Video game characters we sadly lost in 2018

Video games come and go, but sometimes the characters from those games stick with us long after we've finished playing; and the most memorable of personalities don't always take center stage. Whether protagonist or NPC, a well-written or well-performed video game character can sometimes take us by surprise and sustain the kind of lasting impact any good story deserves.

As we reflect on a year of solid releases and compelling stories, we're taking a solemn look at some of the video game characters we sadly lost in 2018. From ancient warlords to Western outlaws, these are characters whose tragic circumstances outweighed or accentuated their heroic efforts. Even gods and villains grace this list, if by nothing other than the sheer humanity of their fateful situations. And, ultimately, the stories of these characters have inspired or excited us enough to care. So we bid these surrogate friends and family members a fond farewell with a brief examination of their virtual lives and times. Goodbye, ladies and gentlemen. We barely knew ye.

Sun Ce (Dynasty Warriors 9)

Like the eight previous titles in this beloved Koei Tecmo series, Dynasty Warriors 9 from developer Omega Force draws inspiration from real-world historical events, and tells the 14th-century Chinese story Romance of the Three Kingdoms throughout the course of thirteen chapters of hack-and-slash action. Dynasty Warriors 9 features 83 returning characters along with over a dozen new warriors, many of which meet their tragic and historical fates on the way to the game's finale. One fan favorite who dies in Dynasty Warriors 9 is Sun Ce, the "Little Conqueror," eldest son of Sun Jian. Sun Ce's official character description labels him a "brave and energetic leader" who "viewed all people equally regardless of rank or position. Due to this free-spirited nature, many capable men gathered around him and along with his childhood friend, Zhou Yu, he laid the foundation for the Wu kingdom."

Sun Ce will perish as players progress through Chapter 4 of the Wu storyline, during "The Little Conquerer in Peril," in which Sun Ce (as NPC) finds himself under attack by the warlords remaining in Jiangdong. After your eventual victory over Gan Ji and his kinsmen, the warlord claims he "will not die alone" and swears to take your brother with him to hell. Exhausted from the fight, Sun Ce dies in your arms and offers a few final words of inspiration (followed by one epic fist bump): "You must follow your heart and then you shall attain success."

Forseti (Valkyria Chronicles 4)

Who knew a tactical RPG could have so much heart? Valkyria Chronicles 4 — the latest in Sega's acclaimed series of strategy games set during the World War II of an alternate Earth — tells the story of Commander Claude Wallace and his childhood friends, who join the Federation Army to stand against the tyranny of the East Europan Imperial Alliance. Sega's official description of the game minces no words: "This is a tale of a bittersweet adolescence: the failures and triumphs of young hearts struggling to find themselves amidst the chaos of the battlefield." Early on, during Claude & Co.'s training, their friend Kai Shulen disappears under a shroud of mystery. Meanwhile, Forseti — chief strategic officer of Lord Heinrich Belgar's elite Imperial science unit — proves to be an interesting thorn in our heroes' sides throughout early operations. Only later in the game do we come to understand the reality of it all.

During one fateful raid on an Imperial supply base, Forseti's sister Kai shoots him to protect Federation ally (and latent Valkyrur) Angelica Farnaby. As the bullet works its way through the young officer's innards, the dying Forseti confesses and lays bare the stakes, challenging both his sister's sensibilities as well as our own: "You sold out your own allies, and watched as they sank … But now? You're pointing a gun at your own flesh and blood … Neither side is innocent, least of all yours."

Aranella (Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom)

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom from Level-5 and Bandai Namco allows players to explore a gorgeous animated world full of third-person RPG adventure. It tells the "charming and tragic" story of Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, the boy prince who will learn how to build a kingdom, unite his world, and save its people from a terrible evil. As Evan travels from the kingdom of Ding Dong Dell on his quest with loyal companion Roland Crane, he'll encounter a handful of worthy friends and a horde of fantastical enemies. These allies prove themselves invaluable to Evan's journey, but none are closer to home than his courageous governess and surrogate mother Aranella — a brave and proud young woman who tragically wouldn't survive long enough to see the boy she'd raised become king.

During Evan and Roland's escape from Ding Dong Dell, "Nella" bravely shields Evan from a fiery blast of magic but suffers lethal wounds in the process. As she breathes her last, Aranella offers some final words of encouragement to the boy prince: "Evan … you'll be a wonderful king … I had hoped … I would live to see it." This selfless act of motherly love would become a cornerstone for Evan's development as a benevolent ruler, and adds a bittersweet touch of honesty to Revenant Kingdom's incredible sense of adventure.

Mayor Virgil Minkler (Far Cry 5)

Cult leader Joseph Seed and his insane siblings have made life hard for the residents of Hope County, Montana. Far Cry 5 from Ubisoft invites players to help the besieged people of Hope County take their homeland back from Seed's band of lunatics; and, as one might expect, this fifth installment of the Far Cry franchise is loaded to the brim with the series' trademark blend of hyper-violence and open-world action. Unfortunately, this means nobody is really safe in Hope County. And Mayor Virgil Minkler, the good-natured leader of the Hope County Cougars, gets a pretty short end of the stick.

