Darth Revan (Knights of the Old Republic)

It is usually difficult to attribute character to one who leaves the decision up to the player. When people conjure an image of Knights of the Old Republic's Darth Revan, they think of the imposing Sith leader draped in black, face hidden behind a lifeless mask. It generally takes a second to draw the connection to their own avatar in the game as the selection of stock faces provided by the game do not leave the same impact as the almost-mythic figure. So how does the Exile, the player-driven protagonist of Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, stand on his or her own against a better written supporting cast?

Simply put, the Exile is the perfect modern example of the choose-your-own-protagonist variety, especially among big name developers. This was always a key strength that developer Obsidian has exhibited that its contemporaries BioWare and Bethesda lack. Commander Shepard is the best thing in the galaxy because who else would would the player be? The Dragonborn does whatever they want with practically no ill effect because that's the freedom the game offers. Built directly into these characters is a certain contradiction that cannot be reconciled: How do you allow players to have full control over the character's path while creating a game world that reacts to their every whim? Traditional RPGs have a storyteller who can react to decisions on the fly, but video games do not have that luxury. Barring the eventuality of instant, computer-generated stories and plots, these characters are stuck on a path the author dictates because there isn't the time or resources to make the game everyone thinks they want.

When it comes to KOTOR II, there are no illusions that this is the case. While not the first or last game to broach the subject, KOTOR II has no problem laughing in the face of the player as they attempt to put their vision of the game world into practice. Sure, the Star Wars standard Light Side/Dark Side dichotomy is still present, the game is still about Sith trying to do something bad, and there is still a group of followers drawn to you for "reasons", it's just that the context is more fulfilling and interesting. At the center of it all is the Exile, a player-made protagonist whose entire existence is predicated on the idea that players aren't as free as they would like to think they are. In a vacuum there's nothing special there, but as a response to an entire genre trying to put purpose to pixels, the Exile is a fascinating reversal of the player surrogate. KOTOR II's unfinished ending means it cant' quite stick the landing on this concept, but the effort is present and delivers in spades. — Zack Webster

NepGear (Hyperdimension Neptunia series)

The Hyperdimension Neptunia series is not known for its robust and compelling characters, but with Hyperdimension Neptunia 2, Idea Factory and Compile Heart managed to create a compelling heroine in NepGear. As the younger sister of Neptune, and the strongest of the CPU candidates, NepGear joins in a futile battle in which the CPUs are defeated and imprisoned and is the only one who manages to get away. Though her confidence is shattered, she perseveres and eventually gains the help and friendship of many other people who want to help the CPUs. Along the way we learn that NepGear is a tech nerd who can get a little lost in the latest gadgets. We watch her struggle with overcoming the rivalries with the other nations to become friends and allies working towards a common goal. NepGear ends up being a strong, independent, caring, wonderful person by the end, especially if you get all the endings. Two endings in particular show off the kind of person she is. In the Conquest ending, she makes an extremely hard choice that results in the deaths of dear friends, while in the Holy Sword ending she rebels against that finality only to find a new way to beat the big baddy without the awful sacrifice. The heartbreak and pain she experiences and the resolve she finds within it just make her all the more endearing.

NepGear is really a strange character in the series. She ends up being the butt of a lot of jokes in Neptunia 3 and the series fandom thought she was too normal and boring of a character to take center stage, but she is easily the best-developed character Idea Factory has made. She especially stands out against the caricatures and running gags that make up the rest of the Neptunia cast. It's a shame that it's so unlikely to see her being that awesome again. — Robert Sinclair

Hamilcar (Hamil) Barca (Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord)

Although initially set up as a standard reluctant hero, Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord's Hamil proves to be anything but. The last survivor remaining of the Hispanian royal family, which was absorbed by the Divine Empire seven years prior to the game, Hamil appears to be completely ineffectual as any sort of leader. However, this is simply a ploy to prevent those still loyal to him to try and rise up in rebellion and invite a crushing response. Unfortunately, his idea of staying in the background is scuppered by the arrival of the goddess Astarte, whose proclamations of herself leads to her capture and planned public execution, along with all those in the Barca faction planning the rebellion. Here Hamil finally discards his facade, giving into his anger and summoning the war god Melqart in his place to wipe out the Empire's forces and finally start a full rebellion.

