Ten years ago today, Bioware released a game that has been widely-regarded as one of the greatest RPGs of all time: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. You play a simple Republic soldier who is thrust unwittingly into cataclysmic galactic events, running back and forth with a robust party of diverse companions, and engaging in various quests and side-missions. This screenshot features the principal antagonist and final boss of the game: Darth Malak. Though the graphics are beginning to look dated ten years later, it shows the level of creativity that Bioware put into character and setting design. The world is populated with characters just as interesting-looking as Darth Malak here. A lot of them are easier on the eyes too (here’s looking at you, Carth Onasi).
Wednesdays are always rough, but luckily we have those special somebodies to get us through. Those people who are always by our side, who stay with us through thick and thin, who listen to our problems, who help us mow down hoard after hoard of robots, zombies, and whatever other wacky road blocks life throws at us. That’s right, this week we’re talking about our favorite video game companion characters (sorry, Mom, the squiggly Tetris block doesn’t count). Take a look at our right-hand people, our real friends.
Garrus from the Mass Effect series: One of my favorite things about the Mass Effect series is how you can tell every major character has an entire life story written out for them that led them to Commander Shepard. Garrus Vakarian, the Turian cop on the Citadel who joins your crew in the first game, is no exception. His armor, stride, and just the general badass aura that surrounds him pretty much guaranteed that I brought him on every mission with me. Whether you’re fighting Saren, listening to him talk of endless calibrations, shooting targets off of a bridge for fun, or even comically trying to copulate with him as a female, the relationship between Shepard and Garrus feels the most grounded in a game series about fighting evil apocalypse aliens.
Alistair from Dragon Age: Origins: I wouldn’t argue that Bioware creates some of the best companions in gaming, but they’re definitely making big strides since the days of generic servants and faceless companions from older PC RPGs. I’m mostly just a fan of mature male characters that don’t feel overly macho or boring. Alistair’s homosexuality is handled with such a deft hand that it’s almost hard to notice it until he flat out tries to flirt with the main male player character, but he’s also more than just a sexual preference. He’s endlessly loyal, incredibly useful as the main tank in combat, and witty in a way that is neither grating or pretentious in this massive RPG.
Agro from Shadow of the Colossus: I hope I’m not the only one that realized that we’re not necessary limited to RPG companions, right? Amongst the million other things that Shadow of the Colossus does that both pushed the action genre forward and flipped it on its head, it also manages to make you care about your silent equine travel companion. Agro and the player learn together, they travel the verdant fields together, and they work together to slay the hulking beasts that have cursed the princess. It’s a classic animal friendship, but the fact that nobody speaks a single real word in the game enhances the feeling that Agro and the player are observers to the massive beasts that lay before them. Agro shows that a good companion doesn’t have to be chatty or witty, they just have to be there.
The dog from Fable II: One of the best companions I have ever had in a video game. True the dog rarely interacted directly with the character, but the interactions were fantastic. Throughout the entirety of the game, the one constant in the world was this companion, and losing the dog at the end of the story was the most heart-wrenching loss I have ever felt in a game.
Serena from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: A character added in the Dawnguard expansion, Serena is one of my favorite NPCs. Serena has a great backstory with plenty of depth to it, a backstory that not only makes sense, but also allows for the use of her special powers. As a companion she proves witty and capable, a suitable match for the Dragonborn.
Dog from Half-Life 2: The perfect companion for the silent Gordon Freeman. This lovable silent giant provides the brawn to Freeman’s brain. From playing fetch to destroying Combine drop ships, the colossal robot tags along with the best of companions, blindly and faithfully destroying Combine property. Truly there can be no better friend.
Bastila Shan from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic: Let’s get this out now: I’m a Star Wars fan. Hard-core. I’m also a big fan of role-playing games. Imagine my glee at the prospect of a Star Wars RPG where you control one of the most powerful Jedi in history (stick with me, here), where one of the companions you run around with is a brunette Jedi prodigy with a British accent and a double-bladed lightsaber. Enter Knights of the Old Republic and Bastila Shan. Sure, this choice is me giving into my old fourteen-year-old crushes and biases, but Bastila’s relationship with the protagonist and her character arc is still one of the most compelling parts of my favorite video game of all time.
Yoshi from the Mario series: First appearing in Super Mario World in 1990 and serving as Mario’s loyal steed on numerous occasions since then, Yoshi has steadily established himself as an inextricable fixture of the Mario universe. The defining characteristic of any good companion should be reliability, and Yoshi has that in spades. Beyond that, unlike most video game sidekicks, Yoshi has been able to turn that good will into games of his own and cameo appearances in all variety of silly Mario sports spin-offs, from Mario Tennis to Mario Curling (probably).
Navi from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: The annoying fairy from Ocarina of Time? The one that keeps shouting “Hey!” at me and telling me to “Listen!”? Yes. That annoying fairy. Calm down, I know, I gripped the weird side-prongs of my N64 controller in pre-pubescent frustration too. But looking back now, being annoyed at Navi is one of my favorite video game-related jokes. I’ll do the voice, I’ll shout “Link!” and “Watch Out!” at Allen and James to get them to chuckle (or punch me, as the case may be). Navi may not have been a great companion at the time, but she’s like some crazy ex that you can’t help but tell horror stories about. That, and Navi paved the way for future Legend of Zelda companions to come (like Midna from Twilight Princess) that were much more developed and interesting.
Enjoy our choices? Enraged that you didn’t see your favorite? Ever hear “You Raise Me Up” playing in your head while Tails flies you around in the Angel Island Zone? Explain why you agree or disagree below, and let us know what your favorite video game companions are. (Expecting a lonely afternoon? Entertainment and company: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrlMgejvcfE).