(Just a small update today, since we missed our usual Sunday deadline)
I recently had the joy of playing through Yakuza Kiwami, which would actually be the first time I completed the very first Yakuza game since I’m one of the slow-pokes that only picked up the series on Zero. While the title has issues (the Majima Everywhere system can cause Majima’s actual appearances to have less impact, and the pacing of the story is sometimes a little off), it was actually a thoroughly enjoyable romp. In addition to the changes to the combat being so fun, one of the big things that really stuck out for me was just how well written all the characters were. While the story/narrative can sometimes have a few unsteady moments with its pacing, the game does a fantastic job in actually making the most out of its characters. Due to the relative shortness of the game, there is something of a challenge of time to make sure the characters have enough room to endear themselves to the player, and the developers nailed it out of the park for the main cast. Extra huge mention goes to Kiryu, who manages to strike the perfect balance between ‘untouchably badass’ and ‘kind of a goof,’ and the second protagonist Haruka.
While a lot of Haruka’s likability comes from the fact that she makes for a good foil to Kiryu, being an innocent and quiet child to the criminal and sometimes brutal Kiryu, it’s clear that a lot of care went into making sure that Haruka is very likable just by herself. She acts fairly smart for her age, and shows an immense level of bravery in situations that most adults would probably find daunting. She does end up needing to be rescued throughout the game, but it’s hard to blame her for it; any situation she needs rescuing from largely comes from how relentlessly she’s being pursued rather than any kind of mistake or reckless behaviour she takes. By the end of the game, it’s pretty likely that the player will sympathise with Kiryu making protecting the girl his new mission in life.
This is all well and good, but it did get me thinking. When I stop to think about it, kid characters in video games can kind of be hit or miss. The very nature of them being kids means that they often present more problems or obstacles to the player than anything else; kids are inexperienced of the world, easily emotional, and don’t realize when they’re acting like brats. All of this can result in a character that needs to be rescued from dangerous situations, sometimes that they fell into themselves, and ultimately don’t feel exactly rewarding to save. This would be the spot where I start listing off examples, but I’d rather not focus too much on characters that I just don’t appreciate. Instead, let’s take a second to run an appropriately pint-sized list of kid characters in video games that managed to avoid all that negative crap and stand out as shining examples of being not terrible.
(Warning, there’ll be spoilers for each character that comes up; viewer discretion is advised)
– Haruka – Yakuza
We might as well kick off the list with the one who actually inspired it. Haruka is a character that starts off quite enigmatic. Kiryu finds her as the sole survivor in a bar that’s filled with corpses, and helps her more because he realizes that the poor girl isn’t going to be able to walk through the puddles of blood between her and the door, let alone do so without being traumatised. While ponder what the heck he should even do at this point (he can’t really just dump her off to the police considering his criminal past, and it quickly becomes apparent that she might actually be connected to the mystery he’s chasing), they run into a sick and injured puppy. Haruka is pretty demanding when she asks Kiryu to help save the poor dog, but the fact her stubborn side appears only when it comes to helping an innocent animal makes it more endearing then overbearing.
From this point on, Haruka tags along for a lot of Kiryu’s adventure. Along the way, we get a couple of examples of Haruka’s surprising maturity, such as when Kiryu says that all evidence points her mother being dead. She takes the news oddly well, almost as if she had half suspected it the entire time. The idea that a kid could even thnk there’s a possibility their parent is dead, and then actually come to terms with it before they’re even sure of the fact, is a pretty sobering thought. Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom: Haruka gets to take part in some of the funnier scenes in the game, including the one where she pretends to not know what a “soapland” is, and basically tortures poor Kiryu by asking questions about one. Likewise, like I said before, Haruka shows crazy levels of bravery for her age. Seriously, she dives in front of Kiryu when he’s about to shot, meaning she fully intended to take a bullet for the guy.
As with any decent character in existence, Haruka does come with her flaws, and indeed trips into the pitfalls a lot of other kid characters do. Frustrated at Kiryu withholding info from her, she accuses him of only keeping her around because he wants the ten billion yen (an accusation that results in a weirdly hilarious slap). Getting angry at not only Kiryu but the whole situation, Haruka storms out, which invariably results in her getting kidnapped. This means she goes one-for-one on a lot of the usual antics children characters fall into that I’m not the biggest fan of, but I’m willing to make just a little bit of elbow room for an exception. For one, Haruka does actually directly apologise for getting into the mess in the first place, and the fact that Kiryu is withholding info is extremely clear, which would probably make anyone pretty frustrated. At the very least, Haruka learns her lesson and manages to avoid getting kidnapped for the rest of the first game. Doesn’t exactly do so great in the following games, though. Honestly, the fact that Kiryu doesn’t teach the girl some self-defence always confused me a little.
