Top Ten Game Duos of 2013
Best of 2013: Games
If last year was the “Year of the Trilogy”, with third installments to the Max Payne, Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed, and Far Cry series, then this year for video games is the “Year of the Duos”. Seemingly every blockbuster game featured a relationship between two characters and their development against their seemingly impossible odds. While these stories took form with different genres and plots, the relationship between the duos remained the core principle of the stories. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at 2013’s best video game duos. SPOILERS AHEAD:
10. Lt. Damon Baird & Pvt. Augustus Cole- Gears of War: Judgment
“Somebody’s gonna pay. Somebody’s gonna FUCKIN’ PAY” beautifully summarizes the relationship between Baird and Cole—testosterone on top of muscles on top of testosterone, with a minutia of emotional drive neither man admits to. Their reaction to a key member of Kilo Squad’s death in Gears of War: Judgment simultaneously explains their relationship and the overall feel of the game itself. On paper, it’s a friendship between two Schwarzenegger clones who bonded over the thrill of wartime action, but in actuality, it’s their recognition that the other man’s moral compass is “Human first, Soldier second” that brought this duo together.
9. Jude Mathis & Milla Maxwell- Tales of Xillia
The Tales series venture into dual protagonist storytelling not only provided an interesting half-story-told game mechanic, but a clever wrinkle in the developing relationship of Jude and Milla. By selecting whichever character you wanted to play as in the beginning, you were only given the story of Xillia through that character’s perspective, and the actions and nuances of the other main character remained somewhat of a mystery to the player. This clever juxtaposition of the player next to one of the main characters is a realistic non-third person narrative portrayal of the development of a relationship, and while character motivations are often saturated with sillier Japanese tropes, experiencing the relationship develop in this manner is a fresh and innovative idea not seen in most JRPGs. The outlandish yet decisive nature of Milla was a stark contrast for not only the taciturn, indecisive Jude but for the players themselves to decipher and overcome.
8. Chrom & The Avatar- Fire Emblem: Awakening
Most duos in 2013 video gaming followed somewhat of a pattern: Older, experienced character protecting a weaker, uncorrupted character. Chrom and The Avatar fit this pattern to a tee, with the added bonus of The Avatar essentially being the player. Chrom is a headstrong yet unwilling participant the war that will take you under his wing, provided you earn his trust. Because of this, the bond that forms between the player and Chrom needed to be genuinely earned, not just through mastering the gameplay, but through the choices made and interactions with Chrom driven by the player. Towards the end of the game, Chrom makes a big decision that makes the interaction between this duo seem more than worth the time, and the idea of gameplay motivating storytelling earns this duo its spot.
7. Link & Tetra- Windwaker HD
While Windwaker HD is technically a remake, this pair graces this list for multiple reasons. For starters, the cartoon-ish iterations of the characters have never looked better, and that’s coming from an already graphically renowned game. Secondly, the two set a precedent never before seen in the Zelda franchise: an actually useful Zelda. Not only does Tetra technically set Link on his journey with her ship, but she comes back to help Link in multiple sticky situations, and when it’s finally revealed that she is indeed a decent of the Zelda lineage, she thwarts Ganondorf’s plan to resurface Hyrule by, get this, FIGHTING HIM WITH YOU. Donning the light arrows, Tetra/Zelda helps Link plant the final strike right in Ganondorf’s stupid head, but what really solidifies Link and Tetra’s placement is her constant belittling Link, and how she believes he’d be a terrible hero without her help. Link’s obliviousness to Tetra’s attitude and her witty retorts to the cheesiness of Link’s nature constantly amuses, and provides for one of the most memorable iterations of Link and “Zelda”.
6. Jodie & Aiden- Beyond: Two Souls
The second Guardian-Innocent duo on this list, Jodie and Aiden’s relationship starts off as a bit of a mystery at first, with players scratching their heads at what Aiden truly is, and why he’s attached to Jodie. And while the reveal of what their relationship truly is is compelling, it’s the perceptional pivot that takes place in the player that solidifies Jodie and Aiden as one of the best duos of all time. Initially, Jodie is very cold to Aiden, and more than regretful of his attachment to her. While she does warm up to him over time, to the point where she literally breaks down crying when she believes he’s gone, it’s tainted with a feeling of Stockholm Syndrome. That’s what makes their true relationship reveal stand out- it radically changes our perception of why Jodie came to love Aiden. It had nothing to do with prisoner undertones—it was all about family, and the stillborn twin Jodie always had looking out for her.
