How character design has evolved over numerous games.

Character design is a key part of all video games, movies, and media, but is often something overlooked by most people. In this article we’ll look at several characters from different video games, break down their character design evolutions, and see what they say about the character themselves. Pacha has already explored the progression of the Jokers from the Batman movie franchises.

Leon Character Breakdown

First off, Leon S. Kennedy from the Resident Evil series. Leon is the most popular of the Resident Evil characters by far. Most saying that his solo campaign game, Resident Evil 4 is the best in the long series. But let’s look at his design throughout the games.

In the early designs for Leon, he was a subdued young man. While being a competent officer, he’s still shown to be quite gentle with well rounded facial features. From his clothes to his face, initial Leon design screams soft. Some ways this is portrayed is his baggy loose uniform, giving him a boyish young look and zero sharp edges, which are associated with harder more stone cold characters. In later games, Leon is shown to have grown rougher around the edges, less soft and caring, and more down to business. However, this doesn’t fully pay off. 

Gone are the days of Leon’s loose, comfortable, functional clothes; in are the form-fitting shirts and ugly leather waistcoats. In both these designs, Leon has a very dull palette: greys, dark blues, and browns, with limited saturation. This gives him and almost dead look. Fully unintended, as he’s supposed to be a more light-hearted, sarcastic, stud character. The form-fitting outfits also show off his new muscles, something I’m not usually opposed to in character design. However, in most of his appearances in games, Leon has a lean figure. Highlighting the fact that they only changed his design to appear more like Solid Snake from the Metal Gear Solid series, as it was popular at the time (yes Capcom, we see you). Overall, there’s nothing wrong with taking a character and evolving them into something else. However, to do this you need to add context and develop the character further, not just slap on some muscles and stubble on a baby-faced character and call it a day. Leon, objectively, is bad character design. However, we can go much worse that this.

Castlevania

Which brings me on to the Castlevania series. Castlevania has some of my favourite character design in any games. All having completely unique looks while still being clearly related; different outfits inspired by different eras, and different body shapes for different fighting styles. However, the updated design for some of these characters is a more than a little disappointing. Let’s take Richter for example.

Early Richter designs (by the phenomenal Ayami Kojima) are fun, flowing, and give plenty of character. Just in this one you can see he’s a cocky, dramatic guy. Someone you definitely wouldn’t get into a fight with. His long flowing assets, such as his hair and coat, give him a real elegant look. But his posture and lean figure make it very evident he is not somebody to mess with. Taking this glorious design, and comparing it to his appearance in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

All you can say really is, “Yikes!”. It’s almost as if the person designing this Richter had never heard of Castlevania before, and had somebody vaguely describe what Richter kinda looks like as their only reference. This Richter does not give off the elegant noble vibes which come with the Belmont name. In fact, he looks like he might get into bar fights for the last pickle in the jar. Inherently, there’s nothing truly “wrong” with this design. However, it’s not Richter Belmont, and could not even pass as Richter’s long lost cousin. The outfit is plain and simple, obviously because they didn’t want to go to the trouble of animating his flowing coat and long hair. However, this just makes him look like a rip off Chun-Li. As development and evolution of character design goes, this is pretty horrendous to look at. Unfortunately, Simon gets the same treatment.

At least this time his body shape is correct. Even if they did completely miss the colour scheme, hair length, and any sense of character. Hopefully, the next time they add a Castlevania character to Sma5h, they’ll hire somebody who can Google a reference image.

On a better note, let’s look at a design that does character evolution well. One that’s drastic and completely changes the character, but does it well. Raiden from the Metal Gear series.

Raiden Character Breakdown:

Raiden first appeared in the Metal Gear series in the second game. He was a small, androgynous, baby-faced man, a far step from the rugged Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid. While the design is very plain, it’s also extremely good. The rubber bases on his feet help with silent movement. Only the bare necessities are added to his suit for minimal bulk. Though the colours are very washed out and tired, this is done intentionally. As he is a special ops agent, needing to not be seen and blend into the background. Not even Raiden’s facial design, which is young yet tired, shows just how he has never done any missions pre-game, but also his rotten childhood shines through. Raiden being so young gives the artists plenty of room to move and fully grow him as a character. And having foundations set down in his combat abilities and childhood, there’s plenty to build one. Raiden’s latest design, from Metal Gear Rising: Revengance, is a far step from his initial MGS2 debut. However, unlike Leon, it works.

Early Raiden

Cyborg Raiden is a lot to take in all at once, but the design is not cluttered. He is sleek and clearly built for battle rather than aesthetic. Though the armour is far from easy on the eyes. He still has his signature blade, though now upgraded to a High Frequency blade, not to mention his other upgrades too. His armour design is threatening yet functional. His joints are completely uncluttered, giving him plenty of movement to pull of his acrobatic feats, while still coming off as completely dangerous. He maintains his androgynous look throughout the transformation, this time with added heels (Werk!). His face, while half robotic, is almost completely covered in scars; showing his much more war-torn at this point. No longer is the little boy on his first real mission in MGS2. His eyes still hold the same, tired, beaten down look showing he is still just a child of war.

Cyborg Raiden

On a more technical side of character design, Raiden is very threatening and imposing. His sharp edges and triangles equate to danger. The only soft lines in this entire design are on his face, which he covers a lot of. He even has claws now, giving him an almost animalistic look. His inhuman feet push him a little further from the human silhouette.

Conclusion

In conclusion, character development is something most people skip over, or can’t really fully grasp why something is good or bad. This article gave you but a few examples of how to properly design a character. New, or developed from an older one. Now, if you ever have a problem with a character’s development but you can’t put your finger on it, the examples shown here should help you decipher what the artist meant to convey through the character. And how it does or doesn’t compliment the overall arcing development of said character.

Written by Joel Tasker