Five by Friday: Top Five Video Game Protagonists

Welcome to Five by Friday! Apparently July 8th has been given the designation of Video Games Day, so we’re talking about our favorite video game protagonists. PC or console, you name a game and between the three of us it’s highly likely that at least one of us has played it. We’ve traveled Skyrim, we’ve wandered Thedas, we’ve somersaulted across the fields of Hyrule… and over the course of what is likely cumulative years of gameplay, we have made favorites and developed attachments to quite a few of the characters whose shoes we have worn.

Five by Friday

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Get ready for a hefty dose of obscure ’80s and ’90s nostalgia, y’all, because this list is all about the gaming habits of Child Me. I love the look and concept behind so many modern RPGs, but when I go to play them, I get overwhelmed, and wind up hunkered down in a hut somewhere making vast quantities of stew and ignoring my quests. side-eyes current Skyrim status

However, ’80s and ’90s games were my jam. Remember when Serious Computer Software used to come with multi-packs of random games you’d never heard of? Anyone? Well, it did, and whenever my dad would get a new program I’d play through all of the games that came with it. Often over and over. So while I’m not saying the games rounding out the bottom of my list were necessarily popular or good, they sure did keep me occupied during my formative years. I’ve selected my picks based solely on how often I used to replay these games – the more plays, the higher the ranking.

Don’t judge. The ’90s were a weird time.

5) Taran, The Black Cauldron (4)

The Black Cauldron was the first point-and-click adventure game I ever played. Released in 1986, it followed assistant pig-keeper Taran on his quest to stop the evil Horned King from capturing the pig Hen Wen and using her magical abilities to conquer the world. Child-Me loved that Taran was just an ordinary kid on an epic quest against evil (a trope which I still adore to this day), as well as the loyal, perpetually hungry sidekick character of Gurgi and, of course, Hen Wen (she was a magic pig!). Despite its rudimentary graphics and simple gameplay, I’ve always loved the story, whimsy, and magic of this game, and revisited it over and over as kid.

4) Freddy Pharkas, Freddy Pharkas, Frontier Pharmacist 

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This game is exactly what it sounds like: an Old West adventure game with a pharmaceutical twist. Freddy was once a gunslinger, but after having one of his ears shot off in a duel, he switched to a career as a pharmacist. However, when it becomes clear that someone is trying to take over his town of Coarsegold, California, Freddy has to use both of his skillsets to try to save it. Freddy Pharkas was a silly, ridiculous game, where you could die just as easily from toxic flatulence as a gunshot wound, but there was something weirdly satisfying about mixing up remedies to the town’s ailments in Freddy’s lab and using the odd predicaments the townsfolk would find them in to solve the mystery of Coarsegold’s collapsing economy. Plus it was just fun to play this game over and over in an attempt to discover every ludicrous way Freddy could die.

3) Laverne, Hoagie, and Bernard, Day of the Tentacle 

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Day of the Tentacle is such a bizarre, delightful little game about three friends who wind up separated across time, yet have to work together to stop an evil Purple Tentacle from taking over the world. In playing the game, you have to switch between the perspectives of all three characters to solve the quirky puzzles, so I’m including them all as one. Part of the game’s charm is in how odd the characters are, and how poorly suited to the times they’re in — laid-back roadie Hoagie is sent back in time to interact with the Founding Fathers, while unhinged Laverne is sent to a space-age future ruled by Purple Tentacle (quintessential nerd Bernard remains stuck in the present). This is such a weird, morbidly funny little game, that relies heavily on absurdity, outside-the-box logic, and time travel, so obviously it’s one of my favorites.

2) The Royal Family of Daventry, King’s Quest (3)

Hey look, a game you’ve probably heard of! So it might be cheating to include an entire family as one of my picks, but considering my love of every game in the King’s Quest series, and that each member of the Royal Family is the protagonist for at least one game, I couldn’t narrow it down to just one. I actually re-played through King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow just a couple months ago, which stars King Graham’s son, Alexander, and still found it just as charming as I did when I was thirteen and playing it for the first time. Now if only Sierra would hurry up and release the rest of the installments in the current King’s Quest game…

1) Link, The Legend of Zelda


Link doesn’t need justification, right? We all agree that The Legend of Zelda is one of the greatest video game series of all time? Okay, good. I honestly don’t think I know anyone who loves video games and doesn’t have a soft spot for the Zelda series. From the sweeping adventure to the breathtaking world of Hyrule to the endless heroism of both Link and, eventually, Zelda herself, The Legend of Zelda and its characters have been sitting comfortably at the top of my list of favorites list for the past 25 years (ever since A Link to the Past, which remains my favorite Zelda to this day). Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go google if they’ve updated the release date for Breath of the Wild.


When we decided on this topic I figured this would be one of the easiest lists I’ve had to do. But then I sat down to think and it hit me that I’ve been playing video games for 30 years. Which, it turns out, means I’ve encountered a lot of awesome characters across a variety of gaming platforms in that time. And in narrowing it down to the five that embodied the games I played the most frequently I had to leave off some great characters (Master Chief, Mario, Prince of Persia, The Hero of Oakvale, the T Block in Tetris just to name a few).

And, as an an effort to keep from overlapping, I had to regretfully leave Link, my favorite video game character by far, off the list. But rest assured, he still holds the number one spot in my heart.

5) Lara Croft, Tomb Raider


I was out of my mind excited when this game first released, because to me Lara Croft was basically the female Indiana Jones and that was all I’d ever wanted in my life. When I finally got my hands on the game (one of the few I’ve played on a computer instead of a console), I was not disappointed. I followed Lara across the world, through jungles, navigating deserts, breaking into buildings, and hunting artifacts. Lara allowed me to live out one of my ultimate dreams and I am forever grateful for that.

