I enjoy turn-based RPGs! I wouldn’t say that I am the biggest fan and that I play every single title that comes out, but I did play a fair amount of them. What I like most about the genre is the breathtaking worlds, the great side characters, the fun and random quests, the story (at least when it’s not too convoluted…) and the general system. However, for all these amazing things, there is one area where they don’t do as well. It’s their main character. Leaving aside the usual praise for Cloud from Final Fantasy 7, most main characters are bland compared to the supporting cast.
The obvious justification for this is that in RPGs, the main character is often supposed to be but a shell. Their traits, their look and even their personality are to be completely decided by the player. Other times, though, they are just silent protagonists, utterly devoid of any personality, even if they do have a name and such. However, there are some, rare cases, when the main character outshines even the supporting cast. Sometimes it’s the main character that must lead by example.
This brings me to my top five characters from turn-based RPGs. I loved how these characters acted in the games they were in, which obviously means I had to play the games. As such, I’m sorry, but Cloud doesn’t make the list. Just saying this in advance, before there are a hundred comments on that. Well, with this tidbit out of the way, here are my five favorites.
Ichiban (Yakuza Like a Dragon)
Taking the lead away from Kazuma was never going to be an easy task. Yet, Ichiban does this with so much pizzazz that I wish it happened sooner. If you thought Kazuma was a likeable character, Ichiban is even more likeable than him. But what makes Ichiban so likeable?
For me, it’s a mixture of his strong morals and his otaku culture that made him that much more relatable. He isn’t just some ex-yakuza full of honor and missing the old way of things. Instead, he’s a hero wannabe who played too much Dragon Quest and didn’t have many opportunities in life.
This character is funny while also being kind – just a great guy, all-around. He also has that aura around him that infects the rest of the party, making them want to follow him to the ends of the world. I know they say – “the main character is made great by the characters that support him”. For Ichiban, though, it’s the other way around. It is he who makes his party great. It is his influence that makes the supporting characters better. I got to give it to the Ryu Ga Gotoku team – they do know how to make such a main character that I couldn’t help but love.
Kaim (Lost Odyssey)
Kaim really is a funny character, and I don’t mean that in a “haha” way. Rather, this character is different from most other JRPG heroes of the time. For one, he is old, and not just because he is immortal. The character himself looks like he’s in his mid-30s, which was rare for a JRPG. In addition, he’s that classic amnesic character, who can’t remember anything from his past. The worst sin in any game, if you ask me. Yet, regardless of this, he does manage to somehow still be a loveable character.
I began to like Kaim as I’ve discovered the type of man he was, through a series of unlockable memories. What he had been through, during his immortal life. How he craved to be a normal human, that could die. We discovered his pain, his regrets. When you’ve lived as long as Kaim, there’s a lot to think about. The memories truly allowed me to understand him. His character ended up being very different from how I would’ve seen him, if I didn’t collect or read these.
In truth, if it wasn’t for my love of Kaim and Lost Odyssey, I might have never tried the Final Fantasy series. One of the reasons I’ve played those games, is just that I wanted to experience Hironobu Sakaguchi’s prior works.
Lightning (Final Fantasy XIII)
I know – the first Final Fantasy game I ever played is considered one of the worst in the series. However, there is no denying that Lightning is a great character. Also, side note: I know this is technically the second Final Fantasy without Hironobu, but I still wanted to experience the series. Alright, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the game. The only reason I kept playing was because of Lightning. She really carried the whole game, and it’s for this reason alone, that she makes the list.
Lightning as a character is almost perfection. Honestly, I don’t even know why they had to add any other characters at all. Usually, I like to think that the other members of the party complement the main hero. However, all of Lightning’s companions were okay at best – while some were downright awful. If you’ve played Final Fantasy XIII, then you know who I’m talking about. I know that they helped her develop as a character – but really, I don’t think she needed any help.
What I liked best about Lightning is that she practically held an average game together, just on her own. Sure, I could talk about how she starts out as a Stoic character, considering most people around her just dead weight. And how, over the course of the game, she eventually begins to care about others. I could even talk about how throughout the three games, we see her go through so many arcs that make her even more loveable. I won’t, though. For me, the main thing is that she held an entire Final Fantasy game together. She was the only character I cared about or wanted to play, which is saying something about the other characters.
I really enjoyed Ikenfell, and what made me enjoy it were the great characters in the game. Especially the main character, Maritte. There is nothing special about Maritte, and when I think about it, she is such an ordinary character. Yet, it’s how ordinary she is that makes her so special. Well, actually, she isn’t that ordinary per se, as she develops powers at the beginning of the game. What I mean is that she has normal wants and problems of an average child.
I found it so refreshing to see a hero have anxiety, to think she wasn’t good enough, and a whole manner of other things any other child would go through during their school life. Mariette isn’t some child prophesied to be a hero; she is just Maritte – a teen looking for her sister, that happens to save the world with the friends she meets. Not just that, but we see her grow and mature like any child would if they went through what she did, yet still keep some humor to her.
Mario (Paper Mario Series)
I really liked the Paper Mario games, especially those with turn-based combat. It is as if in these games, we see a different type of Mario, a somewhat more likeable Mario. I don’t know if I’m the only one, but sometimes I do get that jerk vibe from him. Not sure if that’s just because I watched the series and now associate that with him, or if he just comes off as somewhat of a jerk in the games. Honestly, I don’t know what it is about Paper Mario, but he somehow solves all my problems with his platforming version. It is as if Paper Mario is a modest man, with regrets, with dreams and everything else that this other one is missing.
It’s not like the Paper Mario version is any different from the normal one – he just somehow happens to be more likeable in the game. I feel like I got to know him better as a character, unlike the Mario from Mario Galaxy, where he just saves the day and that’s it – nothing else. It could be the RPG effect or something like that. Whatever it was, though, it certainly made me like him as a character.
These are, by far, my five favorite main characters from turn-based RPGs. I know they aren’t everyone’s favorite, but until I get to some other RPGs on my list, they are the best for me. These are the characters that stood out. There may have been others, but in most cases, they weren’t the main characters. Who are some of your favorites, and what game are they from? I am always looking for new turn-based RPGs to play!
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