When I booted up Elden Ring or Disney Dreamlight Valley for the first time, I got a little tightness in my chest. That’s because these games start with a character creator menu, which overwhelmed and stressed me out. For many, booting up a game to a wide array of character customization options, like hair color and style, body type, and more, is a pivotal and huge aspect of play. It’s like the best parts of dress-up, except it’s way easier to play and experiment with looks. But for me, it’s just stressful, and if I’m being honest, I think I suck at it.
I am not a game developer. I am not a character designer. I do not have good taste. I do not know how to be creative in this sense. I feel fully confident dressing myself as a real person, but what looks good on me and what looks good on a fantasy character are two entirely different things. We don’t say this out loud often, but it’s actually really hard to design a cool-looking character. To me, people who are good at character creation are the true gamers.
Designing characters without any personal inspiration leaves me floating in a sea of customization. I get overwhelmed by the countless options and I overthink every detail. Well, I could move those eyes up an inscrutable distance, so maybe I should? I don’t know if it’s better to layer on tattoos, scars, and cool-colored hair, or keep it simple. Of course, tons of games will allow you to equip your character with cooler gear over time, but I’ve never quite mastered the art of designing a cool character. So, here, I’ve decided to round up some of my recently designed characters and roast them for the Polygon readership.
Final Fantasy 14
This design is giving “Zora from The Legend of Zelda except make it bland and boring.” Out of all the character creator tools, I was absolutely blown away by the one in Final Fantasy 14; I just loved all the different races you could pick from, and all of the hair and color options. Despite the wealth of options, I think it led to one of my worst creations ever. At first I thought her design was all right, but after 10-ish hours of playing, I regretted my decision to play as her. I thought she looked kind of lifeless and all I wanted to do was play as a cat girl. Sure, I could dress up with the latest glamour, but I think I would be better off with a fresh canvas of a character.
The best character creators make it hard for you to design an ugly character. This is the case with Splatoon. The character designs and outfits are solid no matter what, so I’m grateful for that. I do not think my Octoling is ugly. I did, however, spend a lot of time debating if these Neo sunglasses paired with a thrift sweater is high fashion or just bad. I’m leaning toward bad.
Tower of Fantasy
Tower of Fantasy may have been overshadowed by Genshin Impact, but that didn’t stop me from agonizing over making a character in it. Once again, we had a good level of customization including color scheme for outfits, accents on the robot legs, and all sorts of other options. The image above is where I landed. I like her more than other characters I’ve made in the past, because the anime style looks great. However, I did have a few objections to my design. Mainly I was worried that the cat-ears-and-eye-patch combination was a bit much, and that the brown color I chose for the roots of her hair is too brassy. I also worry this was overly matchy between the colors. Oh well!
Disney Dreamlight Valley
I was surprisingly OK with this one. The makeup was easy to do, and I genuinely liked the curly hair styles. (Although this does just look like a version of me that is too lazy to let my hair down, I do think it’s cute.) I think a lot of my early anxiety with character design possibly stemmed from the age-old “will they have a hairstyle that looks like mine,” and so it’s nice to see actually curly hair options here. This design loses points, though, for looking like a yassified version of myself that is also 10 years older. Also I no longer wear skinny jeans.
I truly don’t know with this one. I named her “Miss Thing” because I thought it was funny. I think it’s an appropriately disastrous name for an appropriately ugly character. Elden Ring is particularly difficult because it’s set in a dark, maidenless world and it’s not really suitable for making cute characters. I thought giving her long white hair would make her more like an anime hero, but it just looked grungy when paired with the tattered armor.