In a medium with thousands of memorable pixelated and polygonal protagonists and antagonists, it might seem like an impossible task to narrow down the pool to the very best 25 characters to ever grace the medium. Yet somehow, we've done it. Naive believers in democracy that we are, this list was calculated via a large, large officewide poll with well over 80 candidates. To those great characters who could not make it onto the list, we'd like to press "F" to pay respects: Adam Jensen, Kirby, Ness, Andrew Ryan and the trio from GTAV (& Knuckles).
With those honorable mentions out of the way, let's dive in and find out which characters are the crème de la crème of video gaming.
From unspoken outsider to humanity's savior, Aloy's attitude was anything but refined and it was amazing. This hard-headed, stubborn teenager gives sass, strength and even a little bit of empathy as you play through the amazing world that is Horizon: Zero Dawn. The game gives equal parts mechanics and equal measures of story and character development, allowing you to grow with Aloy as you progress through the main plot. Although Aloy may not be at the top of this list, she's earned a place in my tribe. — Catherine Strachan
Ezio Auditore da Firenze has seen it all. This Italian Renaissance nobleman-turned-Assassin lost his family in a conspiracy, hunted down magical artifacts from a primeval civilization, got into a fistfight with history's most evil pope, took a ride in Leonardo da Vinci's flying machine, broke the Borgia dynasty's stranglehold on Rome, built a network of operatives in Constantinople, faced off against the scheming Şehzade Ahmet and even trained Chinese protégé Shao Jun to unseat a tyrant in her homeland. Over the course of three fantastic games (and one decent animated tie-in movie), Ezio cemented his well-earned position as the face of the Assassin's Creed series. — Marshall Honorof
What even is Pac-Man, anyway? Our own Henry T. Casey interprets Namco's legendary mascot as "a Planters Cheez Ball come to life haunted by the hungry spirits of his past." That sounds about as canonical as whatever Pac-Man's actual origin story entails, but the simple fact is, it doesn't matter; Pac-Man consumes ghosts, makes a really satisfying noise when he repeatedly opens and closes his mouth, has a timeless, universally recognizable design and bears arguably the coolest moveset of any fighter in Super Smash Bros. In fact, Smash never really felt like a true gathering of gaming's most legendary characters until Pac-Man lent an air of legitimacy to the battle. — Adam Ismail
Depending on whom you ask, Cloud Strife is either a compassionate warrior on an impossible mission, or an aloof jerk who doesn't realize how much he leans on his companions. But either way, this spiky-haired former SOLDIER operative (or was he?) acted as a whole generation's introduction to the iconic Final Fantasy series. Although Cloud starts off as a simple mercenary, his assignment to stop a corrupt megacorporation becomes a quest to track down his oldest and bitterest enemy to the far corners of the world. Cloud's stoic demeanor and cool design won over a lot of fans, as did his surprisingly complicated backstory and ultimately warm heart. — Marshall Honorof
Master Chief may seem like the typical soldier with no face or personality that casually saves the day from aliens, but… well, all of that is true to an extent. We don't get much screen time with the Chief's personal thoughts, but that's mostly because he was trained to complete his mission, without question. John (Master Chief) was kidnapped when he was a child and forced into the UNSC's Spartan-II program, where children were experimented on to be created into super-soldiers.
Throughout his childhood, John lost many friends in and out of the program's exercises, and was basically brainwashed to serve the military. But even after the program, his instinct to protect and lead is why he became who he is. Master Chief's personality shined in the Halo books and finally revealed itself in Halo 4 and Halo 5, where he deals with the trauma of losing his best friend, Cortana. Master Chief is an iconic character, known for reinventing the FPS genre by kicking alien butt; however, there's a much darker side of him behind the visor. — Rami Tabari
Credit: Microsoft Studios
Sarah Kerrigan started off interesting enough. As a black-ops Ghost, Sarah's personal cloaking field, powerful sniper rifle and flirtatious jabs at leading man Jim Raynor made her an immediately likable companion in the first few StarCraft missions. Everything changes, however, when she gets left behind on the contested world of Char. Overwhelmed by the Zerg, Kerrigan transforms into the insectile race's Queen of Blades — or, as she describes herself, "The Queen Bitch of the Universe." Kerrigan's arc over the rest of the StarCraft saga is undoubtedly the most interesting subplot in the whole series, as she tries to hold onto her humanity while fighting to win an impossible war. — Marshall Honorof
Credit: Blizzard Entertainment
Imagine Indiana Jones as a wisecracking everyman rather than a heartthrob professor, and that's pretty much Nathan Drake. An affable treasure hunter with a father-figure sidekick, Nathan Drake won over fans in his first pulpy adventure, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. It wasn't until Uncharted 2 that Nathan really came into his own, though. Over the course of the next few Uncharted games, fans began to understand that this globe-trotting adventurer wasn't just a men's magazine stereotype; he was a conflicted individual with a complex upbringing, and a great deal of negative personality traits standing between him and feeling fulfilled. Nathan Drake isn't just fun; he's also uncomfortably relatable.— Marshall Honorof