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Top 10 Surprise Protagonists

Remember the days of the character-driven games?  Mario, Sonic, Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter; these were characters who, by name alone, could carry a game.  With a few exceptions, it is rare that you see a single protagonist truly be the main star of a game, but sometimes, developers take it a step further.  Just when you think you have a handle on who you are playing as, they swoop in and hit you with a surprise playable character, even if it is just for a sequence or two.  It doesn’t always work out for the best, but sometimes a change of pace can be a good thing.  On that note, here are the Top 10 Surprise Protagonists in gaming.

*****SPOILER ALERT*****

hayham10. Haytham Kenway (Assassin’s Creed 3):  At this point, does anybody know what is going on in the Assassins’s Creed universe?  The series has been filled with intrigue, shady persons and numerous plot twists, but Assassin’s Creed III started off with a pretty big one.  As the series grew in popularity, AC III was hyped up to a huge extent, and a big part of that centered on protagonist Connor and his unique heritage.  However, upon loading up the game, some players were surprised to see themselves in control not of Connor, but of his father Haytham, another Assassin.  It doesn’t take long to get to the real meat of the game (although it was longer than some people liked), and a shocking revelation about Haytham and his loyalties sheds new light on the ongoing Templar/Assassin conflict.

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sherry9. Sherry Birkin (Resident Evil 2):  Resident Evil 2 is one of the earliest, and best, examples of multiple characters done right.  The way Leon and Claire’s stories intertwined was fascinating, and set a new mark for replayability on the original PlayStation.  Before she was a main protagonist in Resident Evil 6, Sherry was an enigmatic little girl Claire encounters during her playthrough.  Players even get a chance to crawl through the ducts as the little girl, at least until an ill-fated meeting with a trash chute puts an end to that.  Sherry was a kid fighting zombies before it was cool.

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celes8. Celes (Final Fantasy VI):  Final Fantasy VI has, hands down, one of the best casts of characters you will find in a video game.  They work so well together it is hard to tell who the “main” character is.  Sure, you start the game off as Terra, but after that you do so much swapping around that it doesn’t even seem to matter.  However, one particular mid-game event leaves the world slightly disorganized, and your party in disarray.  Washing up on a beach, Celes finds herself leading the charge to get the gang back together and defeat Kefka once and for all.  It was a brilliant piece of storytelling, and they couldn’t have picked a better character to rebuild around.

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seneschal7. The Seneschal (Dragon’s Dogma):  It’s a shame that Dragon’s Dogma didn’t do a better job telling its story, because it really has a fascinating universe.  I’ll do my best to sum up the relevant parts here: You start the game as a character named Saven, who is going to fight a dragon.  Soon after, you switch to your created character, who gets attacked by said dragon, killed, and resurrected as an Arisen.  Then, after killing the dragon, you play through a postgame that leads you to the true last boss, the Seneschal.  The Seneschal is a character who has conquered the dragon, and who basically becomes God, specifically, the world survives off the power of his will.  Once you beat him, you become the Seneschal, and must then fight yourself on subsequent playthroughs.  So, in an incredibly convoluted way, you actually play as the last boss.  Twice.

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arbiter6. Arbiter (Halo 2):  After playing the original Halo, I would have told you it was impossible to in any way endear me to the Covenant Elites.  I probably fell to their relentless onslaught thousands of times on my way through the Legendary campaign, and by the end I was too busy cursing them and their descendants to even care about them in any sort of meaningful context.  However, leave it to Bungie to defy expectations, and give me an Elite I at least sort of cared about.  Halo already sported one of the best coop campaigns around, but unexpectadly adding an Elite to the mix was an excellent way to expand the fiction, plus give us some sweet invisibility camo to play with.  Win!

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joker5. Joker (Mass Effect 2):  I’ll give Shepard this: when he has faith in someone, he will utilize them.  Despite presumably having access to the galaxy’s (or at least humanitie’s) best of the best, he picked up a reprimanded C-SEC agent, a distraught Quarian with no military experience to speak of and the first Krogan he happens across.  So I guess it wasn’t that shocking when, while Shepard is away, Joker has to step in and save the day.  Nevermind the fact the he was facing the greatest threat humanity had ever known and had a brittle bone disease.  I had hoped that players would get to step into somebody else’s shoes at some point during the Mass Effect saga, but I never saw this coming.

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jack4. Jack Marston (Red Dead Redemption):  John Marston is a veritable badass.  Seriously.  While there aren’t near enough metrics to test such a claim, I still feel pretty safe in saying it.  Sadly, though, it isn’t easy being John Marston.  His shady past finally caught up to him, and the illusion of a family life he was trying to live was shattered by a single proposition: kill your former gang, or you and your family are going into the dirt.  Since everybody in the frontier West was a stand-up guy who always stuck to his words, Marston completed his task and was left to live a happy life.  Wait…nope, my editor is actually telling me he was double-crossed and killed.  Luckily(?), though, his son Jack was ready to step into the player character shoes to get the job done, but let’s face it, he was no John Marston.  I bet he never even played Liars’ Dice.

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revan3. Darth Revan (Knights of the Old Republic):  BioWare sure knows how to tell a story.  Just when Star Wars fanboys thought they had a handle on the galaxy far, far away, KOTOR came in and told such a fantastic story even the most die-hard Jedi wannabes had to take notice.  Although the amnesia hook was nothing new, the players search for their memory and a dark figure named Revan are more intertwined than most people thought, and wouldn’t you know it, you’ve been playing as Revan the whole time!  Canonically, he comes back to redeem himself, destroy the Star Forge and become the hero that Gotham deserves…or something.  My Revan was an actually quite evil chick who, along with HK-47, killed everybody.  Either way, I was totally like, “Whoa”, when I found out I was just continuing the work I was doing before the whole memory wipe thing.

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raiden2. Raiden (Metal Gear Solid 2):  I’ll always consider the original Metal Gear Solid one of the best games ever, and it was definitely one of the first games that just truly blew me away.  When I got my PS2, I had eyes for one game only:  Metal Gear Solid 2.  It was the first game I actually owned for the system, and man let me tell you, I couldn’t get that wrapper off fast enough.  As I played through the Tanker, I was so stoked.  Me and Snake, doing it all over again.  Wrong!  Soon after, Raiden stepped in, and I still haven’t forgiven for it.  Regardless of your feelings over that (loser) character, there was no denying the shock factor of leaving Snake behind as a playable character.

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lynx1. Lynx (Chrono Cross):  As far as follow-up RPGs go, it seems like Chrono Cross gets consistently overlooked.  While it may not have as much in common with its predecessor Chrono Trigger as some people would have liked, Chrono Cross was an incredible game that could easily stand on its own merits, even without the name recognition.  The story of Serge and his trip through alternate dimensions is a fascinating one, but one particular plot twist really threw gamers for a loop.  During the course of the game, antagonist Lynx, and anthrpomorphic cat, manages to switch bodies with Serge, thus placing Serge’s consciousness inside Lynx’s body.  As your mortal enemy, you are forced to fight against the odds to restore you to yourself, all while dealing with your former allies who now think you are the bad guy.  Got it?  It was truly an incredible twist to an already mind-blowing game, and nabs the top spot on our list.

 



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