Good golly, there were a lot of great new characters in 2016


Behold the pantheon

This year, we saw plenty of familiar faces in our games. Nathan Drake, Marcus Fenix, and Pikachu all had some big titles. But this post isn’t about them. No, this post is about the great characters who made their debuts in 2016.

These are our favorite new characters of the year.

Cory Arnold: Uncle Death from Let It Die

Browsing through the list of games that game out this year, there’s not a ton of individual characters who jumped out at me as particularly interesting. So it’s pretty easy to go with the colored shades-wearing grim reaper on a skateboard. Uncle Death’s appearance and Spanish accented voice immediately reminded me of Manny Calavera from Grim Fandango, but his personality is quite different. Uncle Death doesn’t care about business and love; he likes video games, skateboarding, teasing, and breaking the fourth wall. At one point something he said made me think “if there were a fifth wall, he would have just broken it too.” It was a tough choice between Uncle Death and the master gamer in the arcade of Let it Die, but you just can’t top a spooky skateboarding skeleton. Always count on Grasshopper for eccentricity.

Kevin McClusky: Lúcio from Overwatch

I’d love to nominate the entire cast of Overwatch. Each of them has a wonderful visual design that lines up perfectly with their abilities, and just like Team Fortress 2 you can glance at one in the heat of combat and instantly know what you’re up against. But with 23 characters (and more on the way), that seems like cheating. Choosing just one was difficult, but I ended up going with Lúcio.

Lúcio’s my most played character in Overwatch. All of his skills tie in to his backstory as a inner-city D.J. on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Tracer’s reemergence and her belief that the world can always use more heroes was what inspired Lúcio to join the team. As such, he’s one of the younger members of Overwatch. He stole some advanced technology from the Vishkar Corporation, and he’s figured out how to harness the power of music to aid others. This theft had the unfortunate effect of putting him at odds with Symmetra, one of my other favorites.

Lúcio’sHealingandSpeedsongs affect anyone in his line of sight, and he can switch between them at will depending on the needs of his team. He can also use his Sonic Amplifier to shoot waves of damaging audio at enemies, or push them back with a Soundwave blast. There’s not much that’s more satisfying than blowing unsuspecting enemies off the edge of a map or into a hazard using this pushback effect. He can’t do spot healing directly, but he can use Amp it Up to increase the power of one of his songs, greatly increasing its effectiveness for a few seconds. His ultimate ability is Sound Barrier, and once it’s charged he can use it to provide anyone within range of his song with a shield — it doesn’t last very long, but can be instrumental in pushing a point or neutralizing an enemy’s ultimate.

In my opinion, the best thing about Lúcio is his positive attitude. He frequently offers words of encouragement to his team as he rollerblades around the battlefield. He often mentions activities outside of his duties saving the world, like attending a show later or joining a pickup hockey game. Most of the other characters seem to like working with him, and D.Va and Tracer will sometimes ask him for an autograph or challenge him to a race. What’s more, he just seems like he’s enjoying himself as he grinds on walls and skates around enemies. Much love forJonny Cruz, whose voice gives Lúciothat positive energy. His optimism is infectious, and playing as Lúcio for a couple of rounds can even lift me out of a bad mood at the end of the day.

CJ Andriessen: Mira from Zero Time Dilemma

Do you like Doctor Who? It’s one of my favorite shows and I can’t wait for it to return in 2017… or 2018. Whenever it’s fucking coming back. Anyway, I bring it up because the last companion, Clara Oswald, was a bit of a divisive one if the Internet is to be believed. When she jumped into the Doctor’s lifestream, she became someone who was always watching over him, always helping him stay alive. Doing so allowed Moffat to interject his creation into the entire history of Doctor Who.

I get why people didn’t like that, especially long-time Whovians, but I thought it was fun and a bit clever. Perhaps that’s why I love Mira from Zero Time Dilemma so damn much. Like Clara, Mira has been there from the beginning. She’s responsible for nearly everything the series has seen, from the death of Akane’s parents leading up to the first known Nonary game to the break out of Radical-6. From the beginning she’s been there, unknowingly creating a path that would lead these people to an underground bunker in Nevada.

Even without the back-story wonkery, Mira would still be the best character in the the game, and perhaps the entire franchise. Where past games had characters who were odd and varying degrees of evil, she is the absolute most sinister creature the series has seen. Spoiler alert, she’s a crazy-ass sociopath who rips the heart out of her victims. Due to a birth defect in her brain, she’s always been unable to relate with others and their emotions. So, like a slightly less sexy Dexter Morgan, she only acted like she could (which played well into the game’s entirely robotic presentation). During her long speech as she ripped through Eric’s guts, I was simultaneously repulsed by and attracted to her, and I honestly came to feel for her as someone who only felt real love when she gripped the warm heart of her first victim.

