It's no secret that female characters in video games have generally taken to a few generic molds. There are the scantily-clad pixelated pieces of eye-candy who may or may not bear any relevance to a game's plot. There are the grumbling, rude, and (dare I say) bitchy types who are equally as obnoxious as the whiny childish brats that are seemingly meant to act as their polar opposites. While this trend has, generally speaking, improved in recent years (due in no small part to the increase in the number of female gamers), sometimes it can still prove difficult to come across a female character that plays a genuinely interesting and convincing role in a video game.
That said, some of my favorite video game characters of all time have fallen into that last category, and so I present a list of five of my favorite leading ladies in video games. The criteria I laid out when considering individuals for this list is that they do not necessarily need to be a playable character, rather that they need to hold some sort of prominent role in the grand scheme of things. Also, I limited it to one character per game series. (WARNING: There will be spoilers for those who have not played the games in which these characters appear.)
#5 - Brigid Tenenbaum: One of the minds behind the creation of the Little Sisters, Tenenbaum is a prime example of how Rapture did not discriminate against anyone hoping to make their own way in the underwater city. Along with Dr. Suchong, Tenenbaum discovered the unique properties of ADAM and the sea slugs that produced it, as well as the fact that young girls proved the best hosts for recycling ADAM. When Rapture neared its tipping point, Tenenbaum and Suchong perfected a system of bonding each Little Sister to a Big Daddy guardian, and in that regard brought about some semblance of order into a city that was on the brink of Civil War.
Brigid Tenenbaum worked on many research projects during World War II, and while the specifics of her actions are not fully known, she does inform both Jack and Subject Delta that she feels remorse for what she did during her time in Germany. After Rapture succumbed to its own complications, Tenenbaum felt it was her duty to protect the Little Sisters from the splicers running rampant throughout Ryan's dystopia. She gathered up as many of them as she could and holed up inside the safe house with them. After helping Jack break Fontaine's mind control over him, Tenenbaum asked him to watch over the Little Sisters, and entrusted him to take them with him to the surface once he had escaped, knowing that life in the outside world would be a vast improvement over their existence in Rapture.
Years after she managed her own escape from Rapture, Tenenbaum takes notice of the kidnappings of many young girls. When she realizes it to be the work of the Big Sisters, she returns to Rapture and enlists the aid of Subject Delta to finish what she started. Early on in Bioshock 2, Tenenbaum is shown to have freed another group of Little Sisters. After leaving the company of Delta, Tenenbaum makes contact with Charles Milton Porter, an old colleague, and the two depart for the surface in hopes of mustering up some sort of plan to cleanse Rapture of the chaos and fear that holds sway over it. In the end, it is never made clear what Tenenbaum's plan of attack actually is, how long it will take, nor even if it succeeds. But between the audio diaries she left around Rapture and her more recent actions, it is easy to see the growth in Tenenbaum's character, as well as her consistent resolve to see her goals reached.
#4 - Alyx Vance: Gordon Freeman's partner-in-crime for the duration of Half-Life 2 and its follow-up episodes certainly knows a thing or two about combating the Combine. As Gordon has been absent during the years since the first game, he is dropped into City 17 as a stranger in a strange land. A fair distance from any sizeable force that would bring the fight to the combine, Gordon briefly meets with Barney and Dr. Kleiner, who introduce him to Alyx Vance.
Alyx is something of a rebellious individual, going against her father's wishes as she jumps feet first into danger. But she is not someone who could be considered reckless. She has an extensive knowledge of the Combine, from their weaponry to their behavior. That said, she does find herself in a tight situation on more than one occasion, and it is up to Gordon to come to her rescue. But there is no denying how valuable a resource Alyx proves to Gordon as his guide, ally, and friend throughout the events of Half-Life 2.
#3 - Princess Zelda: The princess of Hyrule has taken on many forms over the years, from a classic medieval damsel in distress to a pirate captain that can hold her own against monsters that roam the sea. There are a few versions of Zelda that stand out to me above the rest; her incarnations from Skyward Sword, Wind Waker, and Ocarina of Time being the best of the bunch.
Skyward Sword's Zelda has arguably the most personality of them all as Link's childhood friend. There are early indications of a romantic playfulness between these two main characters, but before things can get too far along Zelda is whisked away by a tornado and begins her own separate journey on the surface world, which will one day come to be known as Hyrule. While players are not allowed to see exactly what happens during Zelda's journey until the credits roll, the game does present the sense that she is working toward a greater goal just as much as Link is.
