A common complaint I’ve seen regarding many video games is the lack of original characters. Many video games seem to have very similar character archetypes and many fans don’t care for that, but if you really think about it that really was not the issue at all. It’s rare to really find a video game that has a truly unique character, but as long as the characters have great development why does it matter?
Unique characters often focus too much on a gimmick.
Often times when a character is created with the purpose of standing out against other characters one of two things happens: either the character has a very outlandish personality trait, or the character has a unique power, or combination of powers, that has yet to be seen. One example includes The Last Remnant, the character Rush Sykes had the ability to summon giant beings called Remnants and had the ability to slow down time. Not a bad combination of abilities and they certainly were fun to play. The problem was every time Rush spoke I felt like falling asleep. Rush had little to no character development for most of the game so I had no reason to be emotionally invested in him at all. Instead the game focused all of their attention on the significance of him using his power to save the world and that can be interesting, but only for so long. Another great example is Tales of Symphonia 2 with Emil Castagnier. Emil was the cowardly, and very annoying, softer side of the character and Ratatosk was the edgier, more aggressive side. The character was an interesting spin on a Dr. Jekell/Mr. Hyde story, but neither Emil nor Ratatosk were all that interesting and together they really never did anything that made their story entertaining to experience. Ratatosk became nicer but since his moments were few and far between it was hard to really make his change seem convincing. Emil’s change to a more independent and strong willed character was much more convincing but it was so slow getting their that Emil annoyed people too much to care by the time he grew as a character. The game focused so much on the whole split personality aspect instead of making either personality all that interesting. The game was a decent game, but the main character was not.
How do simple character designs win people over?
If the character archetype is something that has been seen many times before, then that’s fine as long as there is a lot to back the character’s story. A decent character needs to have motivation, character growth and a convincing experience that makes the player believe in what he/she is doing. Xenoblade Chronicles is an excellent example of this. Shulk really wasn’t that unique of a character; a simple weak inventor that grew to be strong, independent and wise. Shulk had no real unique traits about him except for the ones that he gained with the Monodo and the main villain Zanza; however, what Shulk lacked in his own individuality from other characters, he made up for in character development. Shulk had strong motivation from wanting to avenge his old friend Fiora, to finding out more about himself and ultimatly wanting to protect the world he is fond of. The execution of Shulk’s story was clear and his character growth was all over the game. He learned about the world around him, he awakened power within himself and went from a seemingly ordinary boy to a man who toppled a god.
Even games in the same series vary in interesting characters.
Assassin’s Creed has a multitude of characters but some are clearly more liked than others. Ezio’s trilogy within the series was one of the most captivating experiences in the games exsistence. The storyline contained a lot of elements that when blended together, created the experience of watching Ezio grow up and evolve in so many ways. This is the direct opposite of Connor Kenway. Connor wasn’t a badly done character, but he was so one dimentional that it was hard to really emphathize with the character, much less care about what happens to him. We see Ezio lose his family, supress his anger over his loss and became leader of the Assassin’s by using his motivation as a shield for the other members of his creed. We see Connor lose his mother, fight in a war and basically did whatever he could to kill Charles Lee. There is a big difference between these two characters. Ezio changed and grew so much by evoling not only his outlook on life but also his purpose; however, Connor had such a powerful grip on a single purpose that he focused only on obtaining his goal.
This is why games need to stop focusing on unique characters because some may turn out ok, but many show the results of too much focus on gimmicks and a failure to make convincing character development. An ordinary character that we’ve all seen many times before can do so much more if that character comes with an amazing back story to support the character and turn it from an archetype to a character that makes us feel for the story and want to see where that character’s path will go.