By Ben Grandis
As March comes to a close, we’d like to honor Women’s History Month. We are proud to present our picks for the best women in video games. For this list, we are only considering original (not based on preexisting characters from movies, TV shows, etc.) who are the main player-controlled protagonists for their respective game. Female characters who the player only temporarily controls or can only play as in DLC also don’t qualify. This means that sidekicks like Elizabeth from BioShock Infinite or Catwoman from the Batman: Arkham series won’t make the cut. Characters whose gender can be chosen by the player were not eligible for consideration (Sorry FemShep). Female characters from ensemble casts, such as fighting or class-based shooter games, were also excluded. These leading ladies must be canonically represented and playable as the main character in a game’s campaign or story mode. Without further ado, here are our picks for the Top 10 Female Game Protagonists:
#10. Senua – Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
To start off our list, we’d like to present the newest character to be ranked among our top female protagonists. As the titular heroine of 2017’s harrowing Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Senua is a deeply troubled yet resilient young woman. Suffering from severe psychosis, Senua is shunned by her tribe and her abusive father as they falsely think her illness is a manifestation of demonic forces. The player is immersed in her hellish world as she frequently hallucinates frightening visual and auditory stimuli that disorients her understanding of what is really happening. Despite these challenges, she remains a dedicated warrior, hardy survivor, and unfailingly loyal to her lost love Dillion. Her quest to bargain for his departed soul from the goddess, Hela in this Viking nightmare will shake you to your core. Senua brings an honest and unnerving depiction of mental illness that is rarely seen in gaming that all players should experience.
#9. Chell – Portal series
Although she may be a silent protagonist, Chell is still an intriguing character worthy of a spot on our list. Much like Gordon Freeman in Valve’s Half-Life series, the player learns about Chell through how she interacts with the world and how other characters respond to her actions. We deeply care about the hilarious and sometimes harrowing frenemy relationship she develops with the murderous AI GLaDos as she makes her way through complex, physics-based puzzles with only a portal gun at her disposal. Many audio recordings, notes, objects, and other clues are left for the player to observe and make better sense of who Chell is and why she is being forced to perform these scientific experiments. Part of what makes her so special is the way she enables players to form their own theories of who she is and what she stands for, without being a generic blank canvas.
#8. Max Caulfield – Life is Strange
Though she may not have the physical combat capabilities of most of the women on this list, Max Caulfied is still very strong with plenty to offer. As the star of 2015’s Life is Strange, Max uses her newfound power to rewind time as a way to help solve the disappearance of a missing student from her prestigious Oregon boarding school. Max is a sweet, introverted, and artful photographer who does not normally enjoy confrontation. But as she begins to unravel the sinister mystery that plagues her school and hometown, she discovers incredible courage to defend herself, her peers, and her childhood best friend Chloe Price. Her vulnerability, inquisitiveness, and modern teenage angst makes her perhaps the one of the most relatable characters in gaming history, and easily deserves a spot among some of the greatest female protagonists the medium has to offer.
#7. Samus Aran – Metroid series
When Samus’ gender was revealed as female at the end of her debut appearance in 1987’s Metroid, it was a revolutionary event in gaming history. Prior to Samus, most female characters in gaming were represented as a princess in need of saving, or in most cases, not represented at all. Upon completing the game, players were surprised to find that Samus was a woman upon her stepping victoriously out of her powerful space armor. With the critical and commercial success of Metroid, Samus has become a household name among gamers and helped pave the way for many of the leading ladies on this list.
6. Zoe Castillo – Dreamfall series
Although she may be one of the more obscure characters on this list, Zoe Castillo is still a name worth knowing by all adventure game fans. Also known as “The Dreamer”, Zoe Castillo has the unique power to send her consciousness between the futuristic, high-tech world of Stark and the medieval, magical world of Arcadia. With this incredible gift, Zoe will do anything she can to stop malevolent forces in both of these unusual worlds from harming those she loves. As the heroine of both 2006’s Dreamfall: The Longest Journey and 2014-2016’s episodic adventures Dreamfall Chapters, players have the unique opportunity to shape Zoe’s character and actions across over a decade of two deeply engrossing game narratives. She is loving, observant, compassionate, and prefers to solve her problems with her words and wits than with guns and fists. Her pacifism and compassion make her a unique hero that defies the notion that only violence can stop tyranny.
