Maybe this one's a little unfair. After all, it's mostly his character design that does it, but it has to be said: Soma Cruz looks ridiculous. His black T-shirt and tight jeans may be typical hipster chic, but the overbearing white trench-coat with its fur-bearing frill? The over-long hair that has that "just mussed this morning" look to it, falling in the perfect manner to both frame his face and make him appear "young" rather than "elegant," in contrast to Alucard before him? Looking at him makes me sad and angry all at once, and his status as a teenage protagonist certainly doesn't help. But Soma's actually a pretty reasonable dude, and it comes through in his games' narratives, as he grows into a man who's more than capable of shouldering the responsibility he willingly bears. It's admirable, but it would be less embarrassing to care if he would look as badass as he acted.
A sarcastic pretty-boy? Yes. Dumb as bricks? Morrigan certainly seems to think so, and Alistair certainly doesn't do a lot to dissuade her. Whether or not one feels that his whining is justified, it's beyond argument that Alistair finds something to complain about in any situation, always ready with a snarky comment that, from anyone else, would have you ready to deck him right on the chin. But you won't, because he's Alistair, and he's your first real party member. He also has a compelling story in his own right, and there's something appealing about a genre-savvy character in a fantasy realm, especially when the game subverts traditional fantasy tropes and leaves that genre savvy-party member without a frame of reference. Put on the spot, Alistair's earnest confusion becomes believable and endearing, and somehow counteracts that impulse one has to smack him upside the head when he opens his mouth to complain for the umpteenthousandth time about any little thing.
Joe's issue is that he's too much like the player, or at least what Capcom expects the player of a game about a transforming Super Sentai hero to be like. He's an obsessive nerd, more interested in the action in his favorite series than in spending "quality time" with his gorgeous girlfriend. He's loud and boisterous, most likely socially awkward, and so obsessed with the Japanese super-hero movies that defined his childhood that, as soon as he's given the chance, he unironically shouts "Henshin A-Go-Go, Baby!" and dons his spandex outfit with aplomb. Yet it's hard to stay mad at Joe, since he's going to such incredible lengths to rescue his girlfriend, who has been pulled into the movie world against her will, demonstrating both dedication and determination, putting himself in mortal danger for another's sake. Joe may be an almost offensive stereotype of the people who are interested in playing his game, but there's enough right about him to make him sympathetic instead of merely pathetic.
You knew his brother Anthony for under an hour before Gears of War made it clear that "Carmine" was just another word for "Cannon Fodder." The sequel, though, used the character's younger brother as a way to reintroduce players to the game, establishing a rapport between the newbie Gear and the heroes he idolizes. But he's the young buck and he's too naïve for this war, too green. He should exist, by all rights, merely to die in the first minutes to remind players of how brutal war can be, getting out of the way before he starts to grate on anyone's nerves. But he doesn't. Instead, he grows into someone brave, someone the player can't help but care about, which allows the game to develop a level of pathos its predecessor mostly lacked. Sure, Gears of War is a hammy series, and the second game was no exception, but Benjamin Carmine is one of those characters who, despite every reason a player should have hated him, became one of the shining points of his game.
Much like Joe, Otacon is a caricature of the Japan-obsessed Westerner the developer seemed to expect its player-base to be. He's overly gentle, undignified, obsessive and, worst of all, afraid. Yes, Otacon, when we first meet him, demonstrates unbridled fear in one of the most shameful manners possible. Yet over the course of the series he becomes a character that one depends upon, growing into a more assured, if never wholly so, man who cares about others and whom others care about. He's more than just a tool and, despite his beginnings, becomes one of the most enduring symbols of the series as a whole, as instrumental to its goings on as Snake himself. Not bad for a stereotypical anime fan, no?
Date: April 27, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*