I’m leaving the old man out of this since we barely got to know him. I’m also leaving out Hannah, Beth, and Dr. Hill for reasons that are spoilers* if you haven’t played the game (or watched videos of it). Speaking of spoilers, this post is going to be full of them. Read at your own risk.
You might be wondering why I have Ashley ranked at the bottom when she was so likable. Well, she was likable for a while. Sadly, she eventually showed herself to be a cold, vindictive character who made the self-absorbed Emily shine in comparison.
Let’s start with the scene in which Chris is given the choice to shoot himself and save Ashley or shoot Ashley and save himself. If Chris chose earlier to send the saw blade into Josh instead of Ashley, Ashley pleads with Chris to shoot her so that she can save his life in return. If you choose to take her up on it and shoot her instead of yourself, look out — She’s going to remember that, and she’s going to be angry at Chris for doing it despite pleading with him to do it (which to me implies that her plea wasn’t serious and that she was unpleasantly surprised when Chris actually took her up on it). You see, if Chris takes Ashley up on her offer, he’s doomed. Even if you do everything perfectly to get Chris back to the lodge after the mission to rescue Josh goes wrong, Ashley will coldly refuse to let him in and silently watch as a wendigo rips his head off. She will then immediately lie to Mike about it and say that it was too late to save him.
If (not After — since it was pointed out to me that it's not inevitable) Emily is bitten by a wendigo, Ashley prematurely leads the charge to have her evicted from the “safe room.” She works Mike into a hysteria by planting the idea that Emily is going to change into a wendigo because she was bitten by one. And while the others seem at least somewhat reluctant to get Emily out of the safe room (and probably send her to her death as Emily rightly points out), Ashley forcefully tells Emily to leave. And if Mike chooses to not shoot Emily in his moment of panic, Ashley will coldly imply that he made the wrong choice.
It’s tough to rank Mike this low, because he definitely has his high points. But the moment when he points a gun at Emily just about ruins him as a character. And it’s something he does automatically as long as Emily survives to that point, so it isn’t like the player can be blamed for making that awful decision. He valiantly charged to the rescue of his abducted girlfriend, yet he’s ready and willing to kill his ex-girlfriend over something that may or may not happen. It’s something that I don’t think even makes sense for the character; but it’s in there, so I have to take it into account.
EDIT: I didn’t know when I wrote this that Emily could avoid being bitten. She apparently can avoid it, so this incident that nearly ruins Mike’s character only happens if she’s bitten.
Yep, I’m ranking Josh higher than Mike. You see, unlike Mike, Josh never wanted to get anybody killed. He definitely did some messed up things to the people who considered him their friend, but he was completely bonkers when he did those things. And in his own mind, he reasoned that what he did was actually good for them (such as bringing Chris and Ashley together). He’s genuinely shocked when Mike tells him that Jess is dead, and he’s very remorseful if he sees the wendigo-ravaged bodies of any of his friends late in the game.
All in all, Josh seems like somebody who used to be a nice guy but was pushed way past his breaking point by the presumed deaths of his sisters.
Throughout the game, Emily is abrasive to say the least. She’s insulting, manipulative, and just an all-around hard person to deal with. But she’s nearly as strong and resourceful as Mike despite her complaints. And for the most part, she doesn’t want to get anybody hurt. She only changes in this regard toward Ashley after Ashley deeply and hurtfully betrays her and nearly gets her killed. Shoving Ashley aside late in the game while they’re running from the wendigos was a bad move that made Emily less of a sympathetic character (I would have ranked her at #4 if she hadn’t done that), but it’s a little bit understandable when you consider the rage Emily must have been feeling toward Ashley. (It was still bad for Emily to not show some restraint in such a life-or-death moment, though.)
Emily may be a difficult person to deal with, but I’d much rather have her on my side than somebody like Ashley who is more likable but less stable.
Chris is another victim of one bad moment hurting his character, but his bad moment is fairly excusable since he seems to be in shock from having just witnessed a wendigo take somebody’s head off.
In the safe room, Chris hops on board the let’s-get-Emily-out-of-here bandwagon, but he seems to do it with a heavy heart as if he doesn’t really want Emily to be banished but he thinks there just isn’t any other choice. And he’s in love with Ashley, so it’s understandable that she would have a disproportionate influence on his thoughts about the Emily issue.
But overall, Chris is the very likable everyman of the group, and he’s fairly resourceful in his own slightly bumbling way.
We don’t spend much time getting to know Jess past the early stages of the game. What we learn about her early on is that she’s a girl who tries to mask her insecurities with overconfidence. She’s somebody who really isn’t that bad of a person once you get to know her. She’s certainly very flawed, but her flaws are of the typical teenage variety. They’re the kind that a person will naturally grow out of as they mature.
By the end of the game, Jess appears to have transformed into a very meek character (pictured above). Being so badly traumatized has forced her to mature much faster than she otherwise would have. At the end, I felt worse for her than I did for any other character.
Poor Matt. He tries so hard to be a good boyfriend, but Emily walks all over him and dangles the promise of sex as a reward if he does whatever she wants him to do. Matt comes off as both reasonable and an all-around nice person, so it’s a shame we don’t see more of him in the game.
How could #1 be anybody else? She’s basically Buffy without enhanced abilities. She’s a leader, she’s reasonable nearly all the time, she never wants anybody to be hurt or killed, and she’s extremely resourceful. She’s competent way beyond her years. She does have one strange negative moment in which she leaves Ashley behind just because Ashley wants to take a few seconds to put a manhole cover back in place. But other than that, she’s a nearly perfect character.
*I left Hannah and Beth off this list because they were barely in the game. They were plot devices more than characters. And I left Dr. Hill off because he’s revealed to be a representation of guilt and reason in Josh’s psyche. He’s part of Josh, so it wouldn’t make sense for me to list him as a separate character.