#5. Chloe Frazer – Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
Originally featured as a companion character and former love interest in the original Uncharted series, Chloe was finally given her own story in 2017’s Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. An opportunistic treasure hunter, Chloe is a savvy saboteur with a witty and sarcastic demeanor. She’s always ten steps ahead of her enemies and often comes up with unconventional solutions to the many life-or-death situations she encounters. While she may initially come off as being aloof and only interested in her personal gain, Chloe is secretly a deeply caring person who will do anything to help those whom she cares about, even if it means risking her own safety and fortune. A particularly tender moment where she helps free a baby elephant trapped under rubble, then proceeding to ride on his back deep into a lush cavern is a fitting example for how Chloe will do what she can to help the most vulnerable around her no matter how dangerous it may be.
#4. Bayonetta – Bayonetta series
Perhaps the most outlandish entry on our list, Bayonetta, heroine of the eponymous game series, is one bad-ass witch who is not to be messed with. Often blurring the lines between hero and villain, Bayonetta’s one-woman war against powerful demonic forces is a hyper-sexual, psychedelic, and outright zany explosion of colorful cartoon-like violence praised by both critics and gamers alike. Her sharp wit and banter makes her a delectable delight for players experience. Her even sharper attacks and wild magical powers make her all the more exciting. While she may not be the most emotionally complex or nuanced character on this list, she nonetheless belongs alongside some of the greatest video game heroines of all time.
#3. Clementine – Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season 2
While she may the youngest member of this list, she is by no means the weakest. Kind-hearted and loyal, Clementine is arguably the best character in all of Telltale Games’ story-rich adventures. Part of what makes Clementine so special is how the player gets to deeply know her as she grows up in the hellish world of The Walking Dead. Playing as her guardian Lee in the first season of this game series, players protect and teach eight-year-old Clementine the essentials for surviving a zombie apocalypse. Flash forward two years, players get to see how their lessons paid off and assume the role of Clementine herself in season 2. A tough survivor facing even tougher moral choices, Clementine will do anything to save herself and those she loves, no matter the stakes. She’s a shining example of the indomitable human spirit’s power to survive in the face of painful adversity and loss.
#2. Lara Croft – Tomb Raider
One of the most recognizable game characters of all time, Lara Croft made a huge impact on the action/adventure genre in her 1996 debut in Tomb Raider. As one of the first female protagonists in a 3-D graphics video game, Lara was praised for breaking barriers for women in gaming while also criticized for being depicted as overly sexualized for a male audience. As Lara’s legacy has continued over twenty years, she has starred in numerous, highly acclaimed and top-selling games. Our favorite depiction of Lara comes from her most recent entries to the series, 2013’s gritty reboot, Tomb Raider and its direct sequel in 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider. With her first foray into M-rated territory, players are treated to a darker and more somber depiction of the famous explorer. Brave, smart, and resourceful, this modern and realistic version of Lara Croft will always hold a special place in our hearts and our game controllers.
#1. Aloy – Horizon Zero Dawn
As one of the most exciting new characters on the PlayStation 4, Horizon Zero Dawn’s Aloy is undoubtedly one of the best characters in all of gaming history. Her fiery red hair corresponds with an equally fiery intellect and passion. Raised as an outcast by the isolated Nora tribe in a post-apocalyptic Earth, Aloy sets out on an epic quest to uncover the mystery of how the “old ones” (humans of the 21st century) died off and how she can save the new generation of humanity from being annihilated once again by predatory machine beasts. Aloy often is forced to use her wits when taking on these dangerous creatures. By using a combination of stealth, crafting, arrows, bombs, and even the environment itself, she is a deadly force to be reckoned with against both man and metal alike. Voice with incredible passion by Ashly Burch, Aloy is easily our favorite leading lady in gaming. We look forward to going on many more adventures with her.
Do you agree with our list? Which female protagonists in gaming inspired you? Sound off in the comments!