Introduction by Alana Hagues
Dogs are man's best friend, and that's been the case for hundreds of years. They enjoy long walks, plenty of scruffles and most importantly being with their favourite humans. There are plenty of good boys and girls in our real lives, but that sentiment extends to RPGs too, and we're always ready to champion our furry friends in video games.
With 2018 being the Lunar Year of the Dog, we thought it was only fitting to share our favourite RPG dogs from across the years. There's been all kinds, from loyal pups and noble wolves, to toaster dogs and...lovingly rendered four-legged friends. These are the mutts that we fondly remember from our adventures. And while you might not be able to pet any of them yourself, you can still pay them all due attention in the world. Without further ado, here are the Best RPG Dogs! And remember, just because they don't make an appearance here, it doesn't mean your favourite has been forgotten about either. That would just be wrong.
The Soul Blazer trilogy is a group of games that heavily involves non-human characters. You've got dreaming flowers, messenger piglets (oink oink), lion kings, and more. In both Soul Blazer and Terranigma, almost as much importance is placed is placed on flora and fauna as on humans. You're restoring the world in both cases: in the former, you restore all types of beings to a given area, and in the latter the restoration of other life leads to the eventual restoration of humanity. Losing the ability to speak with creatures other than humans is a truly depressing moment in Terranigma.
It is fitting, then, that one of the very few recurring characters throughout the entire series is not a human — it's Turbo, the dog. Even more interestingly, the diversity of situations he appears in and his varying forms mirror the unearthly protagonists in the series.
We first meet Turbo in Greenwood village, the second area in Soul Blazer. He is Doctor Leo's dog and the founder of this sanctuary for animals. He safeguarded the Green Stone, but you quickly learn that he confronted Deathtoll and has since passed on. Nonetheless, he was on the frontline defending the world. Your angelic warrior only meets Turbo directly in dreams, where he appears as a basset hound/beagle-type dog and tells you how to continue protecting the land with the Guardian of the Forest. Turbo's village is closely tied to the ability to communicate with animals throughout Soul Blazer; you get a primer on non-verbal pup communication from a dog that lives there, and you learn that even animals have restaurants and corny jokes.
In Illusion of Gaia, Turbo maintains a physical look that's similar to his appearance in Soul Blazer, but his part in the actual plot is much smaller. He saves Will and Kara when they land on the Diamond Coast and are weak from a long period of being stranded on the ocean. He alerts the closest person with the ability to help. (I guess someone from the animal kingdom needs to keep an eye on them when Hamlet is not around.) Even when our heroes can't communicate directly with animals, Turbo — and in this case Hamlet too — are still looking out for them. Good thing Will and Kara take some time to thank Turbo before moving along on their journey.
The biggest change for Turbo is in Terranigma. It's noteworthy and rather poignant that Turbo does not appear in Ark's journey until after Ark loses the ability to speak to him. One of the first humans you meet asks you to wander through the Gobi Desert and find his granddaughter Meilin in a mysterious lost city called Louran. When you get there, you find the residents confused about their town's reputation, and Meilin hanging around in one of the homes with her dog, Turbo. This time, Turbo looks like a Yorkshire Terrier and stays loyally at Meilin's side. Ark may call Turbo a "mutt," but he is extremely helpful to both you, when he guides you through the zombie-filled city of the dead that Louran actually is, and Meilin, as she confronts the harsh reality of losing her parents and giving up the town's facade. It's also cute to see him running around threatening enemies as a little Yorkshire Terrier. I hope there were lots of treats in store after that...
In a game where your main party consists of a God-slaying man, a wrestling vampire and the heir to the Russian throne, Blanca seems ordinary in comparison. A noble and calm wolf on the outside, Blanca might not have much bark, but he certainly has some bite to him. He's fast, friendly and fluffy and a standout RPG dog in a standout RPG. Throughout Shadow Hearts: Covenant, Blanca doesn't have much weight in the plot, but he gets his fair share of striking moments. Being the sensible member of the group, his personality clashes with other group members on a number of occasions. One of my favourite Blanca moments is where the party get captured at St Marguerite Island — everyone but Blanca the Whirlwind of course, who isn't caught out by Veronica's trap. You then have to control Blanca to rescue your friends, and that involves sneaking around the prison and, when Blanca needs to hide behind a wall, he stands up on his hind legs! How's that for tactical espionage, Solid Snake? It's a hilarious moment in a game full of bizarre humour, and one of his most memorable sections in the game.
Aside from that, Blanca might just win the award for the best RPG dog sidequest ever. In Paris, Blanca is introduced to the Wolf Bout, a worldwide tournament where wolves duke it out to be the best wolf fighter in the world. Some combatants are perfectly "normal," like the wolf with glasses or the wolf based off of Terry Bogard from Fatal Fury, but then you have the zombie wolf, the space wolf, and the man dressed up as a wolf. I'm only scratching the surface here in terms of unique "wolf breeds," but amongst all of Covenant's crazy sidequests, this one is absolutely the best. And during this sidequest, you actually hear Blanca talk! That's right, talking wolves — are you convinced yet?
Blanca is the best of both worlds in terms of RPG dogs. He's got that stoic side to him that makes him a reliable companion and the perfect example of man's best friend, all while retaining a sense of quirkiness about him. He's useful in battle, looks cool and will stick with you until the very end. Now, if only the other characters could hear him talk...maybe they'll stop calling him Snowball...
