As an industry, videogaming has evolved from simple 64-bit arcade games where the objective was only to score points (beautiful, beautiful points) to more nuanced, narrative-based games with epic sotrylines.
At the heart of these storylines are some fantastic characters, many of whom truly reinvent the genre because of what they add to the experience. The game can be amazing, but you truly play because of the thrill of being that character.
Here, I've assembled a list of character who, to me, have changed the way games are thought of.
"Wait a minute," you are thinking, ever the inquisitive reader, "Sephiroth was the villain in Final Fantasy 7. How could it be that Sephiroth changed the industry?" Well, anonymous reader, let me explain!
Sephiroth, aside from being a complete badass and total nutjob, showed us a complex villain, at least by 1997 standards. The product of scientific experimentation on the body of an ancient extraterrestial being (Jenova), Sephiroth was effectively created. When he learns of his origins, he goes crazy, stealing the remains of Jenova and swearing a vendetta against humanity.
More than his complex origin story, Sephiroth also gave us the most shocking and rule-breaking event in videogames up until that time. He killed Aerith. By rights, Aerith, a main character in the story and probably one of your team members, should have been protected from death due to her significance to the story. Of course, that means nothing to Sephiroth, and he cuts her down like nothing. For this, he changed games.
I include Ellie on this list for a couple of reasons. The first one is due to her age. Generally, unless the game is made specifically for younger kids, then children in games only serve as decoration. They can't be killed in most games (Fallout 3) and generally they serve as reason for the protagonist to try and save the day.
Ellie, however, turns that idea on its head. She is a strong character, as well as the basis for the entire narrative. She is the only hope of developing a cure for the fatal contagion that has wiped out most of the population, and an integral part of the game, which is my second reason for including her.
An entire in-game season is played as Ellie, who does not have the physical capabilites of Joel, but makes up for it with more stealth. She becomes the only way that Joel will survive, and that puts an intense gravity on her young shoulders.
The game never forgets that she is a teenager and the stress of the situation reads on her face throughout the story. We really witness her as she develops and grows stronger through the trials and tribulations she and Joel face together, ultimately forging a bond greater than any other in videogames.
Okay, this might seem like a joke of an entry, but hear me out first. Agro is the real hero of Shadow of the Colossus.
Wander, the game's protagonist, is a young man who steals a sacred sword and travels to a forbidden land to restore the life of a young woman. From the start, he's breaking the rules, ostensibly for love. However, none of this - really none of it - would have been possible if not for Agro.
Agro remains your only companion throughout the game, a stalwart, loyal horse who answers to your every call. He fearlessly runs alongside towering Colossi without batting an eye, and some of the Colossi would be literally impossible to defeat if it weren't for Agro. In fact, Wander couldn't even access the final Colossi without Agro sacrificing himself to get him there. He is effectively unkillable and remains true to you despite the increasing amounts of evil energy you absorb. Colossi should cower when they hear his hoofbeats.
Oh, Chell. Chell is the person we all wish that we had the gumption to be. She's who we want to grow up to be, and the person we would look to for inspiration if, say, we were trapped inside of a defunct science facility with a homicidal AI.
Chell changed videogames in a subtle way. An unvoiced protagonist, whose name we only learn from a comic outside the actual games, she doesn't seem to provide much in terms of genre-changing importance.
However, she truthfully does. By virtue of existence, really, Chell changed games. Here we are presented with an everyman, with whom we can insert ourselves into the character easily and really understand the world from their perspective, only this time, it's an everywoman, making a stride forward for representation in gaming.
Her significance comes in tandem with GLaDoS' relevance. Especially in Portal 2, we are provided with an ultimately very feminist game that showcases how two women originally at odds must come together to defeat the bumbling idiot of a man who has robbed them of their agency. Chell is awesome and god, we wish we were her.
Of course it's coming from Half-Life. What else could it be? The original speechless protagonist, thrust into unlikely adventure to save the people from ruthless, monstrous creatures. The game that spawned the biggest cult following in video games. The game that really started the endless streams of modding.
None of that badassery would have been accomplished if not for Dr. Freeman's unstoppable crowbar. Not technically a character in its own right, the crowbar is still the most relevant and important thing in all of the Half-Life universe. It is the weapon with which all other weapons are gotten, and it never runs out of ammo. We are but instruments of the crowbar's desires.