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20 Best Video Game Heroes Of The 21st Century – Ranked

Compiling a list of the greatest gaming heroes of the 2000s is no easy task.

There are so many great game characters introduced every year, and what one person loves about a character may not be universal. Not everyone loves Sonic’s ‘too-cool-for-school’ attitude, for example.

However, there are times when a character’s greatness simply cannot be denied.

When a character makes enough of an emotional impact, performs amazing feats, becomes the face of their game or just has a stand-out personality, that’s when you know you’ve got something truly great.

With this in mind, there’s a good chance that you’ll recognise a lot of the characters on this list. All of them have had an impact on gaming in some way, and all of them have resonated with gamers all over the globe in one way or another.

These are the heroes who have defined this generation, who have shaped the gaming landscape and who have ended up being some of the best the medium has to offer.

For now we’re limiting ourselves to just looking at characters from the 2000s, so even though some characters got better over time, they cannot be counted.

Let’s have a look at our star-studded line-up.

20. Kazuma Kiryu

SEGA

Step forward if you want to die.”

Easily one of gaming’s most unsung heroes, Kazuma Kiryu is also one of the best.

There’s a lot of things that make Kiryu so popular, but it’s his compassion and relationship with others that really put him on top. Even though Kiryu is a member of a crime family, what he really cares about is his family and friends, and his genuine heartfelt moments are some of the best in gaming.

As well as that, the Yakuza series is full of badass moments and almost all of them come from Kiryu himself. Whether he’s taking a metal bar to the face with no consequence or punching a shark in the face, his lack of limits is truly endearing.

The fact that the language barrier hasn’t stopped how popular Kiryu is should indicate how great of a character he truly is.

Even if he’s now had his last adventure, Kiryu will always have a place as one of the coolest dad’s in gaming.

19. Sly Cooper

Sucker Punch

I don’t know what’s in my future, but I won’t let it be a repeat of my past.”

The PlayStation 2 era of mascot-platformers is one that is full to the brim of recognisable characters, but there are a few in particular that truly stand out. One of those is Sly Cooper.

Sly is a character that’s instantly recognisable thanks to his cane and mask, but it’s not just his design that makes him great. The personality and depth given to Sly is what makes him so beloved by fans.

Even though gameplay focuses on the actual thieving, the story lets players see the human side of Sly through his relationship with his friends and his love interest Carmelita. It’s this personality that makes Sly so endearing, and what makes playing through his games so rewarding.

The focus of the Sly games on stealth as well as platforming is one of the things that makes them stand out so much. Even with this draw, it’s fair to say they wouldn’t be so great without Sly behind the helm.

18. Agent 47

Square Enix

Names are for friends, so I don’t need one.”

It takes a lot for a game character to have two big Hollywood movie adaptations made about him, and Agent 47 did exactly that.

When you see the suit and barcode, there’s no arguing who you’re looking at, and that’s a great mark of an iconic character. The concept of a professional killer who can blend into any surrounding is so original and that’s what makes Agent 47 stand out.

It also means a lot that Agent 47 is really the only prominent character in the whole of the Hitman series.

Besides being the face of an amazing gaming series, it’s actually what Agent 47 did for the genre that makes him so highly regarded.

Although games in the stealth genre are almost always positively received, they’re actually fairly rare. There haven’t been too many stealth titles in general, but in the past two generations they’ve all but disappeared.

Despite this stealth-game culling, Agent 47 and Hitman beat the odds and they look like they’re here to stay.

17. Inklings

Nintendo

Booyah!”

As one of Nintendo’s newest original characters, the Inklings have quickly risen through the ranks as one of their best creations.

The Inklings may not have a great level of characterisation to them, but it’s the level of customisation that makes them so great.

Players have complete control over how the Inklings look, from changing their hairstyle to choosing what clothes they wear. The huge amount of choice for each option helps make this feature a big deal.

Really, the Inklings are a fantastic way of portraying the player’s own character.

Even in their default state, the Inklings stand out from any other characters that have come out in the past generation, and that makes them really memorable.

It says a lot that the new Smash chose to show fans that the Inklings were new fighters before anyone else. That’s when you know you’re a big deal.

Even with those awful adverts, the Inklings are still Nintendo characters that are a force to be reckoned with.

16. Jak & Daxter

Sony

Orange lightning! Za-zing!

We may not have seen this pair in a long while, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been forgotten.

