Top 10 Video Game Characters of All Time. What Made Them So Special? (Part 1)

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When speaking of “favorite” video game characters, who pops up in your mind?

You’ve beaten the most difficult challenges with them, had them printed out on your t-shirt, took them to school, put their posters on your bedroom wall, and argued with your buddies about how your favorite character is better than theirs.

But more importantly, you related to them.

We feel closer to them than movie or series characters because we’ve spent thousands of hours in their shoes. Even if there was nobody around to be your playmate, you happily accepted them as your gaming partner.

I consulted my co-workers at Dream Farm Studios, who are game art directors and character designers themselves, to analyze the top 10 video game characters by their looks, design, and personality in two parts, as they’ve become icons by taking a very special place in our memories and hearts.

So, what you’re about to read is the analysis of a hardcore gamer (yours truly), coupled with expert opinion.

⚠️ A little warning before you proceed. This blog contains spoilers, giving away details about the story or the fate of some characters.

 

10. Agent 47 

Photo of agent 47, also known as Hitman in two different poses

Discipline, order, and professionality (and maybe heartlessness). Those are what we see in this suited-up character at first sight.

Agent 47 was cloned by his creators, who wanted to build an army of Hitmen to carry out their villainous schemes to conquer the world. Usual bad people with power in movies and video games, right?

The cloned protagonist is distinguished from the other clones with the barcode at the back of his clean-shaven scull. He is made up of a mix of 4 genes, giving him superior intelligence, strength, and abilities. But Agent 47 isn’t your typical assassin. He does everything with the utmost delicacy and precision. While controlling this character, you don’t go through buildings or military camps, guns blazing, and people screaming (except for the first game. Thankfully, they found their groove from then on).

There are codes that you must respect to help the “Silent Assassin” complete his missions without breaking a sweat. This usually takes planning and, obviously, a passion for stealth games. In other words, playing Hitman is like a James Bond film before things go south. You must sedate personnel or security to get into restricted areas unidentified, choose a method to silently assassinate your target, hide their bodies after doing so, leave everything else as it was, and vanish.

Over to his personality, 47 kills for the “International Contract Agency” with no questions asked. But Diana, her co-worker who sends the agent briefings of his missions and targets, sparks a change in him. She’s the only person 47 communicates with, inside and outside of ICA. The two start trusting each other and revealing secrets, breaking the Agency’s rules. It is in Hitman: Absolution where we really get to know 47, as he is made aware that the ICA had created a genetically-engineered teenage girl to become the “perfect killer” like him.

🔎Agent 47’s character design analysis

So, we said 47’s neat suit justifies his orderliness. Let us add that the red color of his tie implies aggression and that he earns blood money. Plus, the suit speaks of the areas he operates in, which are urban areas, and lets him blend in with the crowd. Choosing a commando outfit for him would’ve given the impression that he belongs to the battlefield. With a height of 1.88 m and a muscular body, you can guess that he’s capable of doing things the average person isn’t. What’s more, it isn’t hard to tell that he means business by his sharp look, strong jawline, and cold-blooded eyes. Another thing that every Hitman player notices is that 47 rarely shows any emotion, which explains his flawless, smooth skin.

What makes Agent 47 so special?

He shows that he has a heart. A big one -while his line of work requires him not to. And he isn’t afraid to give his own life away to save an unknown girl from having the same fate as his.

9. Joel

image of Joel in The Last of Us remastered

A family man turned smuggler, this middle-aged character shows up as cold and ruthless in a world of cruelty and horror. But that’s not all to the story. What happened to him makes us wonder if we would’ve turned any differently if we had the same experiences.

Joel turns to a life of crime in a post-epidemic world after losing his beloved daughter. He goes on to join the “Hunters,” a merciless group of raiders who killed and tortured innocent people, before meeting Ellie, with whom he’d go on to form a father-daughter bond. All that Joel has been through, good or bad, made him the perfect survivor.

It is only after Ellie that we see traces of the old Joel we knew. He becomes less rigid and cynical, which would lead to him letting his guard down and costing him gravely.

🔎Joel’s character design analysis

Joel looks like almost any other survivor in a post-apocalyptic world; Doesn’t shave, has scars and battle marks, and always carries around a backpack to keep supplies in, a knife, a melee weapon, and a rifle on his back (if available). Characters of a harsh environment care about durability, not style. However, the Joel that was first introduced to us in the first game (before all the misery and pain) had a considerably more decent look. As time goes on, the wrinkles on Joel’s face become more evident, and his hair and beard turn whiter, which all successfully tell a story of hardships and survival.

What makes Joel so special?

Joel is of the belief that one must do whatever to see the light of day again, but the lengths he would go to protect Ellie, his new daughter, are much further. Our hearts melt witnessing Joel’s second fatherhood. This dad deserves to be in every ‘top 10 video game characters’ list.

