Favorite Female Videogame Characters (Part 2)

Icon - Samus AranIn the last part, I discussed my favorite examples of female videogame characters. For this part, I’ll talk about some favorite characters who just happen to be female. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I realize the lines between the two are kinda blurry. Does separating them imply that the characters on this list are not good examples? Or that I don’t like the characters on the previous list as characters? That’s not necessarily the case, and it wasn’t the intention. Both sets of characters have resonated with me, but in different ways.

It was a little tougher to narrow this list down. I could have picked several characters I’ve enjoyed over the years, but I didn’t always have a lot to say about them beyond “this character was cool” or “this character was in a fun game.” So, I’ve tried to highlight the characters that were the most meaningful to me, and that I would have something substantial to say about. Although, perhaps I’ll expand this list in the future.

Once again, I’ve set the criteria that the character must be playable in the series she originated from.

Samus Aran (Metroid)

Artwork - Samus Aran

Samus is the one character that I’m putting on both lists. She was definitely a great example of a female videogame character at one time, but I’ve always loved her in general just because she’s cool. I mean, check out her Power Suit!

But I think one of her main appeals is that she’s a very mysterious character. Aside from usually being concealed by said Power Suit, she has a mysterious background, and being a bounty hunter (of sorts), she’s often doing her own thing. We don’t always get to see the full person.

And to me, that’s kind of the “reward” that modern Metroid games have used to replace the fan service from the earlier games. Rather than getting a look at Samus in her undergarments (which not even Other M does), it’s more about showing the person in the Power Suit. While her Zero Suit still doesn’t leave much to the imagination, it seems more important to me that it emphasizes her face. Metroid Prime 3, for example, shows her Zero Suit right away, but doesn’t fully show her face until you get the best ending, using it as the main “reward.”

Meanwhile, games like Fusion and, in particular, Other M, go the distance of actually putting us in Samus’s head, letting us hear her thoughts. While it’s a controversial aspect of those games, it’s part of the reward of revealing more parts of this mysterious character, and for me, it’s more substantial than brief titillation. (It’s also one of the reasons I don’t accept the idea of Samus as a silent protagonist.)

I guess you might even say I like Samus as a character because there’s actually a character there to like.

Chun-Li (Street Fighter)

Artwork - Chun-Li

The more I think about it, Chun-Li could have also been on my previous list of great examples. She’s a strong, smart character, and while her outfit can sometimes be a tad revealing, you have to admit there is far worse in the world of fighting games.

While maybe she wasn’t technically the first female in a fighting game, she was certainly the first playable one. Being one of the original eight World Warriors in Street Fighter II, her design was as strong and memorable as any of the other combatants. As the lone woman, she could perhaps be pegged as a token female character, but she managed to go beyond that, being someone you can really care about. She also paved the way for many, many other female fighters.

For me, one of the main appeals of Chun-Li is the same as it is for so many of my other favorite characters: she’s dynamic and evolving, being re-imagined over the course of the series. In Street Fighter II, she fought to avenge her father’s death, while in other games, she’s an Interpol agent or fighting to rescue kidnapped children. Her outfit also changed, from the traditional qipao dress to her Alpha outfit. She’s definitely not a one-note character, like, for example, Ryu, and it’s kept her interesting after all these years.

I’ll admit, I don’t always play as Chun-Li, but she is usually one of the better characters in the series, and certainly one of the most iconic.

Athena Asamiya (King of Fighters)

Artwork - Athena Asamiya

Technically, I’ve already covered Athena as part of the Psycho Soldier Team, but I actually do like her quite a bit on her own terms, as well. Yes, she can be seen as an amalgamation of typical Japanese “moe” stereotypes – school girl, pop idol, magical girl – but it’s kinda funny that they’re all just thrown into one character.

I suppose Athena is an example of my tendency to gravitate towards “cute” characters. While she isn’t really outright “goofy” like her Psycho Solder teammates Kensou and Chin, she’s still very lighthearted. That, along with her upbeat attitude, makes her fun and enjoyable.

And yes, she changes her outfit quite often, rarely appearing in the same costume in more than one game. So that makes her yet another character that stays fresh due to constantly being redesigned. (This really is a trend with me, isn’t it? Even Samus has been through more than a few changes over the years.)