She’s dark, she’s sick, she’s abhorrent… and I absolutely love her.

Chris Carter: Pharah fromOverwatch

Pharah isn’t a character that comes up often in “best Overwatch cast member” conversations. That pantheon is mostly reserved for D.Va (or Gremlin D.Va) and the like. Heck, she isn’t even my personal favorite (that honor goes to Reaper, King Edgelord), but I think she perfectly encapsulates why Overwatch is so popular all over the world.

I had the chance to visit Blizzard’s Headquarters for the first time to preview Overwatch this year, and the “hall of fan art” impacted me in a profound way. While combing through all of the letters and artwork I found one in particular from a young girl with an Egyptian heritage. She noted how excited she was for Pharah, because there was finally a character just like her, and that she loved that a large part of her backstory involved wanting to join the Overwatch organization out of reverence for her mother (Ana, who eventually made it into the game by way of a free update).

It was a brief missive but said so much. Originally, Pharah was going to be a guy named “Rocket Dude,” but that morphed into “Rocket Queen,” and eventually, into the design she is today. While I don’t pick her as often as a lot of other characters, every time I mouse over her I think of that letter and smile a bit. Blizzard’s design team really outdid itself.

Peter Glagowski: Rad from Super Rad Raygun

Not a lot of games deal with naivety as a character trait. You usually have some gravely-voiced, poorly shaven white guy making dumb decisions because he is headstrong and doesn’t play by anyone’s rules. Enter Super Rad Raygun in which the main character, Rad, is basically a child thrown into a conflict he doesn’t fully understand.

Since he is a robot, he just executes his programming to the specifications set in front of him. He is killing communists because they are “evil: and that is that.” As you progress through the game, you begin to learn that not everything America is doing is “good,” and Rad starts to question what he is fighting for (not in some Mega Max X4 way either).

Seeing him so plucky and adorable and then transforming into a conflicted bot who starts to notice the gray areas in life reflects a lot of my own life. I was raised a hardcore Catholic, so my worldview was very small in high school. When I finally ventured out into the world on my own, I began to realize that certain ideals I held dear were either misguided or incredibly damaging to my personal growth.

I lived with an almost exclusively binary mindset and that lead me into a lot of trouble. I would chastise people for decisions that were merely human nature because I was taught differently. I would reject new ideas because I figured I knew better. I saw people doing things the “wrong” way and just wanted to let them know what was “right.”

It turns out that the world doesn’t exist in two extremes. What works for one person doesn’t have to work for another and all of the various choices aren’t more “correct” than one another. Seeing the world light up with a plethora of colors is exactly what Rad goes through and I love that anyone who plays Super Rad Raygun isn’t just getting some shallow nostalgic throwback. What is also super cool is how the ending of the game reflects this by becoming full color, really hammering the message home to look at life from different perspectives.

Ray Porreca: Jill from VA-11 HALL-A

Video game characters are a stupid bunch. They’re a mix of brash adventurers and battle-bloodied beefcakes. They shoot, and they fight and they save the world with the kind of shocking regularity that can make one hero indistinguishable from another. Sure, a lot of video game characters look different from one another — maybe swapping armor for tattered jeans — but on average, they all feel the same.

And then there is Jill. VA-11 HALL-A’s sulking bartender is a boozy breath of fresh air among tired and worn protagonists.

VA-11 HALL-A’s Glitch City is a dystopic blur of neon lights and cybernetic appendages, where mercenaries and robotic sex workers can share a drink, and no one bats an eye. But despite the cyberpunk chaos and unending excitement that surrounds her, Jill stands out because she seems so normal.

Jill is twenty-seven and fucking lost. There’s a quiet anguish that defines her. Jill has hang-ups and anxieties that strike a chord with anyone — this writer included — who has ever felt directionless. She worries about the future and dreads dwelling on the past, feels guilt over failed relationships, and wonders where she fits into the world. Jill isn’t a flawed character so much as she is a human one, insecurities and all.

But even with personal issues weighing her down, Jill works her ass off. She shows up every day to — as she so often says — “mix drinks and change lives.” Jill is the beating heart of VA-11 HALL-A, witty and caring, occasionally sullen, but always interesting. She is the glue that holds a cast of weirdos together. For all of these reasons and more, Jill is gaming’s best bartender.

