Frag Girl’s Top 5 Female Video Game Characters (Spoiler Alert)

Since yon days of Peach and her constant state of distress, female characters in the realm of gaming have become much more complex – in a good way. Instead of women being portrayed primarily as vanity items, they have, over time, developed into full-fledged characters with as many intricacies as a real person. Sure, it’s fun every now and then to have something outrageous – look at Lollipop Chainsaw, for example – but the real challenge comes in creating a character that is dynamic and realistic, something that has posed itself as an obstacle to the gaming industry (primarily due to the comic book era; growing up with an abundance of male figures makes it more difficult to understand the other end of the spectrum).

So, with that in mind, which ones stand out the most? You could cover this topic a thousand times and come up with different characters. For me, the subject took quite a bit of thought; there are so many women to choose from now, which makes picking the “best” ones a difficult task.

With that in mind, let’s press onward to Frag Girl’s Top 5 Female Video Game Characters! Mine are listed below, but we also have a special guest writer this week who has provided his top five as well, for a little variety.

Aeris Gainsborough

“Mine is special. It’s good for absolutely nothing!”

5. Aerith Gainsborough (Final Fantasy VII)

An Ancient with the power to save the world – all while dressed in pink from head to booted toe. Aerith Gainsborough was one of the first good female video game characters I encountered, way back when in the year of ’97 (now if that doesn’t make you feel old…). At first, I wasn’t tremendously fond of her; I was more of a Tifa fan, since her hair color was the same of mine – you can tell already that I had high standards as a kid. However, as I’ve grown, I’ve come to like Aerith more and more. She’s headstrong, intelligent, curious, and adventurous. Cloud tries numerous times throughout the course of Final Fantasy VII to keep her away from danger, but she always charges into it without hesitation.

Her determination, will, and the fact that she saves the planet all on her lonesome is what earns her a spot in my list as number five. It’s just too bad that Sephiroth had to come along and cut her role short.

Aya Brea

“Do you know where we are?! WE’RE IN HELL’S KITCHEN!”

4. Aya Brea (Parasite Eve)

Parasite Eve was one of the first truly “scary” games. Although it eventually had stiff competition, it was definitely a game that stuck out in my memory. Part of this is due to Aya Brea, a protagonist who utilizes the skills she learned as an officer for the NYPD to fight against a horrifying, mitochondrial monster, Parasite Eve. Aya experiences significant character development throughout the course of the game, something that really intrigued me the first time I played it. Although Parasite Eve has a few glaring plotholes and, at times, uncertainty about its characters’ backgrounds, Aya is strong enough to carry the game through these points.

There’s also the fact that she’s rocking some kickass pumps in the beginning of the game. What can I say? I love me some heels.

Heather Mason

“Listen, suffering is a fact of life. Either you learn how to deal with that or you go under. You can stay in your own little dream world, but you can’t keep hurting other people!”

3. Heather Mason (Silent Hill)

If you can’t tell by her eyes in the photo above, Heather Mason has been through hell. Specifically, she’s been through Silent Hill and lived (in the vaguest sense of the term) to tell about it, making her something of an oddity. Of even further intrigue is that she isn’t exactly a normal human being – she was born Cheryl (later renamed by her adopted father, another survivor of Silent Hill), but she is actually a reincarnation of Alessa, The Incubator.

What makes Heather truly special, though, is her personality. Before the events of Silent Hill 3, she’s a normal teenaged girl; she likes to shop, is relatively carefree, sometimes moody, and has a quick tongue that takes well to sarcasm. As she is forced to survive the horrors of Silent Hill, however, she really develops as a character and unveils strengths that you wouldn’t expect from a teenager. She’s surprisingly resilient and near-constantly adapts to her surroundings, allowing her to survive and surpass the terrible things she must endure.

Konami and Team Silent did an excellent job with Heather. It’s hard to make a teenager appealing as a character, but Heather has personality and strength in spades.

Kreia

“It is such a quiet thing to fall… but far more terrible as to admit it.”

2. Kreia (Knights of the Old Republic II)

Morality dilemmas, thy name is Kreia. Such is the toil of the Grey Jedi, of which Kreia is an excellent example. She appears to us in Knights of the Old Republic II as an old woman, but her will and strength of character (along with her ability to, you know, chop you in half with a lightsaber) are as sharp as her words.

In addition, Kreia is an excellent foil against the typical moral system of the Star Wars franchise. She isn’t the only grey jedi, nor is she the most famous (Revan might take that title – curiously enough, she was his mentor), but she’s definitely the most effective. Her morals favor wit and intellectual prowess more than anything; you won’t win her affections by being good or evil, but by outsmarting your enemies and, often, her. If you pay attention, Kreia lies to you at least three times within the first few minutes of meeting her; this, as the game goes on, will remain a constant trend. If you solve her riddles and see through her dishonesty, you’ll earn a place beside her – but be careful: she’s as dynamic as she is powerful.

Finally, her dialogue is simply stunning. If you cherish well-written dialogue, Kreia will truly be a treat for you.

The Boss

“Think you can pull the trigger?”

1. The Boss (Metal Gear)

If you look up “badass” in the dictionary, The Boss’s picture should be right there.

There are few female protagonists who are as cunning and hardcore as Metal Gear‘s The Boss. Oftentimes, these protagonists are masculinized to better suit their role as a “tough guy,” but The Boss maintains her strength while still looking like (one hell of a) woman. She mentored Naked Snake, founded the Cobra Unit, co-developed the CQC technique, and gave birth to Revolver Ocelot in the middle of a mission after getting shot in the gut.