Lyn (Fire Emblem)

Artwork - Lyn

Unlike other choices on this list who made multiple appearance in long-running series’, Lyn is a little more aloof. Her first appearance was in the Game Boy Advance game simply titled Fire Emblem (or Fire Emblem: Rekka no Ken in Japan), and only returned after that as a DLC character in Fire Emblem: Awakening and as an assist trophy in the Super Smash Bros series.

Still, Lyn (aka Lyndis) sticks out in my mind as one of my favorite characters from that series, and largely for the same reason as Eliwood from the same game. The way the characters in that particular installment occasionally speak directly to you, the player, made me feel like I was forming an emotional connection with them. I particularly remember the heartfelt goodbye Lyn bids to you after the end of the tutorial campaign, and I felt as if I was actually parting ways with a good friend.

It also helps that Lyn is just a good character with an appealing personality, as is the case with many of the characters in the Fire Emblem series.

Yunica Tovah (Ys Origin)

Artwork - Yunica Tovah

I’m throwing Yunica in here mainly because Ys Origin is a game I’ve really gotten into this year, and she’s my favorite character to play as in the game, so she stands out in my mind right now.

Yunica is certainly another “cute” character, but it’s interesting that of the two initially selectable characters in the game, the other being a boy named Hugo, Yunica is the melee fighter while Hugo is the mage. This is an interesting reversal of the usual trend of the male character being the fighter while the female is the magic user. In fact, Yunica makes the point several times in the game that she can’t use magic, and that’s why she focused on being physically strong (even though she doesn’t look that muscular).

She also treads a thin line of being naïve, but not stupid. She’s smart enough to know when she’s gotten in over her head, but brave enough to take charge of the situation as she figures things out. Seeing her character grow this way over the course of the game is one of the things that makes her so appealing.

It’s unfortunate that this game will likely be Yunica’s only appearance in the Ys series. (Although she apparently did appear as an assist character in a Japan-only spin-off fighting game called Ys vs. Sora no Kiseki: Alternative Saga.) She’s certainly a character I would love to see again in another adventure.

Favorite Female Videogame Characters (Part 1)

Icon - Samus AranFemale representation in videogames has been a popular topic in recent times. The question of how they’re being portrayed, or if they’re even being portrayed at all, has prompted me to think about who my favorite female videogames characters are. But that made me realize I actually had two different answers. Do I pick my favorite examples of female characters in videogames, or do I simply choose my favorite characters who happen to be female? (And is it bad that those are two separate things?)

Well, why not cover both? For this first part, I will discuss my favorite examples of characters that I think represent a positive and appealing portrayal of females in videogames.

I’ll set the simple guideline that the character must be playable in the videogame series she originated from.

Jade (Beyond Good & Evil)


The protagonist of creator Michel Ancel’s unfinished symphony is truly a universal hero. While she’s not a blank slate like, say, Link from The Legend of Zelda, her personality is very easy to relate to. She’s down to earth (or Hillys, or whatever), and she’s a smart character with good motives that probably match with the player’s.

Her appearance mirrors her universal appeal, as she doesn’t seem to embody any particular ethnicity. She could be black, white, Asian or Latino, and certainly she’s been interpreted in each of those ways. But most of all, she’s just a cool character design that manages to be attractive without being hypersexualized.

It’s a testament to the appeal of her character that fans have been clamoring for a sequel to her lone game for more than a decade. More than just having another adventure, I think players want to step into the shoes of a character like Jade once again.

April Ryan (The Longest Journey)


When I first played the cult classic adventure game The Longest Journey, April almost immediately reminded me of Jade. They have so many similar qualities that they feel like long lost sisters.

April is just a regular student trying to make her way through college, working a crummy job, and dealing with the creep across the hall who’s always hitting on her. But eventually, she realizes her destiny is much greater, and she struggles to come to grips with it as she gets swept up in an epic adventure that sees her shifting between two different realities. She’s easy to empathize with, being a smart, grounded character even when her world gets completely flipped on its head.

Sadly, I’ve never been able to finish The Longest Journey, as I’ve ended up having technical problems the two times I’ve tried. So, I’ve also never played the sequels in which April appears, but is not the main character. Still, from what I was able to play, she’s definitely an appealing character that I warmed up to immediately.

