Video games were a “boy’s club” for far too long. This led to most stories being told from the male perspective, with women often being relegated to the role of damsel in distress or love interest. Female leads were so uncommon back in the day that the simple revelation that Samus from Metroid was a woman was somehow shocking!
Thankfully, we’ve come a long way and now some of the best games being released have a female lead or an option to choose the body type and orientation of your main character. These 10 women are the most notable leads in video game history… so far.
10. Final Fantasy VI – Terra And Celes
Final Fantasy VI is a 1994 RPG and the 6th in the franchise that has expanded into other media such as books, films, and more. Final Fantasy VI moved beyond the strictly medieval fantasy settings in previous titles. This time, the world features prominent steampunk influences.
This sixth installment in the series has 14 playable characters and offers two female lead protagonists in the characters of Terra and Celes. Terra Branford is half-human and half-esper and has a natural ability to use powerful magic. Celes Chere is a former general of the Empire, who will ultimately side with the rebel group, the Returners. She also sings opera.
9. Portal 2 – Chell
Portal 2 is a puzzle platform game released in 2011. Like its 2007 predecessor, players place portals and teleport between them to solve puzzles. The sequel adds features such as tractor beams, lasers, light bridges, and paint-like gels that allow portals to be placed on any surface and alter player movement. The game also shares a fictional universe with the Half-Life series.
In single-player mode, players control Chell, who wakes in a stasis chamber that resembles a motel room. Despite being a silent character, she forms a relationship with the psychotic AI system, GLaDOS, which isn’t silent and continually insults her. But this strong, persevering character takes players on a thrilling and fast-paced adventure.
8. Half-Life: Alyx – Alyx Vance
Half-Life: Alyx is a virtual reality (VR) focused FPS game released in 2020. It’s set five years before 2004’s Half-Life 2, so it sits nicely between the two main titles of the Half-Life franchise. As in the previous games in the series, it’s a combo of puzzles, exploration, and combat.
In this installment, players follow female protagonist Alyx Vance, who’s on a mission to seize a super weapon. She will team up with her father, Doctor Eli Vance, as well as other allies. She’s humanity’s only chance at survival as she attempts to assist the resistance in taking out the alien Combine.
7. Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst – Faith Connors
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst is a 2016 action-adventure FPS. It’s a reboot of 2008’s Mirror’s Edge, and both follow the story of female protagonist Faith Connors. The near-future setting is in a city named Glass, where crime is nearly nonexistent.
In the game, Connors is a “runner,” a freelance messenger incredibly skilled at parkour. Runners are off the Grid and work covert delivery jobs evading corporate security. Faith tries to help other runners overthrow the corporate government and stop Reflection, a plot to control the populace through the Grid.
6. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey – Kassandra
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a 2018 action RPG and the 11th installment in the Assassin’s Creed series. It’s also one of the few games in the series that allows players to play as a woman for the entirety of the game.
Players of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey can choose between two protagonists to play as, either Alexios or Kassandra. But Kassandra is by far the most popular option. From a character design and voice acting standpoint, she is the better choice. There’s also a choice of romance options. Players can change their character’s sexual orientation if they desire.
5. The Last Of Us Part II – Ellie Williams
The Last Of Us Part II is a 2020 action-adventure game set five years after 2013’s The Last Of Us. It also inspired a TV series on HBO that ran for nine episodes in its first season. The original game follows Ellie Williams, a teenager who is being led across a post-apocalyptic United States by a smuggler, Joel.
The sequel moves the focus from the male character, Joel, to the female protagonist, Ellie. Significant time is also spent on the female antagonist, Abbie. Ellie and Joel have built a life in Jackson, Wyoming, but the relationship is strained. Ellie is also seeking revenge for murder.
4. Tomb Raider – Lara Croft
Tomb Raider is a 1996 action-adventure videogame that spawned a media franchise. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is a 2001 action-adventure film based on the game, with Angelina Jolie in the starring role. In 2013, we also saw a reboot of the Tomb Raider game and series. This newer version does a better job of treating Lara like a real person and not just a scantily clad object.
Creator Toby Gard described Lara Croft as a blend of Tank Girl, Indiana Jones, and Hard Boiled. She searches ancient ruins and tombs on a quest to find an ancient artifact. Following a training level set in Croft Manor, Lara’s home, the game ventures through Peru, Greece, Egypt, and the lost continent of Atlantis.
3. Super Metroid – Samus Aran
Super Metroid is an action-adventure game released in 1994 for Super Nintendo. It’s the third title in the Metroid series. The protagonist of the game is bounty hunter Samus Aran. Players control Aran and travel to the planet Zebes on a rescue mission. The goal is to retrieve an infant Metroid creature stolen by the Space Pirate leader Ridley.
There’s a delightful twist at the end of the original Metroid when we learn that protagonist Samus Aran isn’t what we thought under that super-powered exoskeleton. Samus Aran, it turns out, is a woman. Shock!
2. Alien: Isolation – Amanda Ripley
Alien: Isolation is a 2014 survival horror game based on the Alien film franchise. There was also a 2019 web TV series of the same name. The character Amanda Ripley is the daughter of Ellen Ripley from the original Alien films.
In the game, Amanda Ripley investigates the disappearance of her mother aboard the space station Sevastopol. She has all her mother’s toughness and resourcefulness. This is a good thing because Amanda faces a truly horrifying and dangerous situation, just like her mother did.
1. Horizon: Zero Dawn – Aloy
Horizon: Zero Dawn is a 2017 single-player action RPG. The game follows the female protagonist Aloy, a young hunter, out to uncover her past in a world overrun by machines. The character is very much in the vein of a “savior” and fantasy hero archetype. Many consider the character Aloy to be the epitome of the modern female protagonist in gaming. She’s clever, tenacious, strong, and resourceful.
Critics have praised the performance of voice actress Ashly Burch in the role of Aloy. Horizon: Zero Dawn is considered nearly flawless and one of the best-crafted, best-voiced, and best-executed games in years.