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2020 may have been a crap year but it gave us some amazing new characters

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Let's put them all in a game together

There is a lot about 2020 that I can't wait to forget. The stupidity of it all, the never-ending election, Artemis Fowl, that thing on Twitter where everything was a cake, it can all go from my mind the minute the clock strikes midnight on December 31.

But one thing I hope I won't forget from this year are all the great new characters video games gave us. Because despite all the crap mankind has been through in 2020, it was a phenomenal year for games and the NPCs and playable characters who populate them. Here now are the best new characters of 2020 according to the Destructoid staff.

Jonathan Holmes: "Bobby" from Paper Mario: The Origami King

For years people have bagged on the modern Paper Mario games for refusing to go back to their roots. Specifically, people want to see the franchise return to featuring unique, playable characters of different "enemy" races (Goombas, Koopas, Boos, etc.) from the Mario universe. With "Bobby," Nintendo showed fans to be careful of what they wish for. 

Without spoiling it too much, let's just say that with Bobby the Bob-omb, Nintendo devised a poetic and unabashedly tragic way to remind players that nearly all the monsters in the Mushroom Kingdom exist to serve just one purpose. Though they'd never admit it, this may actually be the real reason why Nintendo doesn't create uniquely named and styled "enemies made friends" party members in any of their Mario games anymore. If Mario is willing to hang out with Goombella (his ponytailed Goomba pal in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door) one minute, then crush other Goombas to death the next, what kind of person does that make him? Why does he value Goombella's life but is willing to snuff out the existence of countless others of her kind without batting an eye?

If you stop objectifying the enemies in the Mario games, then you start making Mario a mass murderer and not just a "fun guy" who jumps on or over fungus on his way to save the princess. Paper Mario: The Origami King faces this fact head-on, in ways that are best exemplified by Bobby's side-story, making him my pick for the most memorable, relatable, and thought-provoking characters of 2020. 

Gramble Bugsnax

CJ Andriessen: Gramble Gigglefunny from Bugsnax

While Bugsnax as a game didn’t come close to living up to the hype, its collective cast of colorful characters was an absolute triumph. The Grumpuses of Snaxburg were bright and colorful with big personalities. Each could easily find their way onto this list, but for me, no other character in the game — or any other game for that matter — could match Gramble.

While most of the residents of this island “paradise” wanted nothing more than to feast on the Bugsnax, Gramble wanted to protect them and raise them as his kin. A kind soul, he runs the ranch in Snaxburg and loves to give out big hugs to his friends and Wiggle Wigglebottom, if only to stop her from eating his critters. His endless devotion to the Bugsnax as animals rather than food put him at odds with most of the town, particularly when Lizbert goes missing and he has the only stock of edible, googly-eyed creatures.

His steadfastness to his pets is just so endearing, and the way he remains true to himself despite the agitation that might cause makes him a hero in my book. He’s my favorite Grumpus, and even though it’ll keep me from achieving the platinum trophy, I just can’t break his devotion to his Bugsnax by feeding him one when he sleepwalks. Plus, I just love worrywarts.

Josh Tolentino: Scathach=Skadi from Fate/Grand Order

I'm not going to do something silly like argue that Scathach=Skadi - a name you might not even be aware of unless you're part of an especially cursed section of the gaming public (anime gacha players) - has the best story or personality, or best arc in gaming. Sure, she's a big part of the second Cosmos in the Lostbelt chapter, and that counts for something. But even then, she's a remix, essentially: An amalgam of the ancient Norse Goddess Skadi and Scathach, a figure from Celtic myth whose backstory (as reflected in the game) is largely fabricated by the writers to provide Fate OG Cú Chulainn a hot mentor figure.

So no, she's not the best-written character of the year. But, I have yet to see a character so thoroughly upend a game's balance just by arriving. Simply by existing, Scathach=Skadi almost singlehandedly redefined Fate/Grand Order's meta and effectively saved one of the three in-game combat elements. In the years B.S. (Before Skadi), the Quick element (Green) was relatively lackluster, its focus on generating critical hits ending up inconsistent and unreliable compared to the sheer damage of Buster-element strategies and the sustainability of Arts-based setups. Skadi's skillset, with a world-beating Quick-element/Critical damage buff and an on-demand way to recharge a Servant's Noble Phantasm gauge by half, acted as just the platform needed to make an entire slate of otherwise "just fine" Servants top-tier picks.

Those Servants, like Edmond Dantes, Atalante, and Lancelot from Fate/Zero, all could leverage their Quick-element Noble Phantasms to earn back charges of their ultimates, allowing a player with the right Servant, a Skadi, a friend with Skadi (to field two Skadis simultaneously) and some extra equipment, to "Loop", casting their ultimates to wipe a round, and then suddenly refill their ultimate to do it again the next round. Almost overnight, a large majority of FGO's non-challenge content became even easier to farm at speed. 

Sure, Skadi Loops aren't the end-all-be-all of Fate/Grand Order, but there's no denying her impact on the scene, at least for those players who were lucky enough to grab her from the gacha.

