Having officially reached the halfway point of this massive project, I'm starting to feel the burn.  Each individual character write-up up until this point has been the length of a mini blog itself, and with 50 of those under my belt, writing these has been starting to get draining!  That being said, this is a project I intend on seeing through until the end, and if you've been sticking with me this whole time and are still reading these installments, I thank you for your continued interest!  Without further ado, let's continue this journey to the top!

50) Xander

Appeared In:  Fire Emblem:  Fates

"As crown prince, it is my responsibility to be as strong as I can for my people."

The writing and localization of Fire Emblem:  Fates are topics of heavy debate and criticism among more dedicated fans of the franchise and frankly, this is for good reason.  On the one hand, the trio of games didn't have the strongest of scripts to begin with, as there are some inconsistencies in how characters are portrayed between Fate's three campaigns - Birthright, Conquest, and Revelations.  However, the middling localization did not help matters, as this riveting localized support conversation between assassins Saizo and Beruka reflects..  One particularly controversial character in Fates is the eldest sibling in the Nohrian royal family, the crown prince Xander.  However, this is one character I hold in very high regard.

To be blunt, Xander is portrayed as something of a hypocritical character.  At his core, his is genuinely a good person.  While he puts on a strong facade on the outside for the people and nation he will one day rule, he has a tender side as well, proving himself to be an incredible older brother to his half-siblings.  Though his royal responsibilities leave him with little free time, he goes out of his way to be around his family when he can and help them through their struggles, even when he has plenty of his own to deal with.  One particularly great exchange are his support conversations with his younger brother Leo, who suffers from a crippling inferiority complex after spending all his life in the shadow of his seemingly perfect brother, who is more skilled in him than everything but magic.  After learning of this, Xander goes out of his way to inform Leo that he is only the man he is today because Leo forced him to be.  In their younger years, Xander was meek and Leo showed great promise and intelligence from an early age. Thus, Xander used Leo as a role model and it was only through being motivated to be stronger than him that Xander ever developed the skill sets he possesses.  Xander is simply the kind of family man that will go out of his way to ensure his siblings are content and feel comfortable confiding in him about anything, even in the midst of a ravaging war.

Xander's good spirit extends to other aspects of his life, such as his relationship with his retainers Laslow and Peri, whom he treats as equals rather than servants.  Moreover, in a touching support conversation with his ally Nyx, he reveals that he is secretly hiding feels of self-loathing and even harboring suicidal thoughts over the great many lives he's ended in war through the years.  Though he doesn't have any problems with the act of killing in the moment (all is fair in love and war after all), he does take issue after the fact with the large death toll he's amassed through the years, which is refreshing considering how many video game characters amass body piles that could fill entire storage facilities and seem not to mind.

So all in all, a pretty good guy, right?  However, the aforementioned hypocrisy begins to reveal itself more when Xander's father and country are brought into the mix.  As the next in line to rule Nohr, Xander is staunchly patriotic to a fault.  What's more, though his father, King Garon is an absurdly wicked and ruthless man, Xander is old enough to remember a time when his father was a good man (before he was possessed by a monster that destroyed this personality).  Thus, even though Garon orders Xander to lead an army in a war to conquer nations that have no bone to pick with Nohr, Xander goes through with it regardless out of hope that once his father is appeased, he'll go back to the peaceful and loving man he once was.

I can completely understand why people are frustrated with Xander's character - after all, why does such a good man have no qualms with being a lap dog to Garon, he is so absurdly one-dimensionally evil that it's laughable?  But let me ask you something reader - if you were living in medieval times and found out your parent, with whom you once shared a loving bond, were a terrible man, would you be able to easily strike him down?  It's one thing saying it, but could you murder a family member even if they were to become a terrible person?  It's a disturbing and complex scenario to be in, and that's why I can't judge Xander so much for being Garon's lap dog.  At the end of the day, most children just want to be acknowledged and loved by their parents, even if they aren't the people they once thought they were.

Fire Emblem:  Fates annoyed me to death with its insufferably obnoxious protagonist, but I stuck with the Conquest campaign until the bitter end because I found Xander to be such a compelling character.  Sure, he's hypocritical, but so are many people in real life. He's a good man who truly cares for his family, retainers, and country, and he loathes having to take the lives from other.  And yet he still follows the ruthless orders of a terrible man, out of hope that man becomes the loving father to Xander he once was again. Real people can be hypocritical and complex, and as a result, I feel Xander was much more interesting and relatable than Fates' actual protagonist, and for this, he has earned a spot on this list.

