I Rank Them So You Don’t Have To. (But you probably still want to)
Videogames are all about player agency and the proactive roles we assume when picking up the controller.
Games are also about empowerment; letting us assume the role of a persona – good or evil – and becoming somebody else who acts definitively and unapologetically.
The following is the first part in a two-part series where I rank the most prominent gaming bad-asses; characters who in turn make us feel like bad-asses when playing as them.
10. Sergei Dragunov (Tekken)
The Tekken universe is filled to the absolute brim with a colorful and lethal assortment of combatants, ranging from hulking androids to demonic martial artists, yet even among this collection of heroes, rogues and villains, Sergei Dragunov distinguishes himself as a force to be feared.
First introduced in Tekken: Dark Resurrection, Dragunov is an icy-blooded member of the Spetsnaz Russian special forces and is highly trained in Sambo – a form of grappling that places an emphasis on breaking bones and pulverizing joints. With pale, almost translucent skin and a deeply scarred visage, Sergei looks as if he can withstand as much physical brutality as he doles out and his fighting style is a combination of sharp, withering strikes coupled with vicious and relentless ground techniques that can end a fight in seconds.
At the conclusion of an encounter that inevitably leaves his opposition defeated and crumpled before him, the stoic Russian remains silent, allowing the violence of his actions to speak louder than any words.
Games Featuring Dragunov:
- Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection
- Tekken 6
- Tekken Tag 2
- Tekken 7
9. Samus Aaran (Metroid Franchise)
Though equipped with powerful and versatile armor that affords this interstellar bounty hunter a broad swath of functionality, what truly defines the lovely and lethal Samus Aaron is her courage and resolve as well as her willingness to explore the deepest and most solitary subterranean destinations in the galaxy to obliterate the eponymous Metroid and those who would use this lethal lifeform as the ultimate bioweapon.
First introduced to the gaming world with the original Metroid in 1986, the developers purposely hid the gender of this lone protagonist, which the player discovered only after beating the game. A trailblazer for female characters, Samus shattered the oft-utilized trope of the girl as the helpless princess or sidekick and instead gave players a female lead as tough and heroic as any man.
A skilled warrior with a myriad of combative-centric talents, Samus is a woman of few words but copious action. Nimble, fast, and efficient, she’s less a mercenary than a rogue hero; a singular force capable of taking on a planet of pirates or an entire species of parasitic organisms.
Games Featuring Samus Aaran:
- Metroid II: Return of Samus
- Super Metroid
- Metroid Fusion
- Metroid Prime
- Metroid: Zero Mission
- Metroid Prime 2: Echoes
- Metroid Prime Pinball
- Metroid Prime Hunters
- Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
- Metroid: Other M
- Metroid Prime: Federation Force
- Metroid: Samus Returns
- Metroid Prime 4
- Super Smash Bros. 1-4
8. Strider Hiryu (Strider Franchise, Marvel vs. Capcom)
Essentially a cosmic ninja, Strider Hiryu has been a gaming mainstay since his debut in the original arcade version of Strider. Armed with a singular, atom-slicing blade called the Cypher, Hiryu can best be described as a whirling dervish and acrobatic harbinger of death. Fast, precise and fearless, this lithe hero is forthright and honorable but also a merciless warrior, hacking his adversaries into trace molecules while somersaulting about, dodging bullets and engaging in a combative ballet that would make even the most accomplished shinobi feel inadequate by comparison.
Hiryu has enjoyed a storied legacy, including a classic arcade game and an altogether different NES version that is a masterpiece in its own right, both of which portray Strider as the definitive one-man army capable of toppling all comers, including a mystical despot and traitorous members of his own organization. Strider has also enjoyed the distinction of being included in the Marvel vs. Capcom series and remains a popular choice for his distinctive and relentless playstyle.
Games Featuring Strider:
- Strider (arcade)
- Strider (NES)
- Journey from Darkness: Strider Returns (Released by U.S. Gold)
- Strider 2
- Strider (2014)
- Namco X Capcom
- Marvel vs. Capcom Series
7. Kain (Legacy of Kain and Soul Reaver Franchises)
Kain is a complicated fellow.