I'm fully aware that Final Fantasy VIII is a fairly divisive title among series fans. I'm also aware that there are some among us who do not find Rinoa nearly as charming as other FF heroines. While I'm happy to make room for all opinions on the game and the main cast of characters — I, personally, think the game is great and Rinoa is super great — I will not budge on the matter of Rinoa's pet dog, Angelo. That dog is a rockstar. And here's why.
First and foremost, Angelo's full name is "Sant' Angelo di Roma" (per the Japanese Final Fantasy VIII Ultimania guide book). The name may sound pretentious, but you know your faithful companion is awesome when their namesake is Roman Catholic and you yourself are ... well, a witch. Symbolically, Rinoa and Angelo may well represent a harmony of worldviews, a syncretism few dare to attempt in our world.
Second, despite the masculine name "Angelo" (vs. "Angela"), Rinoa's agile Shepherd-breed dog is undoubtedly female. This is confirmed and re-confirmed in official publications from Square (and now Square Enix) in both English and Japanese. Cheers to Angelo for daring to offload gender stereotypes and norms, suggesting that freedom of gender expression is not limited to humankind.
Third, and perhaps most important to my fellow gamers, is that Angelo serves both active and passive roles in battle; Angelo can show up in battle from time to time under various conditions. She can heal Rinoa or perform a counterattack if Rinoa is targeted by an enemy. She can sniff around the battlefield at random, occasionally finding rare and useful items. She can revive fallen allies. Most importantly, she can be used by Rinoa as part of her Limit Break, "Combine." While Angelo's four different skills (learned by reading "Pet Pals" magazines strewn about the game's locales) may be executed in a way that seems random, there is a hidden gage called the Crisis Level that heavily influences which attack Angelo will use. Her strongest skill, "Wishing Star," attacks the enemy/enemies eight times over at a high attack level, making it one of the strongest attacks in the entire game.
And, after each use of Combine, Rinoa rewards her lovable companion with a dog biscuit. It's adorable to watch. Every time. So forget about Quistis, Irvine, and the other "secondary" characters. Angelo is the new star, and with Rinoa to train and guide her, she may be one of the best dogs of JRPG-dom.
Koromaru is a loyal albino Shiba Inu who alertly guards the location where his master, a priest attendant of a local shrine, died tragically. His story is loosely based on Hachiko, a loyal Akita who waited for his owner at the train station, as per their routine, for years after the owner's death. He's also a smart, friendly pup who is not above soliciting snacks or pats from local passers-by. Koromaru's lifestyle changes, however, after he defends his master's resting place from an attack by a Shadow, one of the monstrous embodiments of nihilism that the teenage heroes of Persona 3 fight on a regular basis.
When Persona 3's club of Shadow-slayers discover that Koromaru has the power to perceive and fight Shadows, he's welcomed to the team after a short stay at the vet. Using an "evoker for dogs" with a trigger located inside his collar, Koromaru summons his Persona, the three-headed guardian of Hades, Cerberus, in service of saving the world. Koromaru doesn't have much to offer in the way of deep character interactions, and when he does speak, Aigis translates. Mostly, he comments on current happenings ("I want to go to school too!"), but he's a pleasant companion for nighttime walks in the park or eliminating terrifying apparitions of darkness. He's even a Social Link in the female protagonist route in Persona 3 Portable. Good boy, Koro-chan!
A smoking pipe, a knife and a scarf: these three things make me think of a grizzled, world-worn veteran thief. One who spends his time at the bar, remembering his better days. Well, that's before I played Tales of Vesperia. Now I think of one of the coolest wolves to have ever graced RPGs. Not unlike Blanca in loyalty and maturity, Repede matches the white wolf in speed, style and mannerisms, but carves his own identity with an extremely strong bond with the main character and a few cute little whines and barks throughout the adventure that make him unforgettable. It's hard to think Repede was only the second non-humanoid playable character at this point in the series. He's controllable in battle, I can only think to describe Repede as a ninja, focusing on extreme speed, thievery and high evasion. Because he's so small, many enemies fail to hit him as he darts around the stage, making him excellent for some of those larger boss battles. And why wouldn't you want to control a dog who can backflip and slice through your throat at the same time, anyway?
Repede's greatest strength is his role as Yuri Lowell's confidant and best friend. These two have been together for years after Yuri was forced to kill Repede's father, who had turned into a monster, but Repede never holds a grudge and shows his undying loyalty by helping Yuri out, no matter the consequences. He's very close to his master, but also aloof, not engaging in dialogue with the other party members. However, the bond between Yuri and Repede is so close that there are numerous cutscenes and skits where Yuri seems to talk with and translate everything his four-legged friend is saying, much to the amusement of the others. And I still laugh when Repede growls at Estelle every time she tries to give him a stroke. If you think Repede is all seriousness, though, then you're completely wrong. Like the other JRPG wolf in this list, Repede gets his own silly adventure that's centered around being the best wolf in the world. This time it's about marking your territory across the world map. Yep, a sidequest about wolves peeing. It's an incredibly lengthy and fiddly one, requiring you to tent across various locations around Terca Lumireis just so Repede can do his business, but the idea of it is priceless, especially for this stoic wolf.
The Tales series has never quite matches the heights of Repede again in terms of mascots, so this wolf can still sit mighty high amongst the stuffed toys, irritating creatures and lacklustre companions. Only one feline has ever come close to toppling his crown, but that's a discussion for another day.