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)

jade_bge

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)

aprilryan_dreamfall

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)

samusaran_mzm

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)

alislandale_phantasystar

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.

Favorite Characters – South Town

South Town iconYeah, this is kind of a cheat since South Town is a location and not actually a character. But in a way, it is a character because of how much personality it adds to the games that use it as a backdrop.

South Town is the setting for many of the games in SNK’s Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting series’, and even makes occasional appearances in The King of Fighters. It’s an American seaside city that bears resemblance to Miami, Florida, and is the home of another of my favorite characters, Terry Bogard.

Call me crazy, but it looks like it would be a cool place to visit. It’s got beaches, amusement parks, themed restaurants, fighting tournaments, crime lords overtaking it every other week—it’s a happening place!

Fatal Fury screenshot
Sound Beach (Fatal Fury)

I think there are two main reasons that South Town strikes me as such a vividly realized locale. First, with it being the backdrop for so many games, it had time to develop and evolve. Areas like Sound Beach, Howard Arena and Dream Amusement Park reappear throughout the Fatal Fury series, and we get to seem them from different angles and at different times. It contributes to making these places feel more “real.”

Second, a lot of fighting games have an international setting, which allows for a big variety of backgrounds all over the world. But when the game was limited to only one city, the developers had to create a lot of variety within that one area to keep things interesting. Additionally, they made the backgrounds very dynamic, filled with animations and with time passing between rounds. As such, South Town became a very detailed and fleshed-out place.

Fatal Fury 3 screenshot
Howard Arena (Fatal Fury 3)

For me, one of the biggest appeals of fighting games is the characters. But I have to admit that, with a few exceptions, the character designs in the Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting series’ are not the most interesting to me. But really, it’s South Town, itself, that creates so much of the appeal and personality of those games, and makes up for the somewhat bland cast.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I would love to see SNK Playmore make a game with a freely explorable version of South Town. Preferably a River City Ransom-style beat’em-up with the Fatal Fury characters. It would be great to wander around the city and have my own adventures.

So, yeah, South Town isn’t really a character, per se, but it is definitely filled with character. It’s vivid depictions make it memorable, and it’s always fun to revisit it through the various games it’s featured in.

Favorite Characters – Terry Bogard

Terry Bogard iconWhat’s this? Another SNK fighting game character?!

Actually, I could probably pick a lot of characters from fighting games. Along with RPGs, it’s a genre that inherently relies on detailed character designs. SNK’s characters, in particular, have a certain quirky flavor that, in my opinion, don’t necessarily stand out at first glance, but tend to stick with me in the long run.

Terry first appeared as the main character of Fatal Fury: King of Fighters in 1991, and he’s been in every sequel and spin-off of that series, including being the only returning character in Garou: Mark of the Wolves in 1999. He’s also been in every King of Fighters game, as well as the Capcom vs. SNK series, and a few other games as well. Needless to say, he’s one of SNK’s headlining characters.

from Fatal Fury: King of Fighters (1991)
Fatal Fury: King of Fighters (1991)

I’ve written about Terry Bogard before, but as for why he’s a personal favorite, it’s a little hard to pin down. Like Ryu from Street Fighter, he’s a bit of a generic stereotype, which makes him an approachable all-around fighter, but there’s an actual character there. He’s got a full background story, as well as an appealing personality. And his moveset has its own particular style, as well.

And the fact that Terry’s personality is appealing goes a long way. There are a lot of character designs that are trying so hard to be “badass” and full of attitude that they end up being joyless. But Terry always looks like he’s having fun. He’s cocky, to be sure, but he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously. He’s just a cool, laid back dude.

From Garou: Mark of the Wolves (1999)
Garou: Mark of the Wolves (1999)

Maybe the flippant portrayal of the character reflects this as well. Despite being a pretty blatant American stereotype, he speaks with an obvious Japanese accent. I wouldn’t be surprised if his voice actor, Satoshi Hashimoto, didn’t actually speak a lick of English. And yet, the delivery of lines like, “Come on, get serious!” are strangely endearing. I mean, if he spoke with a proper American accent, it just wouldn’t sound like Terry Bogard. (Listen to his American voice actor in the Maximum Impact games for reference.)

And like my other favorite characters I’ve discussed, Terry has gone through a few iterations. His classic red hat and jacket/vest outfit has been tweaked several times over the years, but he was also completely redesigned for Garou: Mark of the Wolves. That version also appeared in a few of the main King of Fighters games as well. Again, I enjoy seeing characters change and evolve like this.

