And now for my favorite female protagonists; some playable and some not, but all wonderful in their own ways.
5. Brigid Tenenbaum (Bioshock)
Brigid Tenenbaum has a complicated and painful backstory. Her audio diaries reveal that she was once a prisoner of the Nazis who ended up working for them just to survive. After World War II, she ended up becoming one of the unlucky people to join Andrew Ryan in his venture to create an underwater city. Ryan set up Rapture to have no limits for the people who lived there. No laws and no morals. This goes about as well as you’d expect.
As a scientist, Tenenbaum could perform all kinds of unethical experiments with no regard for consequences. But her conscience catches up to her and she ends up rescuing the children who have been transformed into Little Sisters. Tenenbaum becomes a mother figure to them and spends the rest of her life atoning for what she did. She becomes an important ally to Jack in Bioshock and helps Delta at the beginning of Bioshock 2.
It’s not often that we get a female character with so many layers and an actual redemption arc, much less in a video game. Some of that story content is optional, depending on how many of her audio diaries you can find, but it is no less impactful.
4. Max Caulfield (Life Is Strange)
Speaking of complex characters in video games…
Poor, poor Max. She’s an ordinary teenager who finds herself gifted with the power to travel through time. And she winds up using it for everything from changing an embarrassing conversation to preventing her estranged friend’s murder. There’s an underlying question throughout Life Is Strange about how much a person should be allowed to change fate if given the ability to do so. What are the consequences for constantly hitting the reset button on your life?
Max navigates through this situation while also attempting to repair her relationship with Chloe, the best friend that she stopped contacting after moving away. Chloe is a fantastic, complicated character in her own right. She’s thrilled to have Max back in her life, but she’s also hurt by what happened and will often lash out or become possessive if she thinks Max is abandoning her again. Their situation adds a relatable layer to a supernatural story.
Max cares so, so much about the people in her life, but struggles to keep everyone safe and happy. The game forces you to make choices and sometimes there is no “good” option. As much as she wants to, Max can’t save everyone. It’s a dark story filled with wonderful characters.
3. Tifa Lockhart (Final Fantasy VII)
As much as I’d love to put both Tifa and Aerith on the list, I limited myself to five characters and didn’t want it to be entirely Final Fantasy girls. Tifa just barely inches out as my favorite.
Eh, I’ll talk about both of them. If you know nothing about Final Fantasy VII beyond the occasional meme, you’d probably look at both of these women and think you had them all figured out. Tifa, the brawler, must be the tough, no-nonsense girl who throws herself into fights because she just wants to wreck everything. Aerith, the healing mage, is obviously the ingenue who just wants everyone to get along and probably dances around in the flowers before she gets kidnapped by somebody.
Well, Tifa does get into fights and Aerith does get kidnapped, but their personalities turn their character designs on their heads. Tifa turns out to be more emotional, sensitive, and conflicted by her role in AVALANCHE than she lets on, while Aerith is a funny, spunky young woman who insists that Cloud drag her into his adventures. The two women also establish a deep friendship with one another even though they both have a crush on the same man. It’s so refreshing to have a love triangle where all parties involved are friends and don’t resent each other. Again, Tifa is my personal favorite character, but I love them both.
2. Mia Fey (Ace Attorney)
Mia Fey is introduced as the boss and mentor of Ace Attorney’s protagonist, Phoenix Wright. She’s shown to be a highly competent, intelligent lawyer who is committed to fighting for justice. Unfortunately, Mia ends up the murder victim in the game’s second case and Phoenix must pick up where she left off. But that’s not the end of Mia- because she comes from a family of spirit mediums. With the help of her little sister, Maya, who works as Phoenix’ assistant, Mia often comes back from the dead in the first three games to offer insight that helps him defend his clients and catch the true killers.
Best of all, we actually get to play as Mia in two flashback cases during the third game. It’s so much fun and it makes me wish we got to play a full prequel with her as the protagonist. But as it stands, Mia gets to accomplish so much in the original trilogy, alive and dead. I won’t spoil anything else because Ace Attorney is such a story-heavy game and this article has gotten long enough, but suffice it to say, Mia is fantastic.
1. Kairi (Kingdom Hearts)
…Yes, I’m aware that Kairi hasn’t gotten the same depth or development as any of the characters that I’ve previously listed. I get that she’s been treated downright terribly by the writers of Kingdom Hearts. I ranted about it at length in my review of Melody of Memory.
But screw it, this is my list and Kairi will always have a special place in my heart. She’s the character that I latched onto when I first played Kingdom Hearts. This is something that happened pretty frequently throughout my childhood. As a girl who liked adventure stories that often didn’t have many female characters, I would gravitate towards the few that were present because they reminded me of myself.
Yet, even after Kingdom Hearts introduced a few more girls to the cast, Kairi remained my favorite. She cares deeply for her friends and wants to help them, even when she’s reminded that she isn’t as physically strong as they are. She keeps trying and trying to throw herself into the action, only to have something plot-related holding her back. But Kairi has never given up. No matter how many times she gets kidnapped, or hurt, or sent into a coma, she’s still just as determined to stand by Sora and Riku’s side as she was in the first game.
Now give us a Kairi game, Tetsuya Nomura. Riku’s had enough development already.
Well, those are my favorite characters! Who are some of yours? I’d love to hear about them!