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Character Portrait

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Pictured: Kanji, and Kanji's face, talking to his friends.

Certain games have a drawing of a character's face, usually in a portrait style. In RPGs or other games with menus, these are usually displayed next to the character's name. Also, in some games with talking NPCs where one can't directly see characters' faces, a portrait may be displayed next to their text box. If they don't, then they may be of Nominal Importance. (Some games may try to give everyone a portrait, but there are usually unique ones for important characters.) Prevalent in RPGs, since there tend to be a lot of NPCs in them, as well as a staple of Visual Novels.

Certain games may also have different portraits for the same character to indicate facial expressions and the like. A few facial expressions, anyway.


    open/close all folders 

  • Characters in Hotline Miami adopt detailed animated talking head sprites, in stark contrast to the minimalist top-down style the rest of the game is depicted in.

    Action Adventure 
  • Cave Story. There's some interesting variations: Balrog's head is so large that his character portrait can only show half of his face, and Misery's hair is a different color in the portrait than it is on her sprite.
  • Solatorobo has portraits for most every character, excepting the absolute most minor of NPCs, and most characters have at least one alternate portrait for different moods or facial expressions. Some major characters not only get face portraits but also full-body portraits that show up for dramatic moments or soliloquies.
  • The Wonderful 101 has a series of different portraits for each character, these change as the cut-scene continues and there are quite a few for each of the characters and they're partially animated. In-game you can press a button to reveal the character's eyes (they're wearing masks) for no reason to boot.

    Adventure Games 
  • In Code 7, the main characters have portraits that you can see on the episode selection screen and when interacting with them. Other than that, the game is pretty light on graphics, preferring to let the voice acting, text and music tell the story.
  • Seems to be pretty common in adventure games. The Quest for Glory series, some of the King's Quest games, and Gabriel Knight all had text boxes with pictures of the characters' faces. Quest for Glory IV (which had very detailed pictures featuring most of the character's upper body) and Gabriel Knight had pictures whose mouths moved when they spoke.
    • King's Quest V was one of the earliest games to feature these, with close-up images of Cedric, Icebella, and Beetrice, among others. King's Quest VI featured 16- and 256-color versions, and they were even voiced and animated in the talkie edition.
  • The PC adventure game Secrets of da Vinci: The Forbidden Manuscript shows an interactive portrait of Valdo, the protagonist, on the inventory screen. It indicates what he's wearing and is where the player changes his outfit. After Valdo meets the character Marie, she also appears in his portrait, and their relative position to one another indicates the current state of their relationship.

    First-Person Shooters 
  • This was a very common feature in FPS games back when they were still called "DOOM Clones," and faded from popularity sometime after the first Quake. The portrait was usually tied into your health display and would become increasingly bloodied or otherwise damaged as your health went down.
    • Catacomb Fantasy Trilogy and Wolfenstein 3-D both predate DOOM's use of the device. DOOM, for its part, made it into a somewhat useful gameplay element by having the marine's face turn and look in the direction from where he was taking fire.
    • Nitemare 3D was Lighter and Softer than most early FPS titles, and had Hugo's portrait turn moldy and skeletal rather than bloody, an effect that was actually fairly creepy.
  • The Bioshock games would have portraits given to characters whenever listening to them over a radio or audio diary/voxophone.
  • In a surprisingly recent example, Overwatch has a portrait next to the health bar that shows what character you're playing, and what skin you're using for the character.
  • Team Fortress 2 has the portrait of the class you're playing on the HUD, as well as who you are disguised as if you are disguised. A patch added the option for it to be a fully animated 3D model displaying the current weapon and cosmetics that class has equipped.
  • Shaw's Nightmare has a portrait that gets progressively sick as you lose health.

    Grand Strategy 
  • Hearts of Iron: The fourth installment has this feature. Country leaders and the cabinet ministers have portraits available for them, though in the base game at least, only the relatively important characters have unique portraits made from Real Life image sources of them, while the game makes do with other leaders/ministers by using generic portraits.

