10 Most Badassed Female Protagonists in Gaming

Gaming has been strictly a gentleman’s activity until recently. (I remember my PlayStation controller growling and breaking my fingers when I tried to pick it up as a little girl.) Female protagonists have been few and far between, with most devised as virtual pinups to fulfill teenage lads and socially-withdrawn men. There are a handful of chick heroes, though, who have been straight-up badassed and don’t make you feel like you need to be hemorrhaging testosterone or in line for breast reduction surgery to kick butt with them.

10. Aya Brea

From the Parasite Eve series
Aya is an NYPD detective and her grit holds true throughout the Parasite Eve games: she behaves like a cop and doesn’t shy away from confrontation. That much is clear even in the shaky translation. In reality, all of us have energy-producing organelles called mitochondria. In Parasite Eve, Aya’s mitochondria have evolved to the point where they are endowing her with superhuman abilities – abilities that she needs, because there are other women like her with evolved mitochondria that have taken over their bodies as parasites and hate humankind for reasons I can’t quite recall. It’s bad news, anyway, as we learn right off at the beginning of the first game when about everyone but Aya is incinerated by the opera singer during a performance at Carnegie Hall. The singer mutates into something wicked called Mitochondria Eve, and if that wasn’t insane enough she spends the next six days trying to destroy Manhattan. Of course, being a badass Aya isn’t about to let that happen and foils her nasty plans, exterminating her evil mitochondrial spawn, then her, then her grotesque monster child – all in time for the next weekend.

9. Jennifer Tate

From Primal
Games like Primal depress me. Well-written, well-acted, well-scored, good-looking action games that pay the price for gunning out average action (Primal’s combat isn’t very exciting). Moreover, Primal has such a badassed main character. She’s quick-witted, determined and pretty fearless. Most people would be terrified upon waking up in a dimension ruled by demons after breaking their ribs, puncturing their lungs and rupturing their spleen, but Jen is unusually cool about it. It may be argued that she has demonic blood herself, but consider that Jen has been raised as a human girl all through her twenty-one years and only finds out about her true lineage during the course of the story. And consider that Jen’s main goal of braving the horrors of the demon world is to rescue her useless rocker boyfriend (the Dude in Distress is just as bad as the Damsel in Distress). So she awakens the demon in her and fights her way through scores of vicious uglies that would give the monsters in the Key of Solomon a run for their money. I don’t remember her whining or crying about her situation either, when no one would blame her. She just takes it in stride and marches through the demon world kicking butt and spouting wisecracks with her perfect sidekick, a talking gargoyle. Jen is also voiced by Hudson Leick, who played Callisto in Xena, the only character in Xena more badassed than Xena herself, so I guess Jen’s badassness was transferred naturally.

8. Joanna Dark

From Perfect Dark
Perfect Dark and Perfect Dark Zero both suffered from hammy voice acting, but the old Joanna Dark was the closest the N64 had to a Solid Snake. In Zero – a game designed to damage your eyesight, that reaped critical acclaim simply because it was a hot launch title for the 360 – she was portrayed like a spunky hipster, even though the story was set only three years in the past. Her accent was retconned from a British to an American one, which wouldn’t have been a big deal if the actress who voiced her hadn’t constantly sounded like a 15-year-old anime schoolbrat. Rare needs to forget about the high-pitched, perky little bimbo in Zero and go back to Joanna Dark’s original concept: the badassed secret agent.

7. Jill Valentine

From the Resident Evil series
Japanese videogame developers have a thing for characters named ‘Valentine’. There are quite a handful of them: Ivy Valentine, Keith Valentine, Vincent Valentine and Jill, who is my favorite Valentine. The Resident Evil series has the distinction of featuring three female protagonists, whose strengths of character are deemed more important than their sex appeal. While Claire and Rebecca had their moments, most Resident Evil fans will agree that Jill was by far the most badassed. She wasn’t as emotional about everything as Claire, and didn’t sound like a bratty eighth-grader like Rebecca. She carried the whole third game by herself. She spent less time gasping in fright and way more killing zombies in a miniskirt. That’s right, she blew the heads off mutated homeless people and wrestled infected dogs in a fucking miniskirt. She was too badassed for pants or to grab something bulletproof off the numerous dead cops that were lying around the city. When Nemesis blew up the chopper that had come to rescue her with his rocket launcher, she retaliated by confronting and taking him out. Nemesis, the most daunting antagonist in the Resident Evil series next to Mr. X. Rumor has it that Jill is dead in Resident Evil 5. Unless there are zombies to kill in the afterlife, then all I see is wasted badassery.

6. Nariko

From Heavenly Sword
Heavenly Sword is a rendition of wuxia epics that has excellent production values. It’s way too short, though, doesn’t even have a co-op mode, and relies too much on quick-time events. But this isn’t a review of the game, it’s a review of its protagonist. Nariko is well-written and superbly-voiced and is unquestionably a badass. I would pay to see her and Kratos from God of War duke it out. It would be one goddamn hell of a fight. Unlike Kratos, though, Nariko doesn’t need to pound her chest and roar at everyone she meets to assert her badassery. She’s sexy but she never flaunts it. She could pummel the living shit out of all her opponents and she does without acting like a showoff. It bugs me, however, that she dresses like she works in a harem. If you’re going into battle, there’ve got to be more practical ways to dress than wrapping yourself in silk. Wearing some kind of armor would be a start, something that gives you some kind of protection from being skewered to death. She doesn’t even expose as much of herself as the game’s cover art would suggest, leading me to conclude this may be an elaborate ploy to give guys blue balls.