49) Ellie

Appeared In:  The Last of Us

"Back in Boston - Back when I was bitten.  I wasn't alone.  My best friend was there.  And she got bit too.  We didn't know what to do.  So... She says, 'let's just wait it out.  Y'know, we can be all poetic and just lose our minds together.'  I'm still waiting for my turn."

Naughty Dog's decision to gradually shift from colorful mascot platformers to more realistic and narrative driven experiences is a somewhat controversial one, but there's no denying that one of the company's current strong suits is creating richly written and realistic characters, a craft they perfected in the much acclaimed The Last of Us.

While the game predominantly revolves around Joel, its secondary protagonist Ellie is phenomenally written and performed by voice actress Ashley Johnson extremely well, and the result is a character that has a lot of nuance and depth to her name.  In The Last of Us, Ellie is a fourteen year old girl who was born after a fungal infection already devastated the U.S. and turned it into a zombie infested wasteland.  As a result, she never had a normal childhood, bounced back and forth between military organized boarding schools in safe houses and such.  Astonishingly, despite being a teenager born after the collapse of society, Ellie avoids being as angsty and obnoxious as you'd expect from a post-apocalyptic story.  She's a bit crude, quick to lay out a string of curses and lacking in social etiquette, but that's part of the charm of her character, and considering many teenage video game protagonists come across as edgy or annoying, it's already something of a small miracle Ellie managed to avoid this.

Ellie never having a proper childhood is part of the appeal of her character.  There are moments throughout The Last of Us and its DLC expansion Left Behind where we actually get to see Ellie relax and act like a child instead of a hardened survivor, and seeing her engage in everything from water gun fights with her friend to reading every joke in an absolutely awful pun book was really endearing.  It's easy to forget Ellie's age given her surprising maturity, but heartwarming moments like these are a stark reminder that moments like these were sadly few and far between for Ellie growing up.

Ellie is the centerpiece of a lot of moments both hilarious and touching throughout The Last of Us.  Whether it's cracking up over Bill's ridiculous porno magazines, or lamenting that she told a dying boy that she didn't believe in an afterlife, causing him to live out his final moments in despair. I shared plenty of laughs and losses with Ellie over the course of the game that still stand out to me.  I could go on and on about the really realistic and grounded dialogue Ellie has with Joel as their relationship evolves, but I'm going to stick to one particular character moment that really shows off how well Ellie is written.

Even though she was bounced around often, Ellie had one really good friend in a girl named Riley, someone she also harbored romantic feelings for.  The Left Behind DLC expansion explores the depths of these two characters and their tender bond, but it's severed prematurely when they are both bitten by infected, which is a clear death sentence in the world of The Last of Us.  Striken with despair, Riley poetically insists the two "lose their minds together." and live out their final moments in peace in each other's company.

Ellie accepts this plan, but it doesn't work out as Riley had intended.  As it turns out, Ellie is actually immune to the fungal infection and survives even after Riley dies.  This adds wonderful context to Ellie's actions in the main campaign.  In one tense scene, Joel lashes out at Ellie, mentioning his deceased daughter and insisting that Ellie doesn't know what it's like to lose someone that close to you.  Ellie responds by sympathizing with Joel's loss, but telling him that she's lost loved ones too.  Later, she explains that she is still "waiting for her turn" to die after she ended up surviving her bite after Riley succumbed others.  Ellie believes she should have died at the same moment and place Riley did, and secretly wonders why and laments that she is still alive.

This also adds weight to The Last of Us' exceptional ending, particularly after the scene where Joel refuses to allow a medical organization to remove an unconscious' Ellie's brain to create a vaccine for the fungal infection.  Even though this would save humanity, and Ellie would likely have consented to the operation, Joel refuses because he's not willing to let the world take another loved one from him.  It's heavily implied that Ellie would be willing to die so that the rest of humanity could live, as she harbors survivor's guilt after her ordeal with Riley, and this makes Joel's decision to not save her much more complex and morally gray than it would originally seem.

At the end of the game, it's ambiguously implied that Ellie knows what Joel did, even though he lies to her and tells her that the organization was unable to extract a cure from her.  It's up to player interpretation whether or not Ellie forgives Joel for this at this point in time, which is part of the beauty of this ending.  

