The 26 Best Video Game Protagonists, Ranked

Nintendo / Square Enix Europe / ONE37pm

Whenever you set off on an adventure within a new digital world in gaming, you take command of a sole individual who's set up as your heroic avatar within it. Since the dawn of gaming, certain video game characters have risen to iconic status thanks to their world-saving exploits, recognizable voices, and unmistakable appearances. This list of the best video game protagonists features the type of characters that past and present (and hopefully future!) generations of gamers have become quite enamored with. Here's our ranking of the video game heroes and heroines that are the greatest of all time.

RELATED: The 50 Most Iconic Video Games Characters of All Time

26. Sonic the Hedgehog

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'Sonic the Hedgehog' series

  • First Appearance: Rad Mobile (1990)

Let's kick off this list of the best video game protagonists by acknowledging Sega's answer to Nintendo's dominant mustachioed mascot. When Sonic the Hedgehog sped onto the scene, he accumulated the types of gamers that wanted someone faster, leaner, and arguably cooler to invest in. Since his introduction in 1991, Sonic has saved the world from peril by defeating the evil Doctor Eggman every chance he gets. And whenever he goes "Super Sonic" mode, everyone's excitement hits an even higher level at the epic boss fights to come.

25. Mario

Super Mario Galaxy retro header

'Donkey Kong' and 'Super Mario' series

  • First Appearance: Donkey Kong (1981)

Sonic may be one of the GOATs that 90s gamers remember fondly. But his rival is considered more of a pioneer because his game and the console it released on practically saved the video game industry in the early 80s. Before that, Mario hopped and bopped all over the place in the original Donkey Kong arcade game to save sweet old Pauline. And ever since then, Mario has been the undisputed savior of the "Mushroom Kingdom" countless times as he's been Princess Peach's savior and Bowser's archnemesis.

24. 2B

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Square Enix


  • First Appearance: Nier:Automata (2007)

YoRHa No.2 Type B (Battle) sounds super badass...but we prefer calling her 2B since it rolls off the younger a bit easier. Thanks to the shocking critical and financial success of Nier: Automata, this deadly combat android has become one of the more recognizable female protagonists in all of gaming. Her gracefulness goes hand in hand with her ruthlessness, which is constantly on display in battle. Her demanding personality and overall design inspired by haute couture also afford her a few more points on the "cool as hell video game character" scale.

23. Aloy

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Sony Interactive Entertainment

'Horizon' series

  • First Appearance: Horizon Zero Dawn (2017)

The Horizon series puts the proud and powerful hunter Aloy front and center. Her journeys across post-apocalyptic America have helped develop her into a confident individual who knows how to make her way around all the mechanical beasts that endanger her well-being. She exudes the type of character traits that made people fall in love with movie icons such as Sarah Connor from The Terminator and Ellen Ripley from Alien. Aloy's one of those battle-hardened ladies you always cheer for whenever she comes across something far bigger than she is.

22. Bayonetta

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'Bayonetta' series

  • First Appearance: Bayonetta (2009)

The "Umbra Witch" that keeps pistols on her feet and hellish demons on speed dial is such a joy to watch in action. Bayonetta exudes sex appeal, is extremely cocky every time she's confronted by her foes, and has access to a wealth of weapons and monsters that make her a powerhouse princess. The fact that she goes into a quick dance number every time she needs to summon one of her beasties is so damn cool. Bayonetta has to make this list of the best video game protagonists due to all those aforementioned awesome factors we love about her.

21. Marcus Fenix

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Xbox Game Studios

'Gears of War' series

  • First Appearance: Gears of War (2006)

The rough and rugged Marcus Fenix made his way out of that prison cell during the first Gears of War into some bulky COG armor to take the fight to the "Locust Horde." For the series' first three mainline games, Fenix's undying sense of courage and leadership have turned him into a fan favorite amongst gamers. His look is badass, his voice is unmistakable, and his expert use of the "Lancer" assault rifle & the chainsaw attached to it presents him as one of the most resilient video game protagonists of all time.

