When playing an adventure game

there are many different factors that can make the experience an enjoyable one, some love puzzles, some the visuals, for me personally, it’s the story that has to be great, and a great story needs a great main character to drive it forward.

In this article I will be exploring the parameters (or lack of them) that make a great main protagonist in an adventure game.

Name

Firstly let’s look at the name. A strong stand-out character will always benefit an unusual, roll-off-the-tongue name that is easily memorable. For example Guybrush Threepwood, Manny Calavera, Bobbin, Jake Dawson, Lucas Kane and George Stobbart to name a few. A good name is not essential but I believe it certainly creates a solid foundation for your main character. John Smith of Imagination Adventure will never catch someone’s eye and heart the same way Manny Calavera of Grim Fandango did, despite how entertaining the story is.

Personality

Personality is something that really relies strongly on the writing of dialogue in my opinion. For example the hollow and stiff generic sentences of Kate Walker from Syberia (forgive me fans) seemed to really take away from what little personality she had anyway. Not to say that it isn’t a great adventure game, it’s just that I never really felt in touch with the main character. A little banter and humility works wonders even in the most serious of games. It’s not always so much the conversation between the protagonist and others that I’m talking about either, attention to small details concerning the environmental dialogue is a must. Not to say every object should be described in Shakespearian sentences, but sometimes a little more than “It‘s a key” is needed. Voice acting is also a big issue; I feel not enough praise is given to great voice actors sometimes. The dialogue, mannerisms and expressions are portrayed almost completely within the voice acting of a character. This can sometimes be the difference between a memorable crusader that you’d happily take through the game again, and a dry dull wanderer that leaves you yawning. Imagine Guybrush with Eeyor’s voice, not quite a mighty pirate now right?

Another factor of personality is to ensure the player believes the portrayed feelings. For example when Lucas Kane informed his brother, who is no less than a priest, that he’d recently murdered an innocent man in cold blood with a cutlery knife in a café toilet, he didn’t exactly seem that bother in my opinion. Perhaps as a priest he’d heard a lot worse but his reaction just wasn’t cutting it for me. Lack of compassion and sincerity takes away from the immersion of the story, if the player can’t quite believe what the protagonist is feeling then how can they feel it themselves?

Many adventure games have failed to really build upon the main characters profile and personality, but all the greats have been carried through not only by the puzzles and story, but by the main protagonist him or herself.

Journey

I can’t speak for everyone here, but after many years enjoying this great genre, I know that a lot of people would rather see the main protagonist learn from the journey they’ve embarked on than seem as indifferent as they did at the start of the game. A perfect example of lessons learned is Manny’s journey in Grim Fandango, a very touching tale in a strange way that really shows Manny has (or had) a good heart deep down. Dave Gilbert’s Blackwell series also executes the growing of Rosangela Blackwell’s character perfectly, starting off as an anxious and shy little known writer before growing into a confident and comically pessimistic medium. A match made in heaven. Now not every adventure game has you feeling you’ve taught the main character a good lesson in something, but so long as the player feels it was all worth it, and not just for the sake of saying they’ve completed the game, then, well… it was all worth it.

Likability

Arguably this comes under the bracket of personality, but I think likability is a separate factor of its own. A character can have plenty of personality but little likability, see Andre Lobino.

Likability can be achieved in many different ways; one of the most common is the sympathy vote. When the player has sympathy for the main protagonist, they begin to empathize with their struggle a little and feel the need to help them through, so long as the sympathy doesn’t become frustration.

A comically pessimistic approach also works so long as the character doesn’t come across as arrogant or pompous in any way. Nobody likes a know it all, especially in an adventure game where a lot of the game play is based on conversation and interaction with NPC’s.

One of the most memorable uses of likability for me is the sarcastic piss taker approach. The most prominent example of this would be George Stobbart in Broken Sword 1 and 2 (I felt his personality waivered in the other two); he makes fun of everything and winds people up to a degree of frustration within a few cocky sentences. However, he is very likable as he has compassion and bravery in his convictions. George seems local and friendly, a guy that would get along with any half educated person.

Finally the bad boy approach, this is one of the hardest to pull off as it may have people feeling that the character is a bit of a moron. So long as said protagonist is fair with their bad-boyishness then things should run smoothly. The bad boy approach is not to be confused with downright nastiness though, Ben from Full Throttle for example is bad to the bone but with a heart of gold, this makes us love him as he kicks and punches his way through the game.

Likability can be achieved in all different ways, not just the ones mentioned above, but so long as the player can actually enjoy the main protagonists company as it were, then that saves a lot of heart ache for all parties.

Final Word

Overall I think it’s pretty safe to say that no adventure game can be truly legendary without a great main character to help it along. The main protagonist not only drives the story, but is the one interacting with everything in the world around you. For this to be a memorable and fun experience, some kind of concoction of the criteria mentioned in this article must be created.

About The Author


Jake Hanrahan runs a gym by day, and dabbles in freelance writing by night. His passion toward the adventure game genre is being turned into a game called… Mapoco Mountain.