Ellie is simply a very well written character no matter how you slice it.  She thankfully avoids being the obligatory angsty teen apocalypse survivor, and is instead the source of many funny and heartwarming moments throughout The Last of Us.  Her subtle survivor's guilt complex adds even more weight and nuance to her character, and the final scene with Joel where it is unknown if Ellie believes Joel's lie, and how she feels about him if she doesn't was an incredibly bold writing choice. Such a bold and fulfilling choice that I'm conflicted about it being followed up with a proper sequel rather than left up to player interpretation, which usually adds longevity to stories. Still, regardless where the next chapter of The Last of Us takes us, it's impossible to deny the already large impact Ellie made in the first game, which has more than earned her a spot on this list.

48) Lone Survivor

Appeared In:  Lone Survivor

"I don't know what's real any more."

As we approach the higher tiers of this list, the characters that occupy the remaining spots will not just be characters whose presence I enjoyed, but ones that were of great personal significance of me.  One such character is the titular unnamed protagonist of a cult indie game known as Lone Survivor.

On a purely superficial level, Lone Survivor seems to be another attempt at the tiered post-apocalyptic story, as it stars a young man who is seemingly the only survivor left after a strange infection turned most of the populance into shambling zombies.  The protagonist has managed to outlast many other people by holing himself away in an apartment, but with his supplies running dangerously low, he has no choice but to leave the safety and security of his abode and explore the rest of the building and surrounding city to gather more resources and hopefully find a way out of the metropolis he is trapped in.  It's a trope filled tale in the beginning for sure, but a long period of isolation has taken a toll on the protagonist's psyche.  He talks to himself and an inanimate plush animal to a worrying degree, and as the game continues he begins to experience worse and worse hallucinations, eventually having trouble distinguishing what's real from what's not.

Lone Survivor is a somber story about one man's lonely attempt to remain sane in a dying world, but it becomes much more meaningful when you begin to realize there is more to the game than it initially lets on.  Certain environmental clues contradict the post-apocalyptic narrative (such as perfectly fresh hams being found in refrigerators and pills being resupplied on your sink every day), and eventually the truth is eventually revealed that the game itself is intended to be a allegorical hallucination.  Prior to the events of the game, someone very dear to the protagonist died, thrusting them into deep depression.  This depression worsens to the point of delusion, hence why the lead character sees the world as if it were a trope-y post apocalyptic wasteland, and the game is about his struggle to regain his lost sanity and recover from his illness, a recovery that is based on your own choices - the game could culminate in an ending where the lone survivor gives into his delusions and commits suicide, or checks into a mental hospital to receive the aid and recovery he desperately needs.

The reason why the lone survivor's story resonated so strongly with me is that I first played the game when I was going through depression myself.  I'd rather not go into the reasons why (this is a gaming site, not a diary after all), but my daily routine mirrored that of the lone survivor when he was trapped in his apartment.  While I still went to school and my part time job, I locked myself in my room for the rest of the day, too lethargic even to enjoy pastimes like video games or cook and take care of myself properly.

Over the course of the game, the Lone Survivor begins to recover from his depression and apathy piecemeal.  It starts with small steps like leaving his room.  Then he starts cooking simple meals for himself again.  He picks up old hobbies like video games and listening to music.  He connects with other "survivors" and makes friends.  He adopts a cat.  And by the end of the game, the protagonist got the help he needed to fully readjust to society.  My personal problems paled in comparison to the loss Lone Survivor's protagonist faced, but the game provided me the encouragement I needed to pull up my bootstraps and not shut myself away from the outside world as much as I was, so the game and its protagonist have great personal significance to me in helping me overcome my own depression.

Lone Survivor may seem like another post-apocalyptic survival game in a market already glutted with them, but it's also one of the most meaningful explorations of depression I've seen in a video game, and the lone survivor's battle to overcome his demons and face society once more is a memorable internal struggle I connected with enough to give him a spot on this list.

47) Samus Aran

Appeared In: Metroid series

"..."

Samus Aran is pretty awesome.  I could probably leave her entry on this list at that, and no one would question why she's ranked this high.  But I'll try and give you a text wall anyway.  It's my job.

