What makes a strong female protagonist? It isn’t aggression, or weapons, or gravity-defying anatomy. These are merely distractions, and they often under serve a character with hidden depths. Here’s what players really want…
Personality. Autonomy. Development.
All traits that are the springboard to a great story, and we’ve compiled a list of the ten best female characters that hold their respective stories together. Let’s take a journey through the very best that gaming has to offer.
10. FAITH CONNORS (Mirror’s Edge)
Faith is a wonderful anomaly in the landscape of modern gaming. Athletic rather than over-sexualised. Intelligent rather than ruthless. Her entirely human anatomy stands out in a sea of boringly buxom female leads that won’t be making our list. Faith is a former thief who has turned her life around to become a ‘runner’, roaming the streets and skyscrapers of a utopian/dystopian future and working to bring down a corrupt government.
Mirror’s Edge is distinct for its gleaming portrayal of a future in peril. We work in bright, open spaces, which is unusual for a first person game. Faith doesn’t need guns, just her wits to survive. Her goal as a courier is to spread communication. A powerful message that continues through each instalment.
9. AVELINE DE GRANDPRÉ (Assassin’s Creed III)
Aveline had a tough road to the top, being introduced in arguably the weakest Assassin’s Creed instalment. But wow, does she make an impression. After two entirely male-dominated episodes, the series introduces the empowered woman of colour, Aveline de Grandpré. In 18th century New Orleans, we follow her difficult journey through a racist and hostile culture, as she rises above with a strength of character that is as inspirational as it is badass. Expertise in weaponry and a complex personality make Aveline a character worth revisiting. Give Assassin’s Creed III another chance. The fresh intrigue Aveline brings to the franchise is worth it alone.
8. ZELDA (Legend Of Zelda)
Okay, so Zelda is a tricky character to pin down. Her portrayal has been fluid throughout the series, and her role is often that of the damsel in distress. Non-gamers are often surprised to learn that Zelda is not the elfin and entirely male main character (that’s Link). Rather, Zelda is a princess who is known for getting herself stuck in tricky situations and is in regular need of rescue. But that’s just the surface. Beyond that, she is an unequalled archer and has a tendency to go on adventures undercover, either as the ninja, Sheik, or the pirate, Tetra. Plus, major props for having an entire franchise named after you when you aren’t the lead character. She makes the list by sheer force of will and for being so darned iconic. We think it’s time Zelda got her own solo adventure. Maybe she can save Link this time.
7. YUNA (Final Fantasy X)
Yuna is a fantastic character with a singular journey. Introduced in Final Fantasy X as a summoner – a user of healing magic and a spirit communicator – Yuna embarks on a pilgrimage to become the very best she can be. Travelling the world in search of temples to test her abilities, Yuna embarks on a journey of self-discovery. There’s a lot of action along the way, but it’s the lessons Yuna encounters that make her a three-dimensional character. Learning to open up and balance love with her mission. Discovering the power of sacrifice and striving to find a better way in the face of violence. Yuna underwent an unfortunate redesign in later instalments that pandered to the oft-catered for the teenage boy demographic. But the complex, compassionate Yuna of X has made our list.
6. LARA CROFT (Tomb Raider)
Lara’s gaming history is a tale of two halves. The first follows the adventures of a 90s pixelated fantasy babe, overly voluptuous, with two guns in hand. This Lara, while strong, driven, and autonomous, has no place on our list. Her values were undercut by her…compromising design. Flash forward a few years and we are in the midst of Croft renaissance! That core spirit of adventure and survival has been mined and packaged in a wonderfully three-dimensional character, with human proportions no less!
We meet Lara Croft 2.0, stranded on an island and struggling to survive, with only her wits and resolve dragging her through the experience. This is a younger Lara, not yet a confident explorer. Fashioning her own weapons, battling the elements, and on a quest to build her identity. Little wonder this new, engaging Lara is the centrepiece of the franchise’s cinematic future, with next year’s Tomb Raider reboot looking equally promising.
5. JILL VALENTINE (Resident Evil)
We believe a strong female character needs an individual set of skills and a strong sense of identity and purpose. We first meet special ops agent and bomb disposal expert, Jill Valentine, investigating a biohazard site gone horribly wrong. How’s that for skills and purpose! Jill was there at the beginning of the Resident Evil saga, and she has returned for numerous instalments as the franchise’s standout female character. Half French, half Japanese, all business. Original game director Shinji Mikami went on record about the game’s mission statement for Jill. She would never be subservient to a man. She would wear the same ops uniform as her male counterparts. She would have her independence tested throughout the story, and she would come out on top. We love a bit of solid character development along with our zombie mashing!
4. CORTANA (Halo)
Okay, so technically Cortana isn’t even a human, she’s an AI designed to tactically assist in combat situations. But Cortana identifies as female, which is an incredibly progressive message for a video game. Her empathy and humanity shines through in a story where the flesh and blood humans constantly find themselves in morally compromising situations. Cortana grows through the Halo series to establish herself as a standout, frequently saving the day and reminding players that humanity is not defined by how you came to be, but what you decide to be. Cortana is the future of female empowerment in gaming.
3. COMMANDER SHEPHERD (Mass Effect)
So, here’s the thing. Commander Shepherd actually straddles two genders. At the beginning of a Mass Effect game, players can choose whether they want to navigate the story as a man or a woman. That choice is so ground breaking, and the execution so flawless, that we will argue to the death with anyone who says our inclusion of FemShep is a cheat. What makes the execution of the idea so good? Whether you are playing as male or female Shepherd, the writing is basically the same! The game promotes the idea that we are all people, and that situation defines us, not gender. Beyond that, players can take their female Shepherd on an exciting and dangerous mission that has absolutely zero to do with her being a woman.
2. ELLIE (The Last Of Us)
The Last Of Us is such a cinematic experience, with intense action and photorealistic characters, it is often easy to forget you are playing a game! Navigating an apocalyptic world through the eyes of a resourceful fourteen-year-old girl gives an unexpected viewpoint to a familiar genre. Ellie is resourceful, she is brave, and she is ceaselessly human in her conflicted approach to survival. Her relationship with Joel has been praised for subverting lone wolf and cub tropes, and Ellie is not a damsel to be protected. She suffers from survivor’s guilt and must persevere through feelings of inadequacy to help keep the family she has created alive. Ellie’s status as a gay teenager in a post-apocalyptic landscape only adds to her grounding in a reality she wishes she could return to.
1. SAMUS ARAN (Metroid)
The original. The best. The most unexpected. The reveal of Samus Aran as the protagonist in 1986’s Metroid blew gamers away in the best possible way. Playing as an ambiguous character who is even referred to as male in the game’s instruction manual, players were shocked when Samus removed her helmet at the end of the game to reveal she was, in fact, female, and an icon was born.
Wearing a bulky exoskeleton that completely covers her form, ex-soldier Samus has continued to go on metroid-hunting missions over the last three decades. Developers were clear to never sexualise the character, drawing her power from her ability and intensity. After the reveal, the story never shies away from the fact that Samus is female, instead positioning it as a strength. Samus often succeeds where her male counterparts fail. She is the Chozo’s ‘Protector Of The Galaxy’, and she is number one on our list.
We’d be remiss not to mention our own contribution to the annals of female empowerment in video gaming. Our very own Ruby Rei is fresh on the scene, having crash landed on a strange world at the edge of the universe. Embarking on an education adventure to save her friends and return home, Ruby works on her communication skills as she meets angry aliens and confused gods. We hope Ruby will be topping the protagonist lists of the future, both male and female!
Truan Flynn, Game Writer