5. Jade

From Beyond Good & Evil
Beyond Good & Evil is one of those games that has a significant cult following. Even though critics all around have piled praises on it, it wasn’t that huge a hit in sales. Still, enough people loved it for it to be getting a sequel, which is great news because there aren’t enough female protagonists like Jade. At the very start of the game aliens attack Jade’s village and she responds by single-handedly defending the villagers with her bostaff. Of course, there’s more to Jade than meets the eye, but for most of the story we’re given the impression that she’s an ordinary woman determined to protect those she cares about. Beyond Good & Evil’s lead designer is Michel Ancel, who created the Rayman series. Ancel has a reputation for dedicating himself to projects he works on. His adaptation of Peter Jackson’s King Kong film was exceptionally well-received for a movie tie-in. Beyond Good & Evil shines of that same dedication, and Ancel chose not to take the easy way out by sexing Jade up. And yet her qualities as a savvy and hardy character are highly appealing, not to mention badassed.

4. Lara Croft

From the Tomb Raider: Legend, Anniversary and Underworld
The plan for Lara Croft from the get-go was to make her a badass. There was no need to even try because the concept for her was so good. She quickly acquired sex symbol status, however, and her cup size increased dramatically with each installment. That she was the wet dream of the gaming world relegated her strong-willed, gritty qualities. It seemed Eidos even thought they would still hit sales targets if they didn’t pull their full weight in developing the games – every subsequent Tomb Raider after the third one was more and more mediocre. Luckily, after Angel of Darkness bombed Eidos realized they seriously needed to get their act together. They toned down Lara’s cartoonish figure and rebooted the franchise, which was a long time coming. Tomb Raider: Legend contained the best interpretation of Lara Croft since the Top Cow comics. Better than the original trilogy, better than the crappy movies. The plot was an outlandish take on Arthurian mythology, but it was more focused than any of the previous games’ on characterizing Lara and gave us tremendous insight into her motivations. Tomb Raider creator Toby Gard conceptualized her as a female Indiana Jones, but she had no trouble coming into her own. The games are filled with memorable scenes, such as Lara slaying a dragon with two pistols in Tomb Raider II. But my definitive memory of her is more recent, when she tells another character chillingly in Legend, “From this moment, your every breath is a gift from me.”

3. Konoko

From Oni
Oni is the best 3D beat-’em-up I’ve ever played and one of Bungie’s great games that isn’t a Halo. The protagonist, Konoko, is a member of an elite task force called the Technological Crimes Task Force. This may sound a little geeky, but Oni takes place in a futuristic, cyberpunkish setting, so technology plays a part in nearly every crime. Anybody who’s read or seen Ghost in the Shell can tell that it was a major source of inspiration for Oni. Konoko resembles the Major in both appearance and character. Both women are intelligent, tenacious and augmented by science. Konoko is so strong and such a skilled fighter she empowers the player with her crime-smashing methods, manhandling thugs with her brutal fighting style and beating terrorists within an inch of their lives if they should mess with her. As the story progresses, Konoko uncovers secrets that cause her to turn on her employers, resulting in more badassery as her former colleagues now want a piece of her too. Konoko being Konoko, she tells them to bring it and kicks all their asses one after another. No one is safe from her sledgehammer-heeling, backbreaking acts of carnage. For those of you who haven’t experienced the awesomeness that is Oni, I may have made Konoko sound like some kind of Terminator. For someone who is considered a biological weapon, Konoko is very human. We’re with her because the writers made it so that we can empathize with her – the weapon in her never overwhelms the humanity. My biggest problem with Oni is that there still hasn’t been a sequel. I consider every day I don’t get to crack the skulls of evildoers as Konoko in Oni 2 a day with something important missing.

2. Samus Aran

From the Metroid series
Samus is a legendary bounty hunter known for grabbing Danger by the hair and headbutting it into submission. She’s one of the first female protagonists in the history of gaming and the first one to qualify as a badass. She was modeled after Ellen Ripley, who anyone will agree is the Mother Superior of All Badasses. Samus is definitely more sexualized, though, since she’s younger and awfully buxom – for sure many a budding neckbeard born during the ’80s plowed diligently through the older Metroid games to see her in bodysuits and bikinis. Most of the time she’s encased in various cool suits of powered armor and rarely utters a word – she has I think three whole lines of voiced dialogue in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the only time we’ve heard her speak. But sometimes talking less has the effect of making a character more enigmatic and intimidating. Especially when said character goes around exterminating alien parasites and blowing up planets. You can also bet for sure Samus inspired the Master Chief, and would probably hand his ass to him if they ever threw down.

1. Cate Archer

From the No One Lives Forever series
The First Lady of Badassery in gaming. Cate was once a cat burglar who went on to become a master spy codenamed “the Operative” in a matter of years. That’s it. She lost her parents at a young age but that is never exploited as a tragic backstory, so you don’t have to listen to her rasp and brood about it like Batman. Usually you’d think you’d need a military background and to have undergone intensive conditioning to do the things James Bond did, but this comes naturally to Cate. She’s like Craig and Connery’s Bonds in one woman. The No One Lives Forever games were brilliantly-written homages to ’60s spy fiction, and Cate Archer represents a kind of character that never existed in that era. She’s good at sneaking in the shadows, good at emptying her trademark McAllister .32 into terrorists, good at laying a whuppin’ on gigantic Scotsmen. Her looks never precede her wit and brawn.

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