There are many duos in gaming, but Jak and Daxter are considered two of the most memorable. The fact that they haven’t been seen in so long has undoubtedly contributed to their popularity, but they were still some of the most loved characters on the PS2.

The fact that Jak and Daxter have such different personalities is part of the reason why they work so well as a pair. Jak is strong and silent, whilst Daxter is the complete opposite.

This chemistry is one that isn’t seen too much in gaming, and whilst both characters work on their own, they work much better together. Daxter needs Jak to know when to shut up, and Jak needs Daxter to keep his humanity, and this dynamic is what makes the story work.

Let’s hope that the next generation of gaming may see a return for two of the PS2’s most beloved characters.

15. Sam Fisher

Ubisoft

It’s just me.”

There’s a good reason why everyone wants Sam Fisher and Splinter Cell to make a return. Even if you aren’t a big fan of the series, you can’t really argue with how iconic his goggles are.

Sam Fisher is the face of Splinter Cell, a beloved game series which unfortunately hasn’t been seen in quite some time. In the same manner as Agent 47, Sam Fisher also represents a genre that is really not seen very often anymore, but he has much more personality in him.

Sam’s reliability is one of the things that puts him ahead of other ‘military’ characters. He’s like your dad, if your dad could line up headshots.

It’s not often that you get people in uproar over voice actors being switched about, but the fact that Micheal Ironside was replaced in Splinter Cell: Blacklist led to many fans outright boycotting the game.

Extreme or not, that really does show just how much the character means to some people.

14. Raiden

Konami

My sword is a tool of justice.”

Bet you were expecting someone else huh?

Although Solid Snake may have made a much bigger impact than any other Metal Gear Solid character, he debuted back in the 80s which means he can’t be included here. We’re going to do what Kojima did and put Raiden in his place instead.

If we were still back in the Metal Gear Solid 2 days, that might be controversial, but ever since Revengeance and Guns of the Patriots it’s pretty much agreed that Raiden is awesome.

Raiden is iconic not just because of his surprise appearance as the protagonist of Metal Gear Solid 2, but because of his massive change into a bad-ass cyborg with major sword skills.

This change cemented Raiden as one of the best Metal Gear characters, which is ironic considering how he was initially received.

Raiden’s appearance in his own game, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, also solidified him as one of the better things to happen to the Metal Gear franchise and considering how prestigious it is, that’s no small feat.

13. Commander Shepard

Bioware

Let’s get our people home.”

Commander Shepard may be shaped by the player, but even in his default form, everyone knows exactly who he is.

The fact that the Mass Effect games are some of the most popular and beloved RPGs out there helps contribute massively to why Shepard is so loved, but the character himself has to play a part in it too.

Obviously one of the things that sets him (or her!) apart from the rest is the fact that Shepard can either be a Paragon or a Renegade, with both being pretty unique characterisations. This level of choice is key to why Shepard works as a character.

Mass Effect’s ability as a franchise to carry your decisions across more than one game is one of the reasons that Shepard stands out.

When you consider that gamers had three whole games of custom stories and decisions to make, it’s no wonder that they got more than a little attached to their own idea of Shepard and what he represents.

Let’s just hope we get to see the Mass Effect series return to its former glory one day.

12. Sackboy

Sony

In a similar vein to the Inklings, the amount of player choice that comes with Sackboy is one of the things that propels him into being such an recognisable character.

Although the idea of a completely customisable character doesn’t come from LittleBigPlanet, the way that it was implemented in the game was really incredible. No matter how you customise Sackboy, he’s instantly recognisable and that’s no easy feat.

Sackboy’s positive message is another reason why it’s so iconic. Cute isn’t a word that can be used for too many gaming characters lately, but it certainly can for Sackboy. He’s all about creativity, fun and family friendliness, and that’s what makes him the perfect mascot for LittleBigPlanet.

In-fact, it could be argued that Sackboy isn’t just a mascot for LittleBigPlanet, but one for PlayStation too. He’s become a pretty big icon, even outside of his games and that’s the mark of a good game character.

It’s incredibly difficult to make a character that’s both customisable and iconic, but Sackboy somehow manages it.

11. Tracer

Blizzard

Cheers love, the cavalry’s here!

Despite being a fairly recent addition to gaming, Tracer has quickly become one of this generation’s most iconic characters, and rightfully so. Even in a game like Overwatch with no discernable story, Tracer could easily be called the star.