From The King of Fighters XIII (2010)
The King of Fighters XIII (2010)

What else can I say about Terry Bogard? His design feels effortless. It’s not overdone, it’s not trying too hard, but it’s well-rounded, and it works. And as with the Psycho Soldier Team, it’s a character I can easily imagine beyond the games he’s in, which is always a sign of great character design.

And he’s just a cool, laid back dude.

More info:

Fighter’s Generation – A bio, review, and artwork collection.

Favorite Characters – Psycho Soldier Team

Psycho Soldier iconSince my last two Favorite Character articles focused on very well-known characters, I’ve decided to mix things up a bit and pick something a little more obscure: the Psycho Soldier team from The King of Fighters series. This is a little bit of a cheat since they’re a group and not a single character, but KoF is about teams, so I think I can get away with it.

The Psycho Solder Team is a mainstay of the KoF series, and it consists of three core characters: Athena Asamiya, Sie Kensou, and Chin Gentsai. There are four other characters also associated with the team, but we’ll get to them a little later. They were based on the arcade game Psycho Soldier, from which Athena and Kensou originated (although Athena’s roots can be traced back to an earlier game called simply Athena).

The Psycho Soldiers are considered to be the comic relief of the KoF series. For some reason, I tend to gravitate towards the cute, silly characters in fighting games. Maybe it’s because their style and personality stands out to me a little more, or maybe I just like the non-serious attitude. In any event, the Psycho Soldiers are definitely non-serious and very humorous.

That strong humor and personality is a large factor in what makes these characters so memorable to me. It’s really easy to imagine them having their own adventures outside of the KoF series, and in that sense, they transcend the games. In my opinion, they’re perfectly suited to having their own cartoon/anime or comic/manga series.

Athena Asamiya

So, let’s begin with Athena. She’s just a regular Japanese school girl, but with “psycho powers.” And she moonlights as a pop idol. And studies kung fu and enters international fighting tournaments. Oh, and she’s also supposed to be the reincarnation of the Greek goddess Athena.

I’m not sure if there was any rhyme or reason to her design, but that bizarre mix of traits is kinda what makes her fun and interesting. The other thing she’s known for is frequently changing her outfit throughout the series, which fits her fashion-conscious pop idol persona. However, in more recent games, she’s stuck with a traditional school uniform, and that’s a little more generic. But her constant changes throughout the series have kept her fresh and interesting.

Sie Kensou

Kensou was originally the player-two character from Psycho Soldier, and as such, his moveset was, at first, very similar to Athena’s. His character, on the other hand, is far less random than her’s. Kensou is a good mix of “cool” and “silly.” He’s definitely a goofball character, but his more recent appearances in the series have leaned a little more on the “cool” side. Still, he never lost his humor, which is what I find appealing about him. He’s also probably the most balanced character on the team.

Chin Gentsai

Chin was an original character created specifically for KoF. He’s the classic “drunken master” stereotype, and is almost too silly for his own good. I admit, I probably wouldn’t have gotten into using the character if he wasn’t part of the Psycho Soldier team, but he’s grown on me over the years. I like how he goes from being completely drunk during the game to spouting Confucius-like wisdom in the endings.

Finally, four other Psycho Soldiers have been part of the team over the years. Bao, a very young boy with psycho powers, was added in 1999 as the fourth team member during the NESTS Saga. I don’t mind him, but he’s really unpopular among KoF fans. Momoko, a girl who fights using capoeira, briefly replaced Chin on the team in KoF XI. Although she’s a much more popular character than Bao, she was only playable that one time. Kaoru first appeared in the ending to KoF ’97, and she was simply a fan of Athena’s who later became her friend. She appeared as an alternate striker in KoF 2000. Bai Tang is a panda bear who really doesn’t have much to do with the team other than being an in-joke. (Chin hates panda bears.) He was also an alternate striker in KoF 2000.

Despite that these characters were only playable in a few games (or not at all), they have continued to appear in the endings of recent KoF games. For me, having this extended cast adds to the feeling that these characters could have carried their own franchise. I feel that there’s really a lot of potential for them, and that’s one of the reasons I enjoy them so much.

Psycho Soldier Team

In the interest of space, I haven’t gone too in-depth on each individual character, but as I’ve eluded to, I think I appreciate them more as an ensemble. Each character has his or her own charm, but they’re more interesting as a group. Their individual personalities and their relationships with each other make for a fun dynamic. Perhaps one day, SNK Playmore will spin them back off into their own Psycho Soldier series.