6 Video Game Characters with Chronic Conditions

""Final Fantasy 7 Remake - Cloud Strife"" | Art by speedportraits. Used with permission.
Video games let us live power fantasies, playing as heroes who epitomize mental fortitude and physical vitality. Characters too sick to leave home or struck with debilitating symptoms mid-combat aren’t usually the playable heroes; usually, characters who suffer from illnesses are the NPCs in need of escorting or rescuing. However, some video games are beginning to reframe empowerment by telling stories about characters who live (and save the day) with chronic conditions. Here are six that should be on every gamer’s radar.

1. Rhys, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance & Radiant Dawn

Rhys spends his childhood sickly and bedridden, daydreaming of sword fights, flying, playing with the laughing children outside his window—anything but living with cramps, fevers, body spasms, nausea, dizziness, and the fear of being a burden. Eventually taking up the staff of a priest (but unable to cure himself), Rhys endures many years being denied permanent employment due to his chronic illness before finding acceptance among the Greil Mercenaries, a group led by a warrior with a disabled arm. Years later, Rhys gains enough field experience to become a wielder of powerful light magic, but finds his greatest joy simply in being surrounded by friends and coworkers who understand that he “can’t help being barfy all the time.”

“Rhys participates in battles despite his illness. He’s a rare example in [the Fire Emblem] series of a healer you get in the early game who is a male.”Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance Memorial Book Tellius Recollection: The First Volume

2. Athena Cykes, Ace Attorney: Duel Destinies

An 18-year-old prodigy lawyer, Athena uses her ultra-sensitive hearing to help discern witnesses’ emotions in court. As a child, her susceptibility to sensory overload provoked anxiety and insecurity, causing her to skip school and live a limited social life until desensitization treatment helped her tolerate louder frequencies. The game avoids downplaying Athena’s condition, instead allowing players to experience both the frustration of “noise” overwhelming her during a cross-examination and the thrill of her keen ears turning a case in her favour—a gameplay mechanic that players with autism and hearing sensitivity have found empowering.

When I was a child, my sensitive hearing was a lot worse than it is now. I couldn’t be in a classroom with noisy kids some days and often suffered from headaches. . . Ace Attorney has done a fantastic job accurately showing how a person living with hearing sensitivity reacts to stimulus with and without treatment. I cannot describe how happy I am seeing how much Athena’s life and reactions relate to my own.”—Aeonfrodo, “Athena Cykes and Sensitive Hearing: An Analysis”

3. Ninten, Earthbound Beginnings (Mother I + II)

In 1989, Ninten not only brought a breath of fresh air to pixelated protagonists as the first asthmatic video game character to come out of Japan, but also broke the “nerdy, weak character with asthma” trope that still circulates in modern media today. One other kid in Ninten’s neighborhood shares his chronic condition (and helpful advice on how to avoid “setting it off”). Though vehicular enemies use exhaust to give Ninten an asthma attack and incapacitate him from taking action, having one of his friends use “asthma spray” on him helps him jump back into the battle.

In fiction, having to use an inhaler immediately alerts the audience that this person is a nerd. It is rare to see anybody cool using one. Ninten from Mother 1 has asthma, but he’s not a nerd at all. In fact, he’s the strongest permanent character in the game.”—TV  Tropes, “Nerdy Inhaler”

4. Maria Robotnik, Sonic Adventure 2: Battle & Shadow the Hedgehog

Likely due to the stigma surrounding it, Maria’s illness (and therefore her crater-sized impact on the Sonic universe) was sequestered into obscure side-material to avoid controversy. The original Japanese strategy guidebook reveals her diagnosis, NIDS (Neuro-Immuno Deficiency Syndrome), a fictional malady similar to AIDS, making her a case study in video game disease censorship. Without this background information, a crucial piece of lore is lost: Maria’s illness is the raison d’etre behind the series’ second most popular character, Shadow.

“Frail in appearance but strong in spirit, Maria was physically very weak. . . To cure her illness, the professor began research on the ultimate life form [Shadow].”—Sonic Adventure 2: Battle Prime Official Strategy Guide (English version)

5. Eliwood, Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword & Sword of Seals

Self-described as “not the hardiest fighter you will ever meet” who “rarely feels such strength,” Eliwood battles on the front lines, despite concerns about his constitution. Eventually becoming Marquis of Phrae and “the greatest knight in Lycia,” Eliwood’s frail demeanor culminates in a debilitating illness in his thirties, just as war breaks over the land. Though torn by his inability to fight as he did in youth, he still manages to hold off a horde of bandits while protecting his friend’s daughter and later leads the Lycia Alliance as a defensive countermeasure in the war effort.

“Despite being in medical care due to an illness. . . [Eliwood] forms an Allied Army to oppose Bern’s invasion and sends Roy [his son] as his proxy representative.”Fire Emblem: Sword of Seals Artbook

6. Cloud Strife, Final Fantasy VII

Veteran SOLDIER, Cloud Strife has solaced many gamers through his day-to-day struggles with chronic depression, PTSD, dissociative disorder, inferiority complex, and cherophobia across two video games, a film, and a series of light novels. Often forgotten in the wake of his convoluted psychology, Cloud’s chronic medical illness also stalks him like a wolf. After unethical experimentation, he contracts Mako poisoning so severe it leaves him catatonic twice and eventually manifests itself in a disease that both aggravates his mental condition and serves as a graphic metaphor of it. Though he’s a superhuman in a fantasy world, Cloud battles against lifelike illnesses with reassurance from friends that he’s “not alone” in his fight.

Cloud is a fascinating choice . . . particularly for a medium proliferated with seemingly invincible protagonists. He’s mentally scarred, physically ill, easily exhausted, and emotionally distraught. Forget about fighting the bad guys; he struggles to find the strength to fight . . . Even someone as flawed and damaged as Cloud can survive, find strength, and feel happiness . . . These messages can be important for those who suffer from mental illness where seeing the good things in life is so difficult.”—Emily Palmieri, “Advent Children: What’s Beneath the Fan Service (Part 1)”

Casey Covel

Casey Covel

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
An INTJ and self-proclaimed connoisseur of chocolate, tea, and sushi, Casey spends her free time cosplaying, writing, gaming, philosophizing, editing articles for Geeks Under Grace, squinting at strange words, and watching Corgi videos on the internet.
Casey Covel