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As a lot of you probably know, sexism in the gaming industry has been something of a hot button issue lately. We all know it’s out there, so I have a message for the chauvinists out there stinking up the place: You, sir, are a gamer. You’re supposed to be better than that. We are a cut above the rest of humanity, so act like it. While you guys get your act together, the rest of us will celebrate the women in our lives with this top 10 list celebrating the fairer sex. I present the Top 10 Female Protagonists.
10. Peach (Super Mario 2): Super Mario 2 is kind of like that weird adolescent phase you just kind of gloss over while going through old pictures. It’s not a terrible game or anything, but it’s not exactly Mario in his prime. One prominent feature of the game that tends to get overlooked is that fact that Mario is totally overshadowed by Peach. I mean, c’mon. Float jump. If there is a more valid argument out there, I would love to hear it. Personally, I think she lets herself get kidnapped just so Mario can feel useful in the relationship. Peach, I applaud you for “standing by you man”, but girl, you can do better than that loser. You gots to find yourself a real man.
9. Faith (Mirror’s Edge): Reasons I love Faith: 1) She looks awesome. Seriously, that chick has style. 2) She is an incredible platformer. I have become attached to far stupider protagonists because of their platforming chops, and she does it better than most. 3) She’s a rebel. I love a good underdog/revolution story, and Faith’s whole career is dedicated to sticking it to the man. 4) She made time trials fun for me. Time trials. So that’s four reasons. Four, ah ah ah ah. …That reminds me. 5) She doesn’t hold my stupid Sesame Street jokes against me. That’s a debt I can’t repay. I can’t wait to see what she has store for her recently announced sequel.
8. Ayame (Tenchu): In an age where females are mostly judged by their arranged marriage prospects, Ayame refused to conform and responded in a reasonable and effective manner: Becoming an awesome ninja and brutally murdering those who engage in swindling, bamboozling and general ne’er do welling. Infinitely cooler than her colleague Rikimaru, who looks like he shares a stylist with 2002 Justin Timberlake, Ayame uses her dual ninja blades as well as any ninja in the ‘verse. Often overlooked in the pantheon of great females in gaming, Ayame can stand with the best of them. Also, I’m not sure if I mentioned this or not, she’s a ninja.
7. Aya Brea (Parasite Eve): I’ll go ahead and start this off with the disclaimer that I have no idea what the hell happened in Parasite Eve. Whew, I feel better. Something about mitochondria…I looked it up at a trusted academic source, and Wikipedia assured me it was a action role-playing survival horror, making it the only game ever to be a part of that incredibly specific genre. Protagonist Aya Brea was one of the earliest examples of a female protagonist being truly fleshed out as a character. No offense to Lara Croft, but her PS1 incarnation didn’t exactly channel Meryl Streep. Aya could certainly handle her business on the gameplay front, but she also had depth.
6. Jill Valentine (Resident Evil): The Resident Evil mythos may be more confusing than Justin Bieber fans at this point, but there have been a couple constants throughout. Acid rounds are sweet. Going down into the sewer isn’t going to be any fun at all. And Jill Valentine rocks. Known for her inexplicably changing hair color, proficiency with grenade launchers and being the only known human being to attain the title of “master of unlocking”, Jill was clearly the best of the original Resident Evil crew. Assuming you’re not counting Barry Burton….and people never seem to count Barry. Regardless, Jill Valentine truly is the master of unlocking…our hearts. Up top!
5. Lightning (Final Fantasy XIII): Final Fantasy XIII did a lot of things very, very wrong. Protagonist Lightning was not one of those things. Making everyone around her look even dumber (except Fang!), Lightning exuded cool like she had an overactive awesome gland. She has it all: stellar combat skills, a dark and brooding personality, two words: gun blade, and a huge robotic demon horse. Especially that last one. Final Fantasy has a history of creating excellent, if absurdly dressed, female characters, and Lightning is one of the best examples of that.
4. Jade (Beyond Good & Evil): Jade is so cool she single-handedly made green lipstick only marginally weird. Need I say more? Fine, I’ll elaborate. Jade is a hero, a woman who understands what her values are and would go to any lengths to fight for those values. She does not tolerate injustice, and will do anything to help out her friends, even if one of said friends is a giant pig. Literally. He’s gross. But Jade doesn’t care about any of that. She just wants to cruise her hovercraft around and fight big government. And she is an excellent photographer. Her classic picture Slightly Out Of Shot Bird That Still Got Me Full Points Anyway remains one of my favorite pieces of art.
3. Terra (Final Fantasy VI): Rarely have we seen such a great cast of characters as was presented in Final Fantasy VI. Almost to a person, FFVI’s troupe of party members and antagonists was incredible, and they are anchored by starting member Terra. Terra is so interesting because you see her journey from scared pawn to super powered hero. She presents a personality that can be both scared and in control, naïve and complex, lost and found. Watching her transformation is an emotional ride, and encountering her and trying to coax her back into your party late in the adventure adds an extra layer of drama to the standard RPG act of gathering party members.
2. Samus Aran (Metroid): There’s nothing like an original. Metroid was one of the breakout games on the NES, and gave gamers quite a shock when its main character’s true identity was revealed. Female protagonists aren’t exactly the norm now, but they were almost unheard of in video game’s early days. Of course, it didn’t matter to anybody what sex Samus was; when you have mad skills like that, gender issues tend to get thrown out the window. Time has not been as kind to Samus as we might have hoped, but I’m still hoping the old girl can make a comeback.
1. Lara Croft (Tomb Raider): The prototypical heroine, Lara Croft has become synonymous with females in gaming. Every girl wanted to be her, and every adolescent boy was having NSFW dreams about her. While her early forays into gaming established her as a legitimate star, it was her recent gritty overhaul that firmly places Lara atop the pantheon of great gaming females. Watching the character of Lara develop while simultaneously acknowledging her extensive history gives the best of both worlds: It establishes a strong future for a strong character, while giving us the dose of nostalgia that truly endears you to a character. Lover her or hate her, Lara Croft is the number one female protagonist in gaming.