The Most Influential Characters in Grand Theft Auto

A Steam promotional image for Grand Theft Auto V.

The Most Influential Characters in Grand Theft Auto

In the Grand Theft Auto series, like most games, the characters are at the forefront of both the story and gameplay. Arguably, the characters in Grand Theft Auto are more important than even most RPGs. Each protagonist in the series stands out in their unique ways, shaping the franchise in new directions. The series has everything from characters that complement the gritty and serious narratives to more humorous and lighthearted personas. In addition to following the stories of various protagonists, non-player characters play significant roles in the games, too. Let’s take a look at some of the more iconic characters in the series.


The Grand Theft Auto series is more than 25 years old and one of the most popular game franchises ever built. As a modern action-adventure, it has some of the more impressive storytelling and complex character arcs. This wasn’t always the case, as the early titles only had a nameless and faceless small-time criminal. However, ever since the third title with a true narrative based on a protagonist with a mission, the game series has grown to include some of the most legendary characters in the industry.

Vic Vance

Vance brothers in Grand Theft Auto Vice City Stories.

Vic Vance from Vice City Stories is a mix of street smarts and toughness of a former soldier. He was removed from duty after being framed and has to find something of value on the streets of Vice City. Teaming up with his brother, Lance, only takes him deeper into the turf war. His struggle between upholding his morals and navigating the criminal underworld of Vice City is at the core of this iconic story. There are many devious characters in the game series, but Vic Vance is not one of them.

Carl ‘CJ’ Johnson

CJ with a spray bottle in Grand Theft Auto San Andreas The Definitive Edition.

Carl Johnson, or CJ, is the protagonist in San Andreas. He has one of the more interesting stories in the series, which makes him a likable character. CJ joins the criminal world five years after leaving the life of crime and gangs due to the death of his brother. The story takes twists and turns as CJ navigates the world of street gangs, family loyalty, and corrupt cops.


Claude, the protagonist of GTA III, is a unique protagonist who is known for his silence. At this point in the series, the protagonists didn’t take as big of a role as they do now, at least in terms of the spoken word. However, Claude is one of the more important player characters in the series just for the fact that it was the first one in 3D. It is arguably the biggest change in the game series and one that is evident from the protagonist, as well. In addition to higher fidelity, the story of Claude brings a unique, vengeful narrative where this silent killer fits right in.

Tommy Vercetti

Vice City Crew anniversary trailer screenshot

Tommy Vercetti from Vice City is heavily inspired by classic mobster films and brings a touch of old-school gangster charm to the series. Like Scarface himself, Vercetti aims to dominate Vice City’s underworld. The rough journey through the ranks of the mafia world features dark humor complemented by Tommy’s tough-as-nails attitude, perfectly delivered by the voice acting of the iconic Ray Liotta.

Niko Bellic

GTA IV gameplay

Niko Bellic is the legendary protagonist of GTA IV. The game and especially the main protagonist stand as perhaps the most influential character of the entire series. Rockstar made massive leaps in narrative development and character building since Claude in the previous mainline title. This immigrant to Liberty City is seeking success in the land of opportunities. The complex and dark storyline intertwines the personal struggles of the former soldier from Eastern Europe with the challenges of establishing himself as a force in the Liberty City criminal underground.

The Grand Theft Auto V Trio


Grand Theft Auto V is the latest and the greatest of the Grand Theft Auto games. At least for now. It also features the most epic set of characters, for the first time three separate playable protagonists. Each of the characters, Franklin Clinton, Trevor Philips, and Michael De Santa have different backstories, complex relationships, and unique quirks. Franklin is a criminal who is looking to make a name for himself, Trevor is an unpredictable, violent former bank robber, and Michael is the mastermind.

Each of them has a different story arc as they collaborate in Liberty City’s unforgiving criminal underworld, and none of them are as one-dimensional as it initially seems. The multi-character setup has also influenced the future of Grand Theft Auto, as we will see more than one protagonist in the upcoming Grand Theft Auto VI, as well.


The game is not just about stealing cars and killing innocent bystanders, believe it or not. The series has interesting narratives that intertwine the stories of various characters. This includes non-player characters that give missions, act as rival criminals, and much more. Here we’ll take a look at a few of the more iconic NPCs.

Phil Cassidy

Phil Cassidy, a self-proclaimed weapons expert, is known for his roles in various Grand Theft Auto games. Phil’s character was first introduced in Grand Theft Auto III, where he assists protagonist Claude during a tense confrontation with the Columbian cartel. In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, he partners with protagonist Tommy Vercetti to establish an arms trade. He has a background in the military, although with a rather questionable record. The character has been voiced by prominent actors Gary Busey and Bradley Whitford.

Phil Cassidy holding a gun in Grand Theft Auto Vice City Stories for PSP.
Phil Cassidy in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories.

Tony Cipriani

Tony Cipriani is, in fact, both a protagonist and an NPC. He plays the protagonist in Liberty City Stories and an NPC in Grand Theft Auto III. He is the perfect embodiment of the classic mobster. His connections to the Leone mafia family and his sense of loyalty are at the core of the story. Those, however, don’t always match, which makes for an interesting journey to the top of the mob circuit. 

Lester Crest

Lester Crest is one of the more prominent NPCs in GTA V. He brings along a blend of brilliance and eccentricity to overcome his disability. He is the mastermind behind some of the game’s most epic heists. He plays the role of a planner and a hacker, which is a welcome change from the violent demeanor of many characters.

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