I’ve talked about the importance of stories and story pacing multiple times over the past year. I haven’t really mentioned the importance of character or characters in gaming.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of my favorite games have some of my favorite characters, games like Final Fantasy X, the original Mass Effect trilogy, and Persona 4 Golden. In the same vein, I tend to avoid or stop playing games that don’t have interesting or enjoyable characters, like Final Fantasy XII, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and Persona 5 to some degree.
In the latter games listed, I put in about 30 hours before leaving them behind. I want to like all of those games and I did enjoy them somewhat. But I think they all lacked engaging characters to spend time with which lead me not going back to them. I want to finish them all at some point and Persona 5 will likely be the first of those games I complete because I really want to like that game.
Back on track. For me, character can mean people in the game you want to learn more about or the world itself coming alive. Borderlands and Red Dead Redemption come to mind as fascinating worlds to live in for an extended period of time. Granted both of those have great gameplay and interesting people, but the whole is greater than the sum of their parts.
The majority of the cast of the Mass Effect are dynamic and varied. Garrus, Liara, Tali, Mordin, Wrex, Grunt, Jack, Thane, Legion, and Samara are all playable and have interesting stories of their own. Then you have a fantastic background cast of Joker, EDI, Dr. Chakwas, Aria, and many more. These are just people you want to be around and learn more about.
Drew Karpyshyn and Mac Walters deserve a lot of credit for their work as writers of the original Mass Effect trilogy. Karpyshyn is credited as the writer of Mass Effect. Mac Walters is credited as the writer of Mass Effect 3. They coheadline as writers for Mass Effect 2, the strongest of the trilogy.
(By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39035483)
Walters moved to the director position for Mass Effect: Andromeda which has three writers credited, John Dombrow, Cathleen Rootsaert, and Chris Schlerf. Maybe two was the magic number of writers and three hurt the formula?
On the JRPG side of gaming, I loved Persona 4 Golden because of absurd and often endearing characters. Getting to know different characters enhanced the game itself. The more time you spend with people the better Personas that you can get. The playable characters all brought something unique to the story and you can even develop a “relationship” with different characters in game.
I was a huge fan of Yukiko for the longest time…until Rise came along. Then you have Yosuke to keep things light-hearted while you all take care of Nanamo. I’ve only beat P4G once and that’s only because it takes so long to finish. Otherwise, I really appreciate the investment in each character and having an in-game payoff.
I have talked about Final Fantasy X enough on this site. I just love that entire cast. Especially Yuna.
The point is that great characters can bring the story and the world to life. I have no problem playing games with terrible graphics or bad mechanics, as long curious characters make my time in that world interesting.