Saturday, 15 June 2019

Favourite Female Video Game Protagonists (Part One)

As a writer (yes I do that alongside the art sometimes!), I feel it's important when writing characters in any media to make them compelling and interesting. Trouble seems to arise however when that character is female (for some unknown mythical reason...). It's often a roulette wheel of extremes, where we either get a damsel in distress or a one-woman army badass (with the latter often getting turned into former), and nothing in between.

It seems as though female protagonists can't be 'characters', but have to be some kind of common trope to dangle like a carrot in front of representation-starved audiences with no further thought put into them. This results in flaccid, dull and repetitive characters, and while arguably many male protagonists are just as stale, there's quite the discrepancy in numbers of female to male main characters in pretty much all media, so it's much more noticeable in the former.

However, there are some writers who've come up with varied and interesting characters who so happen to be women. So in this post I want to talk about ten female video game protagonists who really appealed to me. They might not be amazingly deep or be the best role models, but I still adore them, and am very glad they exist.

I am limiting myself to only video games I've played (so no Terra Branford from Final Fantasy VI or Aya Brea from Parasite Eve, sorry). The one criteria I have is that the character in question HAS to be the protagonist of their game (not a side character).

1. Skye (Darkened Skye)


This game has a very poor reputation, mocked for its premise of promoting Skittles (product placement at its finest?) and the fact that the game itself is quite buggy and glitchy. But I adore protagonist Skye and the tongue-in-cheek fourth wall breaking humour the game sports.

So, what does our leading lady have to show for herself?

Skye is a lowly 'dwentil' (read: kind of fantasy sheep) herder, who carries with her a mysterious amulet given by her mother who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Wishing for a more interesting pursuit and to find the answers to her missing parents and who she really is, she comes across a Skittle (yes, I know, bear with me here), which unlocks her magic potential. Along with wise-cracking gargoyle companion Draak, she sets out to restore magic to the land, defeat the dark evil, and discover her true destiny.

So, on the superficial level, Skye definitely fits the 'badass female protagonist' and doesn't have the most original set up (with her missing parents backstory and her wanting self realisation), but she does show some nuance. To start with, she has various flaws, such as how she is not confident in her abilities (an in game quote reflects how she can't even keep her eyes open when jumping!), shows genuine fear at times, and can miss the obvious. She also sports a lovely sarcastic sense of humour which (particularly at the time) was rare to see in a female character as it was more akin to the 'male rogue' archetypes.

On the downside, she doesn't really show or get much development (apart from her skill set), nor does she show much emotion outside of her sarcasm (then again that could just be a coping mechanism). She also ends up with a love interest (but oddly enough it's flipped such that he's the supporting male who doesn't overtake or overshadow, and in fact he himself needs rescuing, which is a refreshing switch of roles!).

Despite that, she remains one of my favourite characters, and it's a shame not more people know about her.

2. Zanthia (Legend of Kyrandia 2)


Another PC game protagonist, Zanthia is the lead character in the second of the Legend of Kyrandia series. I played this without playing the first one (who stars a male protagonist called Brandon), but they're sort of stand-alone enough that I didn't really miss much apart from some backstory context.

Zanthia is a member of the Magic Council of Kyrandia. After the events of the first game, pieces of the kingdom start randomly disappearing, and she is selected to go on a journey to the centre of the world to get an Anchor Stone to stop this. Zanthia is a master with potions and portal magic, but when she returns home to make a teleportation brew, she finds her equipment stolen and destroyed. Thus she has to go on her journey the hard way by foot and prevent Kyrandia from vanishing forever.

Zanthia did appear in the first game as a minor character, but I'm going to focus on how she acts in this one. She is generally confident in her abilities, is fairly intelligent and cunning (she is able to trick guards letting her through a gate by baiting them with their favourite food, sandwiches), but she does come across as kinda lazy, not really wanting to go on this quest and not really seeking adventure. She also gets many humorous moments where she gets fed up as every problem she solves is soon replaced by three more, but her resolve never breaks. One of my favourite moments is towards the endgame- she has a mechanic where she changes her outfit in every new area she enters, and at the end she changes into a Rambo-esque getup with combat trousers and red bandana, as now she means business!

Now she's really mad!

