While watching Game of Thrones a couple nights ago (yes, I’m late to the party, don’t judge) I had a startling revelation: I never finished my ‘Top 5 Side Characters’ series for Mass Effect. D’oh! But stay in suspense no longer, for I have returned after playing the latest DLC—Citadel—and my Mass Effect writing muses are ready and raring to go.
As in previous installments (found here and here) I defined a side-character as a character who is “not involved in the main quest in any way what-so-ever”. For Mass Effect 3, this standard becomes essentially impossible because even the hordes of stupid scanning side quests still directly affect the main quest. As it stands, the third installment of this series is so narrow (which is fitting since the galactic war is coming to a head) that I’m going to have to say “influences the main plot the least”, but even then I can’t keep my own rules as you’ll see soon enough. Also, as this is the final installment in Shepard’s story, the cameos from past games are so numerous that many of my favorite side-characters are not from Mass Effect 3, but have made a return from the previous games. It also stands to reason that there aren’t that many interesting side characters unique to this particular game anyways.
Not like that stopped me from having way too many favorites to begin with—narrowing down the list was still difficult and I’m still not entirely happy with it, but I don’t think I’d ever be satisfied with a ranking until it became “Top 100 Characters” or something. No one wants to read that. If you think I missed someone or if you agree/disagree with me, leave me a message in the comments and let’s chat.
For our last honorable mention, I couldn’t decide between my more serious choice and my joking-but-not-really choice, so you get both. Honorable mention one goes to the salarian on the citadel who more than eagerly takes the kakliosaur fossil off your hands. Seriously, what’s cooler than imagining a battalion of krogan, salarian, or whatever other species riding into battle on the back of a majestic dinosaur?! Nothing. Nothing is cooler than that. If there’s any one who could make that fantasy a reality, it would be the salarian scientists. Shine on, you crazy diamonds.
My second honorable mention goes to the human soldier in the Citadel embassies who tries so hard to get her daughter off planet and to safety, and the clerk that has a change of heart. Relations between the species are a little strained, so when this soldier tries to get the clerk, who is an asari, to get her daughter, who is also an asari, get to her family in Thessia (the asari homeworld) the tensions show through the clerk who has the opinion of “all asari are equal, but some are more equal than others.” This isn’t really her fault: in times of war there are many costs that have to be weighed when doing much of anything. That, and the amount of paperwork is enormous!
Yet, after finding out that the soldier’s family has disowned her and the daughter would be left utterly alone after both mothers were deployed to their respective armies, the clerk goes out of her way to make sure the daughter can reach her family on Thessia. Despite what the future holds for Thessia, it’s nice to see that even during war, there can be moments for kindness and selflessness.
There are many things I like about the quarian arc in ME3, but stepping foot on their home planet, lost so long ago to the geth, to save Admiral Koris is possibly my favorite mission out of the lot. However, this isn’t about the admiral; this is about a member of the civilian fleet searching for the one admiral who is willing to speak up on the non-combatant’s behalf. Short-lived as Dorn’Hazt’s meeting with Shepard is, it serves the purpose in showing how truly fractured the quarians are as a collective fleet and how much they’ve given up and are willing to continue giving up so that they may reclaim their home and stop traveling through space as scavengers.
Moreover, Dorn’Hazt represents a special part in my heart that bonds not only with suffering, but with closure as well. In the second Mass Effect during Tali’s loyalty mission, Shepard comes across logs from other quarians who have been experimenting on the geth. As to be expected, this all goes to shit and all of the experimenters perish. One log in particular has a woman using her final moments to scream out “Jona, mommy loves you very much.” In an unfortunate turn of events, Dorn’Hazt turns out to be Jona’s father and gives a similar wish for his son in his final breaths. I hope that in Mass Effect 4 the new player character finally gets to meet Jona, but until then I get to live with the fact that Bioware found it fit to kill his entire family and make me have feelings for this kid that I’ve never even seen.
4) Jondum Bau
Shepard’s meetings with other Spectres haven’t really ever gone well. First there was Saren, the big bad of ME1, who almost stopped Shepard’s own Spectre career before it even started. (Well, technically first there was Nihlus, but he died within the first ten minutes of the game.) Then there was Tela Vasir who seemed like she was helping you, but was actually working with the Shadow Broker and tried to murder you. With a group whose purpose is to get shit done without worrying about scruples and what may be “right” or “just”, I suppose it’s not entirely unexpected to not be friends with any of them. Jondum is different.
First off, he contacts Shepard himself, which sets him apart since most Spectres do the whole lone wolf bit. Secondly, he comes out and says that be believed Shepard about the reapers all along. Whoa, holy shit. It might just be me, but whenever a character in Mass Effect says something like that, I automatically like them—you wouldn’t believe how hard it is for people to believe that their impending doom is coming until it’s laser beaming them in the face.
But it’s clear after meeting Bau that the salarian is just trying to help the universe, rather than serving his own needs.
Ouside of Shepard, I would say that Jondum is the perfect example of what a Spectre should aspire to be: cunning, ruthless when he needs to be, driven, but still kind in his own way. Also, he has a really cute admiration for master thief, Kasumi Goto. I’d like to consider them the Valjean and Javert of Mass Effect, though you won’t find him singing “and I’m Jondum” through the wards of the Citadel.
3) Kahlee Sanders
For those that haven’t read the three Mass Effect novels (the fourth one doesn’t exist; I have disowned it), Mass Effect 3 was their first exposure to this extraordinary systems tech and First Lieutenant of the Alliance army. This is where I’m cheating a little bit with my own rules: Kahlee is part of a plot-important mission, but in my defense it is a mission you can skip. However, she’s amazing so I don’t really care.
