Top Ten Tuesday 25

My Top Ten Rebel 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

As we celebrate America's birthday I'm reminded of how much I love Summer and how the holiday perfectly embodies everything that's great about it: Friends, family, swimming, barbeque, and generally good time in the sun. But the reason we get to celebrate is because a group of idealistic and passionate people wanted to rebel against their tyrannical government and form their own nation. The act of rebellion is often romanticized in many cultures - the slaves rising up to cast off their chains, the underdogs fighting back against their oppressors, and it's echoed in many of our best stories. For Independence Day this year I've put together my list of the Top Ten Rebel Leaders in gaming. Give me liberty or give me extra lives!


Top Ten Rebel Leaders


10) Johnny Klebitz and The Lost (Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned)

The first downloadable content released for Grand Theft Auto IV, The Lost and Damned puts players in control of Johnny Klebitz, your typical biker badass that's currently acting as interim leader of the notorious biker gang The Lost. While not technically a rebellious uprising against the government, The Lost are all rebels with little cause against the establishment, and rebel by committing lots of crimes, killing sprees, gang warfare, and assassinations. To his credit, Johnny manages to remain a badass leader while still trying to steer his gang onto a more respectable and less bloodthirsty path.


9) Anders and the rebel mages (Dragon Age II)

Originally introduced in the Dragon Age: Origins expansion pack Awakening, Anders is a free-spirited, laid back mage that harbors a deep resentment to the Templars and the way the world of Fereldan treats mages. Basically, mages in Bioware's fantasy world are like mutants from Marvel - they have unique powerful abilities that they're born with, but it makes them hated and feared by the rest of the population. Of course there's good reason for this, as mages are also highly susceptible to possession by demons, and it's such a problem that all mages are sequestered inside the Circle of Magi under the watchful eye of the Templars, a faction of zealous warriors whose sole purpose is to cut down any mage practicing forbidden blood magic or showing signs of demonic influence.

In Dragon Age II, Anders represents the more terrorist views of a rebel leader, going so far as to set off a bomb to destroy the Chantry in Kirkwall and forcing a war between the mages and Templars. Throughout the game Anders' convictions (helped in large part by being possessed by the spirit Justice, also returning from Awakening) never waver and his actions force the player to take a side between the conflict - either the oppressed but dangerous mages or the callous but peace-keeping Templars.


8) Abraham Reyes and Reyes' Rebels (Red Dead Redemption)

Like Anders, Reyes is not exactly a positive example of a rebel leader. When John Marston arrives in Mexico he's quickly embroiled in a civil war between the reigning tyrannical despot and the passionate guerrilla warriors known as Reyes' Rebels. What seems like a clear good guy bad guy situation grows murky as John continues to work for Reyes, who reveals his own harbored racism that echoes that of the Nazi party - the idea that certain races are superior to others. He constantly refers to his own people that fight for him as peasants, and it's pretty obvious that Reyes will become an even worse dictator than his predecessor. Better luck next time, Mexico!


7) Banon and the Returners (Final Fantasy VI)

Although Banon himself is a relatively minor character in the sweeping epic that is Final Fantasy VI, the Returners are the main good guys throughout the first half of the game, and are the closest thing to a classic idealistic and good rebellion fighting against the oppressive and clearly evil empire in this list. All the heroes join up with the Returners and serve in some capacity, and Banon helps to organize a lot of the behind the scenes struggles while the various heroes get to accomplish the more exciting tasks, ultimately resulting in an all-out attack on the Empire's capital. Also, he looks like he could be Sabretooth's dad.


6) Ulfric Stormcloak and the Stormcloaks (The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim)

A recognizable character to anyone that's played Bethesda's latest open-world adventure, Ulfric is introduced in the intro as the feared and hated leader of the rebel Nords known as the Stormcloaks. Of course, as the player is also being summarily sentenced to death right next to him, your feelings on the current reigning Empire might align with his. You're given the freedom to eventually join up with the Empire or the Stormcloaks (or play hundreds of hours without joining either), and you'll work for Ulfric directly should you head for the rebels. It's not all black and white in Skyrim however; while the Empire did agree to allow the Aldmari Dominion to establish embassies and carry out business, they did so as a means to end the war. The Stormcloaks, meanwhile, are all for returning Skyrims back to its native people the the cost of prejudice and racism toward all the other fantasy races inhabiting the land. The displaced neighboring Dark Elves are viewed as vermin and openly despised by the Stormcloaks. Armed with this knowledge the player has a difficult decision to make in Skyrim's civil war, as Ulfric remains a charismatic and persuasive leader and one can't help but root for the idealistic underdog.


