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The Best Playable Child Characters in Video Games

Not all of our favourite video game characters are old and gruff.

Some of them are very young. Still kids, in fact. But children can often be fantastic characters, with lots to teach us. In this article, we celebrate some of the best child characters in video games.

Some young characters we only get a glimpse of, such as the young Lara Croft we’re lucky enough to meet in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Others, we get to spend a full game with, such as Clementine from Telltale’s The Walking Dead. But no matter how long we play as these child characters in video games, one thing is for certain: they’ve all made an impact on us.

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This article was first published in March 2019 and has been updated since.

1. Young Lara Croft in Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Shadow of the Tomb Raider dives deep into Lara Croft’s history and how that inspired her pursuit of discovery. But, instead of showing the player what her childhood was like, it allows them to experience it in a way that is classic Croft.

The Croft Mansion becomes accessible once more for Tomb Raider fans, and this time child Lara can actually scale the walls. It’s an incredible display of just how grand the mansion is, and reveals that Croft was fearless even from an early age. Shadow of the Tomb Raider also includes a classic puzzle for child Lara to solve, making it a memorable moment within not just the reboot trilogy, but the Tomb Raider franchise as a whole. It’s great to see that even a child Lara Croft had an eye for solving tricky puzzles.

2. Diddy Kong in Donkey Kong Country

Back in 1994 Donkey Kong Country didn’t just introduce new features to the platformer genre, but it also introduced Diddy Kong to the gaming industry. In the Donkey Kong 64 manual, he is described as Donkey Kong’s “nephew wannabe”. Despite his many appearances in the Donkey Kong series, Diddy’s debut stands out.

Many fans cite the multiplayer aspect as one of the game’s main appeals, and Diddy Kong is the perfect sidekick to Donkey Kong. From the very beginning of the game a bond is built between Diddy and the player as poor Diddy is forced to guard the stash of bananas while Donkey Kong snoozes through his duty. Diddy is loyal, willing to learn, and ready to help Donkey Kong no matter what. That’s what makes him one of the best child characters in video games in our opinion. Even if technically he’s not a child, thanks to his primate status.

3. Young Nathan Drake in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

What’s more awesome than chasing a pirate’s long lost treasure? Becoming a young Nathan Drake in order to find that treasure, of course! Young Nate is just as curious as his older self, and is an incredibly likeable character. It also reveals the roots of Drake’s personality, mixed with a boyhood innocence.

Nate’s brother, Sam, is also depicted as an awesome older brother. He’s the cool older bro who’s willing to help out Nate when needed, and even sacrifice himself to ensure Nate is okay. Seeing this childhood brothership develop makes the twist later in the plot that much more shocking, all because the childhood moments allowed the player to build a closer bond with Nate.

4. Clementine in Telltale’s The Walking Dead

Clementine was not playable within the first series of The Walking Dead, but she was such a huge hit with fans that she has to be made a playable character in the later seasons. Eight year old Clementine forms a strong bond with the protagonist, Lee Everett, and sees him as a father-figure. But interestingly, she also becomes a moral compass for the troubled lead.

Clementine later becomes the parental figure to some: a character who provides support for those in need. For young Clementine, this is an incredibly noteworthy progression, and makes her that much more endearing to the player. Few games create a bond between the player and character like The Walking Dead.

5. Max and Chloe in Life is Strange – the Farewell Episode

Life is Strange Season 1 is based around the teen drama of Max and Chloe, and the protagonist’s time-turning abilities. Max’s late teen years become a time for self-learning and reflection, which is something many can relate to. But the Farewell episode presented a Max that every player could relate to: young, innocent, and full of dreams.

The Farewell episode delves back into Max and Chloe’s past, to a time where they played pirates and hunted for hidden treasure. As this is a theme referred to a lot in the other episodes, it made that moment much more poignant. Being able to hear younger Max’s musings, and see the pure bond between Max and Chloe, was the true highlight of the episode. Farewell was the perfect send off for the first Life is Strange season.

6. The trainer from Pokémon

When the original Pokémon Red and Blue was released, a legacy was created. Pokémon games became a staple for Nintendo, and a must play for both Pokémaniacs and non fans. But a legacy was also ready to be built by the player: the adventure of a lifetime, to be the best, like no one ever was.

When thinking about it, it’s pretty worrying that both the protagonist’s mum and the rival’s mum (what was his name again?) were okay with their children leaving the house and walking around the big region by themselves. But, would the Pokémon games work without this dynamic? No. Part of the appeal to each Pokemon game is building a legacy, taking a child with nothing but their dreams, and being able to make something of themselves – by raising other weaker beings into champions. It’s a rags to riches story, and proves to all children that anything is possible.

7. Sora in Kingdom Hearts

In the first Kingdom Hearts, Sora is only 14 years old, which is pretty amazing considering the journey he goes through. The overriding narrative of light vs darkness is emphasised by the youth and childhood wonder of Sora.

The inclusion of the Disney worlds and characters is also made better by Sora’s age. Every player has watched a Disney film at some point and loved the iconic characters, and seeing Sora be able to interact with these heroes makes Sora’s journey that much more iconic. Sora is caring, fun, and determined, mixing together the best childlike qualities with characteristics expected from a much more mature character. Many cite the Disney additions as the true heart of Kingdom Hearts, but it’s hard to look past Sora.

8. Ellie in The Last of Us

Ellie is such a well-rounded and dynamic character. On the surface she can be a slightly bratty and sweary teenager, but underneath she’s an innocent girl with a heart of gold. The bond she forms with Joel is beautiful, and if Ellie was older it would lose a lot of impact.

Ellie’s age also plays into her naivety to how the world used to be, which can be seen when she asks Joel about what an ice cream van is. Moments like these contrast the harder shell Ellie has had to form, and reveals the pure childhood wonder that Ellie still has, despite the devastated world around her. Moments when the player gets to play as Ellie highlight these qualities, and reveal her determination to help Joel.

9. Link in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Zelda is a story of a no-one becoming a hero. It’s a tale portrayed in many different movies and TV shows, but few capture that essence of growth quite like Ocarina of Time. Even other Zelda games fall short of the adventure that Ocarina of Time creates, and that is mainly down to how child Link develops into adult Link.

No other game quite shows the development of time like Ocarina of Time. Sure, it’s a big seven year jump, but the changes make such a big difference. From the items and weapons available for use, to the world around Link, those seven years change everything. Child Link grows thanks to the effort of the player, and that’s the best type of protagonist.

10. Jimmy Hopkins in Bully

The uproar around the release of Bully was incredible, but maybe understandable though: Rockstar making a game based in a school could have been a terrible idea. But it wasn’t. Bully is a fantastic game, and Jimmy Hopkins is one of the main reasons for this. Jimmy isn’t a carefree criminal like some characters in Grand Theft Auto; he’s an understandable teen sent to a terrible school.

Reliving the school years through Jimmy is one of the highlights to the game, and emphasises how strange it is that school is a setting that so many game designers have steered away from. Jimmy’s story of trying to fit in and be popular is one that everyone can associate with, and his childhood antics (giving kids a wedgie, for example) are great throwbacks to times gone past. Jimmy may not be the king of Bullworth Academy, but he is undoubtedly one of the best child characters in video games history.

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