It’s quite a lineup
2021 almost feels like it didn’t happen. It’s hard to keep track of time when everything is so uncertain, so I feel like I remember this past year more in terms of the media I consumed than in real-life events. The games I played this year stand out most in my mind, and with them, the characters that I got to know and love.
I can’t get over how impressive it is that game studios have still managed to put out games in the midst of a pandemic, let alone really good ones. Despite all of the craziness we’ve continued to deal with this year, we got some pretty awesome games, and I’m thankful for that. So, without further ado, let’s celebrate them with a list of the Destructoid staff’s favorite new video game characters of 2021!
Oh, and be sure to let us know some of your favorite characters in the comments!
Noelle Warner: Alex Chen from Life is Strange: True Colors
Considering I didn’t much like the original Life is Strange, I was skeptical of True Colors when it released in September of 2021. I was thrilled to be proven wrong, however, when I inevitably fell in love with the game’s cast, and specifically the protagonist, Alex Chen. I was really impressed with how the writers gave Alex a rich inner life, and I found myself sympathizing with her in a way I haven’t with a video game character in a long time.
Aside from dealing with grief and loss, something I, like everyone else in the past few years, can relate to, Alex also had a bright, hopeful personality, a plethora of fun hobbies and interests, and even some playful banter and flirting with some of the other characters in True Colors. She wasn’t some empty vessel for me to project myself onto — she was practically a living, breathing person, which really took me on an emotional journey with her that moved me to tears more than once.
The player character in a story-driven game has to feel complex, realized, and above all enjoyable to spend time with, and Alex carried that mantle beautifully. Because of her character, and plenty of the others in True Colors‘ cast, frankly, it was one of my absolute favorite games of the year.
Jonathan Holmes: Lady Dimitrescu from Resident Evil Villiage
I played five times more hours of video games in 2021 than I did in 2020. I guess year 2 of a global pandemic will do that to you. And there were just so many games that captured my curiosity. I’d been waiting for No More Heroes 3 for over a decade. Axiom Verge 2 has less of a build-up, but it’s an emotional story about parenting in the face of neuro-physical limitations hit me hard. Skyward Sword, the Zelda game with the best NPCs in the franchise’s history, got a new and improved re-release. The creator of Chulip put out a new kissing game. The Chozo, a fictional race of bird people from a series I’ve loved since 1986, finally got the spotlight in an all-new 2D Metroid game. The list goes on.
In the end, though, the character that defined “2021 in games” for me wasn’t in one of my favorite releases of the year, and the game that she was in only featured her for a few hours. But like the old saying goes, there are no small parts, only small actors, and Lady Dimitrescu is about as far from small as they get. No other video game character of 2021 tapped into the unique fears and desires that so many people are experiencing right now better than she did. A delicate monster, protective yet predatory, refined yet carnal, elegant and surreal. She’s an icon whose presence in the world of gaming expands far outside the Resident Evil fandom.
Or should I say fandom?
Regardless of if you’re into Lady D for her sensual strengths, her high-class gothic aura, her status as a horror stalker for a new age, or any combination of the three, there’s no doubting that she was the most impactful, memorable character design of 2021.
Whispering Willow: The Loporrits from Final Fantasy XIV & Echo 216 from Halo Infinite.
Well, Holmes got Lady D so let’s see what else I have…
Wouldn’t you just like to relax? Well, I probably shouldn’t say too much about the Loporrits of Final Fantasy XIV Endwalker for sake of spoilers but these adorable moon dwelling throwbacks from FFIV are as entertaining as they are accomodating
How adorable? I would sacrifice the souls of all Lalafell and Viera to have playable Loporrits. These dutiful, handy buns will likely have some connection to crafting, but why stop there? Let us become them!
And you know who could really use a vacation on the moon with kindly bunbuns seeing after their needs? Well, we all could, but as 2021 game characters go, it’s probably Echo 216 from Halo Infinite.
Echo 216 is a mood. He does not want to be here today and he will let you know it. He’s trapped in what seems like an unending nightmare and struggling with feelings of futility and worthlessness. He’s very much a character for 2021. I’m glad Master Chief is there for him because it sort of felt like I was being comforted, too.
I think Echo 216 is also the only person who has hugged Master Chief. To be fair, I think that’s long overdue.
Zoey Handley: Sam Boole from Psychonauts 2
The original Psychonauts had a loving focus on its characters, and they really made the game stand out amongst other platformers. Psychonauts 2 could have been carried on the back of that same cast, but instead decided to dump most of it and introduce an almost entirely new one. It paid off, as the new characters are every bit as deep as the ones present in the first game, while adding an entirely new flavor to the sequel.
