Top Ten Tuesday 06

My Top Ten Video Game Leaders

Disclaimer: There are many top ten lists, but this one is mine. If you think a game is missing here, I either didn't play it, didn't have any interest in it, or I just hate you.


Pre-List Notes

The nature of rebellion has been engrained and romanticized in our culture. The evil empire and the scrappy rebels fighting the good fight serve as the backdrop of many role playing and strategy games. Most leaders, therefore, are the villains - the tyrannical dictators, the alien overlords, the demon kings. For this year's President's Day I explored strong and positive leaders in the games I've played, and found the category quite difficult to fill. Many gaming protagonists are loners, young teens, or anti-heroes. Those heroes that truly lead and inspire by their charisma, political savvy, and virtue of carrying a big stick (or plasma rifle) are listed here.


Top Ten Leaders


10) Sir Astral (Shining Force II)


The venerable old wizard may be a walking cliché - the retired adventurer who now teaches the next generation of warriors, and though he serves as the Obi-Wan Kenobi for not only the hero but the entire Shining Force, he remains by the group's side throughout the adventure offering advice and generally being an important source of information. Though he's never used in combat, he always appears running beside the hero, and helps point the hero in the right direction. While The Hero (defaults to Bowie, but you can name him whatever) of the Shining Force is technically the leader, his dialogue is limited to a few Yes/No responses. Sir Astral, however, is the glue that holds the Force together.


9) Andrew Ryan (Bioshock)


The man that built Rapture is a painfully obvious representation of the Ayn Rand, neo capitalist ideals. From the moment you descend into the depths of the underwater Utopia, you're greeted with a statue of Ryan and his motto: "No Gods or Kings, Only Man." Ryan's influence is seen everywhere in Rapture, and you slowly learn of his steadfast ideals and personality through the clever use of audio diaries. When the player finally meets the leader of the fallen paradise, it's a surreal moment that utilizes Ken Levine's unique combination of gameplay and cutscene. Although Ryan's vision ultimately fails because certain people will always take advantage, his position as leader of an entire movement and a self contained city cannot be overlooked.


8) Chris Lightfellow (Suikoden III)


Suikoden III is a unique entry in the series that follows the stories of three protagonists as their tales intertwine throughout the narrative before finally coming together about 2/3 through the game. Chris Lightfellow is one of the heroes, a Captain of the Zexen Knights. Called The Silver Maiden by the people, she is adored and loved by everyone in the country and her knights are fiercely loyal. She is noted for being very humble and serious about her role as a soldier. At one point in the game she is forced to slay a young grassland warrior (basically a child) and feels deep regret. Further meeting of the other humanoid tribes and heroes causes her ideals to shift, and when she joins up with the other heroes she serves as both a powerful adventurer and a brilliant general. Her popularity serves as an excellent recruitment officer, which for a game series sporting 108 possible allies is quite useful.


7) Queen Catherine Ironfist (Might and Magic series)


The storyline of the Might and Magic series is fairly convoluted and involves lots of aspects of science fiction (like alien invaders) in its unique fantasy setting. One of the coolest parts is that the spinoff strategy series, Heroes of Might and Magic, successfully integrated the same continuous storyline by having each game take place in between the main role playing series. For the sake of brevity - in Heroes of Might and Magic III (taking place between Might and Magic VI and VII) Queen Catherine Ironfist's husband Roland, the King, has been kidnapped by devils and it's up to her to lead the forces of good in what became known as the Restoration Wars. Thankfully even before she became Queen she was an important member of the Erathian military, a proven soldier and a capable leader. Commanding the combined forces of humans, wizards, and elves, Catherine leads her troops as both an off screen, mission-giving NPC, and a battlefield commander. The storyline continues in the Armageddon's Blade expansion, when Catherine and her newly liberated husband must again push back the demonic forces. Although the Heroes series is full of leaders, Catherine and her fiery red hair stands out as an exceptionally brilliant military leader.


6) The Grey Warden (Dragon Age: Origins)


Although wholly defined by the player, from race to sex to personality, The Grey Warden grows from being a reluctant member of the elite Darkspawn killing warriors to the uniter of various factions around Fereldan to ultimately lead their combined forces to face down an old god (in the form of a demonic dragon). The player can ultimately choose whether to bully or to empathize with the people he or she meets, and even choose between opposing factions on whom to bring to the final battle. Regardless of how much of a charismatic leader the player whishes to imprint on The Warden, the strategic battles necessitate that they be a good commander, and the final assault on the fallen capital city involves giving orders to and formulating a battle plan with the various allies you've acquired.


