As someone who loves to dive into design and story, characters are a natural interest of mine. It’s so cool to see a thought turn into a fully-fledged-out emotional powerhouse, and outside of literature, video games are by far the best way to experience a character. You either play as them or are directly affected by them. While there are many great characters out there, for now I’ll pick, outline, and defend only 10 of them.
Cho’GathLeague of Legends
The Void in League of Legends lore is the existing boundary between worlds and dimensions, filled with terrifying things and creatures. While there are eight champions that hail from the Void, the Voidborn Cho’Gath exceeds all in his horrific display and dastardly design.
So much detail is put into every League of Legends champion, from their appearance to their abilities. However, Riot Games created an anomaly with Cho’Gath. Hundreds of razor-sharp teeth, each individual spike on his spine, and all of his appendages are perfected to a frightening degree. Even the coloring in his little slits for eyes is specific and captivating. As he eats his way through enemies, all of these details, no matter how minute, become larger and more powerful. He towers over foes and devours those who attempt to oppose him. As a character, he is mysterious; as a creature, he is mesmerizing; as a champion, he is deadly.
League of Legends certainly isn’t known for any fantastic stories or deep characters, but sometimes design and style can trump all else. I can see myself now running into Cho’Gath in the jungle and immediately wanting to run the other direction. Unfortunately, Cho’Gath currently doesn’t have the abilities to back up his looks, but as a “character” and not a “champion,” it’s hard to get much better than this tough customer.
There is something so sweet and soft about Delilah’s voice, which was the work of Cissy Jones. Every syllable was uttered with real, raw emotions that could not have been captured by simply reading a script. While the writing and dialogue was topnotch, you can’t escape the feeling that anybody other than Jones for the role would have been a disservice. It’s thanks to some expert acting that Delilah became such an inherently witty and relatable personality.
Behind the smirks of Delilah’s voice is also some genuine personality. There is so much more to Delilah’s character that meets the eye. Sure, she’s funny, sassy, and a cool customer, but in the background is some serious pain. After analyzing all of the dialogue, it’s easy to see how alone and truly desperate she is out in the wilderness. At the same time, she is horribly awkward and has some social anxieties that force her into solitude. As she continues to contact Henry (the player), she puts on a show that is meant to defend against her own insecurities. Her attempts at closer relationships, and her extensive knowledge of everybody from her past show just how much she values connections.
This all comes full circle at the end of the game when you find out how truly shy and anxious Delilah is. As you play through a second time, you pick up on subtleties that are actually screams at who Delilah truly is. This is the work of some truly inspirational writing and even better voice work.
Jodie HolmesBEYOND: Two Souls
Many critics dismissed Jodie as a confusing and shallow character because of how little they could connect with her. However, I stand up and say that these critics simply don’t see the beauty of BEYOND: Two Souls. Jodie is definitely a second-rate character at best… without Aiden. Being able to play as Aiden, however, gives deeper insight into just who Jodie Holmes is.
While Aiden is a legitimate character with his own backstory and intentions, he also serves as a representation of another half of Jodie. All the decisions Jodie makes are either a reflection of her desires or her obligations, with Aiden representing the former. Aiden knows what Jodie truly feels and what she really wants. This is why he constantly protects her and interferes with her actions. Jodie is so caught up in defining herself that she looks for it in aimlessly making herself useful. These become her obligations that get in the way of her actual happiness. Furthermore, in the moments when Aiden is out of her life, she is the most lost and uncertain, as this shows her losing a part of herself.
Overall, Jodie communicates a beautiful message consisting of self-worth, happiness, and love.
Nathan DrakeUncharted Series
Naughty Dog went all out on developing and writing one of the most believable characters in gaming. Nathan Drake, voiced and captured by Nolan North, has become synonymous with realism. Everything from his design to his grunts as he jumps from wall to wall is realer than most of us are in our everyday lives. His lines and movements are so natural that people at first glance have thought that I was watching a movie when they walked in on me playing.