4) Dash Rendar, Shadows of the Empire


This was the first game I owned for the Nintendo 64 (to clarify, my dad was the one who had ownership of Mario Kart and Super Mario 64 already) and I spent hours playing in the expanded Star Wars Universe. While at first glance Dash Rendar may seem like a poor man’s Han Solo, once you get into the story he emerges as his own unique character that’s a delight to follow through the game. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go dust off my N64 and fire this game up.

3) Samus Aran, Metroid


Samus holds the incredible distinction of being the first female video game protagonist, and she also holds a very special place in my heart for that reason. I first played Metroid on the NES and the space exploration and alien blasting offered a totally different type of game than the Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt games I’d played before. For a little girl playing video games, being able to control a female protagonist was a dream come true and I wanted nothing more than to follow her through space on her many adventures.

2) Sir Graham, King’s Quest


I spent hours upon hours upon hours playing this game on a crappy computer in the basement of my church. There was a race between the kids to see who could be the first to destroy the wicked witch,  find all three treasures, and help Sir Graham to become the new king. After so many hours of playing through this game, struggling to find the exact words to use to execute an action, I can’t help but have a very special connection to Sir Graham.

1) Luigi, Super Mario Brothers


I was 5 when we got our first gaming system in the house, it was an NES and of course it came with Super Mario Bros. This was my introduction to Mario and Luigi and I didn’t understand why anyone would prefer Mario to the taller, sillier, and more endearing brother. For once I happily took he second player option just to be able to have Luigi. I was disappointed when we first got the N64 and Super Mario 64 did not give me the option to pay as Luigi. I was forced to console myself with hours of Mario Kart, where I tore up the track with my green shirted friend.


This is likely the one and only time in my entire life that I am going to say the words, “I am so glad I’m the only one of us on this blog who has seriously played BioWare games” because it means that while Sarah and Lauren took some of my favorites (Link! Samus! Sir Graham!), I was not blocked from my truest gaming loves by being the last to compile my list. For me, despite a lifetime of gaming, this was not that difficult a list to compile–mostly because BioWare owns my soul, it turns out.

5) Mario, Super Mario Brothers


When I was a kid, my dad had a “video games will melt your brain” stance that somehow excluded PC gaming (I guess because he didn’t want to have the “but you use a computer for work, isn’t your brain melting?” argument with us), so much of my life as a gamer was formed around the PC. However, this lack of console in our house meant that every friend who owned a Nintendo immediately shot to the top of the list when play-dates were concerned, so I got plenty of exposure to the classics regardless–and Mario was hands-down my favorite. For someone who didn’t own a Nintendo, I got really good at the games, and then when my father finally relented and my household got its first Nintendo (the 64), things only got more fun. Games have come and gone, but there’s something about this classic Italian plumber that sits near and dear to my heart. Probably because he was the first guy I snuck around for against my parents’ wishes.

4) Clementine, The Walking Dead


If you haven’t played Telltale’s The Walking Dead, you are missing out. It’s my favorite of the Walking Dead stories, hands down. The characters are rich, the story well-developed, and the “choose your own adventure” style of Telltale’s games makes the consequences of your choices feel deeply personal. Following Clementine through the first two seasons has been a rollercoaster ride of emotions and difficult, heartrending choices, and I cannot wait to see what the next season brings. Surviving the zombie apocalypse through the eyes of a child is eye-opening, and her development from “scared kid in an abandoned house” to a capable, self-sufficient surviving machine is at times both heartbreaking and inspiring.

3) Revan, Knights of the Old Republic


You can’t tell me Revan isn’t a powerhouse character. Since Knights of the Old Republic, the character has won the hearts and minds of people in Star Wars gaming, to the point that Revan continues to be a presence in the Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO (as well as some other beloved KotOR characters–you know you love it, meatbags). Playing KotOR the first time, starting out as a crash survivor and finding out over time that you’re actually a mind-wiped former Sith lord given the opportunity to try again, and then actually having the opportunity to go fully to the dark side or the light fleshed out as options in the game was an incredible experience, and one that games since haven’t embraced, likely because it makes it difficult to do a sequel utilizing the same characters when your endings can be so disparate. Man does it make for a satisfying gameplay experience, though. I remain forever hopeful that this game gets a refurbishment with modern graphics. That would be a dream come true.

2) The Inquisitor, Dragon Age: Inquisition


I have a Dragon Age: Inquisition problem, and I am not even ashamed to admit it. Only one other game has presented itself as an even bigger problem for me (and we’ll get there in a second). I have sunk multiple hundreds of hours into multiple playthroughs of this game, wanting to explore different story choices, different romance options, different combat styles, you name it. Major kudos especially to Alix Wilton-Regan, who provides such masterful voicework to the British-accented female Inquisitor that it’s impossible not to feel what she’s feeling. The Inquisitor goes from prisoner to leader, bearing the weight of saving the world upon his or her shoulders, and the expansion of Thedas from a linear story playthrough into an open-exploration world only made it even more compelling. I am always happy when frolicking around the Emerald Graves or Emprise du Lion with my Inquisitor.

1) Commander Shepard, Mass Effect


Mass Effect is hands-down the greatest game franchise of all time, and the female Commander Shepard, voiced by Jennifer Hale, is the greatest individual video game character of all time. This is a stance that I am so firmly set upon that I am not sure any single game or character will ever come close to toppling it from this position. Three games with the same protagonist and supporting characters makes this a relatively unique experience in itself, and the choices you make reverberate through each game in ways that can significantly change the story. Renegade or paragon, Shepard is a firm commander, a loyal friend, and a stalwart leader against the Reapers. There’s no one better-suited for the number one spot on my list.

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