Each year, we’re treated to a new collection of lovable characters in video games. Some of them might be returning, familiar faces or mascots. But plenty of new characters made our favorite games of 2023, too.
Within a single character, there’s a huge amount of work done behind-the-scenes. It’s not just design, or writing, or even direction. The actors themselves put themselves into it, and in a time where stabs at so-called AI are propagating at an uncomfortable rate, celebrating all the minds that make these characters shine is crucial, too.
At their best, a character gives the player a tangible, connective experience with a game. Something they want to share with friends, write about, create art for, and remember well. Whether it’s a newfound main in a fighting game, a favorite companion in an RPG, or just a silly platformer mascot that makes you laugh, a character can make games come together.
So, in that spirit, which newcomers were our favorite new characters of 2023? The Desructoid staff has rounded up each of our favorites and why. We hope you find some new faces to love in here, too.
Eric Van Allen: Karlach from Baldur’s Gate 3
It would be really, truly easy to put any of Baldur’s Gate 3‘s companions on this list. Even if they might technically count as 2020 characters, they all reached their full potential in BG3‘s full launch in August, and they form an RPG party that is truly an all-timer. But one is an emotional constant, a facet of the party I consider essential: Karlach.
From the jump, Karlach is immediately endearing. She’s energetic and strong, intimidating to her foes and kind to her friends. Quickly, the nicknames like “soldier” trickle in, and I’m buying a drink for whichever writer coined that. From little dances to fiery explosions of rage, she’s always a fun inclusion.
But reach Act 3, and you’ll start to see Samantha Béart’s performance as Karlach really shine. They bring a depth of emotion to Karlach. The warrior has a ticking clock in her heart, an Infernal Engine. The tension between Karlach’s search for meaning and joy outside Zariel’s clutches, and the Engine burning her up, is a highlight. It makes Karlach incredibly memorable in a cast full of greats.
Zoey Handley: Mio Kurosuzu from Paranormasight
In itself, Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo was a big surprise this year. It wasn’t on my radar, having been announced a month before its March 8 release date, but somehow, for some reason, I fit it in with an extremely busy review workload I had piled on myself. But I played through it, and it wound up being one of my favorite titles of the year.
Paranormasight is an extremely capable visual novel full of great characters, but the standout for me is Mio Kurosuzu. She is technically only a supporting character for Yakko, who is one of the game’s curse-bearers, but easily overshadows her. Even at her young age, she has a knowledge of the occult that exceeds the professionals in the story, and while Yakko is impulsive and naive, Mio is courageous and calculating.
Mio has very little skin in the mysteries behind Paranormasight, and instead just seems to remain in the midst of things due to her curious nature. Her frank, blunt interactions with the adults in the narrative are an absolute joy and stick with me long after I rolled credits on the game.
Timothy Monbleau: Hikari Ku from Octopath Traveler 2
I initially went into Octopath Traveler 2 pessimistic about its segmented story structure. And while I didn’t quite warm to it by the time I finished the game, its characters really grew on me as I thought about it in retrospect. Originally, I picked the warrior Hikari (who is wonderfully performed by Howard Wang) as my protagonist because I’m as vanilla as a Frappuccino. But since then, I’ve really learned to love what he represents in Octopath Traveler 2’s big picture.
Every character in the game has a dream they’re fighting to fulfill. On the lighter end, we have characters like Agnea, who wants to become a star and put smiles on everyone’s faces. And on the more serious end, we have someone like Partitio, who is functionally waging war on the personification of unfettered capitalism (It took me an embarrassing amount of time to realize that Roque feller sounds an awful lot like Rockefeller). These aren’t necessarily your typical RPG goals, but they are important to the betterment of society. Each character does, in their own way, change the world.
This brings us to Hikari, who is subtly positioned as the “hero” of Octopath Traveler 2’s overarching story. But unlike the others, he doesn’t necessarily have his own dream to pursue. His quest begins almost out of reluctance, as he fights to become king despite having no real desire to rule. Yet he takes this role because he realizes the alternative; a world in which his brother rules Ku is a world where no one’s dreams can come true. Throughout his tale, Hikari repeats the classic RPG cliché that he fights for his friends. But in the scope of the overall story, this familiar trope takes on a new meaning.
Hikari doesn’t become a king because he wants to change the world. Instead, he believes in his comrades who can change the world. And though this comes at a relative sacrifice to himself, it’s something he tirelessly fights for regardless. Hikari is a leader but not a ruler, and it’s nice to imagine a world in which people like that held power. Perhaps that’s a dream all of its own.
Also, Hikari has a sick theme song and starts pushing 4-digit damage numbers before you even finish his prologue. What an amazing game.
Smangaliso Simelane: Saga Anderson from Alan Wake 2
When Alan Wake 2 was announced, I was thrilled that the next chapter of the writer’s story was coming, and the revelation that it would be a survival horror game excited me more. When I discovered that the story would be split between Alan and this new character – Saga Anderson – I feared that I’d be getting less Alan. To my pleasure, not only does Saga’s rationally driven Mind Place beautifully complement Alan’s surreal horror, but she’s also one of my favorite characters overall in recent years.
Saga, played by Melanie Liburd, is a combination of two of my favorite storytelling elements: detective themes and mythology. Her role as an FBI agent investigating cult murders has her fearless and unrelenting, even when she realizes she is up against the supernatural. To make sense of things, she has an internal Mind Place where clues are collected and connected.
Dig a little deeper into Saga, and you discover how several elements, from her name, to her connection to Odin, and much more are borrowed from Norse mythology. It’s a nice inclusion that gives her complexity and demonstrates just how much thought Remedy put into crafting this character.
But Saga’s more than just a fact-finding detective. She’s also a mother, wife, and a close friend to Alex Casey. There’s always more to find out about her, whether it’s about her job or her personal life.
Most importantly, her FBI jacket looks awesome and I want one.
Steven Mills: Clive Rosfield from Final Fantasy XVI
Let me start by saying this could have very easily also been Cid Telamon (voiced by Ralph Ineson), but since I had to choose one I ultimately decided to go with Clive. I’ve not really been a fan of main Final Fantasy characters in recent entries into the series—well, besides Final Fantasy XIV—but Clive will really go down as one of my favorites.
Of course, a lot of the appreciation I have for Clive is due to the incredible voicework of Ben Starr. If you want a little sample of what you can expect, just play through the Final Fantasy XVI demo. The roughly two-hour experience shows off Starr’s incredible ability to give real character and emotion to Clive. I’m excited for more FF16 DLC to see Starr in action as Clive, but it’s also made me excited to see Starr’s work in the upcoming Warframe 1999.
Historically Final Fantasy protagonists usually have a sort of edginess to them. I’m not necessarily against that, but it’s a real breath of fresh air that Clive is without a doubt the most realistic protagonist in the franchise. We see him deal with tragedy and loss front and center, and over the long narrative of FF16, we literally see him grow as a person.
There’s a very powerful turning point in the story involving Clive and the other character I considered for this spot, Cid. The actions Clive takes after that turning point sums up his character and cements him as my favorite this year. Overall, Clive is just a good dude, despite having such a tragic life.
He’s also pretty badass with his ability to absorb the power of other Eikon’s. What may be the franchise’s most powerful protagonist also happens to be its coolest. Nice work, Square!
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