It’s true that JRPGs are not often noted for their strong casts – often having characters who are simply foils or who exist simply to provide comic relief -a but they are known for having individual characters who are among the best you’ll find anywhere.
This list will focus on some of the best characters I’ve seen and celebrating how well designed they are. Unlike the previous list, there are no limitations for games or series here. Good characters deserve recognition whether or not there happens to be another good character present.
Warning: Spoilers ahead
6) Nova – Tales of Xillia 2
Nova isn’t a playable character, she’s not a villain, she’s not a protagonist… she’s just your loan collector. Well, she’s also a childhood friend of the main character but she’s mainly your contact with the bank that you owe a massive loan to. And with how the game is, you end up interacting with her a lot. And she’s annoying – so very annoying. She is a great representation of what an over excited debt collector might actually be like. She calls you so incessantly that by the midway point you will hate her.
But there are moments where you’ll say things to her and it will completely change how she reacts to you. There’s one point where you have the option to snap at her, and if you choose to do so she becomes subdued for the next like 2 chapters and starts saying things like ‘I don’t know how you can still call me friend after this’… it’s really well handled. The gameplay surrounding her isn’t the best, but by the end of the game you actually start to get a bit of an attachment to her character. And that attachment surprised me, given how annoying she is at the start.
5) Fei Fong Wong – Xenogears
Xenogears is a classic PS1 JRPG, and so much of its story is completely reliant upon protagonist Fei. Fei is a fascinating character, with a deep personality, an incredibly mysterious history, and such unique ties to each of the other characters.
But the main thing that makes Fei such a good character is how incredibly well handled that mysterious history is. You’re always given just enough to develop the character and never so much that it’s overwhelming. You’re constantly given more information to help you understand the character while also simply adding an additional layer to the mystery behind him. It just works so well.
4) Marie – Persona 4 The Golden
Persona 4 had an incredibly strong cast. It was kind of the exception when it comes to JRPGs in that nearly every character was equally strong. So when they were going to expand the game for ‘The Golden’ version for the PlayStation Vita, I imagine it was hard for them to figure out what to add. The game already had everything, right? Well, everything except a mysterious amnesiac tsundere…
So they added Marie. When you hear the words ‘mysterious amnesiac tsundere’ you’re probably thinking that we’re talking about a walking trope… so why would she be on this list? Marie rises above those tropes and becomes one of the best characters I’ve seen in any medium, not just in gaming. Unlike most amnesiac characters who are used for the player’s sake, Marie is an amnesiac for her own sake. And so that we can watch a character build up among these other strong characters – and it is in that role that she excels.
Having such a strong cast, any new character could’ve forced concessions from the story that would’ve required alterations that could’ve made it a different game… but Marie was able to fit in as simply a method for the designers to show how strong their cast was through interactions with this charming character. Marie’s true time to shine though is in the new content at the end. When you come to understand who she is and why she is how she is, it changes everything. She is simply the perfect expansion for this cast, both in terms of personality and in terms of history.
She’s so much more than just a mysterious amnesiac tsundere… she’s Marie. And that’s why she’s so special.
3) Kefka Palazzo – Final Fantasy 6
Weird to see a villain on this list, eh? But Kefka is something special. When dealing with antagonists, writers so often try to make you understand why they are how they are. They want the villain’s actions to make sense when scrutinized logically, because so often if their actions aren’t understandable the story can fall flat and the character can feel hollow.
Kefka is the exception. Kefka is pure evil. There is no logic, no rationale, no sanity to it… it’s just psychotically evil. Yet somehow, somehow Square managed to make a memorable and (although the term doesn’t quite fit) likeable villain out of that.
You get to see the full psychotic glory as he performs acts that are senseless, evil, and in some cases just petty. But through his unique style and partly the fact that he does, in fact, win, he somehow becomes a villain that you’ll never forget. Just try to forget his iconic laugh or that amazing theme. Try to forget how horrified you were at Doma, or how callously he betrayed his Emperor and proved himself to be the true villain.
Final Fantasy 6 had a relatively strong cast, but watching the villain is what really makes this game’s story so memorable for it is Kefka’s big moments that stand out above all else in my eyes.
2) Ramza Beoulve – Final Fantasy Tactics
Final Fantasy Tactics features one of the most unique premises – one that is so frequently mentioned but so rarely explored: the concept of history being written by the victor. In FFT, the story is being narrated by a historian who is trying to uncover the real truth behind a series of events that happened some time in the past, and you explore the story from the perspective of a character labeled as heretic and is historically seen as a villain during these events: Ramza Beoulve.
It’s so hard to put into words what is so great about this character… he has such an interesting approach to matters, and the trials he goes through are so unique, but I think the real heart of what makes him so fascinating is watching how he reacts to the whole world gradually turning against him. His character development is phenomenal… and he’s a character who I always remember. As silly as it may be, there are so many lines and scenes from that game that will stick with me, and most of them hinge off of Ramza’s personality – it’s just so hard to describe what is so good about him.
1) Elle Mel Marta – Tales of Xillia 2
As a general rule, I dislike child characters. Most child characters are really poorly designed… but Tales of Xillia 2 actually had two that break the mould. Both Elize and Elle are incredible characters – and this list could’ve easily had three Xillia 2 characters. In the end, there are just too many good characters for me to include three from the same game. I had to leave Elize off since Elle is by far the best character I’ve seen in a game, and one of the best I’ve seen in any medium in fact.
They manage to capture the tragic past she’s gone through so well, while still preserving her childlike nature. Unlike so many child characters, Elle actually feels like a child. She throws temper tantrums, complains when the ‘adults’ talk over her head, and is immature at times… and because of that you just want to protect her so much. And the game makes such good use of her by not forcing themselves to turn a child into a playable character.
She fills a support role, and is always there with you – in combat and elsewhere – adding her unique commentary both to help you out and to keep you involved. So much so that in the unfortunate segments where she is not present, even though she’s not a playable character… you really feel her absence. There’s a hole in the party, and it really makes the game take on an almost depressing turn for those brief moments. Just not having her constant involvement and commentary is enough to shatter the atmosphere… and that’s the sign of a great character.