In the late 80s video games did not have much of a story to tell, until a certain Italian plumber crashed the scene and started his quest to save a princess. But that was pretty much all Mario was. A plumber who wanted to save the princess. For what its worth, that was a good place to start. Fast forward three decades we now have characters that evoke all kinds of emotions amongst players. The medium has a wealth of franchises that convey stories through compelling characters. One such franchise a little know series that goes by the name of Grand Theft Auto. GTA games have always told great stories and its characters are often remembered long after putting the controller down. Here are, what we believe, the top 10 characters in the GTA Franchise.
No. 10 – Tommy Vercetti
In some ways Tommy Vercetti is the videogame protagonist that started it all. The Hawaiian shirt wearing, former crime family member and his story of rising up after hitting rock bottom, to become a crime lord in Vice City is a constantly entertaining affair in most, if not all missions in GTA: Vice City. Much like other GTA protagonists, Tommy goes through the usual tribulations that come with a life of crime which makes for an interesting tale of betrayal and revenge. The “Scarface” inspired character served as an example of character complexity to be expected in games in the future, and to this day remains one of the most iconic characters in the series. Recent rumours point towards his return in some form in the next iteration of the series. If that is true, fans are no doubt, in for a real treat.
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No. 9 – Johnny Klebitz
First appearing in the main GTV IV game, then headlining “The Lost and Damned” DLC Johnny Klebitz is much more nuanced than you typical GTA support character. Fiercely loyal to his faction, The Lost and Damned member lead the gang of bikers in the absence on his fellow comrade and leader. Johnny was different in that he was capable of murdering anyone but was only inclined to do so if he felt it served a bigger purpose, and if the deed was absolutely necessary. Pushed to the limits in testing loyalties and being betrayed by his friends, Johnny ultimately hits a downward spiral from which, we later learn, he never recovered. Ultimately, the once tough as nails gangster gets killed by Trevor Phillips (one of the three protagonists of GTA V) over a fight which starts verbally and quickly escalates resulting in a rather gruesome and shocking death. Johnny Klebitz’z character is proof that Rockstar are king of creating compelling characters, whose journey could lead to unexpected places.
No. 8 – Lazlow
Appearing in various Radio shows right from GTA 3, Lazlow is probably one of the oldest characters and one of, if not the only, character to have appeared in all mainline GTA games so far. He has however been limited to being a personality on Radio until GTA V. That does not stop players from experiencing Lazlows journey from being a respectable radio show host following his various ups and downs in the industry to how he ends up as an insecure, unhinged, man who borders on lunacy and indulges in questionable practices to keep his career intact. Finally appearing as an NPC in GTA V, and also serving as a host to the reality show “Fame or Shame”, Lazlow just about makes it to the big time, before being chased down and humiliated by Trevor and Michael for trying to take advantage of Michael’s daughter. His radio shows have always been entertaining and his appearance in GTA V was equally hilarious. Lazlow never seizes to get a chuckle or two from the player regardless of which GTA they play.
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No. 7 – Lamar Davis
Franklin’s self-proclaimed BFF and a professional knucklehead, Lamar Davis is the epitome of an idiotic character that never thinks before his actions. Lamar’s antics have put Franklin in more than a few sticky situations and in some ways, had an active role in pushing Franklin towards a life of crime. Extremely loyal to the “hood” and ever so eager to make a quick buck, Lamar’s enthusiasm and go get it attitude may often land him in trouble, but it is super entertaining for the player. He is quick with words but definitely lacking in wits making him one of the most memorable characters in GTA V which is saying a lot considering the variety on characters the game has.
No. 6 – Officer Tenpenny
Officer Frank Tenpenny of the Los Santos Police Department (LSPD) is as corrupt and corrupt cops get in a crime riddled world. Serving as the main antagonist in GTA San Andreas and voiced by the legendary Samuel L Jackson, officer Tenpenny is the quintessential villain in a game like GTA. Establishing a special unit in the department with men under his ranks doing his dirty work, Tenpenny and his men extort gangs off their money and resources and function as a gang themselves, but under the mask of the law. He successfully defects some of grove streets oldest members and has constant run-in with the protagonist CJ. This can be seen very early in the game where CJ is apprehended for no reason, taken in the cop car, accused of murder with a murder weapon planted, stripped of his money and thrown back in the streets, prompting CJ to utter to “that” infamous quote in the alleyway, which is being memed to glory to this day.