In addition, The Boss is an excellent example of a successful mother figure, as Steve comments upon below. It’s rare to see such a complex relationship played out successfully, much more so in a video game; putting a woman in a position of power on top of making her a metaphorical (and literal, in one case) mother to the cast is a daring move on Konami’s part.

Now, after reading all that, is there any doubt as to why she earned the first place in this list?

Honorable Mention: Triss Merigold (The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings)

Alright, I’m a little biased – I love The Witcher series. Triss Merigold is an amazing woman in the sequel, but she’s so remarkably bland in the first game that she didn’t quite make the list. Still, kudos to CD ProjektRED for making her a truly interesting (and fiery) character in The Witcher 2: Assassination of Kings. I just wish she was more present.

And now, for our promised guest writer. Steven Doty has offered his top five as well, for a different perspective – check them out below!

5. Shale (Dragon Age: Origins)

The whole ‘this is my robot buddy’ thing, like most of Bioware’s limited stable of writing clichés, has been run well into the ground at this point (HK-47, Legion, EDI), but golems being made from people lets the game approach Shale from a different angle altogether.  Taking her to the golem registry results in a bit of a surprise (because let’s face it, I thought she was a dude and you probably did too) and opens some interesting conversations on gender and perception.  Credit where credit is due, I don’t think I’d seen gender dysphoria portrayed as something other than a punchline in a video game before Shale.

4. Faith Connors (Mirrors Edge)

I’m kinda partial to guile/stealth heroes, the ones who can get what they want without having to go in guns blazing and kick the door down.  Hell, Faith doesn’t even need guns.  Sure, she can use them, but if you have to resort to doing so, you’re bad at games.  She also has a refreshingly straightforward approach to sweeping authoritarian conspiracies (no time for overwrought monologues, there’s drainpipes to jump off and her sister’s name needs clearing) and drives the plot forward despite Merc’s constant whining about how “it could be a trap” (it always is).

3. Alyx Vance (Half-Life 2)

Yeah, I know, Alyx always makes it onto these lists, but just because it’s the go-to answer doesn’t mean there isn’t solid logic behind it.  There’s a sort of personal connection that develops from having her alongside you for most of the game, especially in the ‘Episode’ sequels – the fact that she’s actively backing you up in fights and suggesting solutions to puzzles makes you appreciate her a lot more.  (I loved the sniper rifle sequence in Episode One, and the fact that they repeated it in Episode Two suggests that either more people liked it or they had to cut the budget because Gabe Newell kept buying a second lunch.)  Bonus points for portraying the ultra-rare platonic friendship between two opposite-gendered people – you’d think those never happen, judging from most media.

2.  The Boss (Metal Gear Solid 3)

Maternal relationships don’t get much exploration in games, probably because they’re more difficult to write than typical (and let’s face it, shallow) video game fare.  For this reason, I think, when they do show up they tend to be carefully thought out and maturely explored.  The Boss is a good example – she balances the usual MGS themes (most prominently ‘a soldier’s duty is to carry out their mission, regardless of personal cost, and this gets them exploited by controlling government/bureaucracy types’) with a distinct maternal edge that makes her character unique.  That’s not just in the literal sense of being Ocelot’s mother – she’s also referred to as the metaphorical ‘mother of the Special Forces’, she was the leader of the Cobra Unit, and most importantly, she’s the mentor figure to Big Boss.  She guides him through the mission, teaches him everything she knows, and forces him to improve, even when they’re on opposite sides.  And in the end, she passes her legacy and hopes for the future on to him, just like a parent should.

1. Kreia (Knights of the Old Republic II)

Take everything I said about the Boss being an awesome mother figure for the player character and compound it with the trappings of the trickster mentor and a surprising amount of maturity for the setting, and you have Kreia.  She uses the same adversarial style of mentoring, and its foundation lies in a complex morality that isn’t easily categorized by the shallow, cartoonish Star Wars cosmology (deal with it, nerds).  One thing that differentiates her from the Boss, though (and indeed, differentiates Chris Avellone’s writing from most of the stuff you see in games), is her willingness – and indeed, proclivity – to actively lie to and manipulate the player character in order to educate you.

You’re encouraged, with a higher Intelligence/Wisdom score, to discern the grain of truth within each lie and to understand that just because she’s your mentor figure doesn’t mean you should blindly trust everything she (or anyone) says, and when you take this lesson to heart and begin to weigh each situation carefully instead of committing to blind light/dark side partisanship, you win her approval.  The vaguely Nietzschean nature of her moral approach stands in stark contrast to both of the ‘official’ factions, both of which she’s tried and eventually rejected; the Jedi are bureaucratic relics who constantly hinder you for not meeting all of their exacting standards, and the Sith (Kreia’s former apprentices, whom you are going to surpass like mad) are Saturday morning cartoon villains with no depth or motivation beyond ‘aaaaargh kill all life’.  They almost come off as parodies of the typical light/dark players, which makes your eventual rejection of them doubly effective: Kreia teaches you to be superior to them not just because you don’t rely wholly on the Force the way they do, but because you’re not bound by the same behavioral dogma.

I like to think, after the events of the game, that she occasionally showed up in the Academy as a Force ghost to lecture padawans making out in the dorms about how apathy is death.

Honorable Mention: Kaine (Nier)

Not included in the final list because, uh…well, spoilers.  Either way, it left me sort of unsure and I erred on the side of caution by going with Shale instead.

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