Today’s award’s category is one that I’ve waited for from the beginning: The Best Character of 2015. I love a good character – and let me be clear, we’re not necessarily limiting our picks to good characters. Not only do we love the stalwart paragons of justice we play in some games, but the dark and gritty anti-heros (one of my favorite characters of all time was the Boss from Saint’s Row 2) and even the most hateable villains (GLaDOS anyone?) are all on the table as well.
Please note that there are spoilers for Batman: Arkham Knight (not the one you might think!) and Undertale ahead. If you haven’t finished either game, please tread carefully.
Rhys Cooper, News and Editorial Writer (@Dizzee_Rhyscal) – Along with an immersive and satisfying story, a good video game needs some brilliant characters. Well-written, well-voiced and well-evolved. This year a notable example would include Zoltan Chivay from Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (a game that has cropped up in almost all my suggestions for these awards), the hard-nosed, foul-mouthed and genuinely amusing dwarf that’s one of Geralt’s most trusted companions.
However, pipping him to the post is my second pick from Batman: Arkham Knight, a game I didn’t realise until now I had such a fondness for! A warning that there are spoilers for the game coming up so if you haven’t played it yet and intend to do so, then discretion is advised! The character is not advertised at all for good reason, and I for one had no idea he would be springing up again.
I am of course talking about Joker. Fantastically voiced again by Mark Hamill, Joker pops up at the worst possible moment for the Dark Knight, only for it to become quickly apparent that he is solely in Batman’s mind after his death in the previous instalment. The approach Rocksteady took to his role in this Arkham finale is truly marvellous. Bruce’s shift from sanity to insanity is down to the Clown Prince’s influence, which is apparent in Joker’s appearance before your eyes at one moment then disappearance the next. Other subtle aspects include billboards and statues unnervingly transform as well from relatively happy to disturbingly Batman-centric darkness. Joker’s performance in all three Arkham games was my highlight for the series and due to the surprise factor as well as the execution of his character in Arkham Knight, Joker is definitely my favorite character of 2015.
Lance Roth, Editorial Writer (@RPGameX) – Maybe it was because so much of Avalanche Studios’ Mad Max was so mind-numbingly desolate, but for me Hope, and to a lesser extent her daughter Glory, were standout characters. First encountered while locked in a cell, Hope is one of the few shreds of humanity to be found in the brutal wasteland. Voiced expertly by the talented Courtenay Taylor, Hope is one of the game’s few authentic characters. Though initially finding her is somewhat accidental, she drives the narrative for the final quarter of the game, and the voices of Hope, and Glory, in Max’s head, are the only reasonable justification for what he ultimately becomes.
I’d be reluctant to advocate playing Mad Max because the majority of it is really an exercise in tedium, but I do recommend that you look up and watch videos of the game’s ending. It‘s haunting in the most brilliant way.
Nick Calandra, Owner (@OnlySP_Nick) – My favorite character from this year was easily Lara Croft from Rise of the Tomb Raider. Following in the footsteps of the reboot, Lara has become a skilled survivor and combatant but more importantly, she’s a dynamic character. Even though the game pushes you to kill hundreds of bad guys, her reason for doing so is laid out right at the beginning of the game. She basically tells it as it is: “it’s either them or me.” This wasn’t portrayed too well in the original game due to the fact that she kills a person, is horrified by it, and then is immediately OK with killing hundreds more, but there’s no such problem in Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Camilla Luddington also does a great job at portraying the character overall. She really gets into the role and makes the character feel more like an actual person rather than just someone you control through out the game.
Reid A Gacke, Editor in Chief (@OnlySP_Reid) – Ok, I can no longer talk about Undertale without some pretty significant spoilers (also fair warning, I ramble on for quite a bit). So you are warned: if you haven’t finished the game, particularly the “no mercy” route, and intend to do so and are bothered by one of the best in-game surprises of the year, please read no further or you’re gonna have a bad time.
My favorite character of the year, hands down, is the final boss of the “no mercy” route (otherwise unofficially known as the “genocide” route) of the game: Sans the Skeleton. The first time you meet Sans is after you leave Home. Just when the tension is at its highest, a shadowy figure creeps up behind you and seems to ominously demand that you turn and greet him…and then greets you with a fart joke.
Toby Fox does a great job making Sans seem like an incurable goof from start to finish. And yet…he’s always there. He’s always following you. He’s always right there, an ever-present, goofy entity, seemingly innocuous but subtly disturbing in his omnipresence. He goes where you go, seemingly with ease. He seems to be following you. Monitoring you. And as you progress through the game, you learn why: he is ready to end you the moment you step out of line. In fact, he strongly implies that the only reason you’re still at all alive at all is because of a promise he made to Toriel before the events of the game.