We first met him as a wandering nobleman; a spoiled aristocrat who is murdered on a cold, dark evening and given the chance for vengeance through resurrection as a vampire. Filled with rage at his abrupt death, he hastily agrees, setting off a chain of events that would go on to span a slew of games and complex timelines that sees Kain as both the hero and the villain of a sprawling and dense mythology .
But what truly defines Kain is his haughty, almost poetic dialogue and regal demeanor fused with his unremittent brutality. For much of the series, Kain is an antihero, willing to slaughter anyone – innocent or villain alike – to achieve his ends. A master swordsman, Kain is able to dispatch his victims and levitate their very blood in thick streams that feed directly into his maw, sustaining him with their fleeting vitality. Kain is also inhumanly agile, capable of shapeshifting, mind control, telekinesis and can even dissipate into fog, emerging to kill and vanishing back into the mist.
First introduced to gaming audiences in 1997’s Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, the eponymous character hasn’t been seen since 2003’s Legacy of Kain: Defiance, yet the vampiric savior of Nosgoth remains an immensely popular icon and an example of what a true and distilled badass looks and sounds like.
(A special mention is required here regarding the excellent voice work done by Simon Templeman, who imbues Kain with a rich, nuanced personality and is largely responsible for the success of the character.)
Games Featuring Kain:
- Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain
- Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
- Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen 2
- Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2
- Legacy of Kain: Defiance
6. Chris Redfield (Resident Evil Franchise)
Like his partner Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield has been with Resident Evil since the beginning of the franchise and over the last two decades, our heroic protagonist has gotten bigger, better, and…well…bigger.
When not fighting zombies or other vestiges of Umbrella Corporation’s bioweapon division, Chris apparently takes growth hormones, eats lots of protein and prepares for Mr. Universe contests.
When we first met Chris, he was a highly trained but decidedly mortal soldier who needed keys to open doors.
By the time Resident Evil 5 arrived, Chris had transformed into a hulking mass of zombie-killing muscularity, capable of punching boulders into submission.
Chris also spends his spare time fighting amongst the illuminati of the Marvel vs. Capcom roster, where he is able to hold his own with metahumans and makes everyone except the Hulk and Thor feel puny and inadequate.
While at this point he’s a walking, talking sack of testosterone, Chris is also a genuine hero, a fearless soldier, expert gunfighter and puncher of anything that needs to be laid out, be it man or mutated monstrosity.
Games Featuring Chris Redfield:
- Resident Evil
- Resident Evil – Code: Veronica
- Resident Evil Umbrella Chronicles
- Resident Evil (Remake)
- Resident Evil 5
- Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles
- Resident Evil 6
- Resident Evil: The Mercenaries
- Resident Evil: Revelations
- Resident Evil 7 (Cameo)
5. Faith (Mirror’s Edge)
It has been opined by some that the avoidance of conflict is the ultimate combative art; that the ability to stop a fight or nullify it before it escalates is the purest form of conflict resolution.
If there’s any truth to that statement, the character of Faith – protagonist of the Mirror’s Edge series – is a posterchild for such an ideology, as the swift-of-foot courier and would-be rebel is as apt and able to evade her opponents as she is to fight them directly.
An expert practitioner in parkour, Faith is nimble, fearless and moves with the deliberate speed and grace of a jungle cat, able to deftly pounce, hop and slide her way through even the most dangerous and fortified of spaces. Where most see obstacles and impediments, faith sees alternative routes and environments where she can press her sprightly advantage, moving in such a way as to leave her pursuers far behind.
That isn’t to say Faith can’t fight because when she does engage her opponents, her martial arts skills are honed, precise and can render an adversary unconscious in seconds. She’s also handy with a gun but what defines Faith and makes her such an interesting and distinctive bad-ass is that she is somebody who uses violence only when cornered; lethal when necessary but more invested in getting to her goal than sending men to their graves.
There’s something uniquely compelling about a character who – amongst videogame contemporaries that kill at the slightest provocation – seems compelled to spare life whenever possible and avoid rather than engage.
Games Featuring Faith:
- Mirror’s Edge
- Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst
I’ll be back soon to complete my list, revealing who I consider the ultimate bad-ass of the gaming continuum.