Gaming is a more welcoming hobby for women than it's ever been, but there's still a relative dearth of female protagonists in video games. Unless you're playing a game that lets you create your own characters, like "Mass Effect" or "Saints Row IV," finding a woman as a leading lady rather than a sidekick (however charismatic or important to the story she may be) is a rarity. Female protagonists do exist, though, and they've starred in some exceptional games. Here are 10 wonderful women who led the way for the next generation of video game heroines.
"Assassin's Creed" has incorporated nuanced female characters with a lot of agency since its very first installment, but it wasn't until "Assassin's Creed: Liberation" on the PlayStation Vita in 2012 that one took center stage. Aveline de Grandpré is the child of a wealthy French merchant and a freed African slave who becomes an Assassin to fight injustice in colonial America. In addition to the hallmark parkour and weapons expertise that come with the Assassin mantle, Aveline can also disguise herself as a highborn lady or a lowly slave in order to end the Templar influence from New Orleans all the way to Mexico. Determined and thoughtful, Aveline is brave enough to question the beliefs of the Assassins, and wise enough to carry out her mission regardless.
"P.N.03" was a forgettable third-person shooter for the Gamecube that starred Vanessa Z. Schneider, who took center stage as a gun-for-hire charged with destroying a deadly assortment of rogue robots. What makes Vanessa interesting is not necessarily her personality (curious, collected, unflappable) or her storyline (fight evil robots, discover a sci-fi conspiracy, get an ambiguous ending), but that her sex has no bearing on the storyline whatsoever. During the planning stages of "P.N.03", developer Capcom asked a character artist whether he would rather draw a man or a woman, he picked, and the rest is history. Vanessa is a slick sci-fi protagonist who has nothing to prove — too bad she was much more memorable than the rest of her game, and hasn't shown up since 2003.
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Sarah Kerrigan is arguably more of a villain than a hero, but she's a main playable character either way. Embroiled in the war between the human Terrans and the relentless alien Zerg, Sarah was left behind on a Zerg world and reborn as their ultimate weapon: The Queen of Blades. Sarah's inner turmoil is what makes her such a compelling character: Is she a resolute Terran soldier, a self-described "Queen Bitch of the Universe," or a conflicted warrior trying to straddle both worlds? Those questions have no easy answers, but players will still enjoy taking control of Sarah whether she's slaughtering hundreds of Terrans or trying to redeem herself by taking the fight to the Zerg. As a bonus, she makes a pretty excellent final boss in "StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty."
Although Jill Valentine is best remembered for almost becoming a "Jill Sandwich," this Master of Unlocking has more than just keys at her disposal. Jill first took the stage in 1996's "Resident Evil" on the PlayStation, where she proved her worth as a calm, loyal counterterrorism officer, fighting off zombies in the doomed Raccoon City. Equally good at gunning down the undead and solving tricky puzzles, Jill set a high standard for heroines in survival-horror games: smart, capable and devoted to her partners. Although she has appeared in numerous "Resident Evil" games, she only takes a starring role in three. Given how quickly Capcom pumps out sequels, though, it's only a matter of time before we see her again.
At first glance, Bayonetta is a jumble of contradictions. She's one of the most provocative video game characters around, but exhibits no interest in the men that populate her story. Her clothes — which are made of her own hair — fly off every time she punches or kicks an enemy, to say nothing of her high heels, which double as pistols. Bayonetta absolutely drips female sexuality, but doesn't waste it on titillation, using it instead to fight the hordes of grotesque angels who stand between her and her goal: Stopping the misogynistic, domineering Father Balder from reawakening an ancient destructive power. Some gamers think Bayonetta is pandering; others think she's subversive. Either way, she's one of the most unusual ladies in gaming.
The "Final Fantasy" series debuted in 1987, but it took until 1994 before a lady took the lead. "Final Fantasy VI" (originally called "Final Fantasy III" in the United States) introduced Terra Branford, a woman who could wield elemental magic as easily as a sword. Terra was exactly what a maturing "Final Fantasy" series needed: a three-dimensional protagonist who is not a natural-born leader, but rather acquires compassion, focus and a genuine desire to make the world a better place as the game progresses. In addition to being one of the most powerful characters in the game (she is one of only two party members who can learn magic naturally), Terra would set a high standard for future female protagonists in the series, such as Yuna ("Final Fantasy X-2") and Lightning ("Final Fantasy XIII").
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Usually, a protagonist needs a voice and a character arc to be compelling, but Chell sidesteps these requirements. Chell, the main character of the "Portal" series, never says a word, but communicates a lot about herself through her actions and a few small environmental details; in fact, you won't even see her unless you position her in between two nearby portals. Chell is resolute. On her own and armed with nothing but a gun that shoots space-bending portals, Chell stands against not one, but two sociopathic AIs while working her way through twisted, mind-bending test chambers. She is more or less immune to psychological warfare (GLaDOS, one of Chell's computerized tormentors, digs into her with fat jokes almost constantly), and does not let simple things like pits of fire or being cryogenically frozen for centuries stop her from her single-minded quest to escape the testing facility.