8. Ellie 

Mixed images of Ellie from Last of Us showing her difference in childhood and adulthood

The transformation of an arrogant, disobedient child into a fierce and capable young lady is what we witness in the two awesome games of The Last of Us. Ellie’s traumatic experiences and cruel environment have molded her into someone who can take care of herself. But sometimes, I kind of wish she couldn’t.

Ellie’s biggest fears are losing loved ones and ending up all by herself. And the fact that she was trained by Joel to make it without the help of others adds to her trauma of being alone. I want to see her surrounded by those she cares about. I was devastated when she chose to pursue a life of revenge instead of that. But that meant not getting a second installment. So, I guess I take that wish back…

🔎Ellie’s character design analysis

Ellie’s design finds meaning when we compare her childhood to her adulthood. The early Ellie was innocent, compared to a more rugged and pained one in the second installment. Other than that, she looks like a typical survivor. A rather distinguishing feature would be her choice of clothes and accessories after Joel. She would wear a simple tank top in the beginning but changed to more items of clothing, which we think is a sign of her independence from Joel.

What makes Ellie so special?

Despite the world where Ellie lives in, this female video game character never seems to get detached from her inner child and still finds it in herself to crack a joke and play around every once in a while. This reminds us that there were still some “human” left in people of that time.

7. Solid Snake 

Image of young vs old Solid Snake from the Metal Gear series

I’m hoping MSG fans know why this cloned brother made the cut on my ‘top 10 video game characters’ list, not the others.

There is something about this master stealth operative that makes him stand out from other characters in the genre. Bluntly said, the heavy smoker is just “cooler” than any other stealth game character. Although I have a slight problem with the red headband (which I believe to be a complete John Rambo knockoff), I can easily admit that the Snake Bros have some of the best designs. Period.

Solid concept of Metal Gear Solid's Solid Snake by character designer Yoji Shinkawa
Yoji Shinkawa’s concept art of Solid Snake

Solid Snake is a legendary battle soldier, and unlike his clone brothers, he has come to terms with who he is and doesn’t fight it. Well, at least for a while. His views toward life become cynical, and his temper becomes shorter as he grows older. He is a loner (he even spends some time away from the field with sledding dogs. Yes.), and even though he hates to admit it, he doesn’t know a life outside of the battlefield.  Solid is the only of the Snake brothers that are not addicted to violence and intend to end the war by liberating humanity from digital subjugation. But in order to do so, he has no choice but to do it with even more war. He was born and made to battle, but I believe he would have gone a completely different path if he had a choice.

🔎Solid Snake’s Character design analysis

I know I criticized the headband, but even I can’t deny that together with the outfit, it would make one hell of a silhouette! Speaking of Solid’s outfit, it is one of the most tactical sneak clothing we have seen to date, if not the most (sorry Sam Fisher). Games like Grand Theft Auto give the player the ability to carry dozens of weapons, but with skills and an outfit like this, Solid would give himself up before even considering having empty pockets. Another important feature in his design is his eyes, which in MGS2, are a mix of sharpness, determination, and focus. As for his aged version, we think they did a pretty good job with the futuristic Deus-Ex-ish look. The character’s gear remains practical and the mustache suits the old Snake far better than a full beard. Also, what’s really impressive is we can evidently see he has grown intolerant of his life and everything that has happened. Solid was never a man of smiles, but the ever-present frown reminds us of his weariness.

What makes Solid Snake so special?

Unlike his brothers, Solid does not chase Big Boss’ shadow. All Snake really wants is a life of his own. In his younger years, he does show empathy for his teammates and, sometimes, even enemies. Because of his guilt-ridden past, his older self stops short of showing emotions. Thanks to the genius Hideo Kojima though, we see new depths to his character in MGS4.

6. Kratos 

Image of Demigod Kratos young and old in the God of War games

Trick a demigod into killing his own family? Oh no, you didn’t!

Kratos was raised to be a Spartan warrior from an early age. He was a respected soldier and Spartan general. But he has always had one key weakness. Anger. After the gods’ betrayal, Kratos enters a state of constant rage and suffering. He is cruel and ruthless and almost destroys the Grecian world in his quest to kill Zeus.

The alpha male attempts to take his life twice and is haunted by nightmares every living second. Reuniting with his daughter is the only time we see Kratos happy. Ever.

There is no doubt that the gods betrayed him. Still, the tattooed warrior doesn’t take responsibility for his part in the matter and unleashes more anger on innocent people, gods, monsters, and alike.

Kratos rarely speaks and uses his vocal cords only when necessary. In the first three games, we rarely hear him say anything. Instead, he chooses to talk with intense combat and bloodshed.