  • Banjo-Kazooie actually uses this despite having the characters in question in clear view, right next to the heroes and with their faces visible. They do this for the bosses as well as certain other characters.
  • Batman: Return of the Joker for the NES shows small character portraits of Batman and the boss in every boss stage.
  • The occasional dialogue sequences in Metroid Fusion use portraits, although one of the three characters with speaking parts doesn't have much of a portrait, being an AI, and the other two don't talk outside of one or two scenes.
  • Mega Man X used them starting in the first game, and passed it on to the Zero and ZX games. Classic Mega Man followed suit in the SNES and PlayStation titles (one of which was later ported to GBA stateside). Legends used them in places (not necessarily for dialogue, though). Battle Network and Starforce, by virtue of being RPGs, use them the most extensively.
  • Sonic Rush, Sonic Rush Adventure, and the DS version of Sonic Colors use these.

    Puzzle Games 

  • The Lunar series started making use of character portraits in its first game back in 1992, and kept with it for every game in the series. The remakes started adding extra portraits to express emotions.
  • The MARDEK series uses character portraits for every single talking character in the game. Facial expressions and all.
  • Mega Man Battle Network used blinking portraits for all characters. Those have a certain infamy among fans, as taking screenshots at the right time will make everyone seem like a Deadpan Snarker. Strangely, only the DS port of the fifth game actually gave them portraits for multiple emotions. Mega Man Starforce likewise uses portraits, and still doesn't have multiple emotes for the characters.
  • Neverwinter Nights
    • In the first one, the player chooses a portrait for their character, which doesn't need to be remotely connected to the Player Character's actual appearance. The same goes for all the NPCs, who all have portraits from among the few dozen stock ones available in the game, only a small handful of the most important ones getting unique portraits. Given the repetitiveness and unavoidable occasional inappropriateness of the portraits, it doesn't exactly make each character a unique snowflake.
    • Normally averted in Neverwinter Nights 2: the portrait is rendered directly from the Player Character's 3D face, including whatever equipment they currently have on. Played straight with the companions in the Mask of the Betrayer expansion, however.
  • The Persona series.
    • Persona 2 is particularly impressive given that it is on the PS1 and yet nearly every character, major or minor, have a distinct character portraits and sometimes with more than one expression. And then there is the fact that there's quite a few of them.
    • Of particular note, the PSP remake of Persona 3 gives portraits to several characters who didn't have them them originally.
    • Persona 4 plays with the rules of Nominal Importance by leaving a seemingly-incidental character (to be specific, the gas station attendant from the opening) without a character portrait until she's confronted in the true ending and revealed to be the one truly behind everything.
    • Persona 5 has drawn portraits of the characters appear during dialogue scenes, and even occasionally has the character portraits rip through the screen to punctuate a particularly emotional or tense moment. In a case of Painting the Medium, the traitor is revealed as such when they suddenly gain a much more sinister-looking portrait than their usual set. Weirdly, Morgana always has a portrait for his humanoid Funny Animal appearance, even when masquerading as a house cat in the real world. When he permanently loses said humanoid appearance at the very end of the game, it's conveyed as such by his portrait switching to an entirely-new house cat one.
      • Persona 5 Royal touches up the main cast's portraits (most noticeably Morgana, who looks far less Off-Model and ball-headed than he did in the vanilla game) and adds a few new expressions to them. Most notably, the traitor has a new set of irritated-looking portraits that completely replace their previous, pleasant expressions when they rejoin the party in the new final act.
  • Pokémon:
    • Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: In Rescue Team, only story-important NPCs and the starting forms of the Hero and Partner had portraits. In Explorers and Gates To Infinity, every Pokémon has a portrait, but only certain NPCs and the starters' first evolutions have alternate portraits for different moods. Super Mystery Dungeon gives every Pokémon a normal, happy, and sad portrait, though more portraits are still only given to the starters and major characters.
    • Also done rarely in Pokémon Black and White, only used when characters are talking via the XTransceiver or when talking with N.
  • Most RPG Maker games.
    • Last Scenario has different portraits for facial expressions and emotions for certain characters, as well. So does The Way (RPG Maker) and The Reconstruction.
    • Completely averted in Visions & Voices. There aren't even menu portraits.
    • Exit Fate uses very large portraits, featuring not just the face, but usually the character's entire upper body as well.
    • The Infyn Prism has all important characters having one. Lampshaded by one NPC in a house in Tarnset.