Marcel Hoang: Zhongli from Genshin Impact

Introduced during the first chapter of Genshin Impact's ongoing story during the quest Farewell, Archaic Lord, Zhongli is introduced as Wangsheng Funeral Parlor's consultant. Zhongli gained immediate popularity due to the dulcet tones of his English voice actor Keith Silverstein. Zhongli can be described as a cultured man who is knowledgeable in many traditions and customs of ancient Liyue, which really paints a picture of a capable gentleman who can be depended on to know something useful in any social situation.

His velvety smooth voice and cultured demeanor belay a humorously out of touch old man as well. Despite being entrenched in many fine customs which can be quite expensive, he has absolutely no money sense and in fact, struggles to remember to bring his wallet with him to pay. When on official business, Zhongli won't even bother looking at the price for certain things, instead remarking on its cultural significance and buying it wholesale without so much as looking at six-figure price tags. Without going too much further into spoilers, the performance alone by Keith is enough to make anyone playing the game forget what they're doing and simply drink in his voice. Even if at this point in the game's story, you're dealing with a shadowy organization and the fate of the Seven Archons.

While fans who dig deep into the game's meta may have been disappointed by how Zhongli plays, it's undeniable that Zhongli is still popular simply due to his aesthetic design, the performances given by all his respective voice actors across the languages, and how attached you get to him simply because he has such a central role in the chapter he appears in. There's no doubt in my mind that Mihoyo made a pretty penny while his character banner was on.

Anthony Marzano: Ace from Rainbow Six: Siege

In the world of Siege, Ace isn't some war hero with a hundred kills to his name that got tired of the battlefield and decided to join the Rainbow counter-terrorist unit. Before joining the PMC group NIGHTHAVEN, Ace was a special operations paramedic... with a ton of social media followers.

Håvard “Ace” Haugland was born in Lærdalsøyri, a small village in Norway where he was a big fish in a small pond. Because of this, he gained a love of attention, and it followed him all through his military career. Somewhere along the way, the military allowed him to start a social media account, and through it, he documented all of his high octane rescues and escapes. It’s so incredibly stupid and brash that I can’t not love the ridiculousness with which Ace composes himself.

Also helps that his AK-12 gun goes "brrrr," and his hard breach gadget is wonderful at opening up sightlines into the objective for cover or even to defend a placed defuser. This is what 2020 has wrought on me... I can sound like I semi-know what I’m talking about when it comes to Siege. Don’t cry for me Argentina...

Also, look at how that idiot covers everything but his mouth... in 2020. What a joke. I love it.

Darren Nakamura: Dusa from Hades

Honestly, this list could contain the entire cast from Hades (minus Theseus), but having to choose only one, the honor goes to the most adorable floating gorgon head beneath the surface of the earth. Shortly into my series of escape attempts from the underworld, I wasn't sure if I would ever make it out, but I was certain of one thing: I was going to romance Dusa.

She may not have that classic hourglass figure, but she more than makes up for it in heart. She starts off timid and unsure of herself, but by getting to know her, Zagreus not only helps her realize her full potential as the keeper of the House of Hades, but she does the same for him in his travails. The two may not end up in bed together, but they showcase an even stronger bond than Zagreus could form with Megaera or Thanatos; they become best friends forever.

Plus, she gasps whenever she sees Zagreus, and I don't know how somebody couldn't fall in love with that mannerism. She deserves all of the Nectar, and then all of the Ambrosia, and even when she offers to give it back because that's just the kind of person she is, she deserves even more. Please love me, Dusa.

Patrick Hancock: Jesse from Final Fantasy VII Remake

Now, obviously, Jesse is not a brand new character, but anyone who has played the remake of Final Fantasy VII after the original knows that Jesse is basically someone entirely new. I'm still making my way through the remake, but even still, Jesse has made a huge impression on me, and I love that they were willing to diverge from the original plot and ideas in the original game to put a new spin on the remake. 

At first, I thought, like many I'm sure, that Jesse simply served as another love interest to enter into the Tifa/Cloud/Aerith/Barret love dynamic, but after she gets specific questlines that allow her and her family to really enter the picture, I knew that the development team wasn't just playing it safe anymore. I won't go into details because, although not plot-imperative, I'd still consider it spoilers for those who want to go in fresh. But the change of pace that Jesse's storyline provides is more than welcome, and her personality is infectious; I look forward to her cutscenes, something I have never once said about the original game. I also look forward to a Midgar Pizza...

Jesse represents more than just an interesting character in the Final Fantasy VII Remake. She proves that adding on and changing the product being remade can be worthwhile when done right. Kind of like how the Lion King film remake does the opposite by changing basically nothing. I've played Final Fantasy VII. Multiple times, actually. A new coat of paint and battle system would have been neat, but the changes they were willing to make pushed the product itself into a realm of its own, and I love it.

