It is usually clear from the start who the protagonist of a game is. If they are on the front of the box or on any artwork on the store page, it’s a safe bet who the player will be for the entire game.
However, some games open in a way that undermines this. The player loads the game and finds himself as someone else entirely. These decoy protagonists tend to stay around long enough to provide an alternate perspective on events before being shuffled away and replaced by the real protagonist for the rest of the game.
7/7 Final Fantasy XII
Final Fantasy XII begins with the Archadian Empire’s invasion of Dalmasca, and Prince Rasler is killed as the Empire attempts to place a new king on the throne. This immediately puts the player in the role of Reks, a young knight who goes to the throne room to stop the villains from carrying out their plan. However, he is quickly killed in his attempt, and the game jumps to two years later, giving the player control of his younger brother, Vaan.
Although Vaan is the player character for much of the game, he too can be classified as a decoy protagonist. He usually accompanies Princess Ashe, the wife of the murdered prince, and Basch, whose brother helped organize the coup. The other two characters are much more central to the game’s central conflict.
6/7 The last of us
Anyone paying attention to the marketing of The last of us prior to release, you might have been surprised to see that the game doesn’t begin with the player controlling either Joel or Ellie. Instead, Joel’s daughter Sarah takes the lead as she searches her home in the dark for her missing father when the cordyceps outbreak first hits.
It might be clear that Sarah’s presence won’t last long, and indeed the chaos of the outbreak ultimately results in her being pushed into a car by her father and uncle, involved in an accident, and ultimately shot by a soldier. This incident is integral to who Joel becomes for the rest of the game. Seeing this event from Sarah’s perspective allows players to connect with the characters and better empathize with Joel’s loss.
5/7 Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse
fatal frameThe fourth game of has several protagonists, but one of them is a decoy that hardly plays a role in the events of the game. In the game’s opening chapter, the player takes control of Madoka Tsukimori, a young girl who has returned to the island with her friend Misaki in search of answers to events in her childhood.
However, when Madoka encounters a mysterious camera, she is quickly attacked by violent spirits. While she manages to defeat the first one to appear with the camera, she is soon overpowered by a small group of them and succumbs to their malice. She shows up a chapter later as a boss fight for the real protagonist, Ruka Minasaki, and is barely mentioned for the rest of the game.
4/7 Star Fox Adventures
The cover artwork for Star Fox Adventures proposes a game with two protagonists. The first of these is Fox McCloud, the heroic leader of the star fox franchise, while the second is a new character, Krystal. In fact, players start the game as Krystal as she uncovers mysteries in an ancient ruin while wielding a staff and some cool powers. However, she is quickly captured and sealed in a crystal, drawing attention to Fox.
Unfortunately, this is the last time the player can play Krystal. Fox takes over for the rest of the game, instead of the toggle going back and forth it seems like the game is building up. It was a largely unpopular decision due to the good impression Krystal made on players that would encourage her to play a bigger role in the future star fox Title.
3/7 Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a direct continuation of Rondo of Blood. The game begins with the player being in control of this game’s protagonist, Judge Belmont. This seems like more adventuring with Richter, but the game immediately throws the player into a fight against Dracula that’s usually reserved for the end of the game.
After defeating him, it becomes clear that this is just a prologue reflecting the ending of Rondo of Blood for players who missed the previous game. It’s a playable recap of the previous game’s final boss, leading to a time warp that replaces Richter with Alucard, Dracula’s son, who has his own agenda against his father. In fact, Richter’s role as the decoy protagonist is designed to pass the torch to this game’s new playable character and make new players familiar with what came before.
2/7 Assassin’s Creed III
Everyone Assassin’s Creed The game presents the player with a new protagonist, each a different face in a different time fighting the Templars. The first game had Altair, the second Ezio, and all the marketing showed the third game having a Native American protagonist named Connor. Imagine the surprise when players first started the game and found control of an Englishman named Haytham Kenway instead.
Haytham also sticks around for a while, taking the lead for three of the game’s nine chapters (or “sequences”) Assassin’s Creed usually calls them), much longer than many players expected. He later becomes a main antagonist for the rest of the game after a twist that turns the player into the true protagonist Connor.
Metal Gear Solid 2 is an interesting example of a decoy protagonist because unlike other examples here, the decoy is not a surprise character found at the beginning of the game. Instead, the surprise comes later, as the expected main character turns out to be a decoy. After the success of Solid metal gear On PS1, players were dying to play as Solid Snake again, and that’s what a lot of the marketing leading up to the sequel indicated they were getting.
Until Snake gets to the end of the tanker mission fairly early in the game and switches control to an unknown character named Raiden. Despite expectations that they would return to Snake, players found themselves playing as Raiden for the remainder of the game. This was initially an unpopular decision due to Raiden’s characterization as someone who wasn’t as cool as Snake, but it’s a decision to look back on fondly as a clever subversion and an example of Hideo Kojima’s genius. Raiden himself would also be redeemed by later becoming a cyborg ninja and leading the best Metal Gear Rising.
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