Women may be underrepresented in video games but they are not to be underestimated. Most female video game characters are equally as strong as their male counterparts.

Many people in the gaming industry sexualise the female characters but these women are much more than just eye candy for the male players. And here we present a list of the 9 most memorable, compelling and iconic female characters from video games.

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1. Princess Zelda, The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda series remains the Kohinoor in Nintendo’s videogame crown. Over its 35-year history, the video game series has gradually built up a rich, detailed universe filled with engaging characters.

And while the games have constantly reinvented themselves over time, both visually and in the way they’ve played, it’s the residents of Hyrule that continue to make the series so reliably engaging. And amongst them all, Princess Zelda is unarguably one of the best video game characters.

Zelda isn’t the protagonist of the video game series, and although she might seem like another damsel in distress, throughout the series, she’s grown into a significant player in the battle for Hyrule.

Whether she is directly fighting the various dark forces that plague Hyrule, rescuing Link dressed up as a pirate, or just always having the edge on our green-hatted hero, she’s always there to lend a hand with her archery skills.

The Legend Of Zelda
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Along with Link and Ganon, Princess Zelda forms the series’ central trinity of characters. Frequently kidnapped and locked away by evil forces, Zelda may be a thinly drawn character. But in later games, she became a lot more than a helpless damsel in distress, thus evolving as one of the best female video game characters of all time.

In The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass, Zelda appears as a pirate called Tetra, and it’s only later that she learns of her royal lineage. In Spirit Tracks, Zelda even makes a pointed reference that the various incarnations of her character have always been kidnapped. It’s a tradition that’s continued in Skyward Sword, with a new villain, Demon Lord Ghirahim, hoping to steal Zelda for his mischievous ends. But Breath of the Wild is one of the most impactful games published by Nintendo, and the ending of the video game dropped some big hints that Zelda’s character was on the brink of some significant changes.

Throughout BotW, Zelda stuck to a strict routine of prayer and research to unlock her Triforce power. But when she finally looked beyond her regime during the game’s final encounter, she manages to unleash her untapped potential, becoming one of the best video game characters. This revelation could indicate that Zelda will play more of an active role in protecting Hyrule and could tag along with Link in BotW 2. And we can’t wait for her to become a playable character in Breath of the Wild’s sequel.

Although Link is all well and good and we’re looking forward to Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, we’d relish a game where Zelda took the lead.

2. Lara Croft, Tomb Raider

She’s an archaeologist. She’s an adventurer. She’s been portrayed on screen by two Oscar-winners – Angelina Jolie and Alicia Vikander. Not just that, she’s also in the Strong Museum’s ‘World Video Game Hall of Fame’. After all, as IGN put it, she’s the “first lady of gaming“.

Lara Croft first tumbled into our lives in 1996, shooting bears, diving over booby traps and swinging between ledges with vines. She started as a hot pants-wearing, over-sexualised bag of pixels, who any male gamer would angle the camera to see. But over time, she’s grown up, been smoothed out and has evolved into the feminist icon she deserves to be. She was strong, smart, and had a fantastic job: she was already a role model and her hype hasn’t faded yet.

With the passing of time, Lara Croft captured the attention and imagination of popular culture; she appeared in adverts for energy drinks, credit cards and cars. Even branded wetsuits were coded into Tomb Raider’s sequel and her pouting face even graced postage stamps in France.

Lara Croft
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Additionally, bands wrote songs in her honour. She posed in ever skimpier outfits on the covers of popular magazines, and even prestigious publications like the Financial Times were featuring front-page articles on the heroine of the moment.

Lara Croft has been one of the best video game characters, and her importance had been since her inception 25 years ago. She might not be one of the first female video game characters, but she was the first real video game protagonist to gain international recognition. And while many have criticized this attention for being too focused on her cartoonish assets and blatant sex appeal, the argument still pales compared to the strength it took to break the molds of 20th-century gaming when it came to accessibility and to women.

It’s easy to get swept up in the modern-day morality and outrage a highly sexualised lead female character would bring, but it must be remembered that at the time, despite the larger than life assets and frankly damaging body expectations, the fact that Lara was a strong female character fronting one of the best-selling video games of all time really was a positive turn of events.

So much is this wonder woman’s influence that many have cited Lara as the spark that lit the fire for more strong female characters to be featured as the leads in video games.

3. Jill Valentine, Resident Evil 3

Jill Valentine is a special operations agent and co-founder of the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance. She has been a significant player in the Resident Evil universe since its beginning and has evolved to become one of the best video game characters of all time.

When Resident Evil was first released in 1996, Jill was one of two playable characters alongside Chris Redfield. Now that the Resident Evil games are beginning to get remakes, the 2020 remake of Resident Evil 3 gave a new and exciting life to its returning protagonist, Jill Valentine.

