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Wario has had more character rehabilitation than anyone else in Mario’s universe except Bowser himself. He has gone from being a villain to a reluctant protagonist and, eventually, the star of his own successful video games.
This is kind of amazing because Wario remains completely nasty. He is a gross, obese dude who will fight you with his flatulence. Despite this, Wario exudes enough charm to have his own army of loyal fans, possibly because his motives (winning and getting paid) mirror the goals of many players.
2. Cloud Strife
If you look “problematic character” up in a dictionary, it probably has Cloud Strife’s picture right next to the definition. After all, this character used to work for Shinra, the big bad guys in Final Fantasy VII. Later, he tries to “redeem” himself by joining a group of domestic terrorists who help get various people killed.
While the story doesn’t always make sense, the game goes out of its way to show us what screwed up Cloud’s mind and what motivates his various decisions. It helps that Cloud is willing to acknowledge his past mistakes and grow rather than pretend he has always been in the right.
3. Vincent Brooks
When is a bad character not so bad? That is the question at the center of the strange puzzle game Catherine.
After all, the basic plot of the game involves taking control of a character who seemingly can’t stop himself from cheating on his awesome girlfriend. We should really hate the character of Vincent, but by the end of the game, you’ll be sympathetic towards his very unique plight.
In Mass Effect 2, Miranda serves as the ultimate Cerberus agent. She has biological augmentations to make her both sexy and smart, but she throws in her lot with a group that are basically galactic terrorists.
They downplay the terrorism in Mass Effect 2, but the third game reminds you just how bad this group really is. And while Miranda gets multiple chances to redeem herself, the fact remains that this series gets us to fall in love with “Manipulative Terrorist Barbie” despite us blowing away Cerberus troops in the first game!
“Who is Sub-Zero?” This is something of a trick question: after all, multiple characters have held this title throughout the Mortal Kombat series.
But as the newest Mortal Kombat movie reminds us, the original Sub-Zero is a coldhearted assassin who murders Scorpion’s family for no real reason. Despite this, Sub-Zero became the unofficial mascot of the franchise while many people assumed the skull-faced Scorpion must be a villain.
6. Duke Nukem
What can we say about Duke Nukem that hasn’t been said? This guy is a collection of ’80s and '90s cliches. When he’s not kicking alien ass, he is ogling strippers and cracking one-liners.
However, Duke Nukem 3D is still crazy fun to play. And Duke may borrow his lines from movies, but he borrows from the best. The result is an action movie stereotype we can’t help but love.
7. Trevor Philips
Who is the craziest psycho in Grand Theft Auto V? If you didn’t immediately answer “Philip,” then you need to go back and play this game again.
Philip is a stone-cold psycho responsible for all manner of murder, torture, and chaos. But players still fell in love with him for a simple reason: this dude is the perfect mirror for how many players engage with GTA games!
Many fighting games are guilty of making characters out of cultural stereotypes. However, Dhalsim from Street Fighter II ended up really taking the cake.
As a weird dude with stretching limbs and skull necklaces, Dhalsim was basically a buffet of weird Indian stereotypes. Despite being more racist than Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, though, this flexible character really won people over.
Raiden is a problematic character on multiple levels. First, he was almost universally hated by players who wanted to play all of Metal Gear Solid 2 as Snake. Second, we later find out that he was a child soldier personally responsible for some major atrocities.
However, Raiden gets fleshed out with some sympathetic backstory in Metal Gear Solid 4. And the sheer fun of his spinoff Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance helped turn previous haters into fans.
10. Tom Nook
On paper, it’s pretty easy for Animal Crossing players to hate Tom Nook. After all, in a series known for giving you few real goals, this is the guy that is always giving you dumb things to do.
But Tom manages to be cute and charming in all of your interactions. Pretty soon, you find yourself reasoning that his loans aren’t that bad. And in real life, how many of us would not kill to get some major loans with no interest?
11. Gay Tony
Rockstar has been no stranger to controversy. So when they gave us the character Gay Tony in the Grand Theft Auto universe, most of us winced, wondering just how bad the stereotypes and gay panic jokes would get.
However, the Ballad of Gay Tony DLC ended up being pretty amazing. And even though the side characters often stole the show, Tony himself proved to be both hilarious and lethal. In other words, he was a perfect addition to GTA lore rather than being a bad joke of a character.
Before Disney unleashed their own Death Star on the Star Wars Expanded Universe, The Force Unleashed was a treasure trove of cool lore. In particular, it was wild to see the story of Starkiller, the guy that Vader wanted as an apprentice way before Luke was on the scene.
As Starkiller, you are personally responsible for hundreds of deaths of both good guys and bad guys. Despite all this mass murder, the game lets you play Starkiller as a Jedi who redeems himself, saves the galaxy, and even kickstarts the rebellion before his untimely death.
As the star of the Devil May Cry franchise, Dante has always been an over-the-top hero. From the very first game in the series, this character has basically embodied the macho “cool dude” vibe of the late ’90s and early 2000s, and this included numerous examples of strange misogyny. Oh, and seemingly wanting to bang some lady that looks exactly like his mom.
But over time, we discover that Dante is basically the product of some fairly insane parentage. And he’s dedicated his life to destroying evil. Given that information, putting up with some one-liners that will make your eyes roll is a very small price to pay.
In The Last Of Us Part II, Abby almost comes across as a writing experiment. Specifically, the writers were seeing if they could redeem a character that seemed beyond redemption.
After all, Abby kills a beloved character very early on. But by giving us crucial elements of her backstory and showing us examples of her empathy, the developers made us sympathize with a character that we hated much earlier in the game.
15. Lara Croft
Somewhere along the way, Lara Croft became a kind of feminist hero. This female analog to Indiana Jones was video games’ early answer to the mantra of “girls get it done.”
However, early Lara Croft was little more than a sex symbol. As much as we now laugh at her horrible polygon boobs, they once put the “tit” back in “titillation” before Lara was reimagined as a progressive hero.