Unlikable Protagonists: Ratchet

The Ratchet and Clank franchise got a fair bit of press a few months ago (I know, I’m late) with the reboot of the series for PS4 and a movie. The game, based on the movie, based on the game. I posted the game trailer and gushed about the graphics but decided (wisely) that I wanted to watch someone else play through the game before I dropped a good sixty bucks on a new version of a game I already owned.

I’m glad I did because as great as the graphics were and all the cool new weapons, the game lacked the heart of the original game. I wish, instead of trying to make their PS4 graphics look so great (which they ended up looking pretty plastic for some reason), they’d focused more on adapting the story and keeping all the cool planets. (Gripe number three: they cut the game down by a third. It did not help the game.) There had to be a way to include all the world building they’d done in the succeeding games in their reboot, without killing the story.

According to rumor, back when they were making Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando, Insomniac had gotten a lot of complaints about how ‘unlikable’ Ratchet was as a character. And they spent a lot of time tweaking his character in Going Commando to be, well, let’s be blunt, less of an asshole.

In the original Ratchet and Clank game, Ratchet was a selfish 15 year old (yes, he was canonically 15) who didn’t really care about how the Blarg were ruining planets. He wanted to be part of the pro hover board circuit, meet Captain Qwark and in general, get cool stuff. Clank, the little robot, was the one who was concerned about the galaxy. It wasn’t until the very end of the game, when Ratchet discovered that the mud ball he’d been stuck on was also a target, that he changed his tune about the Blarg. And revealed that he had become fond of Clank as a friend.

So, let’s be clear, until the Blarg threatened his home, Ratchet was in it for the bolts. He was the Han Solo of the Solona Galaxy. (And as I’m inordinately fond of Han Solo, this might explain me liking Ratchet.) And that was okay. Because, he did make that choice at the end of the game, he grew as a character. He decided to be a hero.

And that’s where the new game went wrong. They took out the fact that the original Ratchet and Clank game was Ratchet deciding to be a hero. He didn’t want to join the Galactic Rangers. He wanted off his mud ball and into a life of adventure and cool things. His was a petty kind of selfishness and it was compared though not clearly to Qwark’s selfishness. Qwark was willing to sell the galaxy in order to keep his fame and have his funding for new Qwark brand merchandise. But, where Ratchet learned from his adventure, Qwark ended up in disgrace and became worse. (It is debatable after over a half dozen games if Qwark has learned anything.)

In fact, I think the most telling thing about Ratchet’s character is that after he saved (three) galaxies, he never tried to capitalize on it with action figures and video games like Qwark. Of the duo, Clank is the one who used it to be Secret Agent Clank and have his own television series.

The key to having unlikable characters is to have them grow and change somewhere over the course of the story. Ratchet did that. That’s what made Ratchet and Clank a pretty awesome game. And if he hadn’t learned that lesson, Going Commando wouldn’t have worked.

Unfortunately, someone at Insomniac forgot that, and Ratchet and Clank Reboot became another story about a down on his luck, come from behind man who couldn’t realize his dream until ‘fate’ intervened. Or in this case, a little robot with a not so little heart.

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