The industry hasn’t always had the best representation when it comes to female video game characters, and while strides have been made since the days of Ms Pacman many would argue there’s still plenty of room for improvement. That said, no matter the gaming platform, there have been lots of iconic female video game characters in the meantime – check out some of our favorites here.
There’s no two ways about it – Lara Croft was a trailblazer for female video games characters everywhere. Making her debut in 1996, she has since gained much more character depth – as well as polygons – and has headed up a thriving franchise that included a full reboot in 2013. Lara Croft’s reach has also extended beyond the gaming sphere, with multiple films having been released and Angelina Jolie best known for inhabiting the title role.
While Princess Peach (sometimes referred to as Princess Toadstool in her earlier years) started out as a damsel in distress for the Super Mario Bros, she has far more established herself as a standalone character since, and has even headlined multiple games. Staunch proof that you can be feminine while still being a force to be reckoned with, Princess Peach’s distinctive pink likeness has appeared in more video games (some of which are among the most popular games ever) than any other female game character.
Continuing our look on retrogaming, one might say that Link is the actual protagonist, but the it's The Legend of Zelda. Similarly to Princess Peach, Zelda’s role in the earlier games was a relatively small, passive one, but over time she has come to assume multiple crucial roles and established herself as an important figure in the protection of the kingdom of Hyrule.
Zelda is also known for her alter egos, most notably a ninja-like warrior named Sheik as well as young pirate captain Tetra.
The reach of The Last of Us protagonist Ellie has stretched even further thanks to the recent release of the television series of the same name (in which Ellie is portrayed by Bella Ramsey). A young teenager being escorted through a post-apocalyptic world by a man named Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal in the television series), the pair’s relationship formed the poignant centerpiece of a game that included multiple refreshingly portrayed female characters as well as a narrative full of gut-wrenching twists and turns.
The first Bayonetta game was directed by Hideki Kamiya, creator of the Devil May Cry franchise, and you can feel this unmistakable vibe in both the game and characters – including, of course, Bayonetta herself. A shapeshifting witch who performs magical attacks with her hair, she is certainly a very unique female video game character, and the franchise follows her story after she is revived from the bottom of a lake with no memories of her past.
Yuna is seen by many as their favorite female character in the Final Fantasy series. First seen in Final Fantasy X, Yuna is a talented summoner who sets out to defeat Sin, a monstrous creature terrorizing the world of Spira. In addition to having suitably striking outfits to put her alongside her fellow Final Fantasy fashionistas, Yuna is a kind and caring character who quite literally puts herself before others and is willing to sacrifice everything she has to destroy Sin and save the world.
First introduced alongside Chris Redfield in 1996’s Resident Evil, Jill Valentine was created by director Shinji Mikami and designer Isao Ohishi with the specific intent of portraying a female video game character as independent and not merely a damsel or eye candy. In addition to featuring in multiple Resident Evil games since her first, Jill was also a character in several of the Resident Evil films as well as novelizations.
SHODAN (Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network) walked – metaphorically speaking, anyway – so GLaDOS could run. The main antagonist of cyberpunk horror game series System Shock, SHODAN is an artificial intelligence who has had her moral restraints removed by a hacker in the process of trying to delete some incriminating files. A frequent feature on top video game villains lists, SHODAN’s constant, looming presence is psychologically terrifying.
Samus Aran is the protagonist of the Metroid video games series, but in the first Metroid game her gender was a surprise reveal at the end when she emerged from her Power Suit. Although earlier installments in the Metroid series showed various scantily clad versions of Samus as rewards for completing the game within certain parameters, more recent titles moved away from this practice, with Samus also appearing in games from other series such as Super Smash Bros and Super Mario RPG.
Quite possibly the most well-known female fighting game character of all time, Chun-Li and her trademark outfit and kick-heavy fighting style have featured in pretty much the entirety of the Street Fighter back catalog (including multiple movies, anime, and comic books). First appearing in 1991’s Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, she was notably the first female character in a fighting game to gain mainstream recognition, and paved the way for many iconic fighting game femmes since.
The protagonist of the first three Mass Effect games, “FemShep” – as she is affectionately known in the fandom – is one of video gaming’s best-known sci-fi icons. Voiced by veteran actor Jennifer Hale, Commander Shepard has a lot of character despite effectively functioning as the player’s self-insert. With very little of the Mass Effect games changing as a result of the player picking a male or female Shepard, FemShep is a great example of character gender equality within gaming and a top female video game character in her own right.
A highly sophisticated artificial intelligence, Cortana has the privilege of speaking most of the first Halo installment’s dialogue, and appears in both the franchise’s games as well as other mediums such as books and the television series. As well as proving an invaluable assistant to the player character in the Halo games, Cortana was also the inspiration for Microsoft’s own virtual assistant (hence them sharing the name).
The daughter of Dr Eli Vance, Alyx is a prominent feature of Half Life 2, helping protagonist Gordon Freeman more frequently than any other character. Smart, independent, and a skilled hacker, Alyx is also the owner of a giant pet robot called Dog (who you can even play fetch with during the course of the game). In 2020, Alyx got her own game in the form of the VR-based Half-Life: Alyx, which received universal acclaim and only further cemented her reputation as a top female video game character.
Jaina Proudmoore is the most powerful sorceress in the Warcraft universe – and it’s hard to argue with that. First appearing in 2002’s Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, Jaina has since made appearances in multiple Blizzard titles, including Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone, and is even a boss in the Battle of Dazar'alor raid in World of Warcraft.
Yennefer is arguably the most iconic female character in the Witcher series, an epic adventure video game that has become a global phenomenon with its TV adaptation. Portrayed by Anya Chalotra in the Netflix show, she is a talented sorceress and also protagonist Geralt of Rivia’s true love. An undeniably strong – and beautiful – woman, Yennefer defeated great hardships in her life to become the powerful magic user she is known for being today.
With game devs being ever more mindful of the need for good female video game characters, we can only expect this list to grow in the forthcoming years – slay, video game queens!