20. Gordon Freeman

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'Half-Life' series

  • First Appearance: Half-Life (1998)

Gordon Freeman has and will probably never utter a single word. But for some reason, his role as the silent protagonist for the Half-Life series has afforded him a ton of fame and adulation from everyone who's taken control of him. Gaming's most beloved theoretical physicist has a mean crowbar swing and is quite adept at cutting down hideous monsters with his trusty "Gravity Gun." His overall design presents him as a very simple man who's capable of performing extraordinary tasks, such as saving the human race from an invading force comprised of vicious aliens.

19. Max Payne

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Rockstar Games

'Max Payne' series

  • First Appearance: Max Payne (2001)

This man has been through hell and back. From his bullet-riddled stay in the big city to his explosive pitstop in Brazil, Max Payne has been forced to deal with his inner demons and a whole host of folks who want him dead along the way. Fans have become enamored with this sad soul and have followed him on his road to redemption in three different games. Pulling off the slickest of kills in bullet-time slow-motion mode with Mr. Payne will never get old.

18. Leon S. Kennedy

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'Resident Evil' series

  • First Appearance: Resident Evil 2 (1998)

Leon S. Kennedy is one of those types of guys who's been through the wringer but has managed to keep his composure and save the day at all costs. Resident Evil 2 saw him enter the series as a young Racoon City Police Department upstart who held his own against a horde of bioweapons. And since that life-changing ordeal, Leon has become a fan favorite of many due to his quick maturation, dedication to seeing all his missions through, and nasty footwork when it comes to roundhouse kicking infected villagers.

17. Ezio Auditore da Firenze


'Assassin's Creed' series

  • First Appearance: Assassin's Creed II (2009)

In our and many other Assassin's Creed fans' eyes, Ezio Auditore da Firenze will always be recognized as the poster boy for Ubisoft's long-running franchise. He commanded everyone's attention from the very start of Assassin's Creed II, then went on to become one of the strongest leaders in the Assassin Brotherhood over time across Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood and Assassin's Creed: Revelations. Ezio's quick wit, masterful espionage skillset, and iconic look are what make him stand side by side with the best video game protagonists on this list.

16. John Marston

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Rockstar Games

'Red Dead Redemption'

  • First Appearance: Red Dead Redemption (2010)

Both Red Dead Redemption games have done a sublime job when it comes to detailing the rise and fall of one of the best cowboys in gaming, John Marston. The second game (which serves as a prequel to the first) shows how he became a crucial member of Dutch van der Linde's gang, while the first game follows his solo journey as a bounty hunter sent in to eliminate his former cohorts. His gruff demeanor and continued search for redemption showed him in a light that makes him easy to appreciate. His last stand truly stays with us and gamers alike as one of the saddest moments in gaming.

15. Dante

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'Devil May Cry' series

  • First Appearance: Devil May Cry (2001)

He's a silver-tongued, gun-wielding, sword-swinging half-human, half-demon hero. And his name is Dante, who's recognized by Capcom diehards as one of the coolest characters in gaming. The main protagonist for the Devil May Cry series makes taking down all sorts of hellish creatures look so easy. Besides all the action-packed sequences he's always caught in, Dante delivers plenty of hilarity in the most expected and unexpected ways. The Son of Sparda is royalty when it comes to the best video game protagonists hailings from action games.

14. BJ Blazkowicz

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Bethesda Softworks

'Wolfenstein' series

  • First Appearance: Wolfenstein 3D (1992)

BJ Blazkowicz loves killing Nazis. The way he eliminates them in the most gruesome manner possible has been amazing to watch and play out on our own since 1992. The square-jawed badass who also goes by the nickname of "Terror Billy" made an incredible comeback in Wolfenstein: The New Order, which afforded him more character attributes that made him even more of a likable war hero. That raspy voice of his adds a few more points to his overall cool factor, by the way.

13. Doomguy/Doom Slayer

Bethesda Softworks

'DOOM' series

  • First Appearance: DOOM (1993)

Since 1993, DOOM's demon-busting soldier, Earth's biggest defender, has been the epitome of supreme perseverance. Doomguy hit the scene and became the face of first-person shooters, then he got the makeover of a lifetime once he made his grand return as the highly intimidating Doom Slayer. The man becomes even more of a legend as he's backed by some hardcore metal tunes while he's in the middle of tearing apart a whole swath of demons with his "BFG" and trusty chainsaw in hand.