Nolan North’s deliveries hit the ear perfectly. There is so much personality in everything he says and does that it’s hard to believe that there were often no other actors there to feed off of. What’s even more impressive is that he played the character so consistently for nearly ten years. Almost a decade of witty remarks and crisp expressions define who Nathan Drake is.
The fluidity of everything he does is a testament to the amazing detail that was put into the characters of the Uncharted franchise. However, Nathan Drake takes the cake over the rest of the game’s characters because of his background. We get so few details of the backstories of Uncharted compared to our extensive knowledge of Nathan. He is truly the outlier of outliers in Naughty Dog’s visual and emotional masterpiece.
For the longest time, it was extremely difficult to decide who my favorite was from Tales from the Borderlands, but Rhys takes the cake for just how much he made me laugh. Personally, this is my favorite performance by a video game acting legend, Troy Baker. While it wasn’t necessarily his most believable, or even his most balanced performance, it was just too funny. The comedy has made Tales from the Borderlands one of the only titles I’ve replayed, and Rhys is a huge part of this.
The world of Borderlands is one that is riddled with plenty of stupidity, and Tales from the Borderlands is no different. It’s truly the over-the-top actions and reactions, as well as the sarcastic and charismatic dialog that makes it my favorite from Telltale. While Fiona, Vaughn, Sasha, and Handsome Jack are all impressively voiced, few can compete with the chops of Baker. Most of the other performances were somewhat uneven, but, despite a less than stellar script, Baker makes it work through perfect reactions that are all in the moment and perfectly timed.
Again, the writing is a little spotty, but I would sooner watch gameplay of Rhys’s story than the latest Kevin Hart movie. The humor is just so smart and intuitive. It’s one character that I wish I could see over and over again. Tales from the Borderlands 2?
Handsome JackBorderlands Series
Alright, Handsome Jack was in Tales from the Borderlands, but this pick is not based off of that. In fact, while Jack made appearances in a few Borderlands titles, this pick is actually almost exclusively based on Borderlands 2. We go through nearly the entire game without ever actually meeting Handsome Jack. However, we get the pleasure of listening to his anecdotes, absurdities, and overconfident remarks over the voice channel that keeps us connected to everyone.
Jack brings two important things to the table: sarcasm and arrogance. These seem to be his only two tones. While some may see this as limited voice acting, I see it as stylistic genius on the part of Dameon Clarke. Clarke’s performance fits the script quite well partially because of his fairly unilateral approach. The character of Handsome Jack was written with a funny, but truly bad dude in mind. There isn’t much else to him. He’s your typical villain that gets things done when he wants it done. He sees himself as important and worthy of not only everyone’s respect, but their allegiance too. This makes for a particularly comical playthrough.
The amount of times that he has left me in stitches is too great to ignore. I’ve even found myself using Handsome Jack quotes in normal discussions with friends of mine. We laugh every time.
ClementineThe Walking Dead Series
Okay, now we’re back to the likes of Delilah and Jodie Holmes. The second entry from Telltale Games takes a giant leap to the opposite end of the spectrum. Clementine is rarely comical, but the way her experiences define her is magical. We’ve played as Lee, Clementine, and Javier throughout The Walking Dead, and each time we play, no matter who we are, Clementine has become more and more of a woman.
There are very few coming-of-age stories in video games, in part because of the difficulty in finding the right actors to play the roles. However, Telltale found Melissa Hutchison, who has done every line of dialogue for Clementine since the very beginning. This gave Telltale creative freedom in developing Clem from a scared eight-year-old girl to a force to be reckoned with. She is quite possibly one of the most dynamic characters in gaming history. Few characters come anywhere close to the amount of change she’s gone through since the very beginning.
This is a unique example of how we can traverse a universe with a character over the span of nearly 10 years of their life. We… ah, to hell with it… I have been with her through thick and thin. All the depth of her character is not from any backstory. It’s just from her story… my story. I’m not sure how I’ll be able to handle the final episode with her this winter, but, no matter what, she will always have a place in my heart as one of my favorite characters in video gaming.