Resident Evil 3 follows Raccoon City’s destruction, and Valentine’s adventures across the city just previous to its annihilation. Over the course of the game, Valentine proves herself to be a strong fighter with unparalleled survival skills and someone who adheres to an unbreakable code of ethics.

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She is dedicated to protecting others and doing everything in her power to combat the corruption of the Umbrella Corporation. Considering there are more Resident Evil games yet to be remade and more stories within the universe to be told, it seems like only a matter of time before Jill Valentine tops the best female video game characters‘ charts.

The star of Resident Evil 3, Jill Valentine ranks alongside recognizable video game characters like Lara Croft within the greater world of games. She is one of the strongest female video game characters in history, and she is quite capable of shooting up zombies while remaining a believable personality.

A survivor of the survival series, this bombs expert debuted in the original Resident Evil en route to being named one of the top 50 video game characters of all time by Guinness World Records. No wonder Jill Valentine rules our hearts and minds!

4. Chun-Li, Street Fighter

The First Lady of fighting games, Chun-Li is one of the most recognizable video game characters on this list and for good reasons. Debuting in Street Fighter II, Chun-Li was designed against women characters’ idea of being weaker than the hulking male characters that appear to have truck tires stuffed into their torso. Capcom created Chun-Li as a master of Chinese martial arts with a personal stake against the main villain, M. Bison.

Everything about Chun-Li is iconic. Since Street Fighter II made her one of gaming’s first major female video game characters, the self-described “strongest woman in the world” has been one of the franchise’s fiercest competitors.

Driven by her quest to avenge her father, Chun-Li’s never-ending efforts to take down M. Bison are one of Street Fighter’s most compelling stories. With her trademark hair buns and blue qipao dress, Chun-Li also has a striking, memorable costume that helped make her one of Street Fighter’s best video game characters.

chun li video game
Courtesy: streetfighter.com

Chun-Li’s fighting style is built around lightning-fast flurries of hard-hitting kicks. Between her immense strength and blinding speed, Chun-Li is one of the series’ most balanced physical fighters. With her fireball-shooting Kikoken attack, Chun-Li has even defeated superhuman fighters like Urien.

Chun-Li broke gaming perceptions because she was the first female fighter in a fighting game. When she unleashed her martial-arts fury in Street Fighter II, Chun-Li became the “first female playable character in fighting game history,” according to IGN. And in doing so, she proved women protagonists “could fight just as same as their male counterparts”.

All these forces combined make her a legendary badass as well as a true heroine.

5. Ellie, The Last Of Us Part 2

Another wonder woman in the list is none other than Ellie from The Last of Us Part 2. She’s the main protagonist of the game, returning after being a character of central importance in the first The Last of Us, and her main goal of the second game is revenge. 

Ellie witnesses the murder of her adoptive father Joel Miller at Abby’s hands and becomes consumed with the goal of vengeance against Abby. While Abby learns to be a better person in Seattle, Ellie relentlessly tracks her to kill her for what she did to Joel.

Abby and Ellie are two sides of the same coin, yet their journeys unfold in vastly different ways. Forgiveness takes many various forms, after all. Eventually, Ellie and Abby each have the chance to kill one another and instead decide to spare each other, going on to unknown fates by the end of the game.

the last of us
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Ellie’s story is certainly a bittersweet one, considering her greatest fear is being alone and that’s exactly where she ends the game. However, like Lara Croft, Ellie is a survivor; a product of her environment.

She could easily have been designed as a damsel in distress, but the makers were smart enough to dodge such simple stereotyping. It’s not Ellie’s capacity to kill that marks her out as one of the best female video game characters, but her ability to accept the world that’s falling apart around her.

Ellie is one of the most modern, realistic video game characters ever designed. There’s no telling how humanity would react in the face of a fungal apocalypse. Still, as with any situation, those who grow up knowing nothing different will normalise the world around them no matter how alien it may seem to everyone else. And Ellie does that with aplomb.

Whether or not we’ll see more of Ellie in the future remains a mystery, but for now, her development in The Last of Us Part 2 is more than enough to include her as one of the best video game characters of all time.

6. Clementine, The Walking Dead

The youngest of our top iconic female video game characters, Clementine, is a fierce survivor of the zombie apocalypse. 

It says a lot when an eight-year-old girl is so much more capable than any of the adults in her general vicinity that they all turn to her for leadership. Fighting through every snarling, decomposing obstacle that gets in her way, Clementine never gives up on the fight to survive. And this exactly why she bagged a place in this list of the best video game characters.

Clementine has the charm, humour, optimistic personality, yet we’ve also seen a hardened, pessimistic, and mature young woman. The eight-year-old could definitely be a threatening antagonist and will do whatever it takes to survive.

Not only does she save Lee’s life in season one, but she goes on to be the playable character in season two. However, this is not to say that Clementine is some fearless automaton outside the realm of human emotion and struggle.

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She’s not the leader by a long shot, but you see her develop from the frightened and lonely young girl to a gun-wielding, very intelligent young lady in the next seasons.

