Friday, November 12, 2010

Female protagonists with character

This is written in response to a particularly shallow article from The Escapist, so you might want to read it first to get an understanding of what this is a counterpoint to.

In the JRPG, you have girls like Colette(Tales of Symphonia); the helpless, magic-using, shy female protagonist who's there for little else but support and an easily accessible love interest.

In the WRPG, female protagonists tend to have something more of a spine, but attire consisting of chainmail swimwear and the like. If they're lucky.

The genre is full of these tropes, but there are exceptions.

Some RPGs(and games in general) do have female characters who go against this age-old trope. Here's a few of them, from both sides of the globe.

It also helps that most of them have a knack for fashion that wouldn't get them arrested in public.

Virginia Maxwell - Wild Arms 3

The protagonist of the first PS2 entry in the series. Wild Arms' western-esque RPG setting has always been a nice change from the norm, and 3's protagonist is no exception.

Virginia isn't afraid to take matters into her own hands when things go sour, or bust some caps in bad guys who have it coming.

Chris Lightfellow - Suikoden III

Notable for being a female knight who actually dresses like one. Chris is steadfast, loyal, and unwavering in her principles. Those who cross her get cut down, regardless of age or race.

Argilla - Digital Devil Saga 1 & 2

The Megami Tensei series is known for having unique female protagonists, and DDS is among the highlights. Though prone to emotional outbursts, Argilla won't stand for injustice, and will destroy and/or devour those unfortunate enough to get in her way.
(The controversial appearance of her devil form deserves a mention, but you can't really hold that against her.)

Faith - Mirror's Edge

Our first western representative, Mirror's Edge is a first person action/adventure parkour simulator of sorts. The protagonist, Faith, is a runner; couriers who carry dangerous and unwanted information in a society whre the government doesn't want people to know the truth.

Who needs magic or weapons? Faith is entirely capable of finishing the game using just her own two hands.

Jade - Beyond Good and Evil

Although I've never played the game in its entirety, I'd be remiss if I didn't give Jade a mention. From what I've played of it, Jade is somewhat like Mirror Edge's Faith. A reporter intent on uncovering the truth that those in power don't want revealed.

Dreamfall - The Longest Journey

Zoë and April Ryan are both such interesting protagonists that they both get a mention. The fact that they're both from a modern setting sets them apart, as it's a woefully underused time frame in RPGs. April was introduced in Dreamfall's precursor, The Longest Journey, while Zoë is tasked with finding April in the sequel, guided by only four words: "Find her. Save her."

I'm certain I could think of many others, but these are among the key examples which show that there's more to female protagonists than casting spells, being subject to ridiculous outfits, and acting as love interests.


  1. These are some good examples, but there are many more. Lunar is mentioned in the article for the way Luna gets kidnapped, but then Mia and especially Jessica are totally steadfast, never get kidnapped, and have minimal emotional problems. Shadow hearts II has Karin to counterbalance Alice, as well as Anastasia and Lucia. The majority of Final Fantasy heroines are stronger than the stereotype that the article puts out; Terra, Lightning, Tifa, and even Rinoa being particularly non-wussy examples (even though Rinoa DOES play damsel-in-distress for part of the game she does it in a way that doesn't make her ridiculously weak.) This isn't going into strong side characters like Faris and Layla. on Western games you've got Bastila as a strong female who largely covers up, and I'm sure that older western-world RPGs probably have plenty of damsel-in-distressing.

    1. Lunar 2 had some great female characters in the form of Jean, Lemina, and Lucia. Although Lucia ends up as a damsel, she does help the heroes fight the final boss.

      Although I don't think it negatively impacts their characters at all or does anything the dispel the idea that they're positive female characters, I think it bears mentioning that Jessica and Mia do get removed from the party for one dungeon after being afflicted with an evil sickness. It's quite distracting and problematic, but I think everything that Jessica and Mia contribute to the story before and after the incident more than make up for it. As you said, they remain steadfast throughout the game; Mia grows into a capable leader of the Magic Guild; and Jessica never loses her spunk and ends up reforming her boyfriend Kyle into a respectable man (or at least starts the process for that seeing as how he still teases her about her tomboyish personality near the end; he at least gives up alcoholism and thievery). Also, for people wondering what would happened if they did get captured, Jessica gets a nice damsel-out-of-distress moment in the Talon Mines when she breaks herself and Mia out of Zenobia's magical bonds.

  2. You made quite a nice list. Beyond Dustin's examples, I would add Ivanna and Cybil from Tactics Orge: The Knight of Lodis and Lucca from Chrono Trigger.

  3. It would be remiss for us to forget Alys, heroine of the original Phantasy Star---true, she doesn't get a whole lot of development as a character, but neither do any of the other PCs. Also, she is unquestionably the most useful member of your party for the majority of the game, and that certainly ought to count for something.

