Even the Best Heroes Need a Helping Hand – The Supporting Character
Having looked at what makes a hero great and what makes a villain memorable, I wanted to look at the third major class of characters one can find in most great games: the sidekick. It seems like every great hero has a sidekick to help them out: Batman has Robin, Captain America had Bucky, the Lone Ranger had Tonto and even Sherlock Holmes had Watson. While sidekicks in other media can be enjoyable and deep characters, in video games, they can directly affect the player’s experience with the game. In a game, especially a good one, your interactions with the sidekick characters can seriously change the experience, as a good sidekick allows for the main character to further develop themselves. The sidekick is often a friend, and as such, allows the main character to interact with amicable characters or peers, and not just the enemies or superiors that he would interact with when not given a sidekick. Taking this, and a few other things, into consideration, I decided to look into a few notable sidekicks and see what made them so special.
These are in no particular order as this isn’t intended to be a list. Also, please be forewarned, spoilers will be involved, so if you have not played the game for that character, I recommend moving on to the next section.
GLaDOS/Wheatley – Portal 2
I start with GLaDOS and Wheatley from Portal 2 because they exemplify one of my favorite twists in writing: the villain turned ally and the ally turned villain. GLaDOS was already one of the best antagonists in gaming, but in Portal 2, she became something of a sidekick. Wheatley awakens you and helps you get acclimated to the early mechanics of Portal 2. He is funny, and particularly incompetent, but still seems amicable enough. By himself, he is not a fantastic sidekick past his humor, though he does still aid Chell with the possibility of sacrificing himself, such as when he turns on his flashlight when he imagines he might be committing suicide by doing so. But when he is brought into interactions with GLaDOS, his personality really shines through. Of course, it is also revealed that he is as unstable as everything else in Aperture Labs leading to the real best sidekick of Portal 2; GLaDOS herself.
GLaDOS is already one of the most charismatic characters in a game, but her rapid transition from villain to potato-based sidekick is both striking and genus. She doesn’t help you through the puzzles, but she does drastically enhance the narrative of the game. In Portal 2, we get to see a softer side of the sociopathic GLaDOS, and while Chell remains the player character, GLaDOS almost becomes the main character. Portal 2 is really her story, but through the technicality that we play as Chell, GLaDOS is really a sidekick to the player, mostly along for the ride with Chell until she chooses to reveal some more of her past. Though the amazing narrative of the game, we find out exactly who she is, why she is so bitter and moreso, who Chell herself might just be. GLaDOS allows the player to really connect and immerse themselves within the world of Aperture Science, and for that she remains as one of the best sidekicks.
Pierce – Saints Row: The Third
The Saints Row series has a lot of great characters. Many of them are hilarious or totally wacky. Pierce however stands out amongst the characters as being one who is truly loyal, even after the amount of crap the other characters give him. While Shaundi and Gat were great characters in Saints Row 2, they were somewhat abandoned in 3. Shaundi became rather 2 dimensional and Gat, well, we won’t discuss Gat. But Pierce stepped up, he has a large role in a number of missions, even late in the game, and in spite of his propensity to complain about how disrespected he feels, never really hesitates to jump right in to the action with the protagonist. Pierce is basically the epitome of the loyal foot soldier that can found in sandbox games. It doesn’t hurt that he is still an amusing character, who tends to develop well on his own. I was surprised when I finished the game at how well his character was fleshed out, and how little Shaundi’s was. Still, there is plenty of room for that if they ever make a Saints Row 4.
Daxter and Clank – Jak and Daxter/Ratchet and Clank
I was torn about whether to separate these two characters or keep them in one post. I decided to shrink it down to one because, while each character is unique and interesting, they both fill the same role. They are the perfect sidekicks, totally loyal to their respective protagonists, but also their own person. Daxter sticks by Jak no matter what. His expressed rationale might be to get his normal body back, but a large part of it is actually because of his friendship with Jak. In Jak II, when Jak comes out of prison after having been tortured, he is one of the few characters who can make Jak less emo. Daxter comes to terms with his condition, but still sticks by Jak.