    “I hate being an extra. How can I tell? There’s no face in front of my text.”
    • Lunarosse uses these for anyone who is either a recruitable character or an plot-important NPC.
    • Rakenzarn Tales implemented these in Version 2 for important characters. Version 3 started including different portraits for different moods.
    • Rakenzarn Frontier Story built off of Tales and used multiple portraits from the start.
  • Sands of Destruction gives portraits to named characters; random villagers don't have them. Playable characters also get a menu portrait, and dialogue portraits change with emotions. Beastlords also lose their portrait when they transform.
  • Suikoden. Anyone who has a portrait is either important to the story in some way, or they're one of the 108 Stars of Destiny you can recruit. Suikoden V in particular takes things up by giving most characters in the game multiple portraits to represent different moods.
  • Skits in the Tales Series. Most of the games also have these by each character's status in and out of battle. In the former case, they often have their expressions change based on what's happening to them.
    • Tales of Xillia and its sequel also have character portraits pop in for the heroes at the top-left corner of the screen for the heroes, and the top-right for enemies. Besides Boss Banter, the character will call out enemy weaknesses, status effects, and other events that happen in battle.
  • The Ultima series from VI on, until it goes 3D in IX and just zooms in on people.
  • Valkyrie Profile has portraits which take up approximately half of the screen when dialogue boxes are present. There are several portraits for each playable character which help reflect the emotional aspects of the dialogue.
  • Inazuma Eleven has a unique face portrait for every single character in the game. All 1000+ of them. Although only characters important to the story have multiple portraits for different facial expressions.
  • Wild ARMs:
    • In Wild ARMs 2, you can name every storyline-important NPC one meets, but only a very few of them have portraits when naming them or talking to them; this can lead to some Interface Spoilers. For example, Tim is a seemingly unimportant NPC met early on, but it's obvious he'll end up being important since he has a character portrait. It's even more amusing considering one meets the "leader" of Tim's little circle of friends first - who doesn't have a portrait.
    • A similar tactic can be used in Wild ARMs 3 and Wild ARMs 5. Wild ARMs 4 and Wild ARMs XF had portraits for pretty much everyone, but there were still "generic" and "unique" portraits, allowing the player to tell them apart.
  • Used oddly in Dragon Age: Origins. The Warden's character portrait is a freeze-frame from the character model, but then the player gets to choose the exact angle at which s/he is drawn.
  • The Trails Series has a variety of expressions for several characters, not just party members. Estelle in particular, has a wide range of emotions. Each playable character also has a set of four portraits in battle, which change based on how the battle is going. High health characters generally look assured, then irritated or uncertain at medium health, looking pained, despairing or angry at low health, and then finally unconscious when their health has dropped to zero.
  • Important characters in Machine Knight get portraits with a Cheeky Mouth that flaps as the dialogue scrolls; they do occasionally change expression, but naturally make use of Informed Equipment. Unimportant characters get no portrait.
  • An interesting case in Enchanted Arms, mixing this with Going Through the Motions; minor conversations and events are portrayed by the character models shifting through a set of emotions during a split-screen, instead of just a head or bust shot. Similar to Star Ocean: The Last Hope, but fully animated instead of frozen poses.
  • Endless Frontier takes this to 11, with every character having a set of lavish portraits that go down to their thighs and is able to stuff four people onto a single screen at a time.
  • Touhou Labyrinth featured these, being as simple menu avatars to full portraits during character conversations, with varying degrees of quality. It's updated re-release, Special Disc, later added the ability to use custom character portraits.
  • In Holy Umbrella, characters have animated portraits displayed next to their speech boxes. The portraits usually fit a small rectangular frame, though some of their emotes exceed it. One character described in another character's Info Dump also gets a portrait.
  • Xenogears uses basic portraits in the dialogue boxes.
  • In Yo Kai Watch, the main protagonists (Nate, Katie, Hailey), as well as any character with some sort of notability (the protagonists' parents, Bear and Eddie, any classmate or shopkeeper, certain Yo-Kai) will have a portrait above their dialogue box. Depending on their importance, they may or may not have different portraits for different emotions (ex. shopkeeps and Yo-Kai who aren't Whisper or Jibanyan have only one portrait, while Bear and Eddie, who each have one major appearance, have about four each).
  • In the Ys series, NPCs in important conversations have portraits that take up at least a third of the screen.

    Shoot 'em Up 
  • Caladrius features these in well as in gameplay, whenever a character suffers a Shame Breaknote , causing their clothes to take damage.