When Shepard meets her, it’s through a distress signal coming from Grissom Academy, a school for biotics to learn how to harness their powers named after her late father. Though she has no biotics of her own, she is fiercely protective of her students and is willing to do anything to get them to safety. On top of that, she has a not only a pragmatic heart, but a good-willed one. In her past, Kahlee has had so, so many bad run-ins with Cerberus. Her almost-boyfriend turned out to be working for Cerberus, the father of one of her students also turned out to be Cerberus, and just in general Cerberus is horrible. However, she still allows Jack—your biotic, ex-prisoner teammate from ME2—to come live at Grissom Academy and help her students refine their powers. It speaks so much of Sanders when she lets a technically ex-Cerberus (Shepard’s crew technically did work for Cerberus) and trusts them to take care of those kids when many people still hold doubts of where Shepard’s alliances lie. Her faith in Shepard and their crew is unwavering, and with support like that (along with a squad of biotics backing them up) there’s no way the crew of the Normandy could ever lose hope.
2) Matriarch Aethyta
What do you get when you cross an asari with a krogan? A badass matriarch that isn’t having any of the asari’s shit. Though many have their own opinions of the asari culture, no one is a harsher judge than Aethyta. When Shepard first meets her in the Purgatory bar on Illium in ME2, it’s clear that Aethyta holds little love for her society, which encourages their younglings to go off and gallivant for hundreds of years rather than educate them on the ways of technology and battle. In fact, due to being ridiculed for deigning to suggest that the asari use their advanced technology to create new mass relays, she left the homeworld of Thessia and hasn’t returned since.
In ME3 she makes a return as yet another bartender, this time on the Presidium. However, she’s not there to serve drinks; she’s keeping an eye on her daughter for the Thessian government. You may know her daughter better as Liara T’Soni, expert on the protheans and Shadow Broker. Aethyta, while not knowing that her daughter is the Shadow Broker, still has the difficult job of separating her duty from her own personal worries about her daughter. She wants to protect her, but she’s been instructed to take Liara out if it’s discovered that Liara is working against Thessia’s best interests.
I don’t necessarily agree with or like the changes Aethyta went through between ME2 and ME3 on the part of the character designers and writers, but the eventual meeting between daughter and long-lost mother is touching. From loss comes knowledge, and this Matriarch has lost so much: both of her parents, her standing in society, her kinsmen, her wife, and for the longest time, her daughter. It’s clear that Aethyta has so much to teach not only Liara, but the new generations of asari and the audience as well.
1) Conrad Verner
If you didn’t see this coming, I feel bad for you, son. Conrad’s got 99 crushes and Shepard’s all but one. This fanboy has been around since the first game and in each installment he gets progressively more delusional. In fact, in ME2 it’s even possible to get him killed because of said delusions (and even though he’s totally annoying, I feel bad every time he dies).
His descent starts slowly; it all begins with a simple autograph request and a photo. Then it progresses to Conrad somehow getting his hands on some busted N7 armor and acting like a vigilante cop through space, getting duped by anyone and everyone for their own means. Somehow, he doesn’t die before you run into him during ME2. That’s a miracle in and of itself. Then in ME3, he tries to expose a Cerberus operative working on the Citadel and…it surprisingly doesn’t end terribly. Yes, Conrad’s tale is not only a tale of severe fanboy-ism, but also a tale of redemption.
He, like so many other humans, are ecstatic when Shepard finally becomes a Spectre because that means, in theory, that humans will have a larger say in what happens in the galactic scheme of things. Humanity now has a figurehead they can put their hopes behind. Though he takes it to the extremes, I find it hard to believe that Conrad would be the only one to fanboy over Commander Shepard if he met them in the flesh. Seeing how much adoration he pours into his idea of Shepard, it’s no wonder that when Shepard dies at the beginning of ME2, it takes it as betrayal on a personal level. He feels as though he has to take up the burden that Shepard has abandoned by dying, and he says just that when confronted it.
The thing about Conrad is that he’s not stupid—he wrote his thesis on xenotechnology and dark energy integration, for god’s sake—he’s just incredibly lonely. When Shepard acknowledges him for that first time, I wouldn’t doubt that it was the first time that he was actually listened to or done a favor. Even his wife, the only other person he ever mentions talking or having any contact with, that also supposedly carries a love for Shepard turns out to be a lie(of course, he then also lies about her leaving him which is a whole different level of depressing). He doesn’t want to lose that one person that, while he/she not might respect him, at least gives him the time of day. When he meets Jenna at the end of his arc this becomes proven even further. Jenna sees how Conrad saves Shepard from getting shot and strikes up a friendship with him. After this, it seems as though Conrad has something else to divide his attentions between. As such, it’s hinted that his obsessive and dangerous behaviors will calm down because he doesn’t only have Shepard anymore; he has someone else that likes him even if he’s not as badass as Shepard.
Out of every side character, I think Conrad’s arc is the most fulfilling and it’s nice to see him get a happy ending. That is, if you don’t threaten him into doing something reckless and getting him killed.
There you have it, my top five favorite side characters for all the games. It was a fun journey looking back on all those amazing characters, but after completing this it reinforces how difficult it is to say goodbye to characters that have been with us for so long. When and if Mass Effect 4 comes out, I can only hope that the characters continue to be compelling, no matter how important they are to the overarcing storyline. Every character, even the small ones, have a part to play, and that part should never be ignored or belittled based on screen time.