No. 5 – Niko Bellic
GTA IV is one of the most underrated games in the series. For being the first game on the 8th generation of consoles and all the innovations it brought with it, it feels unfair to have been forgotten among the others in the series. And such is the case for its protagonist too. Arriving as an immigrant to the USA with promises of riches and luxury, Niko Bellic soon realises that life in America maybe a lot tougher than what is being portrayed. But it is Niko’s backstory and his true intentions to getting to Liberty City that makes him one of the most layered and endearing protagonists yet. What looked like a typical “rags to riches” story in the beginning soon transforms into a complex tale of revenge, deceit and friendship. Niko often displays empathy towards the characters he encounters and is not the most trigger-happy personality one can come across. The very obvious remorse he feels right after his act of revenge shows us what kind of a character he actually is.
No. 4 – Lester
Cunning, paranoid, loyal, tech wizard, mastermind, Lester is the go-to guy for any of your elaborate heist planning needs in GTA V. Choosing to remain behind the drawing board and out of the action, Lester knows the trade in ways others rarely do. He sets up the plan, organises resources and has the necessary contacts to pull off even the most daring of heists. But that is not all. Lester is also very loyal to his friends and is one of the few who is aware of Michael’s shady secret, after a banks heist goes wrong at the beginning of the game, while still remaining in the dark and not selling him out. He wears his hate for corporates and billionaires on his shoulders and never worries about any casualties that may occur during an operation. Lester may not be the most complex of characters, but he makes the list for his resourcefulness, the fact that he is with the player even in the online modes, and above mentions Niko Bellic while planning one of the heists. This gives players the closure that was needed for Niko’s story. It is a small line of dialogue but serves a big purpose and it was delivered by Lester in a very Lester way. Thank you, Lester!
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No. 3 – Big Smoke
Big Smoke is one of those characters that would stand beside you and fight to the death defending grove street. At least that’s what it seems like at the beginning of GTA San Andreas. The pain that one suffers when first realising that Big Smoke is one of the main baddies, and the one who played a major role in the death of CJs mother no less, is gut wrenching. What’s worse is on subsequent playthroughs in the game we can see instances that hint at Big Smoke being the bad guy all along. For what its worth, it was satisfying to put him down in the end, not because he betrayed his folks but, at least in my case, for his condescending line after a frustrating mission where he goes “All we had to do was follow…” you know what line it is. Well, at least he was an enjoyable character to watch. Who can forget his meal order in the drive-thru?
No. 2 – The Trio
Michael, Franklin and Trevor. Perhaps the three most well-known GTA protagonists yet. Okay, so we are bending the rules for this one, but the trio are essentially what makes GTA V the game it is. Maybe it is due to the fact that the player gets to play as any of the three of them after a certain point in the campaign. Maybe it is due to the fact that GTA V is the highest selling game in franchise, thus having the most number players spending time with these three as opposed to other protagonists. Or perhaps it is how each of these characters complete each other in their personality traits and characteristics, there has never been such a vivid perception to the events unfolding in the game like in GTA V, thanks to the three of them. Michael’s mid-life crisis is in full swing as he is under witness protection while missing his old days of crime. Franklin is an African American with a stronger moral compass, who is simply trying to make a name for himself. And Trevor makes up for all the missing “crazy” in the other two and then some. It is a riot watching these three on screen, and that ending, if you have chosen the right one, is just perfect after having spent dozens of hours in the game. Here’s hoping Rockstar does something similar with GTA 6.
No. 1 – CJ
Carl “CJ” Johnson is the face of GTA for anyone who has been following the series since GTA 3. Yes, the modern games have had arguably better characters, but CJ is an icon in his own right. Unlike other games in the series, the version of CJ you play as is completely your version of the character. The RPG elements in San Andreas introduced some deep customization, including CJs physique. To remain fit, CJ need to hit the gym and eat right. Eat too much without exercise and you have an obese CJ which affects his ability to run among other things. The very process of buffing him up was quite the workout for the players hands thanks to the mini games in the gym. All of this topped with a setting that was just right during the peak of rap-music culture and a story that has plenty of twists and turns and you have one of, if not the most iconic character in the series to date.
If you have any additions to this list of interesting characters, drop them down below, in the comments!