One of the most challenging tasks a video game developer might face is figuring out how to make the lead character interesting. Of course, players want to connect with the protagonist in order to stay invested in the story and the world, but they also want room to express their personalities through gameplay.
Striking this balance can be very tricky. Some developers make their protagonist silent but expressive, like Chrono from Chrono Trigger. Other developers give protagonists personal journeys and unique perspectives, like Aloy from the Horizonseries. Unfortunately, though, sometimes developers just forget to make their protagonists interesting.
9 Sebastian Castellanos Was A Generic Hero Who Got More Interesting In The Sequel
The Evil Within was a reasonably well-received survival horror game that debuted in 2014. Critics praised its imaginative environments and monsters, but few had anything positive to say about the lead character, Sebastian Castellanos. Instead, Sebastian was a generic detective whose bland, slightly confused reactions to the horrors surrounding him made him seem dense.
The Evil Within II, however, improved on its predecessor in almost every way. The sequel explored Sebastian’s backstory and gave him a more personal stake in the story. It’s rare for a game sequel to rehabilitate its lead character, but Evil Within II pulled it off.
8 Lucas Kane Was Dead, Both Literally And Figuratively
Indigo Prophecy – titled Fahrenheit outside the US – had an incredible opening sequence and a story that dissolved into nonsensical chaos. At the heart of it all was Lucas Kane, the messianic hero on the run for a murder he committed while possessed by cultists.
Sadly, Lucas Kane was by far the worst protagonist in Indigo Prophecy. His complete lack of agency, inability to understand anything happening, and the decision to give him superpowers out of nowhere made him a painfully generic hero compared to the detectives investigating him.
7 Aiden Pearce Wasn’t As Cool As He Thought He Was
Watch Dogs made a big impression on gamers when its in-game footage was shown to the public in 2012. The complex hacking systems and player freedom indicated that Ubisoft had a hit on its hands.
When the game was released in 2014, however, critics and gamers mostly viewed the finished product as disappointing. One of the most criticized aspects of the game was protagonist Aiden Pearce, an uninspired, cookie-cutter video game hero. Aiden never really sounded like a genius hacker. Instead, he was just another guy with a gun out for revenge.
6 Markus Was Detroit: Become Human’s Worst Hero
Detroit: Become Human is a divisive adventure game from the creators of Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy. Some critics praised the game for its world design and the sense that player choices had real weight. However, others found the story uninspired and the messaging painfully on the nose.
However, critics generally agreed that Markus, the caretaker android turned freedom fighter, was the dullest protagonist in the game. The character lacked charisma and likability, and his journey to becoming the savior of the android race was never as gripping as it should have been.
5 Max From Sanitarium Sounds Confused
Sanitarium was a relatively popular point-and-click adventure game that came out in 1998. Its creepy asylum setting and, for the time, excellent graphics made it a surprise hit with critics and gamers alike.
However, playing the game today, it is difficult to become invested in the story of Max, an unremarkable man whose only emotional state appears to be “confused.” Of course, it doesn’t help matters that Max’s voice actor is awful and sounds more like a VO actor in a radio ad than a man thrust into a nightmare world and scared out of his wits.
4 The Pokemon Trainer Has No Soul
Games with silent protagonists are a challenge for developers. Chrono Trigger‘s Chrono never speaks, but his varied character animations and colorful design give him a personality. Gordon Freeman from the Half-Life series never speaks, but the other characters in the games have strong feelings about him, so he feels like somebody who exists in the game’s world.
Pokemon, however, never seems to have figured out how to make its main characters interesting. The problem goes back to Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue, where the design choice for the hero stopped at “kid with a baseball cap.” The character has no motivation beyond being told that he should capture Pokemon. The trainer might as well be a blank square the player moves around the screen.
3 Byleth Is A Dull Character With Cool Friends
Much of the modern Fire Emblem games’ appeal comes from the unlockable social interactions and deep characterization of its characters. This makes it all the more baffling that Fire Emblem: Three Houses made its main character a blank slate with seemingly no investment in the story happening around her.
The protagonists in Awakenings and Fates were somewhat under-characterized, so the player had room to develop them independently. Still, they at least had pre-written dialogue that hinted at thoughts and ideas outside of the player’s control. Byleth, on the other hand, does not say anything without a prompt for the player to choose what she says. Byleth also has basically no facial expressions, and the player can’t customize her look. The developers likely intended to make the character feel like an avatar for the player, but instead, Byleth seems like somebody with no inner life who just does what she’s told.
2 Cal Kestis Is More Anakin Skywalker Than Han Solo
The Star Wars universe is packed with compelling characters who would make excellent video game protagonists. Why Respawn Entertainment made the hero of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order a virtual photocopy of every dull Jedi that puttered their way through the prequels is inexplicable.
Cameron Monaghan, who plays Cal Kestis, is a talented actor, but Fallen Order gives him nothing interesting to do, and he never really fits in with the universe. Instead, Cal is one of a million protagonists who is told they are important, and just kind of goes along with whatever happens. It’s a missed opportunity, considering how compelling the story of a Jedi on the run should be.
1 Master Chief Is A Boring Icon
The name “Master Chief” became so legendary in the gaming sphere during Halo’s peak that anyone who plays the Halo series today might be shocked at how boring the character is. Master Chief has no real agency in the games that made him famous. Instead, he follows orders and moves on to the next mission.
Master Chief’s status as a gaming icon has more to do with the incredible popularity of the Halo series in the 2000s than with him as a character. He’s really just a stand-in for any of his palette-swap soldiers. Master Chief may have been with Halo in its finest hour, but it’s little surprise that spin-offs like Halo: Reach earn far more praise for their character work than the games that star him.