Victoria ChaseLife Is Strange
This is my sleeper on the list. Cho’Gath was a pretty surprise considering he has little story behind him, but is simply a great design. However, when I was making this list, I just kept putting Victoria Chase higher and higher in my mind despite her not even being a main character in her native video game. The reason for this selection epitomizes the importance of exploration in video games wherever possible.
If you don’t truly turn over every stone, you could very well miss the one thing that brings Victoria to life in Life Is Strange. There are quite a few things that hint at her being a decent person, but they all pale in comparison to a discovery in the final episode of the game that I know I missed on my first playthrough. I’ve decided not to show the actual evidence in the spirit of encouraging everyone to go and find it themselves, but, in short, it’s the first and only time that we really get to see Victoria talk to herself. Every other experience we have, or thing we read about her is in the context of her interactions with others. It makes this moment in the game so unique and amazing.
She is the most relatable character on this list, as she goes through life wearing a mask for the purpose of hiding her insecurities. Sound familiar? This is what Delilah from Firewatch does as well, but Victoria, being a bitter and confused teenager, is a thousand times better at it. Again, if you don’t flip over every stone, you might miss it all. Her biggest problem is a fear of not being liked. She’s afraid that if she doesn’t prove her dominance in the world of teenagers that she’ll be seen as the weak, shy, envious, and troubled person that she truly is. What’s sad is that she never does show all of her true colors to everybody.
We all can relate to her and see how others see us when we wear a mask.
JoelThe Last of Us
Let’s be honest, what can be said about Joel that hasn’t already been explored? I’ll do the short version.
It’s possible that there is no other character in video games as consistent as Joel, another one of Troy Baker’s masterpieces. Even when he changes…he stays the same. This is hard to do when writing. Like…really hard. The secret is in the beginning of The Last of Us. A defining moment in Joel’s life leaves him bitter as the apocalypse falls upon the world. This event follows him everywhere as he tries to keep his distance from his partner (or rather his cargo), Ellie. He is haunted by memories that hardens his heart towards love and empathy. With this stone heart, Joel is able to outwardly become a different person than he is on the inside. This is how he can change without really changing. He’s not just an anomaly, or an outlier. He’s… indescribable.
Chloe PriceLife Is Strange
We arrive at what I believe to be the best character in gaming. I think it’s just absolutely impossible to not love this punk! Chloe Price is a special kind of character that doesn’t have anything else to her that doesn’t meet the eye. All the depth that she has is shamelessly verbalized by Chloe herself. While many may see this as poor or lazy character design, I think it’s genius.
It’s so easy for writers to take a character like this and make them into a super chill, quiet, and hard person that seems to have no defining characteristics or background. Then, as cliché as ever, all of the personality comes flowing out in a surprise reveal towards the end of the video game to show, “Oh, hey! What do you know? They do have motivations, depth, and desires after all. Shocking!”
With Chloe, the revelation comes not in what we find out about her, but rather how she changes based on her experiences. As you shape your journey with her, she comes to know you and vise versa. The adventures you have give way to new ways of thinking, developments in understanding, and alterations in the past, present, and future. In the middle of it all, Chloe shines as not only comic relief, but an intense contrast to Max’s (your) quiet solidarity. Chloe brings out the best in her friend in a loud, bombastic way.
Her character and voice strayed from what we’re used to in Life Is Strange: Before the Storm, but this still added further complexity to Chloe’s character and helped fill in some major gaps in her story with Rachel Amber. Overall, the experience enhanced Chloe Price as a person. This all rings true despite a drop in the quality of the voice acting.
Her original voice actor, Ashly Burch, truly embodied Chloe Price and made her the most consistent, believable, and interesting characters in a game that is praised for its writing. Above all, she is the most entertaining and lovable character we’ve ever seen in a video game.
Brandon is a young writer who loves going deep into games to explore meaning, purpose, and life. He believes that there’s nothing better than getting lost in a world full of characters to love and lessons to learn. He has a special place in his heart for single player games such as Mass Effect and Life Is Strange, but he also blows off some steam playing some of his favorite multiplayer games, like Paladins.