And god damn if he doesn’t have the power to break that promise of ease. At the end of the “no mercy” route, after cryptic hints about Sans’ true nature throughout multiple run-throughs – comments like “if I hadn’t made that promise you’d be dead where you stand” and “if you keep going on this path you’re going to have a bad time” – Sans fights Frisk/Chara at their absolute strongest with the sole intention of killing them over and over until the end of time. Sans knows he can’t kill the protagonist. He knows you’ll just keep reloading the game and fighting him. And in one of the most brilliant fourth-wall breaking moments in all of video-gaming, he acknowledges that, counting the number of deaths he dishes out, taunting you with it. And he’s absolutely committed to mercilessly ending the protagonist’s bloody trail as well. If you surrender to him, he kills you with an unavoidable attack, proclaims “geeettttttt dunked on!!!” and tells you that if you’re a true friend, you won’t reload the game and try again.
Sans is one of the most complex and fascinating characters I have ever experienced in video gaming. He can waffle between irritating comedy relief and comic foil, a valuable ally, and a “heroic antagonist,” all depending on the character’s actions, and it’s this complexity that makes him not only my favorite character of 2015 but quite possibly of all time.
Gareth Newnham, News and Reviews Writer – I know this might be a bit of an obvious choice, but my pick for best character has to go to the Bloody Baron from the Witcher 3. Not because he’s particularly likeable, by all accounts the man is a monster, but simply because he was just so well written. I’d even go so far as to say the whole narrative arch that features him is some of the best in games, well ever.
The drunken, wife beating SOB could easily have been written in as a wife-beating pantomime villain, a baby abandoning Mr. Punch if you will, but instead we’re presented with a man that is conflicted, tortured and in the end repentant for the evil he has wrought upon his kin. The Bloody Baron is not by his very nature a bad man. The way that he helps Ciri without a moment’s hesitation and asks nothing from her in return speaks volumes. Likewise the fact that by the end of the quest you’re not left feeling glad that things turned out the way they did, but sad the whole sorry mess happened in the first place. This is mostly down to how the Baron is presented not as bad or as good but simply as a man, a man who made some disastrously bad decisions and in this way he ceases to be quite so villainous and becomes almost relatable. Which is probably the most terrifying thing of all.
Andrea Giargiari, Feature Writer (@UndineAndrea) – I feel that this is going to be a very unpopular opinion, but I’m going to say it anyway. I recently found time to delve into Tales of Zestiria, the newest title in the beloved yet somewhat niche Tales JRPG series. Though I certainly wouldn’t give the game much in the way of overall narrative, I was surprisingly impressed with the lead character, Sorey.
Hear me out.
Sorey is not what I would call a complex character. What he brings to the table, however, is a departure from the standard archetypes of male characters in gaming. Sorey is an unabashedly genuine and good-hearted young man, but he isn’t larger than life and he doesn’t have all the answers. He’s also a total archaeology geek, a role often reserved for supporting characters whom the main character would find odd as a result. So many male leads these days are stuffed with as much super-masculine badassery as they can reasonably manage, be it via the rugged loner or the snarky womanizer, and it can really grow tiring. I really appreciate the fact that Sorey was allowed to be someone so earnest and quirky, and it really complements the experience as a whole. No matter how interesting the supporting characters are, an uninteresting or unappealing main character can really take the air out of the experience in a story-driven game, but Sorey does the opposite; he owns up to the sheer amount of fantasy stereotype that this is, and makes the whole thing seem more honest and endearing as a result.
After Arkham City, I prayed that Rocksteady would leave Joker dead and not have some sort of cop out to bring him back to life. As much as I loved Mark Hamill’s performance in the first two games, I really didn’t want the significance of the Joker’s death to be washed away. So I was incredibly confused/surprised/*insert babbling profanity here* when he seemingly returned out of no where. Not only did I love Mark Hamill’s third performance as the character, but I thought Rocksteady’s execution in it was flawless.
Bringing back the Joker as essentially a figment of Batman’s imagination, however, allowed the ending of Arkham City to remain true, and also gave us a lot more face time with the clown prince as he is much more frequently at Batman’s side with smug commentary as opposed to being primarily in cut scenes the first two games. Not only did Hamill nail what may be his last performance as the Dark Knight’s greatest rival, but Rocksteady’s use of him as a narrative tool let us the Joker in all his glory one last time.
James Schumacher, Lead Reviewer (@JamesInDigital) – I think Gareth has nailed this one; Philip Strenger, aka the Bloody Baron from The Witcher 3, is not only the best written character of the year, he’s one of the best in gaming history. It is indeed a triumph of CD Projekt Red’s writers that despite whatever awful things the man has done, we begin to identify with him in some small way, and in the end feel pity. The reason this character resonates so deeply is directly because he is so immensely flawed. His actions are unforgivable, yet our own humanity wants the character find some facet of redemption. It’s an amazing thing when excellent writing and a top-notch voice performance can make the player feel bad, in any amount — because what you feel will vary wildly based on your own life experience — for a monstrous character.