We first meet Virgil during the "Hope County Jail" mission, where a group of civilians and Resistance fighters warily hide out from the Eden's Gate doomsday cult. "We're a team that helps each other," he says as he implores you for assistance with his crusade against Joseph's sister Faith. But once you raise the resistance level in the Henbane River region, Faith shows up to murder Virgil with the unwitting assistance of our pal Marshal Burke via the psychotropic drug Bliss. "If violence is the only language you choose to speak, then I'll speak your language," she tells you. And like that, our good buddy Virgil is snuffed out in the blink of an eye. Following Virgil's untimely demise, players can pay tribute to his final resting place in the prison yard under a Cougar banner. Gone, but not forgotten.

Baldur (God of War)

Kratos isn't exactly known for his kindness, but his god-slaying escapades sometimes manage to expose a softer side of humanity. Take 2018's God of War from Santa Monica Studio, for instance: in which old Kratos tries to turn over a new leaf by hanging up the Blades of Chaos and raising his son Atreus in the Norse wilderness with a proper set of values and a pragmatic understanding of the world. "Keep your expectations low boy, and you'll never be disappointed," he famously growls. But destiny had something different in mind.

Kratos and Atreus are confronted by The Stranger — a scrap-happy godlike being who can't feel pain and won't relent until he's found the knowledge he's come looking for. It turns out that the Stranger is, in fact, Baldur — the Norse God of Light — who has answered his father Odin's call to hunt down the Jötunn Guardian in a quest to cure his "curse" of invulnerability. But the Guardian happens to be Kratos' deceased second wife, and Baldur's invincibility happens to come from his mother Freya's divine protection.

To protect Freya from Baldur's wrath, Kratos eventually kills the God of Light in a gripping scene that reveals a character of complicated moralities. We find out Baldur isn't really the villain we thought he was — he's a tragic character with the type of critical flaws becoming of a mythological figurehead, guided by simple human feelings of revenge, redemption, and misguided hope.

Aunt May Parker (Marvel's Spider-Man)

We're always taken by surprise when a game manages to effectively pull at our heartstrings. Marvel's Spider-Man seems to effortlessly navigate a storyline that veers between the hilarious and the hallowed, resulting in one fun yet touching ride. And while any Spidey fan is well-aware of the late Ben Parker's adage of "great power" and "great responsibility" (and all the emotional baggage that comes along with being a vengeful superhero), it isn't Uncle Ben's death that tests us this time around.

In a major departure from Marvel's comic book continuity, Aunt May Parker (Peter Parker's surrogate mother and guiding light) falls sick after exposure to Doctor Octopus' weaponization of the Devil's Breath serum. During the game's heartbreaking finale, Peter must choose between saving a terminally ill Aunt May or using the limited sample of serum to create an antiserum that can save the infected people of Manhattan. Masked, a performative Peter struggles with his bedside manner before May reveals the truth: she's known he was Spider-Man for some time, and is proud of the man he's become. "And Ben would be too," she says, before assuring our hero during what has to be the most difficult decision of his life. It's an unbelievable moment, full of gravitas, expertly brought to life by actors Yuri Lowenthal & Nancy Linari and the team at Insomniac. As Peter hesitates with a heavy heart, May passes away, and we're all given a brand-new reason to bounce back into action and save the city.

Queen Unuratu (Shadow of the Tomb Raider)

Lara Croft is no stranger to loss. 2018's Shadow of the Tomb Raider from series developers Eidos Montréal and Crystal Dynamics picks up where Rise of the Tomb Raider left off, and tells the story of Lara's "defining moment" as she becomes the Tomb Raider of legend. A Mayan apocalypse lurks, and Lara must race to save the world while surviving jungles, tombs, and the dark side of humanity itself. As she ventures through the South American wilderness, Lara befriends Queen Unuratu, rightful ruler of the hidden city of Paititi.

We learn more about this noble matriarch after finding the "Queen Unuratu" photo in the "Lara's Notebook" Artifact Collection from The Hidden City. It describes her exile and the rise of the Cult of Kukulkan: "[Queen Unuratu's] husband, Sayri, died hunting food on the outskirts of Paititi. Amaru, or Dr. Dominguez, Sayri's brother, felt responsible and took control of the city, using resources from Trinity to feed the Paititians until the famine passed. Even though Amaru saved the city, the Cult, in his absence, now rules with arrogance and fear."

Unfortunately, our friend Unuratu meets a grisly fate during the "Prison Break" chapter of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, when she is mortally wounded by Commander Rourke. But not before she courageously fulfills her destiny. With her final breath, Umuratu hands Lara an heirloom amulet to escort safely to Etzli, her son and the new rightful heir of the hidden city.

