We're all familiar with characters you love to hate, right? Usually antagonists who fit a certain sort of archetype wherein the player takes unbridled joy in hating them viciously, wishing the worst on them and loving every second of it. What of the inverse, though? The characters we can't help but love, despite everything that tells us we should hate them? The ones who we're embarrassed to admit we care about, whether because we fear it makes us less respectable or because it reminds us of all the baffling things humanity finds entertaining and compelling? Who are they? After way too much thought, and a wealth of coffee, I bring you the following representative sample. May it serve you well in your quest for your own secret gaming crushes.
You foolishly foolish fool who is fooled by foolish folly! Ms. von Karma is the sort of woman you have nightmares about. She takes you to task over the smallest things, "you" being in the general sense, as it doesn't seem to matter whether you're her opponent in court, her surrogate brother, or the judge himself. The whip will find you no matter what, though her words may be what hits hardest. In the end, though, she has her redeeming qualities, and it's difficult to find fault with her logic; all she asks is simple perfection, after all. It's those rare moments of vulnerability, though, that really turn her from another cookie cutter villain into a sympathetic anti-hero to whom, against your better judgment, you find yourself drawn.
By all rights, Wakka should hit the trifecta of terrible: he's a religious fanatic, championing a sham of a theology long after it's proven to be so; his character design manages to combine the worst hair-gel disasters with a borderline offensive "islander" aesthetic; and his weapon of choice is an inflatable beach ball (more or less). Yet somehow, whether through his jovial demeanor or constant upbeat attitude, Wakka becomes a shining beacon of hope in the FFX cast. Maybe it's because of his proximity to a certain whiny, poorly acted, self-absorbed protagonist, but Wakka is rarely a draining presence, and there's something to be said for that.
The Prince in the Sands of Time trilogy of Prince of Persia games was a complex character, alternately hopeful and naïve, brooding and moody, or driven and conflicted. He grew over the course of the series, but even from the beginning he was a pleasure to play as, with a sharp wit and a certain sense of wonder. The Prince in the 2008 reboot of the franchise, though, just wants to find his ass.
I mean his donkey, people. Seriously.
He gets pulled, by the wiles of fate and misfortune, into a quest to combat the spreading darkness of Ahriman. This is thrust upon him against his will and he never, ever lets either the player or his companion, Elika, forget it. He won't shut up, and when he talks, it's only to complain, bemoan his situation, make a narcissistic or selfish comment, or belittle Elika and her people in some manner. Yet somehow, perhaps through the dulcet tones of Nolan North, the character comes to life and, over the course of the game, can grow on an unsuspecting player until, by the end of the main quest, one sees just how far the Prince (who may not even be a prince) is willing to go when he really does care about something. Whether or not what he does is a good decision, much less the right one, has yet to be seen, as even a DLC epilogue left the story open for further development, and Ubisoft seems reluctant to pursue this thread of the Prince of Persia mythology. A man can dream, though. A man can dream.
Understand, it's not specifically anything against the dog. After all, it's just a character/creature in a video game, and it doesn't even talk, much less constantly badger you with pointless or infuriatingly useless information (thanks, Navi). Hell, it even does some stuff for you, digging up supplies including, erm, secondhand prophylactics. Yeah, the dog does some strange stuff in Fable 2, but its greatest crime is that it tries too hard. It's like an extension of Peter Molyneux cast into the game world, crying, "Care, damn you! Care about this game, these characters! Care about me!" So when you inevitably find that you do care about the dog and what happens to it when you begin to think of it as a companion rather than merely as another element of the game's engine, it's with a strong note of resentment, a grudging shift.
The awesome thing about Dante is that he has swagger. The problem with Dante, though, is also that he has swagger. To the point of absurdity. Yes, he has the skill to back up his attitude, but he's still over-the-top ostentatious with the sort of flamboyant flair that would seem to many a cry for attention. This is perhaps most true in Devil May Cry 3, when he's at his youngest in the series' history, swinging his motorcycle around like a flail and acrobatically donning his trademark trench-coat with pompous disregard for the foes zeroing in on him. Dante is everything we're taught to find grating and disrespectful. He's loud, self-centered, doesn't take anything seriously, and completely lacks restraint, but there's just that certain something about him that keeps a player on his side, instead of hurtling him onto the enemies' blades time and again.