In the decades since the inception of video games, the world has been #blessed with a treasure trove of excellent characters. There are the characters we hate. There are characters we love. The ones that strike fear into our hearts.
The ones that make us cry tears of joy. This is a list made in honor of all the excellent characters we’ve seen over the years, the characters that made franchises and defined genres.
50. Commander Shepard
This list is bound to include some characters that are there just to throw a nod towards a particular game or franchise. Give this guy some credit though, a human specter? Incredible!
49. Ezio Auditore De Firenze
Few characters have names that are as fun to say as Ezio Auditore. Few characters are as fun to parkour with, either.
48. Earthworm Jim
A musclebound worm with a humanoid body and a tiny worm head? Exceptional character design. You knew he’d made the list.
47. Pit of Kid Icarus
While he’s fun in the Super Smash Brothers franchise, we’re this high-five back to 1986 when our little angel first appeared in Kid Icarus on the NES.
Fargoth is the smarmy wood elf from the early moments in TES: Morrowind. He is too smarmy to not make the list. We wish we could steal his gold all the time.
We know he’s just in his infancy in the scheme of the world of video games, but we couldn’t resist his rustic charm.
44. Jonathan Irons
Also known as CoD Kevin Spacey. He’s too much fun as a villain not to mention.
43. Handsome Jack
Sticking with the fun villain theme started by our friend Mr. Spacey, we have the big baddie from Borderlands 2 coming in hot.
Look at this guy! No neck, no arms, no legs! It’s incredible!
41. Diddy Kong
“He’s back again, and it’s about time too // and this time, he’s in the mood // He can fly real high with his jetpack on // with his pistols out, he’s one tough kong…”
40. Urdnot Wrex
We’re back in space! At least it isn’t procedurally generated space! That would be boring! If you don’t think thee Krogan Mercenary should make this list, then you have to be the one to break the news to him. Shepard.
39. Ryu Hayabusa
Ninja Gaiden on the original Xbox is still one of the greatest action-adventure games ever made. A work of Unlabored Flawlessness.
This iconic purple dragon was always a little too cute for our taste. We still had to give him a nod.
37. Nathan Drake
This guy is just a real go-getter, and you really have to admire that. It’s just like…think of all that charting he’s done, you know?
36. Deckard Cain
Ah, Deckard Cain. A character that embraces his archetype with a fervor unmatched in all of Sanctuary. Or at least in all of Tristram.
35. Gordon Freeman
Where would we be without this guy? I’ll tell you where we’d be. We’d be long gone, having succumbed to a headcrab attack.
We don’t know how she ever made a cake look so good. Such a dastardly Genetic Lifeform and Disc Operating System.
33. Samus Aran
Gotta’ rep the ladies on this list, too and Samus is a darn fine place to start.
32. Princess Zelda
Zelda, a name all non-gamers can inexplicably recall. She’s a big part of one of the greatest franchises of all time.
31. Agent 47
Ah, we have yet another iconic character in this bald-head barcode boy. The man could clean up! In multiple senses of the word.
30. Sam Fisher
We never could get over that long-legged split of his, holding himself up above enemies like that. Sam Fisher is a real badass.
29. Jack of Blades
Must have been a lot of twisted issues going on behind this bad boy’s mask. He made for an excellent villain for our Hero of Oakvale, though!
28. Sonic the Hedgehog
We didn’t really get into Sonic until the released a game on the best system ever made: Dreamcast.
27. Donkey Kong
“He’s the leader of the bunch, you know him well // he’s finally back to kick some tail // his coconut gun can fire in spurts // if he shoots ya IT’S GONNA’ HURT”
Who let all these animals out at once? We don’t mind. We love the honey bear.
Gaming For Fun:
Do you see what we did here? Does everyone put Pikachu in the 25th slot? Pikachu’s real fame might have come more from the TV show than the game, but he’s earned this spot either way.
24. Bonnie MacFarlane
Bonnie MacFarlane is one of those special ingredients that helped make Red Dead Redemption such an exceptional game. Except for when we had to wrangle her cattle (spoiler alert).
Rayne, of Bloodrayne, is one of those tantalizing vampires that scares you so much but you can’t get enough of her.
The intelligent, capable Cortana. We just don’t think the universe would have lasted without her help.
21. Sarah Kerrigan
Whether a ghost or a queen, Sarah Kerrigan is a force to be reckoned with. Shout out to Starcraft, one of the greatest RTS games of all time.
19. Marcus Fenix
Talk about a bonafide bad-to-the-bone grub-smoker. Whether he was out of ammo or talking about how nice something was, he was always entertaining.
This iconic hero of a man was the original hand cannon. You gotta respect that.
17. Max Payne
“It’s Payne, whack the sucka’!” Pour some out for a man who always drew the short end of the stick and never knew when to quit.
The iceman cometh. Run.
This god of a man can body-paint like a beast! How you feelin’ about his new beard?
What, you aren’t a fan of Kitana? Get it? Get it?!
Get Over Here!
No one could escape our list with outfits as stylish as Ganondorf’s. Someone go tell Roger Klotz that he’s got it all wrong. OG Ganondorf knows how to really do green skin/orange hair.