12. Ellie

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Sony Interactive Entertainment

'The Last of Us' series

  • First Appearance: The Last of Us (2013)

Yeah we know, we know...Joel's starring role in the first part of The Last of Us solidified him as one of Sony PlayStation's most revered characters. But his world-altering decision that transpired at the end of his journey makes his selfishness that much more prevalent. As for Ellie, she gets the nod over her makeshift father on this list of the best video game protagonists. Her growth makes her immensely likable - she kept Joel alive while she was forced to fend off a colony of cannibals, then she embarked on a difficult road to revenge that had us cheering her on the entire way. Ellie's survival instincts and dedication to her loved ones make her a remarkable gaming protagonist.

11. Samus Aran

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'Metroid' series

  • First Appearance: Metroid (1986)

Minds were blown worldwide once young impressionable gamers reached the end of the very first Metroid on NES. The spacesuit-wearing hero of that game took off her suit to reveal that she actually must be referred to as a heroine. Ever since then, Samus Aran has emerged as one of Nintendo's greatest characters thanks to her calm and confident demeanor - even in the face of constant threats coming from bloodthirsty aliens, she remains cool under pressure and blasts them to Kingdom Come on the regular. We'll never get tired of Samus Aran bringing the fight to Ridley and all the other aliens that try to test her.

10. Link


'The Legend of Zelda' series

  • First Appearance: The Legend of Zelda (1986)

Speaking of GOATED Nintendo mascots, we gotta speak on the green-tunic-wearing, Master Sword-swinging, and Hyrule-saving icon named Link. The Legend of Zelda series has made sure to present its protagonist as one of the boldest heroes in all of gaming. Link has taken the fight to Ganondorf on countless occasions. And all the while, he's survived some insanely dangerous encounters with a dark doppelganger, a world-ending omen in the form of a scary-looking moon, alternate universes, etc. Link saves the world every chance he gets with his iconic Master Sword and Hylian Shield in hand.

9. Master Chief

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Xbox Game Studios

'Halo' series

  • First Appearance: Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)

"I Need A Weapon." "Wake Me…When You Need Me." "Sir, Finishing This Fight." Those fire quotables come from none other than the greatest Spartan of them all, Master Chief. There's such an air of mystery surrounding his true origin and what he even looks like. That main attribute about him and the fact that he's a one-man army that gives hell to the Covenant on the regular are why he's on this list of the best video game protagonists. Halo is Master Chief and Master Chief is Halo. Here's hoping he pops up in even more games in the future so we can keep going ham with his MA5B Assault Rifle and save the Galaxy one again.

8. Cloud Strife

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Square Enix

'Final Fantasy VII'

  • First Appearance: Final Fantasy VII (1997)

Anyone efficient enough to have that big-ass Buster Sword on his back and whip it out without so much as a struggle belongs on this list of the best video game protagonists. Cloud Strife (awesome name, by the way!) turned a ton of non-RPG gamers into huge fans of the genre when Final Fantasy VII hit the scene and captured millions of gamers' attention. Cloud's evolution from a man who only cared about his paper to a hero who made it his mission to stop Sephiroth & save the planet his former ally tried to destroy is so commendable. The way he continually curves Jessie is another reason why we chose to add Cloud to this list, funny enough.

7. Nathan Drake

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Sony Interactive Entertainment

'Uncharted' series

  • First Appearance: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (2007)

Arguably the world's luckiest treasure hunter, Nathan Drake has traversed the globe and been involved in some monumental adventures. The five Uncharted games he's starred in have seen him come up against a seemingly unlimited army of gun-toting goons and paranormal foes that have wanted him dead in one way or another. Somehow someway, Drake has dodged death like it's nothing and pulled off the sort of crazy feats that define Indiana Jones' cinematic career. Drake's quick wit, stiff strikes, and death-defying leaps give fans plenty of reasons to prop him up as one of the best video game protagonists.