Tears to Tiara has a heavy influence in European history; in fact, its map is simply Europe and the Mediterranean with the nations renamed, with the second game being based on Phoenician mythology and the Punic Wars between Carthage and the Roman Empire. Hamil himself is directly named after a Carthaginian general, and though players can't count on the game for any actual historical lessons, it plays well into the strategy RPG aspect and drawing inspiration from the heavy tactical slant of the real world wars to drive Hamil's capability as a general.

Flashbacks to Hamil's childhood goes to pains to show how much his experiences have shaped him and made him a better person. In his younger days, Hamil shows no qualms about resorting to extreme measures in his educative war games through scorched earth tactics or sacrificing his own men and cities. That said, if pressed into a corner with no other options he will still use everything at his disposal. As well as overcoming the burden of others' sacrifices, Hamil careful treads the line balancing the strength gained from his righteous anger (and Melqart's blood lust) and the need to think logically about his next move.

However, while Hamil is a strong and very able leader, the game makes it plain that he can't do everything by himself. It takes care to bring up the parallels between him and Eshmun, a hero of the past who succumbed to Melqart's blood lust, showing that the main difference between the two was being able to rely on the support of others like Astarte. As a result, Hamil is perhaps one of the most well-rounded protagonists in recent RPGs. — Alex Fuller

Kainé (Nier)

"Weiss, you dumbass! Start making sense, you rotten book, or you're gonna be sorry! Maybe I'll rip your pages out, one-by-one! Or maybe I'll put you in the goddamn furnace! How can someone with such a big, smart brain get hypnotized like a little Moo? Huh? 'Oh, Shadowlord! I love you, Shadowlord! Come over here and give Weiss a big sloppy kiss, Shadowlord!' Now pull your head out of your goddamn Moo and START Moo HELPING US!" This quote is the first and only thing players of Nier experience upon starting the game; the voice of Kainé against a black background with nothing but the Square Enix logo on it. Often, we are told to lead with strength, and leading with Kainé is the epitome of that.

Born with intersex characteristics, Kainé faced a rough childhood growing up, being relentlessly bullied and harassed. Kainé turned to and lived with her foul-mouthed grandmother, the only person to love and treat Kainé kindly, and from whom she learned both survival skills and crude manners. When a shade named Hook killed her grandmother and maimed Kainé, she fused with the shade Tyrann to stay alive. Not surprisingly then, Kainé hates shades, and is often seen grinning from ear to ear as she kills them. Her fusion with Tyrann has made her extremely powerful and confident, but has also lead to humans, now terrified of her, shunning her further.

But Kainé is not just a victim. She is also a victimizer. After players finish the game, they can replay parts of it from Kainé's perspective, the only group member able to understand what the shades are saying due to her fusion. To players' universal horror, they discover that the shades are largely innocent and terrified of Nier. But what's really striking is the realization that Kainé has known this all along, and yet helped Nier slaughter countless shades without ever so much as giving it a second thought. Where we as players are horrified, Kainé is as calm as a coldblooded murderer. We find that the apparently aggressive acts of shades we kill are actually their attempts to flee, protect their loved ones, or to plead for our mercy, which Kainé readily ignores as she cuts them down.

Kainé is a wonderfully complex character and breaks many molds. It would be easy to make Kainé into an oppressed victim needing to be rescued, a jaded soul needing redemption, or a determined righteous fighter hardened by her rough past. But Kainé is none of those things, or perhaps she is all of them. She is seductive, secretive, and physically aggressive. She is a victim, a victimizer, and a hero. She is a devout protector to those few she lets close, yet coldly cruel to everyone else. She stands confident against people who shun her, and yet goes to extreme lengths to appear visually soft and overly feminine to convince them and herself of her femininity — especially as it relates to her romantic relationship with Nier. Laura Bailey, the English voice actor behind Kainé, gives an incredible performance, capturing all of the facets of Kainé perfectly and making the character that much more impactful.

Kainé's complexity is enthralling and the way her personality traits constantly contradict each other without breaking her consistency as a character somehow feels unapologetically human. Despite all the complexities though, one thing is for certain. Should you cross Kainé for any reason, she won't hesitate for even a second to kick your face into the ground, all the while grinning and spewing profanities. — Charalampos (Harry) Papadimitriou

« Page 2 | Page 4 »

© 1998-2017 RPGamer All Rights Reserved
Privacy Policy