Quality video games that feature a female protagonist are a special treat. Seeing Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice receive all the accolades it did back in 2017 was amazing. The most recent example of a female protagonist in a great game is Celeste, which, similar to Hellblade, also dealt with mental health. While most of my favorite games of all-time feature a male main character, there are a few that have awesome female leads. My list only includes female protagonists that are the main character of a game. Also, there are some glaring omissions (e.g. Lightning, Aloy, Jill Valentine, Shantae, etc.). I simply have not played those games yet or have not played them enough.
10) Nariko (Heavenly Sword)
Heavenly Sword is a competent hack-and-slash game with amazing visuals for its time. Nariko as the main character gives off a strong aura of duty and strength. A few of the cutscenes in the game are obvious inspiration for the development of Ninja Theory’s later title, Hellblade. She wields two ornate swords that can shift shape to accommodate a speed playstyle, heavy damage playstyle, or a style that is a mix of both. She has an endearing relationship with her friend Kai while having a complicated relationship with her father figure. While I cannot recall the plot points, seeing the game through to the end to see what happens to Nariko was a joy.
9) Jade (Beyond Good & Evil)
You warm up to Jade’s well-rounded personality immediately in Beyond Good & Evil. The father-daughter dynamic she has with Peyj and the heartwarming relationship she has with all of the kids in the lighthouse gets me every time. Everyone around Jade is very fond of her which contributes to making all of her interactions fun to see play out. She’s also not too shabby with a staff. Jade is great on her own, but what really makes her special is her bond with others.
8) Aya Brea (Parasite Eve)
Having recently played this 1998 game on my Vita, Parasite Eve absolutely holds up. The game puts you in the shoes of Aya, an NYPD police officer who is the cities’ main hope of stopping Eve, a biologically mutated entity insistent on wreaking havoc. Taking control of Aya, you really get a sense of her courage and commitment to not let New York get destroyed by mutated humans and other abominations. She reports to the chief and is in constant contact with her partner. Ultimately, she does what she thinks is right. Using her powers and unloading shotgun shells into enemies is thrilling. Hopefully, Square Enix is looking into remaking the title; it’d be phenomenal as long as it is done with love and care.
7) Senua (Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice)
Hellblade is a fairly recent game and will take you on an emotional roller coaster along with the game’s protagonist, Senua. Senua suffers from psychosis, and you can feel her struggles through the game’s carefully crafted audio and imagery. Every victory she attains comes with overcoming a struggle that is near palpable. You are hardly ever at ease in this game. You won’t want to put the controller down until you can finally lead Senua to a place of happiness.
6) Lara Croft (Tomb Raider)
Lara Croft has been THEE female protagonist ever since her debut in the 90s. Her original games depicted her has a badass through and through with hardly any substantial character development. The later PS1 games gave her some backstory in regards to her childhood, but storytelling has reached an entirely new level since then. Fast forward over a decade later, Lara is re-imagined in a whole new trilogy to call her own. The new Lara starts out vulnerable yet immensely intelligent and evolves into a formidable adversary to those who stand against her. Although the trilogy consists of quality games, I never grew fond of them as I felt the Uncharted series was a better saga of action games with emphasis on storytelling.
5) Kassandra (Assassin’s Creed Odyssey):
There is good reason why Melissanthi Mahut was nominated for one of the top five video game performances of last year. She brought to life one of the greatest Assassin’s Creed protagonists in Kassandra. Kassandra is a Spartan warrior which is awesome on its own. Aside from that, she is witty, funny, caring of her friends and strangers if you so choose, and the commander of a ship filled with Ancient Greek mercenaries. Kassandra really feels as if she is a living part of the game world. As you complete more and more missions, you feel your name spreading across Greece as the people involved acknowledge your goodwill and courage. The badass moments are badass and the emotional scenes hit home. If you have Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and haven’t played as Kassandra, absolutely give her version of the story a try.
4) Chloe Frazier (Uncharted Lost Legacy):
Back when we were introduced to Chloe in Uncharted 2, the impression everyone got of Chloe was that she was humorous yet promiscuous and selfish. Towards the end of the game, she was unveiled to be a good person, but her complete characterization didn’t come until Uncharted Lost Legacy. Here, we see Chloe take the mantle of the main character in an Uncharted game and she is fabulous. She is just as wisecracking as ever, but we get to see her concern for her friends and a sense of her vulnerability in particular tense/emotional situations. Chloe went from a character that was kind of shady to one that anyone would want to have their back.
3) Kat (Gravity Rush)
It is a shame Gravity Rush didn’t receive more commercial success. The game is so unique and fun in the purest way imaginable. Kat has the ability to self-shift gravity in allowing her to traverse by flying, scaling buildings, high jumping, and free falling. She is arguably the purest video game character there is. Kat is selfless, amicable, willing to give others the benefit of the doubt, and has an internal monologue that is unexpectedly entertaining. You never want to lose a fight because Kat is just that precious. Excellent video game; amazing character; check out the games if you haven’t yet.
2) Commander Shepard (Mass Effect)
You can choose between being a male and a female in this game, and both are brilliant. Female Commander Shepard (FemShep) shoulders so much for the sake of the galaxy. For the most part, she handles it gracefully, but sometimes, especially in the third game, the doubts that she’s been repressing for so long come to light. Still, she perseveres and sees her official and personal missions all the way to the end. In the midst of an endless string of tense situations, there is time for FemShep to let her hair down and have a drink, establish platonic and intimate relationships, and hit the dance floor here and there. The character is a perfect mix of fearlessness, will, humor, and unparalleled leadership that anyone can look to as a source of inspiration. Bioware crafted a character that will go down as one of the greatest video game characters of all time.
1) Samus Aran (Metroid)
What’s crazy is that Samus hardly utters a word, but everything you’d want to know about her is portrayed through her movement and demeanor. Even in the original 2D Metroid games, Samus moves with purpose, indicating to the player that her mission is of the utmost importance. Even though she is powerful, you will constantly suffer damage from enemies. She audibly winces in response, but she keeps on going. In key moments when Samus suffers critical damage, the games have done a masterful job in reflecting what kind of peril she is in. In Metroid Fusion, she heavily breathes with one knee bent. In the Prime series, she reels back from impactful sources of damage. Samus’s death sequence is chilling in pretty much any Metroid game. The dematerialization of her power suit or her scream in the Prime series followed by a shot of her failing heart and cracked visor shake you to the core. Samus is a woman of few words, but she is my personal favorite and arguably the greatest representation of a woman in any video game franchise.
What did you think of the list? Are there any games that I left out that I absolutely must experience? Let’s talk about it in the comments!
Five images captured during PS4 gameplay; images owned by Ubisoft, Ninja Theory, and Sony respectively
Remaining five images owned by Square Enix, EA, and Nintendo respectively