Runner-ups: Princess Peach, Bayonetta, Sonya Blade, Vela, Sheva Alomar, Mrs. Pac-Man, Joanna Dark, Claire Redfield, The Boss, Celes Chere
8. Amaterasu (Okami)
Nowhere did I say that the female had to be human. Loophole! Amaterasu (Ammie) is literally a Goddess. Goddess of the Sun to be specific. After the demon Orochi is released, Ammie must travel the lands restoring life to the areas she visits while defeating dangerous demons, ultimately engaging the ruler of the demons in a fierce battle. While Ammie’s gender never truly comes into play during the game, it is stated very definitively many times that Ammie is female and a Goddess. She overcomes incredible odds to defeat a very powerful evil and save the land of Nippon. Ammie has also turned up in a couple of Street Fighter versus Capcom entries.
7. Shanoa (Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia)
Castlevania has seen a few female protagonists over the years, but Shanoa sticks out for a few reasons. Her source of power comes from glyphs on her body. Three can be used at one time. Aside from these glyphs, she has no weapons at all, so she truly enters battle unarmed. She was also forced to overcome what she thought was a betrayal, but turned out not to be, then a betrayal that she didn’t realize was a betrayal. And, if you really want to turn this into a male versus female thing, she had to best three different men, two from her own Order that trained her, to set things right. All of this also earned her a role in the underrated (as I see it) Castlevania: Judgment Wii game.
6. Chun-Li (Street Fighter)
Fighting game characters are rarely admired for any kind of story, but Chun-Li’s is worth pointing out. She has been trained in multiple martial arts styles from an early age, and has been instilled with a strong moral code and sense of justice. After her father’s death at the hands of M. Bison, she goes undercover to bring him down. When not in the street fighting circuit, she is a police officer and/or teaches children martial arts. She is also the first female character in the Street Fighter series and a major force in-game.
5. Kaine (NIER)
Kaine is an interesting character, and probably the most surprising one on this list for most people. First of all, Kaine isn’t controllable in game, but is a member of your party for virtually the entire game, therefore, I feel including her is proper here. There’s also the fact that Kaine is intersex, a fact hinted at in the game and stated outright in supplemental reading. Kaine is a tragic character, having lost her parents as a child and having been ostracized for that and her gender. As an adult, she carries that anger with her and it seems to serve as a driving force. She is also partially possessed by a shade, a death sentence for most people, but she co-exists with said shade. Ultimately, while being a tragic character, she overcomes all of the set-backs to be a valuable party member and exceptionally strong person.
4. Lara Croft (Tomb Raider)
Though #4 on my list, I think of Lara Croft as being second in influence in regards to female protagonists (behind my #1). She ranks a bit lower because she ultimately chose her lifestyle instead of being thrown into it (hey, this is my choice). While being raised as a wealthy child, Lara found herself stranded in the Himalayas after a plane crash…or on an island after a ship wreck, depending on which storyline we’re going with. Regardless, Lara rose to the demands of each, taking care of herself and overcoming the obstacles in her way. In her original timeline (Himalayas), this lead to her seeking out adventure, much like a more acrobatic Indiana Jones. While also helping pioneer the female role in games, Lara was the first real video game sex symbol. I’m still not sure if this was a positive or a negative for women in games.
3. Jill Valentine (Resident Evil)
Jill has truly been through the ringer. She helped take down a tyrant in the initial outbreak in Raccoon City, then had to survive the city itself while being stalked by the Nemesis Tyrant, only barely escaping the city before its destruction. After helping found the BSAA, she is kidnapped by Albert Wesker and put under his control for a decent chunk of time, finally being freed by Chris Redfield during Resident Evil 5. Jill is extremely resourceful and a constant force to be reckoned with, as her continued survival in the face of overwhelming odds show. She has also had roles in the Street Fighter versus Capcom games as well as Project X Zone.
2. Terra Branford (Final Fantasy VI)
The daughter of a human mother and Esper father, Terra begins her in-game story as a slave to the empire, as she is supremely powerful with natural magical abilities thanks to her Esper heritage. After finally being freed of her slave crown by the “Returners,” also known as the “good guys,” Terra becomes the primary heroine of the game, and the person the story most revolves around. During the second half of the game, she does lose her fighting spirit, choosing to instead watch over a group of orphaned children, but regains it and decides to fight against those threatening them. Terra’s magical abilities are a major force in game and she is a major asset in any battle. Terra also shows up in the Dissidia mash-up game and has a cool cameo in Secret of Evermore.
1. Samus Aran (Metroid)
Yes, I’m predictable, though I prefer to call myself consistent. Samus Aran is the original strong female protagonist. She saw her family slaughtered by space pirates, surviving the attack, and was cared for by the bird like Chozo race. Under their tutelage, she was trained and given equipment that allowed her to obliterate the space pirates, and their commander, Ridley, at every turn, as well as managing to completely eradicate the Metroid species the pirates were attempting to weaponize. She does this completely solo as well, relying on no back-up or support from Space Marines or anyone else. Even if I wasn’t the fan of Metroid that I am, Samus would still almost have to be in this spot just because I feel she paved the way for every other female protagonist in games. Samus Aran, female trailblazer.