Move over Mario! Take a seat Snake! Read the room Redfield! It is high time the main characters stop soaking in all the credit for saving the world/princess/universe and let those that worked just as hard (if not harder) get a slice of the victory cake for a change, the underrated video game heroes!
With that in mind, here are my top characters who I think deserve more than a passing acknowledgement for what they have done for their respective worlds.
Legion – Mass Effect 2 & 3
Throughout your playthrough of the first Mass Effect game, you are conditioned to believe that the Geth are the bad guys. A subservient race of artificial intelligence worshipping the Reapers as some sort of mechanical God. We are led to that conclusion through many factors. The lore you uncover only ever tells of skirmishes people have had with the Geth, the fact that most of your own endeavours will have you facing off against them, Tali (a much-loved member of your crew) makes no effort to conceal the hatred she holds for them.
You find out that the Geth slaughtered the majority of their creators (Tali’s race) after they gained self-awareness. But it is not until you come across Legion in the second game that you start to see that there is indeed, two sides to every story. That the Geth aren’t just a mechanical scourge on the galaxy, that they are just trying to find ways to survive and evolve.
“Organics fear us. We wish to understand, not incite.” Is a quote from Legion, who is, collectively 1183 Geth programs within one ‘mobile platform’. We learn that the Geth were slaughtered in fear after they gained consciousness and the majority turned to the Reapers in order to advance themselves. Eventually, if the right choices are made, Legion will undergo ‘direct personality dissemination’ in order to grant the rest of the Geth race independent intelligence, as opposed to collective intelligence. This sacrifice strips Legion of his life in order to help his race evolve to point of complete self-sufficiency.
This act of sacrifice brings the entire Geth fleet to your aid and ends hundreds of years of war between two alien races. If that isn't an underrated video game hero, then I don't know what is!
Vesemir – The Witcher 3
The Witcher 3 is undoubtedly one of the biggest games of all time. There is not a single gamer on the planet who doesn’t know the name Geralt of Rivia. And anyone with even a passing interest in the series knows of Yennifer, Triss Merigold and Ciri. But where on Earth is all the love for Vesemir!?
Let us get one thing straight, without Vesimir, there would be no Geralt. Without Geralt, there would likely be little left on the Earth worth saving. Therefore, no Vesemir, no Earth. His story is almost as colourful as Geralt’s. Being there when Kaer Morhen was first constructed, he is one of the oldest beings in the world, rich in knowledge, love, sword skills and an appendix of monsters all memorised to a tee. He is portrayed as a ‘grumpy old man stuck in the ways of the past’ but his love for his make-shift family of fellow witchers is evident throughout. He would do anything to protect them, proving this in his last act of giving his long-lived life to help protect Ciri, his somewhat adoptive granddaughter from the clutches of the Wild Hunt.
RIP you big, beautiful, grumpy bugger you. Forever our underrated video game hero.
Penultimo – Tropico Series
I know what you are thinking. This list should be filled with AAA mega hitting action-filled titles. But ignoring the smaller of heroes and you are just as blind as the villains in which we do battle with!
Penultimo, the ever-loyal advisor of El Presidenté and voice of the modern Tropico games. The thing is, good and bad is just a matter of perspective. We presume our illustrious leader is a good guy, as he is who we are managing this simulator via. But it simply depends on the scenario we are playing. Whether we are tasked with building an empire without houses to keep everyone homeless, or to become a military powerhouse the rest of the world fears, or to amass a pirate empire, Penultimo is the hero of the scenario.
He will always have the advice we need, and he never waivers in his loyalty. And that is what a hero is. Someone who stands strong on their beliefs and acts on them to the end. Not all heroes wear capes, not all heroes save people, some heroes dedicate themselves to keeping a single person alive. And in power.
He also has a major from the University of Atlantis in "Being Penultimo”. Nobody else can make that claim.
The success of the Persona series is absolutely undeniable at this point. With ARPG spin-offs, dance games and even a return to routes with the Shin Megami Tensei series making a grand return; Persona is everywhere. And who does everyone think of when they hear of Persona 5? Joker. The main character who doesn’t talk. He doesn’t even have a name!
Morgana on the other hand is the true, underrated video game hero of this story though. Without him, the protagonists would never have made it past their first flurry into the metaverse alive. He trains the characters (and us) in how to fight shadows in the metaverse, how to traverse, how to use unique abilities. Also, Morgana teaches us about what the metaverse is, about people’s cognitions and warped desires made flesh. He acts as a guide for the whole team, he joins us as the main healer and keeps us all alive and even transforms his own body into a van so that he can help ferry us long distances into the metaverse.
He does all this, whilst battling with his own inner demons of not knowing who he is or where he came from. Not knowing if he is human, cat or even a shadow himself. He even dies for his newfound friends after he helps them take down the metaverse, after finding out that he is in part, only alive because the metaverse exists.
Suck those tears back in though, he doesn’t stay dead for long. He shortly returns to the gang.
Emil – NieR Franchise
If you have only played NieR Automata, then you will recognise Emil as the whacky, innocent sentient head that you come across. You know, the one that turns up again as a reformed faster than light shopping cart that serves as a merchant that you will likely never ever use.
If you are more into your NieR games, especially with the recent release of Replicant, then you may know more about this character. He joins your party in the original Nier game (remastered as NieR Replicant) and is just a young boy. Emil is the very embodiment of what it is to be innocent, always striving to do the best for people. He is later merged with his twin sister and becomes a creepy, skeletal figure with magical abilities.
Fast forward some thousands of years and Emil is fighting an entire alien invasion in the first machine war. He is able to duplicate himself at the cost of some memories, and ultimately, his sanity. He battled the alien invasion for an entire hundred years, duplicating himself 85,943,258 times in a futile attempt to destroy the alien invaders. By the time Automata takes place, it is already the 14th machine war, and the original Emil is believed to be deceased. All this heroism is from what is essentially, just a young boy trying to do the right thing.
And there you are. 5 of the underrated video game heroes who I feel deserve much more recognition than they get. Protagonists are worthy of being celebrated for sure, their feats are often remarkable and death-defying. But no protagonist can ever achieve their goal without one or two heroes to back them up!
Next time you are playing a game, have a little think into who the smaller heroes are for a change. They deserve it!