Zack Furniss: Marcus Holloway from Watch Dogs 2

As I said in my review, my expectations for Watch Dogs 2weren’t soaring through the air. I wanted a high-profile review, but also dreaded going back to Ubisoft’s dreary, personality-less hacking series. But Marcus changed all that.

Marcus and his silly hacker friends are criminals, there’s no getting around that. They hack to redistribute citizen’s rights and dignity, but it’s still crime. But what fun that crime is when you’re playing as a guy who listens to Run the Jewels while infiltrating a missile silo so that he can hack a satellite station! Marcus is the type of guy who can fit in everywhere, be loved by everyone, yet still dedicates himself to his friends in times of need. And while he’s capital-C Cool, he’s also willing to have minutes-long conversations about who would really win in the eternally nerdy battle between Aliens and Predators.

Geoff Henao: D.Va fromOverwatch

There’s a reason why so manyOverwatchcharacters are popping up on our list of new characters from 2016, and that’s thanks to Blizzard creating well-rounded characters that are actuallylikable. Of course, there’s one character that stands heads above everybody else: D.Va.

Really, what’s not to like about her? She’s a professional gamer turned military badass thanks to her innate gaming ability, she pilots an amazing mecha (coyly stylized as MEKA, natch), and she actually functions as a pivotal tank for any solid meta. I’m obviously a little biased, given that D.Va is my main, but I haven’t even touched upon what makes her the best character inOverwatch.

Given her background as a pro-gamer, she sees everything as a video game, allowing her to break the fourth wall and give us, as gamers, a natural reason to relate to her. From her voice lines taunting the other team (“Is this easy mode?”) to the Johnny Cage-esqueFriendship “Love D.Va” spray to her nonchalance of blowing a bubble in her highlight intro, D.Va exists purely to embodyOverwatch‘s biggest troll, and my appreciation for her is something that can’t be nerfed.

Jonathan Holmes: Catnip Dasher from Pocket Card Jockey

I relate with Grippy Toad from Star Fox Guard. Sometimes I forget that I am not actually Barry Goodman in Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. Other times, late at night, I know I am a singing Birdo from Paper Mario: Color Splash. Then later, when I’m all alone, eating truffles, I see that I was really the blue bear from Rhythm Heaven Megamix all along.

It’s been a confusing year.

That’s part of why 2016 was the perfect year for Pocket Card Jockey. When all around me was falling apart, I could always count on the consistent rules of Solitaire, and the ever present chance for a perfect hand, to get me through the tough times.

When you really love a game, you’ll fall in love with its characters too, which is probably why I am so enamored with every man, woman, and horse in Pocket Card Jockey. It was hard to pick just one for this list. That dumb man who eats steroid carrots, the game designer who has lost his confidence, the horse named “Dang, It’s Monday” — I’ll remember them all, with a wistful smile and bittersweet, nostalgic twist in my heart.

But I think I’ll remember you best of all, Catnip Dasher. You are a horse wearing a cat-face luchador mask and you have a smiling cat sitting on your butt. For that, I will always be grateful.

Dennis Carden: Prompto from Final Fantasy XV

Choosing a favourite character from 2016 was quite a difficult task for me. While I knew for sure that the character would be from Final Fantasy XV, I found myself struggling to decide on a singular individual.When you’ve got a game with such a lovable cast, the prospect of picking a favourite really was quite daunting. However, when I think about it, I really can’t pick anyone other than Prompto Argentum.

To me, Prompto is an example of a comic relief character done right. Throughout the game, he’ll continuously make lighthearted quips, burst out into song, make puns, or even outright break the fourth wall. While this may sound grating, I found that Final Fantasy XV utilises his antics sparingly enough as to ensure that he doesn’t become a hindrance to the overall experience.

From his crude rendition of the victory theme from past Final Fantasy titles to his adoration for chocobos, Prompto consistently manages to put a smile on my face whenever I play Square Enix’s RPG. I can’t help but appreciate the brief moments of levity that his friendly and upbeat personality brings about.

This isn’t to say that Prompto can’t be serious. When Final Fantasy XV’s story does take a turn for the macabre, Prompto is more than capable of treating many of the darker situations in the game with the amount of severity that they deserve.

Then you have scenes where Prompto opens up to Noctis about his own social insecurities and anxieties, which in turn makes him out to be a far more relatable character than he could have otherwise be. Some of these insecurities are even well-justified, although I will admit that some of the bigger character reveals aren’t as well-executed as I’d like. You can tell that throughout the road trip adventure that is Final Fantasy XV, he’s just thrilled to be able to spend some time with his best friend; Noctis.