The main reason behind Samus' awesome-ness is that she has access to a wide number of abilities, each of which are versatile and creative enough that a modern indie developer could probably develop an entire game around them.  The Ice Beam allows her to turn enemies into platforms which can then be stepped on to reach greater heights.  The Space Jump allows her to jump indefinitely and never have to touch the ground again with proper timing.  The Morph Ball mysteriously converts her and her power suit into a ball form to allow her to navigate tight spaces.  The Speed Booster grants her the ability to run so fast if given the room that she can blaze straight through walls, vaporize any enemy she touches, and leap across tremendous gaps.  I could keep going for a while, but any one of Samus' power ups is unique and fun to use, but finding ways to combine everything in her arsenal turns her into an incredibly fun powerhouse who is a blast to pulverize enemies with.

However, another part of what makes Samus so fun to play is that she typically isn't a powerhouse at the start of the Metroid games. And if she is, the games find increasingly ridiculous ways to strip her of her abilities (like lightly bumping into a wall in Metroid Prime).  The fun of playing many video games comes from the progression of slowly getting stronger, but this process is exceptionally enjoyable as Samus.  At the start of the game, she isn't helpless, but she's severely limited in what she can do, usually only firing a pea shooter-like beam weapon and jumping.  Early on you'll unlock nifty but unexciting abilities like being able to jump higher or grab ledges, but by the end of the game, you'll have everything from a beam that cuts through every enemy and wall on the screen like butter, to bombs that can instantly kill every enemy on the screen.  While many of the excuses for Samus loosing her weapons ad nauseam are silly, it's undoubtedly always a thrill to slowly work your way from decently powerful space bounty hunter to unstoppable warrior.  Returning to early areas in the game that gave Samus trouble and slaughtering the local hostile fauna with ease never gets old.

I really enjoy how the Metroid series makes Samus out to be a badass organically through the gameplay.  Modern video games that want the player to think the protagonist is super cool usually do so through in-game cinematics or NPCs constantly stroking the protagonist's ego.  However, the Metroid games make Samus look and feel cool to play as simply through the awesome things you do naturally through normal gameplay, and it's a feat I think current day developers could learn from.

Samus doesn't have much in the way of backstory, but she doesn't really need it to leave a lasting impression.  She was orphaned at an early age after Space Pirates and their oversized lizard leader killed her parents.  She was subsequently adopted by a race of super cool birdmen known as the Chozo that trained her in athletics and developed the power suit she goes on to use to thwart the Space Pirates from killing more parents.  However, one particularly cool event in the Metroid series is Samus' relationship with an infant Metroid in Super Metroid.

At the end of Metroid II, Samus' has committed Metroid genocide, eradicating ever last one of the dangerous, life-sucking parasites.  However, one remaining baby is born, and after seeing Samus immediately after its birth, it automatically assumes she is its mother.  She spares the critter as a result, and in a rather touching scene, it returns at the end of Super Metroid, sacrificing itself when Samus is in danger of being slaughtered by the final boss and granting her the power to defeat it.  It's one of the most iconic video game moments of the 16-bit era, and I found it touching that it was Samus' compassion and bond with the baby Metroid that allowed her to win that particular fight, rather than just brute strength.  It shows that there's a caring person underneath Samus' badass exterior, and that only further cemented her spot on this awesome list.

46) Edward Kenway

Appeared In:  Assassin's Creed IV:  Black Flag

"For years I've been rushing around, taking whatever I fancied, not giving a tinker's curse for those I hurt.  Yet here I am... with riches and reputation, feeling no wiser than when I left home.  And when I turn around, and look at the course I've run... there's not a man or woman I love left standing beside me."

I have a very strange relationship with the Assassin's Creed franchise.  While I've played a good number of games in the series, for various reasons, my opinions on all the games range from middling to mediocre.  However, there is one particular installment I hold in very high regard, and that the forth main installment, Black Flag.  In the context of this list, one of the major shakeups that I really appreciated was the game's new protagonist, Edward Kenway, who isn't even one of the titular assassins at all for virtually the entire game.

One of my main issues with Assassin's Creed is that the series focuses too much on a continuing war between two imaginary factions:  the assassins, badasses who value independence and the notion that "everything is permitted" and the templars, who believe that without an abundance of order, society will inevitably fall into ruin.  It's a trite battle of opinions to be frank, and one better explored in video games like Atlus' various titles, including Shin Megami Tensei and Catherine.  I never took much interest in the philosophy of either side, despite the fact there are numerous assassins and templars throughout the franchise that really enjoy shoving ideological rants down the player's throat.  This is the main reason I really gravitated towards Kenway as a character - he doesn't care about this conflict either.  In contrast to the likes of Altair Ibn-La'ahad and Evie Frye, Edward Kenway couldn't care less what the creed of either of these group says.  Heck, Kenway only dresses like an assassin after killing the owner of the original garb to take his place and get money out of it.