Samus Aran* (Metroid)


I include Samus here with an asterisk because while she was definitely a pioneering character for her time, things have gotten a little more complicated in recent years. Still, I think she’s definitely worth mentioning for her positive attributes.

Samus was one of the first strong female leads in a game, and with her appearance being concealed by a space suit at the time, most people didn’t even realize she was a woman. But she came across as cool, capable and independent without (for the most part) being overly sexualized, and for a long time, she was the gold standard for how a female protagonist should be portrayed in videogames.

Of course, I have to address the “reward” at the end of most classic Metroid games in which Samus is shown to the player without her suit and, well, wearing very little else. I can forgive that bit of hypocrisy, though, because it was still far better than a lot of what else was out there for quite a while.

With the character having taken some unfortunate missteps in recent years, Samus has been surpassed by better examples. But she deserves credit for being an early pioneer, and female videogame characters might not have come as far as they have without her.

Honorable Mention: Alis Landale (Phantasy Star)


This is only an honorable mention because I’ve never actually played Phantasy Star. However, I’ve always found Alis to be a pretty impressive character considering that not only is she a female main character in an RPG from the ’80s (and a groundbreaking one at that), but she’s fully dressed, even wearing armor and everything! That makes her nearly as much a pioneer as Samus Aran, though unfortunately far less recognized.

Programming Note: Twitch Streaming

You may have noticed that there’s now a link to my Twitch profile in the network links. Well, I’ve been dabbling in streaming a little bit lately. Nothing fancy, just some random PC games. I’m not doing full playthroughs, and I don’t even do live commentary. (No one really watches anyway.) It’s just something I’ve been experimenting with for fun.

However, I’m wondering if this is something any of you might be interested in. I’ve had some ideas for content that could accompany the streams, but I’m just dipping my toes in the water for now.

It’s almost October, which means Halloween is just around the corner, and I’d like to do some holiday-appropriate games. I’ll post advance notice in case any of you might want to drop in and hang out for a while.

In the mean time, post any thoughts or opinions in the comments.

Arcade Mania Special – Atari/Atari Games

Atari Games iconGonna take a little break (as if it hasn’t been long enough) from the usual Arcade Mania articles that focus on individual games to talk about some of my favorite arcade game developers. There’s no better place to start than with one of the originals: Atari. Or more specifically, Atari Games, but you can’t really mention one without the other.

Atari, of course, is one of the grandfathers of the videogame industry, and they made their mark with a little game called Pong. That’s a bit before my time, however. I’ve never played the original arcade version of Pong, and a lot of early Atari games I only have vague recollections of. However, I did eventually become a fan of Asteroids, Centipede, Millipede, Tempest and Crystal Castles.

It was around the mid-’80s when Atari was split into two companies: Atari Corp, the home division, and Atari Games, the arcade division. It was Atari Games that consisted of most of the original Atari staff, and thus was a truer successor to the company’s legacy.

Toobin' screenshot
Toobin’ (image courtesy of vgmuseum.com)

By the late ’80s, the Japanese invasion had begun, both in the home market and the arcades. Atari Games was one of the few American videogame companies that still stood out to me during that time, not just because they had a recognizable name, but because they still made really fun, clever games that held up next to their Japanese counterparts. In fact, their games even had a distinctly American feel that made them stand out even more.

Some of my favorites include Paperboy, Toobin’, RoadBlasters and Marble Madness. All of these games, in the classic Atari tradition, take a very simple, even inane, concept, and turn it into a surprisingly fun and addictive game. They also did it with charm and humor that made them memorable to me for years to come. And with the exception of RoadBlasters, the games I mentioned are all generally non-violent and thrived in a time when fighting games and shooting games were becoming increasingly graphic.

Marble Madness screenshot
Marble Madness (image courtesy of vgmuseum.com)

One silly thing I always remembered about Atari Games was the “bell” sound that some of their games made whenever you dropped in a quarter. It’s just one of those charming little details that contributed to the company’s identity.

As the ’90s wore on, I lost interest in a lot of their games for some reason. I’m not exactly sure why, but I never really spent much time with the likes of San Francisco Rush or Gauntlet Legends. Atari Games was eventually bought out by Midway, absorbed into the company, and ultimately disbanded. Their assets are now owned by Warner Bros Entertainment. But for me, Atari Games was a big part of the classic arcade landscape, and certainly a part of my arcade-hopping childhood.