Tetra/Zelda from Wind Waker has some attitude. She's the captain of her own ship, and unlike previous games in the series, does not seek out Link's aid early on. Rather, she reluctantly allows him to travel on her ship. She takes a liking to Link later on in the game, allowing him to help himself to her crew's stash of stolen bombs. The only problem I have with Wind Waker Zelda is that she gets shut up in Hyrule castle only moments after her true identity is revealed, though the game sort of makes up for that by making her one heck of a shot with the bow during the final fight with Ganondorf.
Ocarina of Time Zelda is the one I use as the standard to compare to all others. It is the first version of Zelda I was introduced to, and a version of the princess that is quite interesting. While she does flee Hyrule castle when Ganondorf's forces overrun it, she does not simply go into hiding. Instead, she takes on the guise of Sheik and helps Link on his quest to save the kingdom by allowing him to access new areas and providing him with advice on how to get past certain obstacles. It's true that playing the role of Sheik forces Zelda to take on some masculine characteristics in order to see that Ganondorf fails. But it also proves how resourceful and determined Zelda is to see such a plan through.
#2 - EVA: the femme fatale of Metal Gear Solid 3, EVA is presented as a enigma. On the surface, she is a spy who is both Snake's contact for inside information regarding Volgin and the Boss, and is constantly teasing him with notions of seduction. But beyond the jumpsuit and the black bikini lies a character whose story is much deeper than Snake Eater initially lets on.
Her appeal to Snake is pretty obvious. He is dropped into the middle of a jungle and not only is she his ally, but her role as his love interest is made apparent very early on. She enjoys teasing Snake, as evident in practically every one of their encounters. But EVA also recognizes the importance of their mission, and can manage flips on her motorbike and can wield a pistol like nobody's business.
EVA saves Snake's life on a couple of occasions, and it is during these moments that her character takes a more serious approach. When Snake has his doubts about the mission or still can't bring himself to come to terms with the fact that the Boss defected to Volgin's forces, EVA is there to pick Snake back up and get him on his feet again. But she isn't there to babysit him. EVA knows that Snake needs to face his own demons, despite the fact that she tries to convince him that he shouldn't face the Boss in battle.
At the end of the game, it is revealed that EVA was in fact a spy for the Chinese, who wanted to get their hands on the Philosopher's Legacy just as much as anyone else did. EVA does not tell Snake in person. Rather, she leaves him a pre-recorded tape after they spend the night together. She informs Snake of the fact that the Boss never really betrayed him, but was pinned as the scapegoat so that the U.S. could cover their tracks. EVA then apologizes to Snake for everything.
EVA could have withheld this information, and Snake would have gone on believing that the Boss had betrayed her country and her apprentice. But she chose to reveal this to him, which was largely what led to Snake's distrust in the U.S. government, and ultimately to his organizing of the Militaires Sans Frontières and Outer Heaven. EVA truly cared about Snake, enough to disassociate herself from him for years with the hope that none of her future actions would bring him pain.
#1 - Samus Aran: The original girl of gaming herself, Samus Aran first came onto the scene as a bounty hunter that gamers assumed to be male. That is, until the ending of the original NES Metroid proved otherwise. Samus' story is a classic tragedy of a girl whose family was murdered at the hands of the space pirates. She is taken in by the Chozo, and trained by Old Bird to become the most skilled bounty hunter in the galaxy.
Her arsenal includes a wide array of projectiles like missiles, the wave beam, the ice beam, the plasma beam, and the dark and light beams. Her suit can be upgraded to accommodate to different environments, such as the Gravity Suit which allows for easier movement underwater, and the Light Suit which protects Samus from the harmful air on Dark Aether. Her morph ball mode not only allows Samus access to small areas, but come equipped with bombs and a spider ball mode that magnetically attaches to certain tracks.
Samus has crossed paths with the Space Pirate forces many times, and has gone toe-to-toe with their leader Ridley on just as many occasions. She single-handedly put a stop to the threats presented by Kraid, Mother Brain, the Ing swarms, and the entire Metroid populace of SR388. She even managed to defeat doppelgangers in the forms of the SA-X and Dark Samus, and has traversed the most dank and dark of caverns on many alien worlds. Samus is a rare breed of female lead character, in the sense that she has never been changed to appeal to the sexualization of female characters. She's a cold and solitary individual, and her story is a melancholy one. But in my opinion, her character is one of the most intriguing Nintendo has ever created.