Clank, on the other hand, is an even broader character. In the most recent game, A Crack In Time, Ratchet and Clank are split up, with Ratchet trying desperately to find his best friend. Clank, however, is in no such rush. It presents an interesting dynamic, where Clank feels he must assume his duty as keeper of the Great Clock, but Ratchet doesn’t realize that Clank has assumed such a duty. In a series where the player is so used to having each character at the same time, losing Clank’s range of moves and his witty comments make the first half of the game feel surprisingly lonely. Clank is able to bring out the best of Ratchet and visa-versa. Their reunion was one of the best moments in gaming, especially because of some of the decisions it forced Ratchet to go through leading up to the game. Clank, a sidekick, was able to bring out the best of Ratchet’s character by forcing him to make some tough decisions, like whether to try to bring back his race or keep the universe stable. It doesn’t hurt that he is also rather perceptive and is at the center of a lot of the humor in the series.
Garrus – Mass Effect
Picking an RPG character might not be the wisest move, as it has the possibility to open up a whole new can of worms, such as potentially allowing any party member to hop on this list. But Garrus is different, he is less like a simple party member and more of a buddy for Shepard. Whereas the other party members of Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 all go their separate ways, Garrus seems to stick by Shepard and really takes his beliefs to heart. More than that, Garrus is one of the few characters that will stick by Shepard no matter what. It is no accident you get Garrus so early on in both games. He is your first real exposure to the other aliens present in the series. The other party members are equally as enjoyable, but Garrus is the only one who is really a sidekick to Garrus. Their dialogue, male or femshep, is very buddy-buddy as opposed to a lot of the other characters, where we get backstory and drama. His is simply straightforward, “I was C-Sec, that sucked, and now I’m with you because you know how to kick ass and not put up with any bull.” Garrus is the closest any character comes to being a sidekick, but don’t let that make you think he can’t hold up on his own, as his recruitment mission in Mass Effect 2 shows us, he is tough as nails, he just works better with a friend.
Shiki – The World Ends with You
Shiki really stands out as one of the best characters in a game filled with excellent characters. The World Ends with You had a pretty large cast, but Shiki was really able to keep up. She stood forth and not only provided the tutorial, she did so in a way that she furthered the story. Her own story was a bit sad, but she constantly remained upbeat. More importantly, she was able to get the main character, Neku, to effectively grow up and stop being such a whiny and apathetic brat. While she had a ton of issues of her own, her ability to make Neku reflect upon his own personality really stood out. Her personality and unique story really led her to be an excellent companion through the early game, and while she exits early, she manages to set the stage for Neku and the player’s experience through the rest of the game, becoming their motivation to win. Joshua and Beat were also great sidekicks, but Shiki really stood out, even among the two of them.
Steven Heck – Alpha Protocol
Alpha Protocol may not have been the world’s most amazing game, but the one thing it absolutely nailed was the conversation system. Nowhere was this more apparent than when talking to Steven Heck. Heck isn’t just one of the best sidekicks in the game (which had quite a few memorable ones), he is one of the best supporting characters, period. He is casually psychotic, but if he likes you, the rewards are awesome; specifically in some of the funniest dialogue in the game. His uniquely calm, yet psychotic nature is hilarious, and really makes you question if getting him to help you is the best idea (it is). He doesn’t really add anything to the actual plot, but what he does is he really brightens up the world, and makes the entire game more lively and interesting. He fleshes out the entire game almost as much as the protagonist does, and does so in vastly amusing ways and deserves a spot on this list for directly making the entire game much more enjoyable.
There are a lot of other characters who can be discussed. Dom, Baird and Cole from the Gears of War games are infinitely much more interesting than Marcus, and serve to make the game more fun and flesh out Marcus that much more. Nagase, Archer and Chopper are a huge part of what made Ace Combat 5 so amazing. Little Jacob and Roman really made the world in Grand Theft Auto 4 feel complete. The Resident Evil series has no shortage of awesome sidekicks, especially ones with twisted motives like Ada Wong. Each of these characters adds something to the series, whether it is to deepen the game world, show that the main character can have friends or progress the story. Creating a good supporting cast has the potential to further progress an already good game and craft it into a truly memorable experience.