5) Atlas and the working class of Rapture (BioShock)

Throughout the first 2/3 of BioShock the figure known only as Atlas remains the player's only human link to what the hell is going on in the fallen city of Rapture. Cut off from the rest of the world, Rapture was built by Andrew Ryan as a testament to man's accomplishments - with no religion or government interference. Unfortunately things went south after the discovery of Plasmids that gave ordinary citizens super powers, and Ryan was forced to become a ruling despot as the entire city tore itself apart. Atlas rose as the leader and voice of the people, specifically the downtrodden working class, and harbors a deep personal vendetta toward Ryan. When Atlas' true identity is revealed it makes his rise and story even more compelling, and still remains one of the best plot twists in video games.


4) Eddie Riggs and Ironheade (Brutal Legend)

Always the roadie and never the rock star, Eddie Riggs comes into his own when he's magically transported into the primeval world of Rock and Roll. He meets up with the idealistic resistance consisting of Lars, his sister Lita, and Ophelia who are fighting back against the hair metal overlord General Lionwhyte. Together they cobble together a fighting force by liberating, aiding, and convincing various ensalved denizens of the world, creating the rebel faction Ironheade ("We're putting an 'e' at the end, so they know we mean business!"). Eddie's penchant for being a roadie (and his mantra for making everyone else look good) ends up making him an amazingly charismatic leader and is one of the few on this list that the player actually gets to lead both from a heroic angle and as a leader of an army in the game's several Real Time Strategy battles.


3) Alyx and Eli Vance and The Resistance (Half-Life 2)

With no official leader of The Resistance to the alien invading Conclave, scientist Eli Vance is the closest thing to a leader and figurehead, and his capture midway through Half-Life 2 galvanizes the rest of the Resistance (now seemingly lead by his resourceful daughter Alyx) into a full on uprising. With the mysterious return of Gordon Freeman, the Resistance is able to mount a proper rebellion against the Conclave, and together Gordon and Alyx defeat Dr. Breen and shut down the source of the Conclave's power. The Resistance fights all around the player throughout the second half of the game and Gordon is even given his own rotating squad of freedom fighters to compliment his own abilities, but it's Alyx who keeps everyone together.


2) Roland and the Crimson Raiders (Borderlands 2)

Three of the four Vault Hunters from the first Borderlands end up becoming leaders in some form in the sequel: Lilith becomes the worshipped Firehawke amongst bandits, Brick rules another faction of barbarians calling himself the Slab King, but it's the socially awkward yet totally badass soldier Roland that forms a resistance group out of the deposed Crimson Lance from the General Knoxx DLC. The Crimson Raiders build a home in the last free city of Sanctuary and attempt to fight back against the current controlling corporation of Pandora, Hyperion. Roland acts as their official leader and charismatic poster child as the Raiders work to protect themselves from constant bandit attacks and the evil machinations of Handsome Jack.


1) Jim Raynor and Raynor's Raiders (Starcraft series)

Raynor remains one of the most iconic figures in both leadership and rebellion roles. Having witnessed the evils of the Terran Confederacy, small town sheriff Jim Raynor is persuaded to join the rebel faction known as the Sons of Korhal. But after their leader Arcturus Megnsk leaves his potential love interest Sarah Kerrigan to die on a Zerg infested planet, Raynor leaves the rebels, finding sanctuary among the Protoss. But word spreads of Raynor's general badassness and soon he forms his own rebellious faction after Mengsk wins and ascends as the new Emperor. Raynor's Raiders must join forces with the Dark Protoss and even his hated former comrade Mengsk in order to stop the threats of the United Earth Directorate and the new Queen of the Zerg, Kerrigan.

And that's just the story told in the first Starcraft game and its expansion Brood War! In the decade-in-the-making sequel, Raynor's grown much more grizzled and despondent with his leadership role, and for the first time we get a rebel leader who worries about the future. Not to mention he still has major hang-ups about his former love but murderer of his friends Kerrigan. Through it all Raynor retains the same Southern charm and desire for good that makes him such an admirable hero and leader.


Wrap Up

Surprisingly only two entries also appeared on my Top Ten Leaders list (for President's Day) although there are some crossover in games and series. Every interesting rebel faction needs their idealistic leader just as much as a reigning government or empire needs their tyrannical emperor. It's easiest to put a face with everything, and in creating narratives makes for interesting characters. Sometimes a leader's army or tactical knowledge is put into direct use during the course of a game, either through the player's own actions or via cutscenes; other times their role is merely a backstory to help develop their character and set up current situations. As evidenced by my own list, not every rebel faction represents the good guys; plenty of power hungry people use their position and persuasiveness to attack and possibly succeed the current ruling force, or in some cases to simply burn it all to the ground. Either way, rebellions make for some great conflict driven, epic storylines and like all forms of storytelling, video games will never tire of them.