5) Shu (Suikoden II)


A brilliant military strategist, Shu is one of the 108 Stars of Destiny, recruitable heroes in each Suikoden game. He automatically joins the Heroes forces early on in the Dunan Unification War, and shapes the player's ragtag group of allies into a powerful fighting force. While he begins the game as a cold and calculating commander, he gradually learns the value of a soldier's life, to the point where he risks his own life on the battlefield in order to secure a victory. His battle plans lead to the growing army not only surviving but thriving against the much stronger Highland Army and he's instrumental in securing alliances with other factions and leading the hero's armies to victory during the games many tactical battles. Near the end of the game Shu orchestrates a clever ruse to draw in the commander of the Highland Army, Luca Blight the primary villain up the to that point, and uses a brilliant chain of events to bring about his fall in one of my favorite moments in video games.


4) Jim Raynor (Starcraft series)


A former soldier and outlaw, Jim Raynor is best described as a badass cowboy that happens to live in a far flung future where mankind has colonized the stars and met with some not so friendly alien forces. Raynor serves as the primary protagonist throughout the Starcraft series, and soon joins up with the revolution against the oppressive Confederacy. After witnessing the horrific acts that the rebellion's leader is capable of (including leaving behind love interest and psionic warrior Sarah Kerrigan to die), he forms his own group which call themselves Raynor's Raiders, and uses guerilla tactics to strike back at the now even worse dictatorship.

The real threat soon makes itself known in the form of the captured Kerrigan: twisted by the Zerg into a mutated but extremely powerful general and warrior. Raynor is able to escape her wrath and the forces of the Terran Dominion by allying his group with mysterious Protoss, ancient psionic warriors that seek to eradicate the Zerg. Raynor and his Raiders escape all the way back to the Protoss homeworld, where they launch a desperate plan with the Protoss to destroy the Zerg Overmind. With much sacrifice, the creature is slain, but Kerrigan's rule becomes absolute. At one point Raynor must ally himself with the Queen of Blades against the newly arrived forces from Earth and also seeks the help of the Dark Templar, an outcast group of Protoss that Raynor manages to bring back to the fold.

Throughout all these trials, Raynor retains an air of charismatic action star bravado that helps embolden the various races and factions to his cause. Despite many battles won he still blames himself for Kerrigan's capture and transformation, and the plot of Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty revolves around an artifact that could reverse the transformation. At the end, many lives are lost but the artifact works, killing all the surrounding Zerg forces and reverting Kerrigan back to human form. The consequences of this will be revealed in the soon to be released Heart of the Swarm, but Raynor's role as a leader and inspirational hero is undeniable.


3) Eddie Riggs (Brutal Legend)


Voiced and modeled after Jack Black, your enjoyment of the protagonist of Tim Shafer's underrated Brutal Legend may well depend on how you feel about the comedian slash musician. Being a fan of both Black and Shafer I adored Brutal Legend, the tale of a depressed roadie who works for a pop band before being transported to an ancient world of Rock n Roll inspired by metal album covers. In what is almost the reverse of the fish out of water story, Eddie Riggs fits right in to the Age of Metal, wielding both a guitar capable of magical guitar solos, and a battle axe capable of cleaving heads. Eddie's real power, however, comes in the form of his unfailing sincerity and people skills, and he soon joins up with the Ironheade rebellion against the oppressive glam rockers. Eddie spends much of the storyline recruiting new members to Ironheade's side, from the head bangin' Head Bangers to the blonde and badass Razor Girls to the fire spewing Metal Beasts. More importantly, Eddie uses his leadership skills in combat in the game's complex Stage Battles which play out like an action real time strategy game. It also helps that during these battles, Eddie's demonic heritage goes full blast, and he grows wings to help give him a tactical advantage.

Although Eddie professes to being a roadie throughout the game, and merely a supportive member of the team, he's constantly proving himself as a charismatic leader of Ironheade and a powerful warrior. Eddie stops at nothing when it comes to defeating his fallen and twisted love interest and her army of gothic/emo warriors, nor the manipulative demonic death metal forces lead by Doviculus. He ultimately leads the forces of Ironheade to victory and saves Ophelia from the Sea of Black Tears. Not bad for a roadie.


2) Commander Shepard (Mass Effect series)


Of the last five years, no other gaming protagonist comes close to exemplifying the leadership qualities of the first human Spectre. Even when beginning the first game, Shepard's back story, while slightly customizable, all involve he or she having a reputation as an exemplary soldier and leader, and after the first mission you're given command of the Human Alliance's most advanced starship, the Normandy. Early in the game you're bestowed as a Spectre by the Council, essentially a galactic wide FBI with an absurd amount of power and freedom. Of course, great responsibility comes saddled with such a status, and Shepard's goal is no less than the savior of the galaxy from an ancient threat.