While the majority of Assassin's Creed protagonists are running around looking for "Pieces of Eden" (I still don't know what the hell those are) or moping (looking at you Connor), Edward adventures across the Carribean during the Golden Age of Piracy purely for his own benefit.  To be frank, Edward isn't really a good person for the majority of the game, and that's part of what makes him such a flawed and interesting protagonist.  Though he was happily married in Wales, he resents having to live in a borderline impoverished state, and finds work as a privateer in a quest for riches and glory.  However, a swift end to the War of Spanish Succession puts him out of a job, at which point he turns to the life of a pirate, plundering and pillaging for his own personal gain.  Throughout Black Flag, Edward pursues the same artifact the Assassins and Templars are hunting down, but unlike them, who crave it for its power to mold society to their liking, Edward's just out to make a quick buck.  Edward's motivations are simple and really relatable.  He has the mentality that every person is their own best friend, and it's important to put our own happiness and success first.  He takes this mentality too far and commits a lot of terrible deeds as a result, but his guiding philosophy is a much more down to earth and appealing one than that of his assassin brethren.

It also helps that Edward is great fun to play as, combining the skills of an assassin with the nautical know-how of a pirate.  On land, Edward controls like most other Assassin's Creed characters - he's a pro at climbing just about anything, and has access to all sorts of entertaining tools to make stealth and combat more interesting, such as smoke bombs and sleep darts.  Though he does have an interesting edge over other characters by being the only protagonist in the series who can dual wield swords, giving him all manner of powerful combat maneuvers that are really satisfying to watch and pull off.  As a sailor-turned-pirate, Edward is also at home at sea, and exploring the Caribbean, adding more treasure and pirates to your rank while raiding ships along the way was good fun.  It really begs the question why there aren't more single player games built around piracy, because taking to the seas as Edward was undeniably a riot.

Edward's disinterest in the assassin vs. templar feud, and his hybrid of assassin and pirate abilities make him a fun protagonist to wreak havoc with, but I also think he has the strongest character arc in the Assassin's Creed series.  He begins Black Flag as an even more reckless and selfish version of Ezio.  He's just as charming, but he could care less of the Assassin's Creed, and even uses the "everything is permitted" motto to justify some of his atrocities (despite not even being a member of the order).  He's brash and self-absorbed, and over the course of the game, his actions indirectly lead to the deaths of almost all of his friends.  Most of the surviving ones, such as his first mate Adewale, even leave him when his lust for personal glory and wealth begins to consume him at the expense of the other people in his life.

The final hours of Black Flag largely revolve around Edward coming to terms that he's been acting like an a royal assh*le for the majority of the game, and beginning to make steps to become a formal assassin and right the many wrongs he's leveled against their order and society as a whole.  All of this culminates in what is easily, without contest, the best ending in the entire franchise.  Edward decides to reconcile with the wife he became estranged from when he selfishly left her for the Caribbean.  As he walks to the pier to meet her, Anne Bonny begins to sing "The Parting Glass," and Edward sees the spirits of all the friends he made that died, some of which due to his own actions.  When he's reached the boat that was supposedly carrying his wife, Edward instead finds a little girl named Jenny, his daughter.  It turns out his wife had passed away in the years when Edward was separated from her, leaving behind a daughter.  Edward returns to England and turns over a new leaf, putting his violent pirate days behind him and being a good father to Jenny.  Edward's tale also doesn't end in the same generic, glorious way as most other series' protagonists.  He'd never live the same long life as Altair and Ezio and achieve similar levels of fame.  In fact, he dies young protecting his family from violent intruders.  He may have lived most of his life as a selfish and reckless man, but in his final years, Edward was willing to pay the ultimate price to protect the people he loved.

I've played other Assassin's Creed games since Black Flag, but none of them have had protagonists that resonated with me as much as Edward Kenway.  I really enjoyed his character, a selfish pirate more concerned about his own well-being than the tired ideologies of the assassins and templars.  He was great fun to play as, and following his character arc as he sought redemption for what a jerk he was being was a really unforgettable ride.

Check the next page to read about the next five characters!