Video games provide fans of all ages more than just an escape and an opportunity to solve complex problems. The immersive worlds and character building of the best video games give gamers a chance to switch places and not just enjoy a storyline, but to take hold of the best video game heroes making world-changing (or universe saving) decisions.
We love video games, yes. It’s more than that, though. We love putting ourselves into video games.
Here are some of the best video game heroes gamers have gotten to control over the decades…
10. Mega Man
Also known as Rockman or Rock, Mega Man is one of the less complex characters on this list. An android created by Dr. Light to be a lab assistant, Mega Man is a peaceful character thrust into battle to keep robotic creations from being used for evil and to ultimately save the world from the schemes of Dr. Wily.
In many ways, Mega Man himself is the least interesting part of most Mega Man games, but he makes this list of best video game heroes due to his iconic stature and the millions of gamers who have taken control of his Mega Buster over the years.
Not only are there 11 main Mega Man games, but countless spin-offs. Including mobile platforms, Mega Man has been in upwards of 100 total games!
9. Samus Aran
Many classic gamers can remember the exact moment they learned Samus was a girl. The Metroid star exists as the first real dominant female character in video game history…walking so Lara Croft, Ellie, and Jill Valentine could run. The intergalactic bounty hunter’s gender was a choice made halfway through game development. That choice changed the video game landscape forever.
Many of her early characterizations and traits borrowed heavily from Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Alien. She’s evolved over the years, fighting everything from parasites to space pirates. Yeah, she’s more than just a fun character to use in Super Smash Bros.
8. Ezio Auditore da Firenze
Assassin’s Creed is a franchise that could easily exist and be incredibly popular even without this Italian master assassin. Still, the Assassin’s Creed II developers realized they had a real goldmine on their hands. Ezio is, by far, the best protagonist of the series and one of the best video game heroes of all time. His exploits have spawned numerous other appearances across genres…and even an upcoming book.
Some of his popularity is thanks to rock-solid character design, but don’t sleep on his almost James Bond-esque charm that gamers love. It’s the character who feels so right acting oh so wrong.
7. Solid Snake
Easily one of the most convoluted characters on this list, Solid Snake started as an almost carbon copy of “Snake Plissken” from “Escape from New York.” He has since evolved into a crazy mishmash of cloning, daddy issues, and consistently retconned storylines masquerading as big conspiratorial reveals.
Still, Snake has spent his time in gaming as one of the most consistently cool, sexy, and ultimately badass characters. He also has a depth of character not seen in many games. Plus, Metal Gear Solid really paved the way for making characters three-dimensional—in more than just visuals alone.
While the next video game installment might be far off, Snake will be portrayed by Oscar Isaac in an upcoming film.
6. Lara Croft
Croft isn’t just one of the best video game heroes. She’s basically the history of feminism in video game form. Once overly sexualized and objectified, female gamers embraced her and developers eventually realized they had more than just a set of triangular boobs.
Croft has a rich, Indiana Jones-like backstory, but a lot of her early appeal was due to the lack of complex character development. This gives gamers a chance to put themselves in her boots. Sadly, none of the movies about Croft have been successes. The original Angelina Jolie version was a commercial success but critical flop. The 2018 reboot didn’t do well by either metric.
It’s possible that what makes Croft such a successful video game avatar is exactly what keeps her from Hollywood success.
Introduced in 2005, this antihero has spawned eight total games featuring him as the hero as well as a DC Comics series, novels, and numerous guest appearances in other franchises as Playstation’s most popular and recognizable icon. Not only does Kratos look entirely awesome, but he’s also seriously well-layered and more than just a meathead with big weapons.
Kratos has a rich backstory layered with Greek and later Norse mythology. The character arc, too, is long and bends toward redemption and…hopefully, eventual peace for this God of War. At the very least, we can see him do more funny dances in Fortnite.
4. Cloud Strife
Take much of what was previously said about Solid Snake’s convoluted backstory and smash it together with Lara Croft’s blank slate allowing gamers to see themselves in the character and you get this occasionally cross-dressing Final Fantasy star in a nutshell.
Cloud’s gigantic sword, large blonde pompadour, and stoicism are a huge piece of what made Final Fantasy VII more than just another installment in a series. His expanded character development in the recent remake makes the character even more accessible for another generation. This summer’s second installment of the remake will expand that even further. Cloud may even find himself with a love interest before all is said and done.
3. John Marston
The most recent character on this best video game hero list and the one with the least appearances, Marston arrived in 2010’s Red Dead Redemption. He’s a prototypical Western antihero with loose morals and a vague backstory. The game’s popularity led to the sequel becoming a prequel. The game further explored the character in a way fans loved.
Although plans for more Marston installments aren’t public just yet, it’s almost certain the gaming world isn’t done with him. The voice actor for Marston certainly hopes so.
Another silent-but-deadly type, this pottery-hating, chicken-terrorizing star of the Zelda series speaks softly but carries a big sword, because “It’s too dangerous to go alone.” Link’s lack of speaking only helps the immersive experience for gamers and it’s likely one of the reasons Hollywood has been so reticent to adopt this best video game hero for a movie.
You can tell a lot about a gamer by what their favorite Link appearance is. (Team “Link to the Past” here). Over the years, Link has become less of a singular character with a singular story and more of a totem living in a shared, familiar world. His age, general appearance, and appearances in vastly different eras have been the stuff of intense discussion online.
Who else could be on the top of this list of best video game heroes?
No one really needs a complicated backstory for the Nintendo plumber turned multiple sport and racing superstar. First appearing in Donkey Kong as “Jumpman,” Mario’s allure has always lied in the journey. Since then, Mario has appeared in over 250 games across numerous systems and decades. From repeatedly hearing, “Our princess is in another castle,” to refereeing boxing matches with Mike Tyson, Mario has done it all.
No matter how many times Mario saves Princess Peach or the Mushroom Kingdom, he is always the unlikeliest of heroes giving gamers a chance to once against start at the bottom and shock the world.
Just Missed the Cut: Nathan Drake (Uncharted), Master Chief (Halo), Agent 47 (Hitman), Dante (Devil May Cry), Joel (The Last of Us), Leon (Resident Evil), Sonic, Crash Bandicoot, Gordon Freeman (Half-Life), Jill (Resident Evil), Kirby.
What are your thoughts on this list? Who is your favorite video game character? Let me know in the comments below.