Ah, swordsmen. There are very few things simpler in the world of gaming than to design a badass character, give him a sword and let him kick all kinds of ass! As such, thousands of swordsmen were created for video games across most platforms from all generations.
And thus we come to this. My personal top 10 list of swordsmen in gaming. First and foremost though, here are some guidelines to this list:
1- The character must have originated in a video game (thus excluding all the anime/manga/cartoon/whatever swordsmen. That doesn't mean, however, that the contrary can't happen (video game swordsman appearing in other media after).
2- The character's main weapon must be a sword or similar (as to exclude every character that can equip 1001 weapons with the sword being just one of them. Things like lightsabers or key-swords, since they are basically swords with a gimmick, fall into the "similar" part of the rule. Also, if the sword can throw projectiles of some kind (like FFVIII Squall's gunblade or Mana Khemia's Flay Gunnar's Boomerang Sword) the same applies).
3- I must have played at least a game of that character's series, which features that character (for obvious reasons).
4- Only one character per franchise.
5- Males only. Why? Because I want to do a Top 10 Swordswomen later ;)
OK, the rules are set so let's begin with... honorable mentions to some characters (but not all. Not by a long-shot) that didn't make the list but I considered them (and whose franchises aren't represented on the list): Dante (Devil May Cry), Mitsurugi/Siegfried/Cervantes (Soul series), Junpei (Persona 3), Flay Gunnar (Mana Khemia), Ryudo (Grandia), Ryu (Breath Of Fire).
And now, the top 10 proper!
Number 10: Meta Knight (Kirby series)
The caped anti-hero of the Kirby franchise is amongst Nintendo's fans favorite characters and with good reason. He's like the ultra-badass version of sword Kirby: he has a cape, a mask, armor, a kick-ass sword and some sweet moves. He's also an extremely honorable swordsman, only fighting those who can fight back (as seen in the Kirby games where he always gives Kirby a sword so they can duel). Add to that the fact that he's the only character to ever be banned from Super Smash Bros. competition and you know this anthropomorphic ball can cut you up like nobody's business.
Number 9: Ike (Fire Emblem series)
I, somehow, someway, knew that I had to put a Fire Emblem character in this top 10. There are so many badass characters in that series and quite a few of them are swordsmen to boot. Why Ike? Well, for starters, I've only played a few FE games (FE and Sacred Stones on GBA, Path Of Radiance on GC and Radiant Dawn on Wii) and in most of them, Ike was the hero. Not only is he a hero in those games, he's a freakin BEAST! Especially with the holy sword Ragnell in hand he could kick ass like there was no tomorrow in both PoR and RD. Add to that the fact that he defeated the (up until that point) biggest badass that you would want in your army and you have all the qualifications to be in my top ten.
Number 8: Auron (Final Fantasy series)
In the same vein as Fire Emblem, I needed to put a Final Fantasy character in this list for all the reasons stated above. So, having played from IV to X, I had a lot to chose from. Auron, though, exceeds every other swordsmen in FF history. Cool swords? Check. Great story and personality? Check. Badass looking design? Check. Not a lot of armor? Check. Cool stance? Check. Pierces the enemies shell-like defense with almost blunt-like swords? Check. Can kick Cloud, Sephiroth, Seifer and those newer guys asses with a glance from above his sunglasses and a swing of his sword? CHECK!
Number 7: Dunban (Xenoblade)
The most recent entry in this whole list, Dunban gets in directly because of various things. For starters, and without spoiling the game for anyone, his character has a tremendous story and is an all around bad-ass. Secondly his play style in the game is... quite unique for a swordsman. Yeah, sure, he can deliver heavy blows to the opponents and he can "tank"... but his way to "tank" is quite different from the normal "tanks". Instead of taking abuse from the enemies by letting them hit him with a lot of armor to compensate, he simply attracts the enemies to him and dodges all of their attacks. In fact, he gets bonuses for not wearing any kind of armor. Finally, there's the fact that he was forced to be a "switch-hitter". In the very beginning of the game, Dunban is the one wielding the Monado but it eventually overloads and his right arm (which is his main arm) is rendered useless. Cue him learning to kick all kinds of ass with a sword... using his left arm.
Number 6: Cyborg Ninja (Metal Gear series)
Yup, I'm talking about the one in the original Metal Gear Solid. Anyone who has played the game understands why. I believe a ninja with an exoskeleton body who can use his sword to chop up hundreds of soldiers and deflect bullets almost at will is something you don't see that often in games. Especially when you have one with the tragic story this one has and the dreaded stealth camouflage. Now I can almost hear some people saying after reading all of this: "why is that ninja there and not Ryu Hayabusa or Strider?" Well, simple: I never played a Ninja Gaiden game and Strider, aside from his incredibly huge sword slash, doesn't denote any kind of superiority in swordsmanship over the original Cyborg Ninja.
Number 5: Samanosuke Akechi (Onimusha series)
Ah, Samanosuke... the only "true" samurai to grace this list. Just being a samurai would make me consider him for this list, but the fact that he has used a great variety of swords throughout his adventures, each cooler than the last, helps his cause quite a bit. Further helping him is the fact that he kills Japan's most bloodthirsty historical figure... while wielding the powers of demons. Truth be told, Samanosuke can turn into a demon himself, kinda like Dante, but his skills with the sword put the formerly silver-haired video game star to shame.
Number 4: Link (Legend Of Zelda series)
Yeah, most of you would see him coming in this list. Either liking the games or hating them, Link is one of the most iconic (perhaps the most iconic) swordsman in video game history. With the Master Sword and Hylian Shield in hand, he goes out and has an adventure that many could only dream of, usually to rescue the fair princess Zelda and/or defeat the evil Ganon. Link has a few cool moves up his sleave and the Master Sword is a very powerful entity in the world of video game swords. Moreover, he's the character in this list that seems closer to putting you in the role of the swordsman what with all the motion controls in the recent home console Zelda games (which, BTW, I like. Both Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword).