Early bird gets the worm, as they say, and few showed up earlier than Pacman. We bestow upon this happy hungry circle the honorary 11th slot.
10. Duke Nukem
“Go ahead, make my day. It’s time to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and I’m all out of gum. Ahh, much better.” Should we go on? We could go on…
9. Cloud Strife
Final Fantasy, baby. We’re talking about the best character in what is widely considered the best game in the series, Final Fantasy VII. His sword, his attitude, his troubled past… What’s not to love about this guy?
8. Geralt of Rivia
In every installment of the franchise, Geralt of Rivia got that much cooler. The Witcher III is an exceptional game, and that’s thanks in large part to our main man Geralt. Few characters have such unshakable confidence. You can’t help but respect the White Wolf.
7. Lara Croft
The original Tomb Raider for the original PlayStation was one of the first games we ever demoed in a store. She’s come a long way. She’s more than earned this top ten spot!
6. Princess Peach Toadstool
It’s never a dull moment with Princess Peach around. She’s getting captured, she’s getting rescued, she’s saving Mario, she’s lapping her competition in Mario Kart, she’s hitting people with a frying pan… Yeah, she’s something else.
5. Solid Snake
What’s a character list without Solid Snake coming in hot from Metal Gear Solid? He’s arguably one of the best stealth-driven characters ever created.
You knew he was on here somewhere. There will come a day where Mario is unseated from the top five characters of all time. Today is not that day. You can’t escape Mario that easily.
The other exceptional franchise from Nintendo. We already threw some praise towards Zelda on this list, but you have to respect the main character of the series. With a new Zelda installment coming soon, all the great memories from Ocarina of Time come flooding back.
2. John Marston
“My name’s John Marston gentlemen. And you’re dead!” You might’ve forgotten about John. It’s been quite a few characters since we mentioned Bonnie MacFarlane. There’s no reason not to recognize a game as good as Red Dead Redemption twice on the character list. That’s a game that’s good no matter how many times you play it. The story, the characters, the dialogue, it’s all so well done.
1. Master Chief
Yep. The big MC in the house. Not the most original choice, but that speaks to just how great a character Spartan 117 really is. One Spartan, against impossible odds. Part of his greatness is that you never doubt him. If anyone can see us through this, it’s John.
[Infographic] Video Game Characters
So how did these top 50 characters make the grade when it comes to the list of some of the most memorable characters? Well, a lot has to do with personality, look, and feel. And even more fundamental than that, what it really boils down to is cool character design.
Take Master Chief, for example. He’s got a sweet set of armor, as well as incredible physical strength and coordination. He’s what we all imagine a super cool sci-fi space soldier to look and act like.
What You Need to Consider for Character Design
We all want to somehow create the next Solid Snake, Link, or Geralt of Rivia. But for artists out there, how do you even begin to attempt such an intimidating endeavor?
You need to learn the basics of character design. Even before you put pencil to paper or mouse to screen, you need to have clear ideas of what you’ll be designing.
Let’s look at some of the experts who have actually designed some of these iconic video game characters, and find out why they are responsible for some of the best character designs.
Video Game Character Design Expert Tips
“Don’t lose sight of the original idea.”
- Cornelia Geppert
- CEO, Writer, Art & Creative Director and Game Design at Jo-Mei Games
Cornelia Geppert’s development of the PC game Sea of Solitude caught the attention of some of her coworkers for being too similar to the works of Team Ico, specifically the Shadow of the Colossus and The Last Guardian. Her work strayed way too far from her original artwork. She effectively lost sight of her original idea. She quickly remedied that for the upcoming game.
“Decide who your character design is aimed at”
- Nathan Jurevicius
- Multimedia artist based out of Australia
You need to take special care when working for a client who has a specific character in mind for their audience. While this may seem like a barrier to what you can do, see it more of a creative exercise or challenge to add that personal flair of yours into something that is clearly defined.
“Find the posture first.”
- Félicie Haymoz
Félicie Haymoz worked extensively alongside director Wes Anderson to create the iconic imagery for both feature films Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs. She also has a slew of valuable advice for character designers. She says that so much emanates and originates from the overall posture of the character and can effectively set the tone of your art going forward.
“Look past other people’s interpretations.”
Félicie Haymoz once again offers some insightful words, this time assuring character designers that they shouldn’t feel penned in by the perception of existing characters. Since she worked on the iconic Fantastic Mr. Fox, she was delving into a world where the characters had already been established for almost 40 years at that point until the movie in 2009.
She states that Fantastic Mr. Fox wasn’t actually that well-known in her native country of Switzerland, and this helped her look past the preconceived notions of what the character ‘should’ and ‘should not’ look like. This helped her avoid the trouble that game designer Cornelia Geppert faced with Sea of Solitude.
“For me, character design is all about balance.”
- Nathan Brock
- Senior Character Artist at Blizzard Entertainment
Nathan Brock emphasizes that balance in game design. He says that it’s crucial not to lose the balance of a character and not bog it down with a bunch of unnecessary details that make it harder to animate and render. He praises the work of Disney for creating prime examples of fantastic character balance.