What qualities draw you to a protagonist? For simplicity’s sake, leave Silent Protagonists out of this.
Jenni: To be honest, I tend to find myself more interested in the secondary characters than I do in the protagonists of most video games. Perhaps that’s because I’ve played so many RPGs where the hero is the stereotypical young man with common yet mysterious origins who *shock* ends up being the only one capable of saving the entire world.
If pressed, I’d say I like protagonists who somehow grow throughout the adventure and experience. Like Squall from Final Fantasy VIII or Luke from Tales of the Abyss. Or, on a similar note, a protagonist who we start out knowing nothing about and develop a certain view of, then all of a sudden see a revelation which changes everything we think about him or her. I can’t actually think of a good example of the second situation at the moment, but I suppose Magus from Chrono Trigger could be considered one, or maybe Felius from Wild Arms XF.
Laura: While I have nothing against the improving-type of protagonist, I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing to have characters start from “subpar” and improve to “normal,” like Emil does in Dawn of the New World. (I have a grudge against Emil, so no offense to any Emil-lovers out there.) I like many different types of protagonists, actually. Recurring archetypes that always seem to be a favorite of mine are the smooth talkers, the slightly naive, and the intelligent (and maybe manipulative) types
Of course, a key part of being a protagonist, as opposed to any other secondary character, is to have the charisma needed. Usually this is exhibited as determination, cheerfulness, or optimism, and those characteristics are wonderful to have in a protagonist as well. I also like a little mortal peril and some history that ties the protagonist in to the main conflict as spices to top it off.
Louise: Lately, I’ve been getting annoyed with a wide variety of protagonists tied together by a common string: being too generic. I’m sick of the angsty, emo protagonist who has the burden of saving the world on his or her shoulders. I guess I’m the opposite of Laura when it comes to heroes because I’m not a fan of recurring archetypes at all.
For me to enjoy a game’s story, I want a protagonist to be likable, but not a total pushover. I prefer female protagonists, but I can’t stand princess lady-in-distress types, martyrs, or girl-power overly aggressive characters. Does this make me hard to please? I want a character who’s quick on her feet, smart, resourceful, and self-reliant. To be more specific, it’d bad-ass if a game had a female MacGyver character.
Ishaan: I find myself attracted to the smart-aleck types. Leon from Resident Evil 4 is a great example. Bonus points if you’re a bit of a perv like Issun or Junpei. I don’t mind the angsty archetype but there need to be other elements mixed in to make the character more interesting than, say, Cloud.
Minato from Persona 3 is a good example of this. He looked angsty but the game did a fantastic job of conveying how much Minato cared for his fellow man and that he was ready face his destiny. I’ve been on a bit of a Batman trip lately, so I’ll cite Bruce Wayne as another mix of character traits I love: obsessive, driven, unrelenting. Someone with a true sense of purpose. Then again, Batman Beyond doesn’t paint a very rosy picture of how Bruce turned out in the end…
Spencer: I think there’s room to explore more protagonist types and different motives. Stubborn idealists and angsty heroes are a dime a dozen in RPGs. One reason why I enjoyed Disgaea: Hour of Darkness was because of Laharl. His selfish goal was refreshing and fitting, after all he’s a demon.
I’d like to see more original characters, different kinds of heroes. Perhaps, a lead character like Kain that keeps switching sides and forces the player to flip-flop between good and evil. Or a game with a monster as a lead seeking to kill a “hero” that murdered its parents. The two can learn that each side sees each other as monsters and find a middle ground.