Number 3: Georg Prime (Suikoden series)
Now, see what I did with the Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy entries? Yeah, this is the Suikoden entry. And it's even more difficult to chose, given that each game has over 108 characters and a fair share of them are swordsmen. So, why good ol' Georg Prime? Well... I'll let his history speak for itself. He's what one might call a "wanderer swordsman", honing his craft in battle all over the Suikoden world. He once came close to losing one of his eyes in battle during that time before he was saved. As a reminder to never be careless again in battle, he started to use an eye patch on said eye. Years after that he was recruited into the ranks of the Scarlet Moon Empire, serving under Emperor Barbarossa as one of his 6 Great Generals in the Succession War (this occurs before the first Suikoden, and he's in a pic in the instruction booklet with the other Generals), where he earns the nickname "Deathblow"; then ventures to the Grasslands and eventually (no details on this) becomes the leader of the Ebony Moon Knights, one of the (supposed) top mercenary-like groups in the SuikoVerse; after that he answers his friend Ferid's call and comes with him to the Queendom Of Falena, where he serves as a Queen's Knight (basically a royal bodyguard that has the same power as a general in that country's army); he's finally seen in the Dunan region, near Tinto, years later where he helps the leader of the Dunan Rebellion against the Highland Kingdom. This said, Georg has been part of at least 3 of the most important military organizations of the world and participated in at least 3 of the most important wars known in that world's history. All of that while only using his sword. Usually for one hit killing his opponents.
Number 2: Frog (Chrono series)
Frog is awesome. My favorite character of the Chrono games (well, I only played Trigger, so yeah) Frog is, well, a frog. Or better yet an anthropomorphic frog. One that is consumed by regret over how weak he thought he was against the big bad Magus, but the truth was that he was the only one who could yield the power of Masamune, the only weapon to which Magus had a weakness. The rest, as they say, is history. Frog is probably the most useful character in whole game, being able to do HUGE amounts of damage (both physical and magical) and heal himself and the rest of the team, and also is the protagonist of my favorite moments in the whole game: the cleaving of the mountain. I only know one swordsman who can do better, and that's why he's number 1 instead of Frog...
Number 1: Sanger Zonvolt (Super Robot Wars series)
Before you say anything I would invite you to:
SHUT UP! AND LISTEN! HE'S SANGER! SANGER ZONVOLT! THE SWORD THAT CLEAVES EVIL~! Ahem. Now, some might say that I'm totally cheating with this one but hear me out. For those that don't know who Sanger is (and shame on you for that!), he's a character in the long running Super Robot Wars series, making his debut in Super Robot Wars Alpha Gaiden. That means that he pilots a robot and it's the robot that does the sword fighting, not him directly. However, in defense of his position here, he's also an accomplished swordsman in the 2 universes of the SRW multiverse that he appears (the Alpha and OG universes) and his robot fighting is actually how he fights with the sword on foot, therefor making the robots just a way to make him tall enough to defeat them 90 feet giants of steel. But if you really want to see him battle on foot, wait until Project X Zone comes out. Spoiler: he's the only one who isn't paired with anyone else (and it's "Zonvolt" for all the people writing about that game, not "Somvolt"). On to the "justification" (as if I needed any. He's Sanger Zonvolt for crying out loud!): let's start with his name "Sanger Zonvolt". As German-esque as it comes and as badass as you can get. Then you have his nickname "The Sword That Cleaves Evil" (although the original "The Sword Of Magus" isn't too bad, just not as awesome and too story related), which would sound absolutely ridiculous as a superhero one liner but that everyone takes seriously when it comes to Sanger. Why? Because that's what he does. He comes to the battlefield and whoever his enemies are, they end up cleaved. Add to that the 4 awesome mechs he has controlled over the his games (you can google them if you want: Thrudgelmir, Grungust Type-0, Grungust Type-3 and DyGenGuard) which all have one common characteristic: the presence of the Zankantou, aka Colossal Blade, Sanger's signature weapon: a giant sword, with a blade usually bigger than the robot itself. He also has 3 of the most kickass theme songs in the history of video games to his repertoire. There are quite a few moments and attacks from Sanger that could fill this article (like his "face turn" in Alpha Gaiden or the Tornado Blade) but I will focus on two that are more than enough to warrant him this place: first is the breaking of the fourth wall each time he gets the DyGenGuard and what usually happens when he gets it: the screen shows a strange message that says "War God's Armament DyGenGuard, Episode *insert number of mission*" which means that Sanger has taken over the game (or anime series, since there's one telling the SRW: Original Generation 2 story that includes this part). However, he can't use that mech's armament because of some BS technical explanation, but he also doesn't need it. He goes for the Colossal Blade from his recently destroyed Grungust Type 3 and they kick all kinds of ass. The other takes place in the aforementioned SRW:OG2 when he battles Wodan Ymir (who, by the way, is his clone from another dimension and the only character that can fight with him on equal footing one-on-one, using the Thrudgelmir) on the top of the Earth Cradle. Now, for those that don't know, the Earth Cradle is a huge self-sufficient, auto regenerating building that is able to survive the destruction of planet Earth. You know what it can't survive? The clashing of Colossal Blades between of Sengar's DyGenGuard and Wodan's Thrudgelmir. Yup, they cut it open, with the force of their sword clashing, a building that's supposed to resist the end of the world. I can't top that even if I tried, so I'll just end with the rest of Sanger's catchphrase:
"There is nothing my Colossal Blade cannot cut!"