5. Mario & Luigi- Mario & Luigi Dream Team
Mario & Luigi, while a classic worldwide-known pairing, have characterization that would intimidate……a tennis shoe, maybe? It doesn’t really go beyond Mario=Hero and Luigi=Overlooked Cowardly Brother. That’s what makes this version of Mario & Luigi so great. The game goes out of its way to humanize the plumbers, showcasing Luigi as a loving brother who looks up to Mario, but secretly wishes the spotlight shined more brightly on his side, while Mario is the brother who, for the first time, realizes the relationship between him and Luigi isn’t as smooth as he’s thinks. Luigi acts on these feelings when it’s revealed that he’s the only brother who has the power of…well, Inception, basically, as only his dreams can be entered, and only he can manipulate the dream’s surroundings. In his Dream World, he’s the star, and he doesn’t hide the fact that this makes him much happier being there than in real life. It’s the first time the inner conflict between Mario and Luigi of them is addressed, and the first time we see the duo as more than just plumbers who eat shrooms and shoot fireballs.
4. Michael & Franklin- Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V featured 3 main characters that you could swap out at will, but it was really a two-man show with Trevor looking it. The mentor-mentee relationship between Michael and Franklin resonated from their first conversation to the final decision. The pained expression on Franklin’s face, should you choose to do the dirty deed and off Michael instead of Trevor or Steve, says it all. The pair of men’s Breaking Bad-Walter & Jessie-esque relationship had its ups and downs, but ultimately, despite the debauchery and backstabbing, these were two men who truly cared for each other as they faced an inevitability neither of them wanted to face. Michael’s seeming lack of resistance to Franklin’s attempts to kill him, once Franklin honorably let’s Michael know he’s about to kill him, shows how close the bond between the two of them really were. Michael was ready to let Franklin become the new crimelord, even at the cost of his own life.
3. Booker & Elizabeth- Bioshock: Infinite
The first of the myriad of Guardian-Innocent relationships in 2013 video games, Booker and Elizabeth wormed our way into our hearts by setting the standard for other pairs of the archetype to follow. Booker, the wizened, reluctant guardian to Elizabeth’s quirky, innocent charm wormed into our hearts even as bullets and shrapnel flew. The decision to allow the player to only play guardian Booker in this pair really drove home the point of the narrative. “Save the girl, wipe away the debt” became more than just a solution for Booker’s past mistakes, it became his (and the player’s) struggle to allow the cheerful Elizabeth a chance at a much better life. Even as the mindblowing twist was revealed, the narrative remained strong, as the twist, which putting much needed perspective to a convoluted story, didn’t hinder Booker’s (and again, the player’s) resolve to grant Elizabeth that life. That resolve makes the ending shot to Bioshock: Infinite all the more devastating, and the scene at the end of the credits all the more uplifting.
2. Younger Brother & Older Brother- Brothers
You know a duo’s incredible when they can find a way into our hearts without even having names. While some speculate that the two brothers in Brothers are Naiee and Nyaa, it’s never truly confirmed, and quite frankly, it doesn’t have to be. The Younger Brother and Older Brother have characterization enough, with Older having more courage that Younger aspires to have. The love the brothers have for each other is also readily apparent in their body language, as they rejoice when solving puzzles, and panic when the other is in trouble. In fact, they’re so close that it could be argued there two parts of a whole being, an idea exemplified by the game’s controls themselves (the left half of the controller is one brother, while the right half of the controller controls the other). The connection these two share is what makes this game so special, and the end twist so utterly shocking. As Older Brother dies in his Younger Brother’s arms, not only are you cut off to half of your controller, but Younger is cut off to half of who is he—even as he finally gains the courage he’s so desperately desired to continue on. The gameplay innovation, combined with the startlingly emotionally provocative interplay between the two brothers would’ve easily landed them the top spot in the best Duos of 2013, had it not been for……
1. Joel & Ellie- The Last of Us
Leading up to their final destination, Joel and Ellie aren’t confronted with what they’ve become accustomed to in the harsh zombie-laden wasteland. They aren’t greeted with the resistance, violence, and gore that has unfortunately tainted Ellie despite Joel’s greatest efforts. Instead, they’re greeted by giraffes. You read that right: giraffes. For a brief moment, Ellie, who’s suffering from severe post-traumatic stress after her brutal murder of David (a man who sexually and physically tortured her), finally reshows her charming innocence as she gazes with child-like wonder at the giraffes. And Joel, whose goal has been to transport what he originally viewed as “eccentric cargo to an eccentric destination”, finally breathes a sigh of relief as Ellie shows she hasn’t been completely corrupted. It’s a powerful scene that really shows what makes Joel and Ellie’s relationship so special: it’s real. It’s funny that it takes such a surreal scene to showcase that, but the relationship, however strained by past trauma of fantastic proportions, remains as real as a video game relationship can get. Joel’s reluctance-turned-compassion for Ellie was genuinely earned and even more genuinely displayed throughout The Last of Us, no matter what material was thrown at the two characters. In the end, Joel’s decision to save his now pseudo-daughter (highlighted by a nice bookend of him carrying Ellie to save her just like how he carried his real daughter in the game’s beginning) over ALL OF HUMANITY made so much sense, even in the face of logic, because the love and compassion these two shared for each other was more than palpable for audiences to recognize. This realistic portrayal in an unrealistic setting is hardly ever found at such an emotionally satisfying level in a video game, and it’s the reason why Joel and Ellie are the best duo of 2013.