Whispering Willow: Nyx from Hades

I grew up in a bitter divorce and often dealt with parental figures trying to shape me to their will or emotionally bribe me with Game Boys, so I felt an instant connection with Zagreus in Hades (which could also be called Fuck You, Dad: The Game) and even more with his relationship with Nyx, who is basically his stepmother with an anime Morticia Addams vibe. 

Even though she's the goddess of the night and the first point of creation as well as the creator of the underworld in this game, she's always keeping the house of Hades in order and is a rather calming presence. 

And like my best parental relationship with my late stepfather, she understands what a child needs may not always be what the other parent wants and expects. She does not see her role as a surrogate mother as a competition with Persephone, Zag's real mother. Nyx understands his need to find Persephone and connect with her and his extended family on Olympus, so she finds ways to aid Zagreus even if his dad doesn't like it.

Hades is very vocal about not liking it, too, but he doesn't stop her from doing it, either. Probably because he'd be out of a job if he did. Not even Zeus screws = with Nyx, so she's either really powerful or she's got something on them. Probably both.

I also just dig her fashion sense. 10/10. 

ShadeOfLight: Summer (and the cast) from Spiritfarer

In a year as short on good vibes as this one, I would be remiss not to shout out Spiritfarer: the game with the goodest vibes of all.

Spiritfarer is all about making friends with a host of literal spirit animals, each more lovely than the last. The two player characters, Stella and her cat Daffodil, are already full of positive energy. Almost all of the NPCs repay them in kind. So much so that the game has unique hug animations for every single character. 

My personal favorite, however, is Summer. Summer is an adorable snake lady who is very much in tune with nature. She'll play music to your crops if she's feeling her best, and she's always up for teaching Stella something about appreciating the world around her. As a result, she was always the first of my passengers I went to greet every single day. Every time I'd see her wandering around, I'd have the biggest smile on my face. She's just so sweet!

What struck me about Summer the most, though, was the story of her life, now past. She never spells out how she died, but it's strongly hinted that Summer eventually succumbed to That Dragon, Cancer. This is something that hits close to home for me; so many tears were shed when she finally had to go. Spiritfarer handles its heavy themes through all of its characters which such gentle kindness that it didn't feel like a sharp reminder, but instead a beautiful moment of understanding.

Play Spiritfarer. Hug all the friends. And pour one out for sweet Summer, taken before her time.

Chris Carter: Terrako (Egg Baby) from Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity came at the perfect time.

2020 was winding down, and practically every studio had their eyes fixated on 2021. But Nintendo had one more trick up their sleeve: a trick that would become the best-selling Warriors game of all-time in a matter of days.

It's weird to get this emotionally attached to a Warriors title, but Age of Calamity sucked me in with its promises of expanding the lore of Breath of the Wild. And expand it did, as we not only got to see new cast members inhabit this world but new sides of old characters. Watching the entire gang of champions pal it up together and make small talk was one of my highlights from the Breath of the Wild universe.

But that little egg baby Terrako was the glue that held it all together. The cute noises it made, the role it played throughout the story, and its actions therein: it gave the Guardians their humanity, and I'll never look at them the same again when playing Breath of the Wild.

Chris Moyse / Occams: Ichiban Kasuga from Yakuza: Like a Dragon

The task of replacing the snakeskin shoes of iconic Yakuza protagonist Kazuma Kiryu is a thankless and insurmountable one. Over the course of 15 years, Kiryu-chan had not only won over Yakuza fans worldwide, but his stoic-yet-comforting nature and penchant for do-gooding made him completely synonymous with the franchise, as well as one of gaming's greatest protagonists. Kazuma Kiryu is - essentially - irreplaceable.

And yet, with the launch of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Sega somehow managed to introduce a new hero into hallowed ground, and immediately won the hearts of the typically stand-offish gaming public. With a shock of wild hair and a warm burgundy suit, down-and-out yakuza Ichiban Kasuga stepped into the franchise like he had always been a part of it, filling the void left by Kazuma and co. with relative ease, and securing the series' future.

"The Rock-Bottom Dragon" achieved this by epitomizing a personality trend captured by characters such as those played by Jackie Chan: remain friendly, highly vulnerable, and goofish, while simultaneously being totally capable of saving the day when the shit hits the fan. While Ichiban is more than ready to stomp your face into the curb in a down-and-dirty brawl, he remains naive, excitable, and relatable. This vibe is further emphasized through Ichiban's party of spirited no-hopers, who form what might be the greatest team of unlikely heroes in the history of video games.

More than anything, Ichiban Kasuga is just a good dude. Much like Kazuma before him, Ichiban knows what's right and what's wrong, is aware of his own misdeeds, and fights for those in need despite - perhaps because of - his shady past. In a year as tough as 2020, many video game fans looked to the media as a vicarious escape from the misery of an unjust world. And in an unjust world, heroes such as Ichiban are not only important, they're necessary.

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CJ Andriessen
CJ AndriessenFeatures Editor   gamer profile

Just what the internet needs: yet another white guy writing about video games. more + disclosures


 


 



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