Esteban Diaz (Life is Strange 2)

Life is Strange 2 from Dontnod Entertainment tells the harrowing story of Sean and Daniel Diaz (ages 16 and 9, respectively), who become runaways after a tragic incident in their hometown of Seattle, Washington. During the first chapter of this five-episode story, these brothers flee to Mexico in fear of the police, all the while concealing a "sudden and mysterious supernatural power." The tragic incident in question is the death of their father Esteban Diaz, and serves as the inciting incident of the entire calamitous tale. It's worth noting that Life is Strange 2 exists as a work of magical realism, so despite its supernatural aspects (and in contrast to them), the game is squarely grounded in a reality we as an audience can understand with effortless familiarity.

The moment of tragedy itself is both the stuff of happenstance and a critique of modern violence in America. As the story goes: Daniel accidentally spills some fake Halloween blood on Brett, the neighborhood bully; as Sean steps in to save his brother, he falls prey to the bully's petty insults and escalates the situation into a fist fight. Sean shoves Brett to the ground, inadvertently knocking his head on a rock moments before a local police officer arrives on the scene. The combination of fake blood and Brett's winded prostration puts the officer in a state of fearful alertness; and, just as a confused and alarmed Esteban arrives on the scene, he's gunned down in a moment of utterly bad judgement.

Arthur Morgan (Red Dead Redemption 2)

Red Dead Redemption 2 from Rockstar Games paints a grim picture of America in 1899 during the final days of the Wild West. After a robbery-gone-wrong, protagonist Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang flee the town of Blackwater with bloodthirsty Pinkerton agents and bounty hunters on their heels. As change and division wreak havoc on the gang's alliance, Arthur will have to make hard choices about where his loyalties lie and what kind of a man he is.

Talking to The Hollywood Reporter, Rockstar San Diego art director Josh Bass described the momentum behind Red Dead 2's choice of antihero: "Dutch's presence loomed over the original Red Dead Redemption … We all wanted to know more about him and the gang — what was it like riding in that gang? What led them to the events of the original game? What happened to them along the way?"

Following in the booted footsteps of the original game's final act, Red Dead Redemption 2 has a forlorn fate in store for Dutch's protégé Arthur Morgan, based on one of two potential outcomes. Whether you help John Martson hold off Pinkerton agents for his safe escape, or go for the money yourself, either endgame will result in the passing of Arthur Morgan. But it will take the selfless assistance of your old pal Marston to earn you the game's "good ending," in which Arthur climbs to a rocky precipice to die peacefully at sunrise.

Nikolaos "the Wolf" (Assassin's Creed: Odyssey)

It goes without saying that a lot of characters meet their fatal ends throughout the course of any given Assassin's Creed title. Assassin's Creed: Odyssey from series developer Ubisoft is no exception, and lets players explore "a golden age of gods, heroes, beauty, and war." Odyssey tells the story of the eldest child of a Spartan general — either Kassandra or her half-brother Alexios, based on player's choice — who survives a death sentence before setting off on an epic quest to solve the mysteries of their lineage. As the player journeys from pariah to living legend, their decisions will alter the very destiny of Ancient Greece.

As one might expect, there are no shortage of killings in Odyssey. One assassination, however, takes us on quite the emotional ride. During the "Wolf of Sparta" mission, the player is tasked by Elpenor with confronting the Spartan general Nikolaos "the Wolf" and taking his head. But here's the rub: Nikolaos is the protagonist's biological father.

In the scene's pivotal moment, you must chose to take your revenge against Nikolaos and kill him, or spare your father and interrogate him for answers. Should you choose the latter and spare him, Nikolaos takes off to do some soul searching; if you select the former and put the old Wolf down, Nikolaos will be dead for the remaining campaign (and won't reappear in subsequent missions). And, needless to say, patricide is never an easy (or gratifying) situation.

Idrissa (Battlefield V)

Battlefield 5 from developer DICE explores "mankind's greatest conflict" via a series of single-player chapters called War Stories, all of which focus on the humanity of World War II instead of traditional tactics and bombastic bravado. DICE cinematic director Pelle Hallert discusses why players will come for the gameplay of Battlefield 5, but stay for the characters: "We're not afraid of digging into the heavy topics. To me, that's our strength, that we dare to grasp this, to show and portray the war from sides you haven't seen before."

DICE made good on those promises, and critical reception of Battlefield 5's War Stories campaign was generally positive. Kotaku, for instance, maintains that "DICE's narrative team clearly cared about treating each story with respect." The story that sticks with us the most is "Tirailleur," in which a brotherhood of outmatched and outgunned French colonial soldiers face superior foes on a forgotten war front. During your foolhardy mission to capture Chateau-Vieux, veteran soldier Idrissa falls prey to a lethal volley of fire from an enemy tank. The young protagonist Deme, who takes up Idrissa's rifle once his fate is sealed, spells it all out for us via a retrospective first-person narrative: "We were determined … so we paid the price needed — blood, sacrifice, and death." The player then takes over as Deme, only to learn that the stakes of World War II go beyond surviving the battle at hand.