How to make annoying characters less annoying
If there is one area that video games dominate the cultural landscape, it is the creation of flat, heroic characters whose story arc is effectively “was heroic and weak, now is heroic and strong with smoldering rage.” I’ve already mentioned this in the form of Aveline de Grandpre, but it could easily apply to any other lead in a large number of main franchises. What is most surprising is how easy it is to mitigate some of the damage of this archetype. Giving characters range is not all that difficult, particularly given the low base from which most video games start.
The perfect example of this is the four main leads of Bravely Default. This is a fantastic JRPG that I probably won’t review but that you should definitely play. Seriously, it’s good stuff. That being said, the characters are hardly original. The game opens with Tiz and Agnes who represent the “young heroic lad who does his best” and “young heroic lass who doubts herself” character types that dominate the JRPG landscape. These characters have been done to death, yet Bravely Default makes them tolerable. It does so through the introduction of Edea and Ringabel who, combined, bring the only spark of personality to the group. When I say spark, it really is just a tiny bit. Both characters are hopelessly noble, but they each have a trait that gives them something extra. Edea is headstrong while Ringabel is a horndog. Of such things, dreams are made.
The traits I’ve cited aren’t a lot, but even these small additions improves the other characters. Through Edea and Ringabel acting out their one trait, Tiz and Agnes are forced to react giving them a greater feeling of depth. When Ringabel pushes Agnes to wear a skimpy outfit to win a beauty contest, Agnes’s nobility becomes prudishness. When Edea tries to romantically link Tiz and Agnes, Tiz becomes a naïve innocent. This helps humanize them and gives them characteristics that the player can emphasize with. Your average gamer will never know the pain of losing their home or bravely soldiering on after great tragedy, but they can certainly relate to pushy friends and awkward romance. Kept in their own world, Tiz and Agnes would remain isolated and bland. Only when they interact with deeper characters do they develop actual relatable traits.
This is still not ideal. The fact that I’m pushing for a semblance of humanity rather than two or, *gasp*, three actual human characteristics shows how far video games have to go. When character development is done right, it shines. Persona 3 & 4 are perfect examples of this. Most of the characters, including the supporting cast, are multidimensional with relatable problems. Highlights include a child whose parents are divorcing, a young man facing death, and a business mogul looking to leave a legacy. Note that these are actual problems held by actual people who play these games. If Bravely Default and other video games are looking to add depth to their characters, this is a good place to start.