Sam Boole is the sister of Dogen Boole, a character from the first game who blew up squirrels. Sam is every bit as crazy as Dogen was but in a more confident way, which probably makes her even more dangerous. Her psychic talent is the ability to talk to animals, but she mainly uses it to torture and antagonize them. I found her selfish behaviors brushed with an intangible creepiness to be absolutely hilarious. The conversation she and Raz has over the topic of pancakes was the highlight of what was already an impressive game for me.
If the ditched cast of the original Psychonauts is any indication, this may have been the last we’ll see of Sam Boole. For the amount of time we got to enjoy her, she was a dash of just plain dirt in the delicious stack of pancakes that was Psychonauts 2. For the UMAMI…
Eric Van Allen: Julianna Blake from Deathloop
Deathloop might focus in on its targets, but just as core are its dueling protagonist and antagonist: the time-looping Colt and the assassin who’s always hunting him, Julianna Blake. The mixture of hunter and hunted is what creates a great deal of tension in Deathloop, culminating in incredible moments of banter and surprise firefights throughout each area.
And it all hits thanks to how genuinely charming Jules is. Ozioma Akagha’s portrayal of Julianna is equal parts snarky and emotional, a mixture of cold hunter and sneering rival. Every time you enter areas and loop back around, Julianna is there to taunt Colt, mocking his eternal struggle against a seemingly unstoppable system.
In just the introduction alone, Julianna makes a compelling entrance, literally toying with Colt as he tries to remember what’s going on and why. And up until the very end, Julianna is there, begging Colt to remember and egging him on to keep trying and failing, often thanks to her intervention. As core as characters can be to a narrative, Julianna is absolutely crucial to both Deathloop‘s story and its gameplay, and one of the most memorable antagonists of 2021.
CJ Andriessen: Gina from Gnosia
One of the most memorable gaming experiences I had in 2021 was my trip on a doomed spaceship in Gnosia. Originally released in Japan exclusive for the PlayStation Vita, the much-celebrated intergalactic take on “Werewolf” landed on Switch consoles early in 2021 with arguably the best cast of characters of last year. Each and every one of them is deserving of a spot on this list, including that one with a cat in his neck, but I’m choosing to focus on Gina for two reasons:
- Her outfit is fucking amazing and something every cosplayer should rock
- In a journey full of lies and deceit, she really was one of the only people I could depend on through each loop.
Gina hates to lie. In fact, she’s really bad at it. Not only does this mean she’s somebody I could come to rely on when both of us were humans, but it also meant she was a frequent target of the Gnosia trying to end my loop. Gina was somebody I could trust, which made her existence in this kill-or-be-kill game all the more melancholy. She’s frequently the first thrown into cold sleep or killed overnight. She’s like Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow, but you hate to see her die. She really did only want to help, even risking her life to save others. That kind of selflessness earns her a spot on this list.
Also, and I can’t stress this enough, I LOVE HER FUCKING OUTFIT!!!
Chris Moyse: The Play in Bio Village puppets
In 2021, there were a few news stories that I was swift enough to be among the first to report. But no greater pride was felt than the April morning I helped introduce “Play in Bio Village” to the masses. In a year of waking up to fairly miserable headlines and tired tales of DLC downloads, Capcom brought a huge smile to my face with this adorably grim puppet show, conceived as a unique marketing tool for one of its biggest releases of the year, Resident Evil Village.
Play in Bio Village saw a quartet of village villains brought to life as wonderfully crafted puppets, bursting with charm, energy, and unnerving presence. The concept behind the show was that Resident Evil‘s scare factor was costing the franchise sales, and thus our pint-sized pals — Moreau, Heisenberg, Angie, and good old Lady D — were here to demonstrate how Resident Evil was, in fact, “not scary.” Over the course of the shorts, the characters danced, sang, and partook in creative challenges — usually ending in a mad explosion of colorful tinsel-and-glitter-based gore.
The shorts concluded with Angie finally exclaiming in a frantic fit of screaming that they were all full of shit, and that Resident Evil was absolutely terrifying. An appearance by Mother Miranda (who had been hidden away in the background of each episode), convinced the gang that it was their duty to be proud of their frightful nature. Everyone had a moment of clarity, the entire set fell apart, and they all lived happily ever after… Except for Moreau, probably.
It was marvelous marketing, packed with genuine charm, wit, warmth, and humor. Play in Bio Village was visually stylish and magnificently shot, with production expertise that went far beyond the call. The shorts looked fantastic in use of color, light, and set design — recalling Obayashi’s House… House for marionettes. Crucially, the puppeteer team gave excellent physical performances, backed up by some quality voice work. In a fairly bland year of marketing, The Play in Bio Village campaign was genuinely joyful. Every short made me smile, even laugh, in a year where very little in the biz did.
Will we see our friends again? Well, Capcom has stated that Village has some DLC incoming. So we’ll see!