Ah, non-playable characters– where would we be without them? Heroes and heroines the world over may get far more glory and time in the sun, but behind every act of bravery and courageous feat lie the little people that need saving in the first place. From the first faces to greet us when we visit a new town to our most beloved companions, a game without NPCs would be a very boring one indeed (unless it’s Metroid). Just picture it– there would be no princess in another castle, there would be no townsfolk to give you helpful hints and tips when you needed them most, and there would be no middle-aged men in green lycra trying to sell you extortionately priced maps. (Wait, that might actually be a good thing.)
In making this list, I had only one ground rule: namely that characters like Star Fox’s Falco or Final Fantasy’s moogles, once NPCs now playable characters (in whatever shape or form), won’t be included on this list. With that in mind, here’s a little bit of love for the characters who have to walk in everyone else’s shadow– the people whose lives and household furniture are routinely destroyed by would-be heroes and villains but are too humble to take up arms themselves. (Mostly because they’re rooted to the ground). Here are my top ten NPCs of all time.
(Oh, and minor spoilers ahead.)
10: Old Man
Before Hyrule demanded a hero to slay the evil Ganon, this old hermit’s greatest achievement was simply that he lived in a cave. Then he became the man who gave Link his very first sword. His message was short and to the point, and since that immortal day 25 years ago it’s become the mantra of Zelda fans worldwide. After all, it really was dangerous to go alone!
9: Bob-omb Buddy
One of the first faces you meet in Super Mario 64, the pink Bob-omb Buddy was a friend in disguise. After years of bob-omb tyrany on NES and SNES, your immediate instinct was to either jump on his head or run away in terror, but your Bob-omb Buddy was so cheerful and friendly (and colourful) that you couldn’t help but like him instantly. He was your guide into the fantastic world of 3D gaming, and every game since the debut of Nintendo 64 owes him a debt of thanks for his early advice.
All-round philanderer and artist extraordinaire, Issun was Amaterasu’s somewhat unwelcome hitch-hiker on her journey to smite Yami’s demon uprising. Never afraid to make a lewd joke about melons, Issun was a man of huge comedy value despite his tiny stature. He acted as the main voice of Ammy on her quest, speaking to the townspeople and celestial gods on her behalf as she sniffed out trouble brewing on the horizon. You might have despaired over his seedy attempts to woo the women of Nippon, but you never quite realised what a difference he made until he refused to accompany Ammy into his home town of Ponc’tan. All of a sudden there was a sprite-shaped hole in your life and never has an NPC been missed so greatly.
This anthropomorphic pig might be unfamiliar to many of you, but if you were one of the few people who actually bought and played Beyond Good and Evil then you’ll know that this gruff mechanic is one of gaming’s top companions (and uncles). He accompanies Jade on her quest to uncover the truth behind the DomZ attacks in her hometown of Hillys, wielding his wrench and spouting all kinds of nonsense words as he goes. But being handy with a toolbox isn’t his only virtue– aside from adopting Jade as his niece, he also runs the lighthouse orphanage where DomZ victims seek refuge and protection. He has a softer, more compassionate side which many other NPCs can only hope to emulate, and to say I wasn’t upset when he got captured by the Alpha Sections would be a complete lie.
6: Peppy Hare
Resisting the urge to say You-Know-What, Peppy is one of Fox McCloud’s most trusted friends. Not only is he a competent Arwing pilot (who knows how Slippy ever passed the entrance test), but he’s also a role-model for Fox, filling in as a kind of surrogate father figure after James McCloud supposedly perished in the crossfire of Pigma’s betrayal to Andross pre-Star Fox 64. He’s a hare with a past, and it’s not a pretty one. More importantly though, Peppy gave you invaluable advice, in or out of the Great Fox mothership, and I think I only need four words to encapsulate his mighty legacy: “DO A BARREL ROLL!” (It had to be done.)
5: The Move Tutors and Move Deleters
If you’ve ever played Pokémon and lovingly trade-linked all your previous generation monsters to a new game to exploit their latest move-sets, then you’ve certainly had a little help from these guys. When I first played Ruby all those years ago and found out I could now actually delete HM moves, I almost shed tears of joy– true story. Although they’re often scattered across disparate towns and locations, it’s an undeniable fact that the Move Tutor/Deleter teams have offered an incredible service in all corners of the Pokéglobe, usually for free too! Heart Gold and Soul Silver even put them in the same house for you, making them a one-stop shop for all things move related.
I realise that Rush probably pushes the boundaries of an NPC a little (after all, you can sort of play as him when Mega Man borrows his powers), but for the sake of argument I’m including him anyway. First introduced in Mega Man 3, Rush has become Mega Man’s faithful companion ever since. He’s an all-round handy-
man dog, able to transform into almost anything Mega Man needs to take down Dr. Wily, including a spring, submarine, jet, motorbike, an even a drill. He’s an indispensible partner and friend, and Mega Man wouldn’t get very far without him.
One of the better Zelda companions of recent years, Midna’s snide, yet witty dialogue won the hearts and minds of Zelda players old and new alike. Her ability to turn into a huge, rampaging monster was also an altogether more welcome trait than the perpetual cries of “Hey, Listen!”. More to the point though, she remained a constant mystery throughout most of Link’s adventure in Twilight Princess, and she kept players guessing about her true identity and her ultimate purpose in Hyrule. Part of her charm and enduring appeal came from her heartfelt plight against Zant, but it was mostly because there’s simply never a dull moment when Midna’s in charge.
2: Cranky Kong
And so continues the theme of NPCs who constantly cross the line of polite niceties and do their utmost to undermine you as a hero. Love him or hate him, Cranky Kong has left an undeniable mark of greatness on the Donkey Kong Country games with his dry wit and berating temper. The source of all things wise (and wise-cracks), Cranky Kong always manages to make me chuckle whenever I pay him a visit.
1: Tom Nook
The big cheese himself. Never in the history of Nintendo has there been an NPC so cunning or so conniving (well, except maybe that door repair guy in The Legend of Zelda). One of your first ports of call when you arrive in your newly-generated town, Tom Nook seems like he’s doing you a favour the first time you meet him, but you quickly discover that he’s a top-class con man. Crazy Redd has got absolutely nothing on this guy. He’s so devious he could probably hold the rest of Nintendo’s heroes and villains, nay, the entire history of video games to ransom if he felt like it, and that’s why he’s number one.
And that, my friends, is the end of my top ten. Do you agree that Tom Nook should be number one? Have I missed off the most obvious choice of NPC in the history of Nintendo? If so, or you’d like to make your own list, let us know in the comments below!