorable caricatures, the ace attorney series has a lot of that - again, for better and worse. there are some characters in those games that end up being incredibly vivid and fleshed out (if exaggerated) people, and others that are just cringeworthy, two-dimensional jokes. a successful cast of caricatures can be difficult to do right, but there are certainly a lot of NPCs (even minor ones) in those games that i remember vividly even years after meeting them.
A quick pick from my favorite game, TES IV: Oblivion, would be Lucien Lachance. Delightfully voiced and deliciously evil, he really seduced me into the Dark Brotherhood during my first play though of the game. His arc ends up being rather unfortunate, too, but it makes one of the most powerful moments I’ve had in an Elder Scrolls game.
In the vein of BGS RPGs, I fell in love with Nick Valentine pretty early in Fallout 4. The combination of his design, the writing, and the voice acting just make him a character I think I’ll remember for a long time.
I think for now I’ll give my final one to Bill from Left 4 Dead. TRS had a real talent for writing interesting stories and characters for a game that was all about the gameplay. Especially in the final comic they made for the game, Bill became a standout character.
Morrigan and Merill from Dragon Age 1 and 2 are the two most memorable ones in memory, apart from Geralt which is to me a given and easily the most well written character in games. There are some characters in The Witcher 1 that are fantastic as well, but I don’t remember them as much, and it was more the arc in Chapter 1 of that game that carried them to a great conclusion. Geralt is just Geralt. Love that guy. He means well, he’s a bit gruff and rough, but also has a great sense of humor, which I love about him. The Witcher series is the only one that often makes me laugh, get pissed, and cry, not seldom in the span of a couple of hours, and most of it is due to Geralt’s reactions and delivery.
My only video game crush is and will likely remain Morrigan (as Bioware’s writing is worse and worse, but I like their characterization). I fell hard for her complicated backstory of abuse, rejection, coming to acceptance of what she is and how it shaped her. You never quite knew where you had her, she was mysterious but at the same time mostly sad rather then bad, wishing she was something she could not be. I think the way she was written and how the story ended if you romanced her was perfect for her - as unclear on the scale of good and evil and ambiguous as the character herself. Well, maybe it was a BIT more evil than anything else, but I died for that witch lady, and I’d do it again.
Merill falls in a similar mold, please don’t judge me for my love of wounded women thanks, mostly meaning well but often making mistakes and causing harm, or sometimes deliberately doing pretty bad stuff to safeguard what defined her. And those blood magic scenes… Heavy stuff that was handled fairly well. Perfect voice actor as well, which is even better in Torchwood.
I really like characters that have some wounds, that the writers didn’t want to simply victimize, rather making them stronger for it and shaping them. Especially that it made them want to do well, but often fucking up (The butcher of Blaviken). It makes them all the more real to me than the dozens of RPG troves that are out there. Mass Effect is good at this as well, but nothing compares to Morrigan or Merill. Props to Claudia Black for her voicework as well there, really fit the character and made her come alive, which can be said about Merill and Geralt as well actually. Good voice actors that “get” the part and how they react to things can really make a character come alive.
What about the crazy cook. He knocks you out and then proceeds to taunt you as you try to get objectives done
As far as memorable characters, Loader Bot from Tales from Borderlands was a breakout surprise to me.
So I had just gotten to him at around hour 20. I did the first bit of his quest (where he knocks you out, etc.)
but hadn’t gotten to him ranting at you, or into his backstory, etc. I still don’t know if he’s a “great character,” but glad to see that the third act of the game has more in the way of NPCs to chat with all together.
While I really loved the theatrical nature of characters in Bioshock for that game and environment, I completely loved the understated characters of Prey in their own environment, one full of dubious trust and several competing egos. I felt like the transcribes added depth to making Talos-I a once-living place, fleshing out even minor characters’ personal squabbles and relationships and aspirations. It caused me a small pang of grief each time I saw a phantom with a human name, whose life I had just peered into moments before, through transcribes and emails. If you pay attention to the subject of the various media, there is admirable subtlety in how Arkane tugs at you with these details of lost humanity.
I won’t approach spoilers, but every interaction with a living major character on Talos-I whom you meet in person at various times in the game felt like a meaningful experience after braving so much time alone. (Since I was playing on max difficulty without alien powers, I felt that the isolation and tension of skirmishes tended to linger, which could be a big factor in how I felt about the characters overall.)
Perhaps not favorites, but characters I’ve been thinking of recently are Regis from Witcher 3: Blood and Wine (whom I liked from the books before experiencing his portrayal in the game, which I also liked) and Valentine, from Fallout 4, probably my favorite companion of that game.
i feel like the last third of this game captures that breath of the wild feeling you talked about of “oh! theres people here! this is nice”
After spending so long alone it was surpisingly pleasant having other characters to interact with in this harsh environment even if some of them were out to get me
Look, I loved Wrex, even if the game wouldn’t let me smooch him, but Grunt is like… He’s the Donnel to my Patrick. He’s my murderous baby boy.