In the opening moments of the sequel, Shepard gets his or her ass kicked by a new mysterious foe, only to be resurrected by a shady splinter group of humans known as Cerberus. Despite other people's misgivings about the groups neo-human stance and almost terrorist like tactics, Shepard has to prove to everyone that he or she is still the same formidable leader, and gathers a team of elite operatives from every part of the galaxy to defeat The Collectors, directly making life or death decisions in the final assault that can drastically alter how his or her crew performs.

In the third game, the stage gets truly epic as Shepard visits all the major races of the galaxy, righting centuries-old feuds and atrocities while securing their alliance against the singular threat of the Reapers. In the end Commander Shepard leads a final assault to retake a fallen Earth, commanding the largest army the galaxy has ever seen, as well as his or her closest friends and allies on the battlefield.

My own love of the Mass Effect series is well documented. Commander Shepard will always be remembered as one of the greatest leaders in video game history, from his or her repartee with crew members to important political dealings to deadly skill with a Carnifex pistol.


1) Thrall (Warcraft series)


A baby orc was discovered amongst the bodies of a vicious raid, and brought back to an internment camp. The child was named Thrall, another word for slave, and raised as a gladiator. His battle prowess was unmatched, but more importantly he developed a keen intellect and a voracious appetite for knowledge. He finally managed to escape with the help of a human friend, and soon met up with an orc clan that accepted him. There he learned of the old spiritual ways of his people, before the demon blood corrupted them and drove them to bloodthirsty barbarism. It was here that he was trained on the spiritual path, and became the first orc shaman since the corruption.

Word spread quickly of the return of the son of Durotan, and even the warchief of the orcish tribes challenged him to single combat, which Thrall won and became his second in command. Utilizing his shamanistic powers and charismatic leadership, Thrall began a campaign of liberation and successfully freed the orcs from imprisonment while executing a mass exodus to the nearby continent of Kalimdor. During the liberation, the old warchief Doomhammer was killed, and Thrall became the new warchief.

While serving as protector, leader, and spiritual guide to his people, Thrall's influence preceded him, and soon found allies among the other humanoid races. The Orcs aided the honorable Tauren in their fight against the centaurs, and Thrall's elemental powers helped save him and the Darkspear trolls from the Murlocs. Of course, old prejudices die hard, and Thrall soon came upon a battle between orcs and humans and his old friend Grom Hellscream. The chief of the Warsong Tribe was a firm believer in the demonic influence that gave his people such power, but Thrall would hear none of it, staying true to the spiritual and culturally rich history of the orcs.

When the demons finally invaded, Hellscream turned his forces on Thrall's, and Thrall was forced to fight his own people to get to his friend and save him. He was successful, and used his shamanistic magic to purge Hellscream of the demon blood. They set out to battle the demonic pit lord Mannoroth, and here Hellscream redeemed himself by killing Mannoroth while Thrall lay wounded. The battle dealt a mortal blow to Hellscream, and Thrall watched his friend die, knowing his people were finally free of the demonic corruption that had plagued them.

In the final moments of Warcraft 3, all the various factions of the land were locked in battle with one another, until Thrall's prophetic visions brought him to the World Tree where he met with the other leaders of the Humans and Night Elves. There the prophet that had been guiding the leaders revealed himself and pleaded them to ally with each other to defeat the Undead Scourge and the demons. Sensing the threat and always willing to work with others, Thrall was on board from the beginning. When the arch demon Archimonde approached the orchish encampment, he taunted them by saying the orcs were weak and weren't deserving of their power. Thrall stood proudly in front of his people, saying that their spirit is strong and that if there are to be defeated that day, at least they will be free.

After the events of the demonic invasion, Thrall founded the country of Durotar, after his father, and the capital city of Ogrimmar, named after Ogrim Doomhammer. Thrall was warchief of the Horde, the combined forces of the orcs, trolls, and tauren, and his allies soon settled their own cities in Durotar and prospered. Thrall remains in the capital city acting as civic, political, and spiritual leader of his people. He's had to endure so much hardship and prejudice and come out of it as a strong but fair ruler, not only restoring the orcs to their former glory but ensuring their future as a proud and honorable people. For the Horde!


Wrap Up

The big Bioware and Blizzard franchises dominant this list, as the companies enjoy grandiose story telling with larger than life characters and situations. I thought I'd find a lot of help amongst the JRPGS I've played, but aside from my beloved Suikoden series which always involves large scale war and political battles, it's difficult to find the same level of leadership qualities as presented in other games. A great leader should never be taken for granted, and it's a wonderful gaming fantasy to not only be the hero of the day, but a positive inspiration for others.