🔎Kratos’ character design analysis

There were many concept designs for Kratos, most of them showing the character “too Greek” because of the armor they kept adding. To step away from a generic look, the design team finally settled for a more “brutal” character. Brutal, meant animalistic for them; that’s why they got rid of the armor, made his jawline and beard razor-sharp, and equipped him with unique blades (that resembled a claw, one might say). The almost-naked character is by far the most furious protagonist we’ve ever seen. Almost everything about Kratos’ design is edged to always imply there is no softness about him. His skin is pale white and perfectly highlights his blood-red tattoo. Then we see his rebirth in the 2018 game, where oval-shaped designs can now be seen in his design. We understand the beard is a sign of his weariness and experience. He has turned into a tired warrior, is shown that he absorbs hits, and seems to have forgotten the vast chaotic fighting techniques he knew (before gradually re-learning them).

What makes Kratos so special?

Sony’s Santa Monica did an excellent job with aging Kratos by introducing a new family. He still causes destruction and kills gods, but he’s learned to think about the repercussions of his actions, and sometimes, he goes out of his way to be a better role model for his son.

Honestly, I wouldn’t change anything in Kratos’ course of change of personality. This now-remorseful video game character is exactly what God of War needs.

Honorable mentions 

Master Chief

Image of Master Chief the protagonist of the Microsoft game series Halo
Credit: Microsoft Studios

Halo has been in a league of its own ever since its release in 2001, and it has the hero of UNSC to thank for it.

John-117 never revealed his face in the games but remained a prominent character and the face of Xbox for many years. He is a man of his word, respects his mentors and fellow comrades, and is brave in combat. The Master is someone you want by your side if humanity falls into peril.

🔎Master Chief’s character design analysis

The last remaining soldier from the Spartan-II Program, Master Chief’s superiority is shown in the details of his suit, helmet, and its visor, before going through a complete transformation in Halo 4. From the first game, we see a tall (2.13 m), valiant savior of the human species. He is built like a walking tank, a one-man army, that can handle both the offensive and defensive side of things.

What makes Master Chief so special?

John-117 is the type of hero that saves the day but doesn’t get the credit. He fights for humanity and disobeys orders that bother his conscience. The mysterious man doesn’t know a world outside the one he lives in and doesn’t have any interests either. All the battle and bloodshed leave little room for his sense of humor, but he makes sure to slide in a few jokes inside his brief answers.

Venom Snake 

Photo of Venom Snake boarding a helicopter with buddy Diamond Dog in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

“The Big Boss,” commander of the MSF, hailed Venom as his best man. And he lived up to the name until his death in 1995.

Punished Venom Snake was initially a combat medic under Militaires Sans Frontières. An explosion got him into a 9-year coma and resulted in the loss of his arm.

He then underwent surgery that made him almost indistinguishable from Big Boss, both mentally and physically. So, what we see in the game, is the spitting image of the Boss Man himself, with minor differences.

“V” is wrathful and introverted but cares deeply about the well-being of Diamond Dogs. On a few occasions, he is seen having sympathy for his enemies too. All that said, we as players have the liberty to build up Venom’s personality and destiny. If we keep making evil choices for long enough, the character turns into “Demon Snake”; a sadistic murderer with a longer (devil) horn and blood on his face.

Unlike the Big Boss, not once do you see him crack a smile or make jokes. When he had a reaction, he chose to move his body, not his mouth. Venom prefers to work alone, but his partners (the author’s favorite being D-Dog) get along with him.

🔎Venom Snake’s character design analysis

The Big Boss’ phantom is always carrying more than one weapon and is never seen wearing anything but war clothes. But there is always a distinct feature in Shinkawa’s designs. Venom’s Ponytail, eye patch, and posture are all things we would almost instantly recognize Venom with (another amazing silhouette). The kneepads and elbow pads in the character’s outfit design tell us that he crawls, meaning he is a stealth operative. The horn obviously points to his evil side, which can stay the same size or get longer by our actions throughout the story.

What made Venom Snake so special?

The “listener, rather than speaker” is no less of a legendary soldier than his brothers and mentor. The way that he is (likable or not) helps players enjoy the 7th Kojima masterpiece to the fullest.

Part One Wrap-up

As time progressed and newer generations of consoles were introduced, our perception of heroes and characters changed. Today’s creators don’t have to make an impression solely by the looks of the video game character. Their creations showcase a load of emotions through their facial expressions alone, and we get drawn into their gripping environments and how they’ve been built to interact with them.

So far, who would you pick as your favorite video game character? Would you change the order of the list? Share your thoughts with us in the comments! If you enjoyed this article, check out the second part to read about the other five! 

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Allen Rafiee

Allen is the Senior blog writer at Dream Farm Studios. In the five years he has been writing for startups and big companies, he challenged himself to learn all he could about digital marketing and finally became a key member of the Marcom team. When he's not doing all of that, you can find him teaching different languages, learning new recipes, and watching cool documentaries about, well, anything!

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