    Simulation Games 
  • Starting with Harvest Moon 64, Harvest Moon games have used the "multiple portraits for different emotions" version when they're not using Going Through the Motions. You can tell how important a character is by how many portraits they have; Love Interests will have five or six, while minor characters sometimes have only one.
  • Mitsumete Knight R: Daibouken Hen uses the text box version of this trope for all voiced characters of the game. Their facial expressions however change in real time as the dialogue is unfolding, instead of waiting for the dialogue to finish to change the expression, and instead of using the swapping a new portrait method.
  • The Trauma Center series, with multiple portraits for different emotions.
  • Warship Gunner 2 uses portraits whenever someone's speaking.

    Survival Horror 
  • Clock Tower: Used alongside character speech, as the game had no voice acting. It also functions as an indication of Jennifer's emotional/physical state during normal gameplay.
  • Ib: Each character (except for one-liner NPCs) has several portraits for each emotion. Sometimes, the character's portrait appears with no text accompaniment, just to show the player how they're reacting without words. Despite the fact that Ib herself never speaks, her portrait does appear in the save menu (due to the game being made in RPG Maker).
  • The Witch's House: Viola's appears in the menu. Under certain circumstances, there's a chance that it'll be replaced with a nightmarish Slasher Smile version. Normally, there aren't any portraits displayed beside text, making the appearance of Ellen's near the end quite shocking.
  • Mad Father: There is an extensive and detailed range for each character, particularly Aya, who has 22 different portraits for every occasion.

    Turn-Based Strategy 
  • BattleTech (2018): Because of the density of information, and the fact that the game wants you to care about the well-being of your pilots and the events in their live, the unit panel at the bottom of the HUD features portraits of your pilots instead of their 'Mechs, giving you a quick read of their condition at a glance. Transmissions are received with portraits of the sender, ranging from your Mission Control updating you on information to Enemy Chatter complete with small pictures of the poor bastards whose day you're about to ruin.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance uses them in the dialogue boxes.
  • Most of the Fire Emblem games use these. Interestingly, these ones have a few different expressions, move their mouths when speaking, and blink, even if their portrait isn't currently the "active" one. They also have a tendency to move around to simulate the person they represent moving.
  • You get small pictures of your pilots in MechCommander, allowing you to keep track of possibly up to a dozen otherwise very similarly-shaped and similarly-painted Humongous Mecha by keeping tabs the Call Sign and picture of each pilot. Particularly notable for spicing things up by cutting from the portraits occasionally, using very tiny, low-res live-action FMV of the pilots to make it seem like they're transmitting visuals from inside a cockpit.
  • The Shining Series use these for all the characters in the party. The Shining Force Gaiden games also used them for cutscenes. Only characters who are in the eponymous force or have speaking roles got portraits, though.

    Visual Novels 
  • All characters appear like this in Ace Attorney; either looking directly at the camera or, in case of attorneys and assistants during courtroom sessions, looking at the side. Notably, all the characters have many unique animations, ranging from sweating, waving, bouncing up and down, and a "freak out" to name some. In certain cases where a character is not present and is talking through a phone or the like, their profile picture appears on screen when they speak.
  • Live Powerful Pro Baseball games got those since the beginning of the Success life sim mode in the third game. They started as small icons and were standardized by the fifth game as detailed shots of the characters on either corner of the screen. In the console installments past the 2010s, the portraits are also animated.

    Non-Video-Game Examples 


Fan Works

  • Turnabout Storm, being done in the Visual Novel style of the Ace Attorney series, uses them in exactly the same manner; though they are only animated during courtroom sessions, the rest of the time being stills of the characters.
  • Devil's Attorney uses these in an ever better way, seeing as the two series featured (Ace Attorney and Disgaea) also used these extensively, leading to a situation where Phoenix's courtroom portraits were used in cutscenes resembling the ones from Disgaea, and they do not look out of place at all.note 


  • Crystal Heroes has them in the playable RPG scene, where the characters are depicted in their portraits from shoulders-up and all have a variety of different facial expressions.

Web Original

  • Mario Party TV: Mr. Doom, Steeler, Holms and Clel use pictures of themselves to mimic the portraits used in the in-game Ranking charts, which change appropriately in accordance with their status.
  • Pink Kitty Rose utilizes these during non-voiced playthroughs, accompanied by captions illustrating her feelings about whatever is on-screen. Sweat drops and facepalms are the most common.