One of the things that propelled Tracer to cult status is the game that she comes from, Overwatch. Overwatch is hugely popular, and despite not being one of the best characters in the game, Tracer easily has some of the most interesting lore and character given to her.

Tracer is also easily the most developed and interesting character in the whole of Overwatch’s lore, and that makes her stand out in a game that is full of quirky and colourful characters.

Tracer also represents a big step in gaming, as she’s not just a female leading character but a gay one. There’s not many of them around, especially when Tracer debuted, and that has made her an even bigger icon for the industry.

There’s even more potential for Tracer’s character, and it’s something that we hope to see developed very soon.

10. Ezio Auditore Da Firenze

Ubisoft

Resquiat in pace.”

Ezio may hail from a game franchise that has many mixed views, but everyone can pretty much agree that Ezio is awesome.

That’s because Assassin’s Creed 2 gave a lot of depth to the character, and we actually got to watch him grow up and change into the Assassin we knew he would become. Whereas other characters in the franchise feel a bit forced, Ezio has

The fact that Ezio is the main character of the most loved game in the series is another big reason why he is so iconic. Assassin’s Creed 2 is still what people hold the series up to, and Ezio is a big reason for that.

Even if he did star in one too many Assassin’s Creed games, Ezio had a genuinely heartfelt and developed story that ended satisfyingly. He doesn’t need to return, but that’s because he was done pretty much perfectly.

When you think of Assassin’s Creed, you think of Ezio. It’s as simple as that.

9. Dante

Capcom

Let’s rock baby!

Dante is easily one of gaming’s all-time coolest characters and one of the things keeping Capcom afloat. What he lacks in emotional depth, he more than makes up for with his style and catchphrases.

One of the things that makes Dante so interesting is the fact that he’s so on the nose and focused on being cool and stylish. Dante’s penchant for being a cool character is so rarely seen in gaming that he really is in a league of his own.

That may make it seem like Dante is more style than substance, but that’s not inherently a bad thing, as it’s actually what makes him stand out from other generic gaming characters.

Devil May Cry’s position as one of the best of a dying genre also makes Dante much more beloved, because people legitimately miss him and his games.

The fact that the internet rushed to Dante’s defense when one developer tried to make changes to his character just goes to show how iconic he really is.

8. Ratchet And Clank

Insomniac

Good to see you pal.”

Easily gaming’s biggest and best duo, Ratchet and Clank are also the most successful and well-known out of the PlayStation 2 era of platformers.

The success of the original Ratchet and Clank games is what put the duo in such high regards even nowadays. Even now, the characters are both still around and starring in some pretty great games, even if the most recent one was let down by a poor movie.

However, the thing that really puts Ratchet and Clank above the other PS2 platformer characters is the relationship between the two. Much like Banjo and Kazooie, it’s hard to imagine the two without one another, yet they still work completely as their own character.

Ratchet and Clank have been on so many adventures together that it’s hard to imagine gaming without the two of them. It’s not like you can say you’ve seen a Lombax wear a robot as a backpack before either.

7. Sora

Square Enix

My friends are my power!”

Sora is one of the most iconic game characters of the 2000’s because he somehow managed to merge two of the most unlikely franchises of all time with Disney and Final Fantasy.

In the case of Sora, his personality is the thing that makes him so memorable. There isn’t really a character out there who is like him, and his constant quest to reunite his friends is so endearing that he’s just instantly loveable.

Despite seeming like a fairly simple character because of this simplicity, Sora’s journey from the first Kingdom Hearts game has really developed his character, and we as player’s have grown up alongside him. This is one of the reasons why gamers are so connected to him.

It’s not often that you see people clamouring for a game like they have been for Kingdom Hearts III, but one of the biggest reasons is that they want to see what happens at the end of Sora’s journey. He’s truly a character that’s left a lasting impression on the hearts of many.

6. Geralt Of Rivia

CD Projekt Red

“Two swords, one of silver, one of iron, one for monsters and one for men.”

The massive success of The Witcher 3 has managed to quickly propel Geralt into being one of the most recognisable characters of the generation.

Coming from one of the best games of the past few years is only one of the reasons why Geralt is so great, although it does lend him a lot of credit. The Witcher 3 is easily one of the most beloved games in recent memory, and the series as a whole is pretty well respected.