  4. Oh, and I am also obliged to mention Grandia II, which presents the player with two fairly strong female leads: Elena and Millenia. Though Elena is initially presented as a somewhat-typical JRPG "heroine," (passive, pitiful, etc.) she gets quite a bit of character development over the course of the game. She also has a multifaceted personality right from the start, and has a strong desire to stand for something---a sharp contrast to the somewhat bland male lead. Additionally, the player is very quickly introduced to Elena's foil: the strong-willed and unabashedly sexy Millenia.
    Despite being (ostensibly) the personification of an evil deity, Millenia, too, is a surprisingly multifaceted character, and easily hurt by the protagonist's poorly-thought-out actions. Add to this the love triangle that develops between the male protagonist and these two female leads (who happen to share the same body), and you have one of the most interesting character dynamics of any RPG in memory.

  5. How can there be an article like this on a site like this... and no mention of the all-female cast from Touhou Project.
    My favorite heroine of the cast, though, is Kirisame Marisa. She's got some of the traits that a cute witch in a JRPG has, but what makes her unique are some of her Anti-Hero traits such as stealing books from Patchouli and "stealing precious things."
    OH, and may I not forget MASTER SPAAAAARRRK!!!

    Other characters that should have been included are:
    Alyx Vance(obligatory) - Half-Life 2
    Zoey - Left 4 Dead
    Rochelle(even though she's not well-liked) - L4D2
    Chell - Portal
    So yeah, I'm mostly thinking of Valve characters.

  6. The article in question though seems to be entirely directed at JRPGs (and largely is more centered on analysis of the trope it defines). A lot of your examples aren't really counter to the article.

  7. I'm a huge Touhou fan, but none of them strike me as especially against-the-grain for female characters.

    Marisa is still awesome, of course.

  8. You're forgetting Resident Evil! Jill Valentine and Claire Redfield can both take care of huge monsters alone. (they're not RPG characters though, but Faith, Jade, Zoe and April aren't either.:D)

  9. Couldn't think of enough WRPG females, so yeah, I broke the trend. :P The Malk twins from Bloodlines kind of deserve a mention.

  10. You forgot the one female western RPG character that does not have to deal with any of the clichés usually associated with her kind:

    Mass Effect's Femshep.

  11. Most females in the Phantasy Star series, really. Even Phantasy Star Online and Universe have pretty solid female characters, considering their competition. Special mention goes to Sue for being mysterious without being shy and/or mute.

  12. Even just Valkyrie Profile 1 has a fairly large cast of strong-ass female characters.

    Lenneth is perhaps a little too devoted to her duty as a Valkyrie, but she is in no way an ineffectual princess character. She even manages it while displaying a little femininity, at least when you go for the A ending.

    Freya is the only character in the game capable of dealing ~4 million damage in a single blow, and when you originally have her in your party, she's so strong that she's basically invulnerable.

    Aelia refuses to be broken under torture and eventually hunger strikes herself to death rather than betray her comrades.

    Mystina is probably the second most-intelligent character in the game, behind someone who outsmarts the gods themselves, and is both very feminine and very powerful.

    Jayle is one of the only characters in the game to have the Brave characteristic, in addition to having very strong and useful in-combat moves. She even wears full plate that looks like full plate!

    And then there's Hrist, who is more of a murder-filled badass than any male in the game.

    I'd also like to venture that the article is flat wrong in saying that Lightning displays absolutely no femininity in XIII. I think anyone who can say that is basing their opinion either on a playthrough where they skipped every cutscene, or on internet hyperbole. Her relationship with Hope, after the bioweapons lab, is nothing if not motherly/sisterly.

  13. Maya from both Pesona 2 games and Ulala from Persona 2: EP are both fairly well-developed characters that mostly avoid stereotypes. Can't really say the same for Ginko though.

  14. Rochelle from L4D2 does not count in any way. She has no personality AT ALL.

    Really goddamned disappointing after the awesomeness known as Zoey.

  15. I like seeing lists like these. Strong female characters tend to be my favorites in games, so I always appreciate hearing about them.

    Other readers have suggested that the cast of Touhou or female Shepard from Mass Effect are also strong leads, but I'm not really sure they fit on a list like this.

    I haven't played any of the Touhou games, myself, but I do know that the cast is entirely female. The problem of weak female characters is that they are presented as so much weaker than their male counterparts; by necessity, an all-female cast can be neither subject to nor an aversion of this double standard. So Touhou doesn't really compare.

    Mass Effect has a similar problem; Shepard is written in a largely genderless fashion, seeing as the player determines if they are a man or a woman. Rather than being specifically about a strong female protagonist, it is about a strong protagonist that may or may not be female. (Nevermind that the 'canon' Shepard is male.)

    It isn't enough to just have prominent female characters in a game: those characters should be presented as just as capable and just as soundly realized as their male peers. This is why both damsels in distress and oversexed fanboy bait both fail the test.

  16. What about Chrono Trigger or Breath of Fire 2? I know they're older games, but the females totally pwn.

  17. The main problem with The Escapist's article is that there's not a clear definition of what "heroism" means. Take Rosa's example, since the article mentioned her. She's not the most interesting woman in a JRPG (in fact, she's almost completely one-dimensional) and sometimes can be aggravating, but that's the point of the character. She loves Cecil, and she's willing to anything to be beside him, even knowing she could get herself in danger (as in fact happens). In my opinion, at least, that requires some sort of "heroism". Besides, she's part of a team that defeats an alien abomination bent on destroying life on the planet. Is that not heroic enough?