We’ve seen her at her weakest and we’ve seen her at her strongest. It’s immediately apparent in season one how defenseless she is. Although she does contribute to the group, she still relies heavily on Lee to defend her and makes some emotionally-charged decisions that threaten her survival.

But showing her growth into someone strong and capable over the course of season two is what makes her more inspirational. No matter the trials or the odds she faces, she fights through the pain and never lets her resolve waver. And that makes her a champion in the gaming world; she is undoubtedly one of the best video game characters of all time.

7. Cortana, The Halo Series

One of the central characters of the Halo series, Cortana isn’t technically a woman; she is an AI with a female voice and appearance. But that doesn’t stop her from being one of gaming’s most recognizable and best video game characters.

She’s appeared in every Halo game to date, working as Master Chief’s moral compass, trusted companion and is nearly equal to the Chief himself in every way possible. 

The current wave of virtual assistants owes a lot to this sidekick from one of the most popular video games of all time. The release of Halo: Combat Evolved in 2001 that introduced Master Chief’s AI partner Cortana popularised a lot of the common characteristics that are now shared by real-world AI helpers.

Cortana is a friendly, helpful female voice in your ear, one who blurred the lines between companion and digital tool. She sounds a lot like Siri, but she did it a decade before virtual assistants became indispensable features of our smartphones and homes.

cortana halo
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However, it is not Halo that invented the concept of an AI assistant. It’s been a staple of science fiction for years, with the likes of the shipboard computer in Star Trek: The Next Generation and HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey all playing prominent roles.

But Cortana was different from her fictional predecessors in many ways, but the most notable is that she is warm and affectionate. She’d make jokes and ensure Master Chief stayed on task.

In Halo 4 she really comes into her own though. She’s malfunctioning, and it’s up to Master Chief to save her from becoming obsolete. It’s an emotional journey for sure, especially as you feared you were hurtling towards a farewell to one of gaming’s most iconic female video game characters.

8. Bella Goth, The Sims

Of all the video game characters out there, it is only fair to say that none has been through as much as Bella Goth.

In The Sims, Bella enjoyed the high life at 5 Sim Avenue, where she lived with her wealthy husband and young daughter, filling her days with painting, piano, and paranormal research. But over time, she’s had an eventful life, to say the least. Though some things have remained constant, such as Bella’s love for the gothic style, many others have changed.

Things went sideways for Bella in The Sims 2, when Bella mysteriously disappeared via alien abduction, only to end up with no memory in Strangetown. While Bella wandered around in a daze, her husband married a woman only out for the Goth family fortune and her daughter walked down the aisle with the last man who saw Bella alive.

But if you thought alien abduction was the worst of Bella’s problems, then buckle up – The Sims 3 sees Bella time-warped back to childhood. And in The Sims 4, Bella exists in an alternate timeline, where she lives a happy family life by day and works as a secret agent by night.

the sims
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It’s a lot of inter-dimensional travel for one Sim to handle, but somehow Bella manages it all while looking fabulous in her signature red dress the whole time. After all, she’s always a lady of prestige, class, and mystery and remains a firm fan favourite.

Bella Goth is one of the most iconic video game characters in nearly all major Sims titles. Always recognizable and fun to play, Bella is a huge part of Sims’ history.

Bella, however, isn’t a Goth in every version of the game. In different language versions of the game, the surname of Goth changes along with Bella’s first name at times. While some countries, such as Norway, translate the word goth, others don’t.

In the German version of The Sims, she is known as Julia Von Spinnweb, which means cobweb, but this was changed to Grusel, meaning scary, in The Sims 2. In Spain, she is Elvira Lápida, which translates to the gravestone, while the Dutch version of her name is Kerkhof, which means graveyard.

9. Samus Aran, Metroid Series

In 1986, the original players of Metroid didn’t know until the end of their journey that the armoured bounty hunter at the center of the sci-fi action was, in fact, one of gaming’s powerful female video game characters.

Samus Aran is a badass female galactic bounty hunter from the game series Metroid. She is used to traveling throughout space, wearing her powered exoskeleton, and completing any mission that comes her way. Samus utilizes her array of directed-energy weapons and missiles to get her jobs done as she hunts for Space Pirates and their leader Ridley.

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Metroid first was introduced 35 years ago, and this was one of the earliest games to feature a playable female protagonist, but Samus has remained popular ever since. Even in 2019, women’s presence in gaming as creators, fans, and characters remains contested in some circles.

But Samus was way ahead of her time, and she essentially told a generation of gamers that females are perfectly capable of playing all sorts of games. Add in the fact that she is a 6’3″ intergalactic ex-military bounty hunter of few words, and it’s no wonder that Nintendo’s super lady remains as iconic and popular as ever.

Samus Aran hasn’t headlined a new game since 2010’s Metroid: The Other M, but her role in video game history is more than secure for generations to come.