The biggest reason for Geralt’s success is because Geralt is a genuinely mature and adult character. Not mature in the sense where he’s nude, swears and spills a lot of blood (although that’s also true), but because of how developed his character feels.

Even for people who had never played previous games in the series, Geralt’s performance in The Witcher 3 was enough to make the final game in his story emotional for everyone. That takes a lot.

Whether or not we see Geralt in another game anytime soon, he’ll always have a major place in gaming history.

5. Ellie

Naughty Dog

Swear to me that everything you said about the fireflies is true.

Even though Joel is a beloved part of The Last of Us, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t agree that Ellie is the true star of the series.

There hasn’t really been a character that is so realistically portrayed in some time, but Ashley Johnson’s work as Ellie is the reason why she’s such a great character. Every single emotion lands with the player, and you genuinely start to feel for her like Joel would.

That’s a hard thing for any game to make a player feel, but The Last of Us manages it because of Ellie.

Put simply, the reason why The Last of Us became such a beloved title is because of the amazing story that it told players, and the biggest reason for that story succeeding is because Ellie was at the centre of it all.

It’s not often that a game’s whole premise relies on one character landing, but The Last of Us simply wouldn’t work if Ellie wasn’t so great.

4. Kratos

Sony

I am your monster no longer.

Whether you’re choosing his original incarnation or the more recent bearded Kratos, you still have a character synonymous with the PlayStation brand.

In his earlier years, Kratos was a great character because of how badass he was. He was an absolute killing machine and it made him extremely fun to play as, especially when you consider his surprisingly tragic backstory.

Nowadays, Kratos is arguably even more iconic because of how he managed to change from a man purely focused on killing into a father and reformed man. Both Kratos and the newest God of War showed that soft rebooting a game isn’t a bad thing, and that developing a character is a good thing.

Considering how highly regarded both Kratos and his games are, it’s not a stretch to say that the industry wouldn’t quite be the same without him.

Combine all of this history with his iconic ash-covered skin and the powers of a god and it’s no wonder everyone remembers his name.

3. Niko Bellic

Rockstar

Maybe here, things will be different.

Although you could argue that Trevor made a pretty big impact on the gaming community in GTA V, Niko Bellic is easily the greater hero. The only Rockstar character to ever rival Niko would be John Marston, and Niko just manages to edge him out.

Grand Theft Auto V may be one of the best selling games of all time, but none of the main characters in the story ever really made much of a lasting impact. Trevor is the closest to doing that, and that’s more because of how crazy he is than anything else.

Niko and Grand Theft Auto IV both became so highly regarded for how realistic they were, and that’s exactly what makes Niko so endearing. Everything that Niko does he does for his family and friends, and that’s about as human as it gets.

Let’s put it this way- people were more interested in finding out if Niko was alive in GTA V than they were in seeing what happened to the main characters. That really says a lot.

2. Master Chief

Microsoft

Finishing the fight.

This is going to get controversial.

It simply cannot be argued that the Chief is one of the gaming’s most recognisable characters, and there’s a good reason why Microsoft have practically made him their mascot- Chief is a badass.

Many games nowadays focus on making characters as deep and realistic as possible and while that can certainly be a good thing, sometimes all you need is a character that’s willing to get things done.

Master Chief follows the creed of “actions speak louder than words” and that’s what makes him such a great character. He triumphs through any obstacle that is put in his way, and he does so in style.

The fact that Master Chief has managed to lead the Xbox brand from its very start all the way up till now should really show you the impact that he’s managed to have on gaming as a whole.

Let’s hope that Halo: Infinite puts a lot more focus on one of gaming’s greatest heroes.

1. Nathan Drake

Naughty Dog

Kitty got wet!

There aren’t many characters that Nolan North hasn’t voiced, but out of all of them there is one that reigns supreme- Nathan Drake.

Hailing from a series of games as beloved as the Uncharted series may seem like an unfair advantage, but one of the reasons why Uncharted is so beloved is because of Nate.

The main reason for this is because no matter what, Nathan always keeps going, even in the face of great adversity. He’s got legitimate cracks in his facade and a really interesting back-story too, which makes following all of his adventures genuinely rewarding.

When it gets to the point where celebrities are starring in fan-made films because of your character, you know you’ve got a hero that’s truly made an impact.

The simple fact is that Nathan Drake is the best hero gaming has seen in a long time, and he’s one that we’ve seen grow with us. PlayStation absolutely wouldn’t be the same without him.

 

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