– Clementine – The Walking Dead (season 1)
Come on, you knew that she would have to be on this list.
TellTale’s The Walking Dead Season 1 did a lot of great things, including a nearly perfect example of to implement an illusion of choice to a multitude of moments in the game, a super well executed zombie narrative, and more or less put the company on the metaphorical map. However, one of its crowning achievements was just how damn likable they made the tag-along kid, Clementine.
Much like the above Yakuza example, main protagonist Lee more or less stumbles across the girl by accident, and makes the choice to take care of the girl for the time being. Also like the above Yakuza example, one of the main points of endearment for Clementine is the fact that she’s actually pretty smart. By the time the player finds her, she’s made a small shelter for herself that’s out of reach of the zombies, and active avoids getting into a situation where she’ll be vulnerable to zombie attacks for the vast majority of the season. In addition to that, she’s actually pretty damn helpful throughout: her small stature means that she can fit through smaller spaces than the adult characters can, and she’s pretty damn proactive in jumping in to help. This pro-activeness is great because it not only shows Clementine’s understandably childlike earnestness to help, but will nearly give the player a heart attack exactly the same as Lee.
In fact, the relationship between Lee and Clementine definitely helps to make the girl more endearing. Lee slips into a father role for the girl so naturally, and her attitude and personality gets some great moments of interaction between the two, everything from a simple conversation on a swing set to teaming up to solve puzzles. No matter what kind of character you play Lee as, Clementine will definitely become his number 1 priority, and I reckon that’s something most players will agree with. A big positive for both the relationship but also Clementine in general is that the game allows Clementine to show some of the more childish side of her. When she’s repeatedly told that the odds of actually finding her parents are super low in addition to the fact that they won’t actually have time to look, she naturally breaks down. It’s completely understandable that a child as young as she is would just collapse when faced with the reality of the situation, and it’s a heartbreaking scene. I that the game’s balance between her competent and mature side, and her childish and more vulnerable side is really what beings the character together.
The only issues I sort of take with Clementine’s characterisation is that there might be a little too many times where her smaller size comes in handy. I understand why this is: the writers wanted to make sure the player actually liked Clementine, and the best way to do that would be to make her actually useful to solving the puzzles and situations you get stuck into. That being said, it sometimes gets a little too convenient how many issues can be solved by her crawling into a smaller than average space. Likewise, I think her characterisation goes through an odd few patches in the seasons following 1, but honestly season 2 and 3 are kind of bogged down by numerous problems to start off with. Regardless of all that, it’s easy to see why Clementine remains at the heart of The Walking Dead, even so many years later. Here’s hoping Telltale can stick the landing when this game series inevitably comes to an end.
‘The Boy’ – The Last Guardian.
This is kind of an odd inclusion on the list, and not only because he’s the only boy on it. When I was putting the list together, I avoided adding any kid characters which you control, since any child character you actually play as tends to be in a situation where their childish tendencies aren’t brought up (see Link in the earlier Legend of Zelda games) or at the very least doesn’t really have any negative impact on their ability to progress (see most of the cast of the MOTHER series). This list is more or less supposed to be about supporting kid characters, and why I reckon they’re good examples of how to execute such a character. However, The Boy is an interesting case.
He is the player character, and fits exactly into the above points that his age never really becomes an issue. He just about earns a spot on the list, however, because his role is oddly reminiscent of the other characters on here. He has to rely on a much bigger and physically powerful character to more or less escort him around (in this case, a odd creature called Trico), his main purpose is to crawl into the small spaces too big for said companion, and he keeps getting into situations that he needs to be rescued from. What I’m trying to say is that The Last Guardian is more or less a game about a huge escort quest where you are the escorted person. If you simply switch who you control, you could keep a large amount of the game almost exactly the same, and that’s a pretty funny thought.
Hell, he even fits on the list in that his relationship with his main companion forms the emotional core of the entire game. Admittedly, it’s not about a man and his daughter-figure, but about a boy and his…gryphon cat? Whatever the heck Trico is. Main point is that its heart warming and heart breaking in completely equal measure, perhaps more so because a lot of players have probably experienced the bond shown by a loyal animal in their pets. So kudos to Japan Studio; it’s an unorthodox entry on the list, but The Boy definitely earned his spot.
Sorry about the short and not entirely refined shape of this entry. Quite a lot happened over the weekend and last week (including my birthday, so huzzah for making it another year) which delayed a lot of writing stuff. If there’s ever a delay on the Sunday upload, Monday will be our go-to late updating day, though hopefully we won’t see too many of those.