Oh, and it’s a lot of fun to point out how just how many photos he takes of Noctis’ butt. He really does take quite a lot of them, so of course my in-game camera roll is full of butt-photos.

All in all, Prompto is without a doubt my top character of 2016.

ShadeOfLight: A whole bunch of random NPC Toads from Paper Mario: Color Splash

When it was announced that Paper Mario: Color Splash would only use Toads as NPC characters, my heart sank. After all, isn’t the heart and soul of the Paper Mario series in its varied cast of unique and colorful characters? Wasn’t it cool to finally see villages of peace-loving Goombas and Koopas?

Fortunately, my worries quickly disappeared once I actually started playing Color Splash. Despite the all-Toad cast, this game has some of my favorite NPC dialogue in any game. It seems that quite literally every single Toad has something witty to say; a major achievement, given how many of the little buggers there are in this game.

That’s why my award for Best New Character 2016 doesn’t go to to Huey, or indeed any specific new character, but rather to the Toad community of Color Splash. In particular, this award is dedicated to:

  • The bridge enthusiast Toads, who cheer for Mario every time he crosses their 3-foot bridge;
  • Justice Toad, who’d be the greatest superhero, if only he wasn’t naked;
  • The hotel ghosts, who just want a cup of tea before passing on;
  • The well-off Toad whose life-long dream is to be a down-on-his-luck cafeteria owner;
  • The Yellow Rescue Team, all 12 of whom are oddly obsessed with a giant turnip;
  • And my Toad spirit animal, Red Rescue Toad #41. (Pictured above)

Josh Tolentino: Henry and Delilah from Firewatch

There were definitely a number of brilliant new characters in this year’s crop of games, weren’t there? And yet, good as they are, most of our entries remain just that…characters. I loved a good many of them this year, but out of all, Henry and Delilah felt the most human.

Part of that is novelty. After all, games aren’t usually the medium to go for if you want to play a slightly overweight, balding schlub with real-life problems, spending a summer talking over the radio to a lady who’s probably just as broken, if not moreso.

But the rest is thanks to Campo Santo’s slick writing, and the voice performances of Rich Sommer and Cissy Jones. There’s a warmth and chemistry to their interactions that really sells the notion that Henry and Delilah aren’t heroes or villains, talking metaphors, or even avatars for me, the player; they’re just people. And they’re not even goodpeople, at least not based on the way they’re dealing with their problems, necessarily. Just people, with a history, flaws, complications, and the messy stuff we usually like notto see in game characters.

And yet, Henry and Delilah really aren’t people, because they’re fictional characters. But for writing and performance, they’re no more real than the cast of Overwatch. But the fact that Firewatchwas able to communicate all that to me, and make me feel like they arethat real, makes them my favorite characters of 2016.

Nick Valdez: Barry Goodman from Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE

For the nine of us who played TMS #FE, Barry Goodman was the obvious highlight (and “Give Me,” duh). A middle aged fan of anime and pop idols, Barry was often the butt of many of the game’s jokes. Often ridiculed for his crush (?) on the young Mamori, Barry eventually just went “f**k it” and threw himself completely into his fandom. I mean, the dude shows up in a friggin’ dog costume during Mamori’s ad-lib performance attack and that’s kind of the best thing ever. And this was even after he had a dark, heavy metal phase too.

But I guess what really drew me to Barry was his JoJo-esque tendency to mix English phrases into his Japanese. I often expected Barry to drop an “OH MY GOD!” when things got really hairy. But even then, all Barry cared about was some glow-in-the-dark Mamori charm. What’s not to love about a guy who loves his fandoms so much, everything else falls by the wayside?

God, Barry Goodman is such a good man, man.

Pixie: Sombra from Overwatch

For the most part in Overwatch I’m a support player. Mercy and Symmetra are probably my mains. Mercy appeals to my altruistic side while Symmetra appeals to my inner Bond villian who expects you to die to her sentry turrets. For tanking, I often choose D.Va or Reinhardt. I’ll even play Winston, Lucio, or Ana because someone has to be the responsible adult and keep the action near the objective/payload.

When I go on offense, however, I go with Sombra. I was in love with the idea of her since her animated introduction. A sassy, narcissistic, stealthy Latina of mystery who excels at hacking and sowing chaos behind enemy lines? Sign me up!

And she really can hack everything. When I’m her, I’m soon on your side of the map hacking health packs and loading your Junkrat with lead. Maybe I’ll toss out a beacon, getting to your Widowmaker’s perch to take her out. Or maybe I’ll just stick with my friends, but hack your tank’s sheilds so we can easily gun them down.

