It’s International Women’s Day around the globe, so I thought what better way to celebrate this than highlighting some of my all time favourite leading ladies in gaming. Female protagonists carry the strongest resolve in each of their respective stories. Whether it’s seeking redemption, surviving a pandemic, scaling the skylines of a bustling cityscape, or traversing a post-apocalyptic dystopian future, there are a litany of illustrious titles that have carried legacies for numerous generations. Spectacles; magnanimous moments that have defined our beloved medium with compelling chronicles of each heroic heroine carrying out her own harrowing expedition. In this, we honour their courageous encounters that we live in vicariously.
It was hard to choose only a handful, as there are so many that have carved out incredible potboilers in each of their fictionalised feats. We acknowledge the creator of each character, and their innovation to implement heart, courage, and passion within the many personalities. It’s an understatement that gaming’s greatest entails the strongest leads in female protagonists, with the “Nathan Drake” trope beginning to fizzle by every ascending generation. We didn’t want to leave you with only five mentions, as we included another ten honourable mentions, but here are five of our favourite female protagonists in the world of video gaming.
Without a doubt, one of the most polarising protagonists in recent memory. We’ve seen the character Ellie grow from arrogant, brash, immature and overly confident teen, to ruthless mercenary, surviving a “new normal”. The mutant strain of a Cordyceps fungus continues to aggressively deteriorate humanity, sending civilisation on the brink. From a subdued, carefree lifestyle to completely callous and apathetic, the arbitrary nature of living through uncertainty toys with every emotion in Ellie’s coming of age story. From portraying her guardian Joel, then seeing her all grown up in The Last of Us Part II, it made for a mercurial, rigorous, thrill ride that promised nothing, and only presented endless possibilities in Ellie’s ongoing escapade.
Her never give up attitude, and willingness to pursue false-hope in the wake of discovering her true identity has got to be one of the most gut-wrenching acknowledgements for anyone to go through. While The Last of Us Part II demonstrates a certain growth within Ellie as a character, her true character progression is highlighted through many teachings from a hopeful father figure, just looking to get his life back. Her disdain of figureheads thrives her ambitious quest in keeping her loved ones, and close friends safe but her inner guilt may not be something the young adult can escape, and in a dishevelled world like The Last of Us, it’s admirable that she continues to bear this guilt.
Imagine this. A war torn world, post cataclysmic, living an semi-ecotopian lifestyle. Technology is identified as an enemy, and is only represented through few facets within surroundings. Anamorphic androids roam the land with what’s left of civilisation harbouring their own tribe or village. Almost like existence hit a reset button, but maintained some semblance of technological properties that had survived aforementioned catastrophe’s. Horizon Zero Dawn follows a young, ambitious teenager, just looking for acceptance in this world. Known as “The Motherless”, the baby born from an unknown existence strives to find the truth behind her conception.
This origin story carves a unique path, taking our the adventurous Aloy, on a defiant escapade through the absolutely stunning environments, and enormous atlas of trials and tribulations that aim to challenge the hopeful youngster on her almost forbidden crusade. Her quiet probe promises to deliver the truth of this young female warrior’s true presence, and how she came to be exiled. An enduring story of a lost child, taught to be the very best she could by her guardian, also banished from all mainland tribes. Upon passing “The Proving”, her adventure leads to unique swerves, and an confronting narrative that may leave gamer’s stunned.
The Runner. A thrill seeker looking to fulfil her duty as a black market courier, making cash for delivery’s off the grid. A lifestyle frowned upon by figureheads of this dystopian distant metropolis. The city’s oppressive bliss is maintained through a proxy-war held in abeyance by leaders that look to overrule and dominate without democracy. But no one complains, they get on with their lives, acting like it’s part of the everyday grind, except for Faith Connors, and her clan. Guided by her superior and father figure Merc – short for Mercury – the 24 year-old seeks justice, just as Kate, a police officer and older sister of Faith; only that the young Runner looks to deify the crooked con-artists ruling the city, and takes justice into her own hands.
A literal Game of Thrones is set in The City’s maniacal monarchy, and the landscape drastically changes when Mayor Robert Pope is killed. Framed for murder, Kate looks to be convicted of manslaughter but her sister sprints into action, leaping the lofty towers and skyscrapers of this mundane, pale obelisk filled world, demanding informants fess up any knowledge of Pope’s death. Mirror’s Edge entails an enthralling narrative with captivating gameplay, and compelling sequences that have not been replicated, even in its 2014 reboot. The original title is unique, and melds together a fresh take on the platforming action-adventure genre, amalgamating features of First-Person shooters/hand-to-hand combat with parkour. One of 2008’s greatest.
She’s such a badass. Tifa Lockhart’s first appearance back in 1997 in Final Fantasy VII for PlayStation, personified what we all loved in a confident heroine with an attitude. Her lovable character was admired through her unorthodox design, but had the JRPG world abuzz with her natural quips, and powerful fists. Doubling down on her personality, series creator Tetsuya Nomura continued to conceive his vision of Tifa’s evolving design in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. This was the first time since the original game that fans had been able to fully grasp Nomura’s concept of each integral character, and how he envisioned them. Bursting through the seams, the bare-knuckle brutality the young beauty boasted, bashfully bruised all contenders with confidence.
The feature length film inspired Tifa’s redesign in 2020’s Final Fantasy VII: Remake, which highlighted the brawler’s traits further. Her resolve in maintaining perspective and harmony between Avalanche and Cloud, along with admiration for her close cohorts. A beaming ray of positivity, but a poise in determination makes Tifa one of gaming’s greatest heroines. Her never give up attitude inspires many that have played all incarnations of this hearty heroine. It’s hard not to fall in love with her; a brave, young, earnest lady that looks to lead her friends towards a tranquil resolve in each of their respective destinations. Cannot wait for FFVII Remake: Part II.
The gold-standard; an absolute pillar in female protagonists. If there was ever one that we could point towards, it’s Lara Croft. One of gaming’s most respected heroines that has ultimately paved the way for many more badass broads to brutally lay the smackdown on many a menacing figure. Whether she’s looting or shooting her way through a myriad of her adventures, Lara has captivated an entire generation of gamers from her first appearance on PlayStation, in the initial Tomb Raider. The rope swinging, Pyramid pillaging, British-born femme fatale cornered gamers into her allure. The confounding concept that mixes fiction and fantasy for this Lara’s multiple escapades over the years had fans fawning or flustered. By leaps and bounds, it remains inarguable that Lara Croft’s intertwining history in gaming has had a significant impact on many action titles that share the genre. Without it, there would be no Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. But without Uncharted, there would probably be no Tomb Raider Reboot.
With Lara carrying the PlayStation Torch proudly in her early years, the flame fizzled for a potential future post PSX era. The series was put on ice after 2009’s Underworld, a poor effort from developer’s to oppose Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. The Redwood based developer knew they had to re-invigorate and reboot the entire series, thus revealing Tomb Raider 2013, taking us back to Lara’s roots, before becoming an experienced Treasure Hunter and what better way to stick it to her founding platform by returning as an exclusive to the competition. With that, Tomb Raider’s third run has been critically acclaimed, and has had a positive response from fans, in its return to form. Lara Croft continues to influence the gaming spectrum with industry leading achievements, and a heralded heroine that continues to ceremoniously lead the pack.