By: Jonathan Bryant
Cloud Strife: As the chief protagonist of the “Final Fantasy VII” series, Cloud is very nearly the human personification of an identity crisis (to say why would be a spoiler of epic proportions, but come on—it’s been nearly 16 years). Despite initial appearances as a somewhat distant and arrogant mercenary, his overwhelming sense of loyalty and dedication to protecting those closest to him (even stooping to cross-dressing in one instance) shine through as his most defining features. His brooding demeanor does belie a certain dry, sarcastic wit. But most importantly, his iconic spiky hair and impossibly huge sword are the traits that launched a thousand RPG ships in the late ‘90s.
Most notable appearance: “Final Fantasy VII”
Gordon Freeman: A theoretical physicist-turned-savior of humanity, Gordon Freeman is the main protagonist of the “Half-Life” series. As a geek thrown into the middle of a hostile alien invasion, and coincidentally one of the most unlikely of action heroes, Freeman is most notable for his deafening silence. Throughout the entirety of the “Half-Life” series—which spans four main games thus far—Freeman has yet to speak one word, yet it would be an utter disservice to suggest that he has no personality. Glimpses into his character are shown through his interactions with others—the bravery he shows in the face of often-impending doom, his intelligence and ingenuity in tight spots and, above all else, an unrivaled proficiency with a crowbar.
Most notable appearance: “Half-Life 2”
Nathan Drake: Nathan “Nate” Drake is the lead character of the “Uncharted” franchise and a treasure hunter much in the vein of other iconic characters such as Indiana Jones or Lara Croft, although with a personality all his own. He’s also the very definition of sarcasm and wit. Drake also specializes in several professions—pugilism, deep-sea salvaging, thievery and getting shot at or otherwise trapped in massive explosions every five minutes. Seriously, although seemingly terminally caught in dire straits, his uncanny knack for getting out of tight situations makes him the most un-killable normal this side of Batman. It is often said that it is better to be lucky than good…
Most notable appearance: “Uncharted 2”
GLaDOS: The Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System (GLaDOS) is an artificial intelligence created by Aperture Science, and she serves as the main antagonist of the first game in the “Portal” series. Her role in “Portal 2” is far more complicated as she receives key character development in the latter half of the game, particularly as the plot delves into the history of the Aperture Science organization and her original role within it. Known primarily for her deadpan delivery of not-so-subtle murderous threats and her penchant for deadly puzzles within the Aperture Science Enrichment Center, GLaDOS nonetheless is the soul of the “Portal” franchise. She’s also not bad at singing, either.
Most notable appearance: “Portal 2”
Samus Aran: Samus has carved out an indelible spot in the history of video game characters not for being one of the first female video game leads, but because nearly every player finished her games before even realizing her gender in the first place. As the primary protagonist of the “Metroid” series, Samus is very nearly the hypothetical child of Ripley of “Alien” fame and Boba Fett. Her iconic power suit (recent games have revealed that she is just as capable without it) and role as a bounty hunter with the Galactic Federation makes her the bane of Metroids everywhere… and foster mother to one. More than 25 years later, Samus remains the perfect example of why character is not determined by appearance or gender, but rather by the merit of one’s actions.
Most notable appearance: “Metroid Prime”