6. Lara Croft

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Square Enix Europe

'Tomb Raider' series

  • First Appearance: Tomb Raider (1996)

Everyone knows Nathan Drake's globe-trotting, treasure-hunting travels were inspired by this 90s gaming icon. Lara Croft emerged as a 3D sex symbol that was placed all over men's magazines even while she was busy raiding tombs all the while. Croft's evolution has been amazing to follow - her first run saw her a super confident femme fatale who used her double pistols to take down all sorts of baddies, while her second run followed her early days as a young up-and-coming tomb raider who was forced to brave truly harrowing situations. Simply put, Miss Croft is gaming royalty.

5. Arthur Morgan

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Rockstar Games

'Red Dead Redemtpion 2'

  • First Appearance: Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)

By the end of Red Dead Redemption 2, you couldn't help but be deeply affected by what transpired onscreen and even shed a single tear. Following Arthur Morgan's tumultuous run alongside Dutch van der Linde and the rest of his cohorts led to players watching him evolve throughout an entire game. The complexities behind his character are what make him such an intriguing character - as he watches his world come apart at the seams, Morgan's tough exterior changes to that of a disenfranchised man who wants better for the ones he loves most. Morgan is no doubt our favorite cowboy in all of gaming.

4. Geralt of Rivia

CD Projekt

'The Witcher' series

  • First Appearance: The Witcher (1986)

A lot of gamers got their first taste of what Geralt of Rivia is all about once The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt arrived in 2015. And judging by most first-timers' reactions, they loved the silver-haired and shockingly soft-spoken monster hunter. If you happened to delve into his last two mainline Witcher game appearances, read about him in the books, and followed the Netflix series, then you've most likely come to love him even more. Geralt's unwavering professionalism, impressive badassery, when it comes time to enter the battlefield, and a strong sense of loyalty to his allies, are what make him such an endearing character. Those excellent sword-fighting skills of his are also worth applauding.

3. Commander Shepard

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Electronic Arts

'Mass Effect' series

  • First Appearance: Mass Effect (2007)

It doesn't matter if you go with the male or female rendition of this galactic figurehead. As a whole, Commander Shepard is a supreme leader who can even get us to stand beside him/her to defend the entire galaxy from certain doom. Playing as this guy/gal across all three Mass Effect games is such an unforgettable experience - players shaped Shepard's personality and the way he/she leads their squadron on their way to all sorts of dramatic outcomes. By the time players reached Mass Effect 3, they couldn't help but want to see Shepard emerge on the better end of a horrible predicament and save every race imaginable. Big salute to this self-assured and highly competent space hero/heroine.

2. Kratos

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Sony Interactive Entertainment

'God of War' series

  • First Appearance: God of War (2005)

The God of War series is defined by two story arcs - one that follows a supremely pissed-off God killer who wreaks havoc in Ancient Greece and a second one that details his maturation as a father/protector while having to deal with petty Norse gods. Both arcs are the stuff of legend in gaming thanks to the vicious exploits put on display by the almighty Kratos. Kratos' intensity resulted in some of the most brutal kills in all of gaming during his crusade against Zeus and his cohorts - pulling off those kills through epic quick-time events was/are incredible! And getting to see him raise his son to be strong while fending off a whole new threat in an entirely new realm was/is equally impressive. Kratos is the man, hands down!

1. Big Boss/Solid Snake/Venom Snake

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'Metal Gear' series

  • First Appearance: Metal Gear (1987)

"Kept you waiting, huh?" That line most likely explains the way most of you readers felt when it came to finally seeing this legend make the list. Snake's many incarnations as gaming's most revered special operations soldier have been contained within the all-time classic Metal Gear series. He's saved the world from the biggest political and terroristic threats through his many heroic efforts - he's gotten engaged in nail-biting sniper rifle encounters, gone toe-to-toe with a Metal Gear with a rocket launcher in-hand, and even threw hands with a lifelong enemy while standing atop one! Snake is pretty much the best part of James Bond and Snake Plissken, which is part of the reason why we placed him at the top of our list of the best video game protagonists.

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