She’s the ultimate spoiler. The character who can take the opponent’s best options off the table and just when you thought you had the play of the game… HACKED! Hers now. You’re not the best troll, D.Va — Sombra is.

Nic Rowen: BT-7274 from Titanfall 2

I’ve always been a sucker for robot sidekicks, so it’s no surprise I gravitated towards BT-7274 for my personal character of the year. He’s big, he’s metal, and he fires rockets from his shoulders, what’s not to love?

Except, the player’s relationship to BT doesn’t resemble the typical human/bumbling robot sidekick relationship. The player character, Jack Cooper, seems like a brain-dead sop for most of the game, with BT patiently explaining the basics of everything from how to use a jump pack, to the general factions at play in the galactic conflict Jack has, presumably, lived under for most of his life. BT does the heavy lifting in all the most important set-pieces, plans the mission objectives while Cooper is too clueless to tie his own shoes together, and drops the best one-liners.

Make no mistake, BT is the star of Titanfall 2, and Jack is his useless human sidekick. I mean, “Cooper, I need you to retrieve a battery” is the equivalent of “Hey, your hands are smaller than mine, something fell behind the couch, can you grab it?” of mission objectives. It’s almost a paternal relationship. BT is always there to pat Jack on the head when he does good, scoop him up and carry him when he needs a rest, and even plays catch with him (literally).

BT is the robot daddy you didn’t know you were missing in your life.

Robo Panda Z: Elliott from Stardew Valley

If 2016 had one redeeming feature, it was the filling of the Harvest Moon-shaped hole in my heart that was filled by Stardew Valley (It’s shaped like an anime cow). Once more I was set free to harvest corn, pet farm animals, and woo the townsfolk with abandon — or was it woo animals and pet the townsfolk? Eh, same thing. Yet whom should I pick among the eligible men and women? Clearly, given the time of year, it must be Elliott: Writer, Christmas-colored Fabio impersonator, possible merman.

Upon first playing, Elliott was hardly the focus of my attention. As with all Stardew eligibles, Elliott has a stereotype — the flowery wannabe writer, in this case — that he gradually grows from. His tendency towards flowery words and garish outfit had me mentally labeling him, “The Christmas fop”. Soon, though, I was taken in by those flowery words… and that hair. Elliott’s hair is fucking fabulous.

Compared to other residents of Pelican Town, Elliott is the one that most desires your friendship. He’s not cut out of isolation, and it isn’t until you befriend him that he can break through the writer’s block that plagues him so. As the friendship meter turns from “friendship” to “love”, he showers you with lines that shouldn’t ever work… but do. Maybe I have a future as one of those people who hovers around bookstore romance sections.

Elliott is foppish, cheesy, and the worst (best?) kind of hopeless romantic, who treats love like the pure thing we find in novels. Maybe that’s something we all can use. Besides, he wouldn’t trade me for 100,000 iridium bars! That’s $29,625,750,000. Can your spouse say the same?

Darren Nakamura: Nova from Battleborn

Sure, the mentally unhinged artificial intelligence has been done before (and very well), but Nova proves there’s still room to play with that idea.

It’s difficult to find a good image of Nova, since most of her interaction is through voice over. As the on-board ship AI for Ghalt’s team of universe-savers, she has the important task of doling out tips and instructions to players, but she makes it anything but mundane. She ranges from playful and childlike, as when she’s rallying engineer Kleese to build her a robot suit, to motherly and patronizing (“Who got an Ops Point? You did!”)

It’s hard to pin down a single standout line of hers; instead there are just a lot of little things that show her personality. Before a multiplayer match, she gives a countdown, and while it’s normally preceded by something like “the match begins in…” she will occasionally go off script with “lighting this shit up in…” or “my three favorite numbers are…”

One of her best sets of dialogue can be easily missed forever. Trying to access the gear page before hitting Command Rank 3 will trigger a message about it being locked and to come back later. Continuing to attempt causes her to become increasingly annoyed, grumble a bit, try to trick you into thinking the dialogue chain is over, and eventually threaten to kill you. I still crack up at her delivery of the simple aggravated “Dude.”

And I’m not the only one. Google “Battleborn Nova” and you’ll find tons of threads showering her with love and wanting her to be a playable character in the future. For a character you hardly ever even see, it’s impressive the following she’s built. It’s all thanks to Gearbox’s writing and Colleen Clinkenbeard’s performance.