Confessions of a Nintendo Fan III

Wii iconIf nothing else, Nintendo is certainly an unconventional videogame company. Their tendency to zig when everyone else zags is both a strength and a weakness, being a trait that some people find endearing while others are put off by it. A handheld with two screens? Waving a remote control around? A controller with a giant touch screen in the middle? Certainly, not all of their experiments are successful, or even born out of necessity, and often times they’re labeled as gimmicks. But be that as it may, I think dismissing them as simple gimmicks undermines the value they actually have in the grander scheme of things.

Something I love about the videogame medium is how incredibly versatile it is. Ever since I was young, I always believed that there was a videogame for everyone. Can’t wrap your head around an action game like Super Mario Bros? Maybe a simpler puzzle game like Tetris is for you. Or maybe you’d rather spend months of your life dissecting the intricacies of a deep RPG. Perhaps you like your games to be more cinematic and movie-like. Or maybe your aviation fantasies are satisfied with an ultra-realistic flight simulator. There’s no rule that says a videogame’s quality or worth is based on what type of game it is.

But it’s not just about style or genre. It goes beyond that, as well. The type of hardware a game runs on, as well as your means of interacting with it, should be allowed to be just as versatile. This is an area a lot of people seem to get hung up on.

Let’s take a step back for a minute. In fact, let’s go back to 2004 when Nintendo revealed one of its most infamous “disruptions:” the Nintendo DS. I mean, really. What do we need with two screens? And does anyone really want to control a game with a touchscreen? Not to mention, it’s nowhere near as powerful as the more conventional Sony PSP that was announced just a little earlier. It’s just plain weird for no reason.

My reaction: why not?

At that time in the early 2000s, it felt like videogames were becoming rigid, as if they had to be a specific thing that worked a specific way. I don’t know if it was because players were becoming more adverse to change, or because publishers were afraid to try new things, but it was particularly frustrating for me. This wasn’t the attitude that made videogames so interesting in the ’80s. Granted, it was the wild west back then, and videogames were still trying to define themselves through trial and error. And while the experimentation wasn’t always successful, it was one of the things that made them exciting. I was sad to see that disappearing.

So for me, the Nintendo DS was a breath of fresh air. Why not have the game play out on more than one screen? Why not interact with it with something other than buttons? Why not let videogames be more than just conventional?

Gimmicky? Maybe in some ways, but it’s worth acknowledging that it had to go through a maturation process. The games available for the DS in its first year often used the touchscreen and other features in insubstantial ways, mainly just using them for the sake of it. But by the end of the system’s lifespan, developers had learned how, when (and when not) to make use of it.

I supposed I could be called a little bit of a motion control apologist, but I feel the same way about the original Wii. Motion controls have become a bit of a dirty word in the gaming community, but I believe they had more value than they tend to get credit for. Games early in the Wii’s life were spotty with their motion control experiments, often being used for minigames. But by the end, we were seeing very smart implementation in games like Trauma Team, Red Steel 2 and Pandora’s Tower. Heck, even comparing the Wii version of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, released as a launch title, with Skyward Sword, one of the last major releases for the console, is night and day, going from using waggle as a direct substitute for a button press to actual one-to-one sword control that tied directly into the gameplay.

More importantly, I would argue that trying to adapt the controls to a traditional controller would break the games. In fact, you can play Pandora’s Tower with traditional controls, but it’s clearly not how it was intended. That’s the key. Trying to adapt games to an interface they weren’t designed for is often a problem, particularly in the case of emulating classic arcade games. Going back to that wild west era, many of them had unique control methods: steering wheels, light guns, trackballs, knobs, handlebars, etc. Sometimes, it can be hard to make them work just right with an analog stick and buttons. In short, games are usually best played with the interface they were designed for, be it a traditional controller or motion controls.

Maybe it’s easy to think Nintendo gets a little too clever with their hardware, but I appreciate their willingness to get off the beaten path. Calling it gimmicky is a little shortsighted, because given time, it does result in some clever, unique experiences. And that’s what keeps their systems from being “just another game console.” It’s another thing that has kept me a fan of Nintendo for all these years, and I’m glad they’re keeping that spirit alive. I hope they continue to do so in the future.