Like Skye, she also has a male supporting character, Marko, but in a world where real magic exists, he's just like a real-world magician, only able to perform tricks and illusions. He's also quite bumbling in an endearing way, and the more he helps, the more he hinders! Again it's a refreshing reversal, but Marko gets his moment at the end where he helps Zanthia (note helps, not saves) defeat the real threat, showing that he is good for something, at least.

Zanthia does get a small amount of development, realising that her laziness can work against her, but she doesn't really undergo any significant change. I'm not sure if she appears in the third Kyrandia game, but I thoroughly enjoyed her in this one.

3. Lara Croft (Tomb Raider)


Ah, the iconic gaming heroine of a generation! Lara Croft is instantly recognisable and is a household name, particularly at a time when there was perhaps only one or two other female leads that well-known (Samus from the Metroid series comes to mind). She has had two main iterations- her original form back when the first Tomb Raider games were released, and her current iteration following the 2013 'reboot' series which takes a much more serious and grittier tone. While I've played both series, I will be focusing on her reboot character, as it's quite different and arguably more interesting.

The new games focus more on the survival element rather than simple adventure, and as this series is supposed to 'prequel' the older games, it's showing how Lara develops into the Tomb Raider heroine of her later years.

Lara starts off as a intuitive but somewhat naive researcher, somewhat burdened by the tarnished reputation of her father, but determined to prove herself. Once she ends up shipwrecked on the island of Yamatai, however, she's forced into deadly situations where it's kill or be killed. Lara thus has to come to terms with fighting for her own survival, even if it comes at the cost of the lives of others, and has to learn to open her mind to the supernatural forces that exist in these ancient places.

Becoming the legendary Tomb Raider...

Lara has great development in the first two games, steadily maturing, growing confident in her skills and deductive ability, but her obsession with answers and the truth pushes her away from her friends and allies. The third game sadly doesn't quite execute on this as a thrilling conclusion, mostly due to poor pacing and a weak villain, but the themes are still there, with Lara finally learning that answers aren't all there is to life and she learns to take life less seriously.

Lara as a character is also not stuck within her gendered role- apart from one 'implied rape' scene near the start of the first game (where a male villain approaches a tied-up Lara in a suggestive fashion) there's nothing that specifically happens to her on account of being a woman. She has a close male friend called Jonah, but they're not forced into a romantic relationship, and do enjoy a genuine friendship. This is so very rare to see in any media so kudos to the writers for implementing this (well, until they dropped the ball quite badly with the third game and tried to shovel in some companionship moments that came across as too forced for me).

While many fans of the old games don't like Lara's newer more serious incarnation, I personally adore it. It shows proper development, Lara isn't overly sexualised (well, not as much as in her older games at least), and she can, without being defined by her gender.

4. Bayonetta (Bayonetta)


A potentially controversial entry! There have been many who have complained about the overt sexual nature of Bayonetta, but look a little deeper and there's more to her than that. You also have to see her in the greater context- while it may be an issue as there are not a huge amount of female protagonists, there are still others out there who are different, and so having a diverse female cast, where one can flaunt her sexual nature so confidently, is no bad thing. A little like the original Lara Croft...

Bayonetta herself is a very fun character. She's playful by nature, flirtatious, and can look after herself thank you very much. A stark contrast in personality to reboot!Lara, and this is part of what makes her so enjoyable. She is also confident in herself and her abilities, and doesn't end up tethered to a love interest, either. She doesn't care what others think of her or what she does, yet still retains an alluring charm.

While she doesn't undergo much in the way of development (the rather over-the-top flamboyant plot doesn't really cater for such in-depth character arcs), it's her confidence, determination and playful tongue-in-cheek humour that make her stand out. She is also willing to overcome her lack of willingness to take responsibility for others (for example, she initially is reluctant to take care of the young girl Cereza, but does act to keep her safe regardless). Bayonetta certainly isn't your selfless heroine, but she still chooses do the right thing when called for.

Her bravado does also conceal a deeper part of her, given her relatively lonely existence as one of the only witches left alive and that fact she doesn't want to let anyone close, as she'll outlive the human companions she's made. Not to mention the complicated relationship she has with her father...

Regardless, Bayonetta is definitely on the fun side of the spectrum, and contrasts nicely to...

5. Alexandra Roivas (Eternal Darkness)


Perhaps not as well known as some of the others on my list, but Alex Roivas is a great character. Granted she is only one of two female characters of the twelve character roster, but she is the protagonist, and is able to carry on the work of her late grandfather as he delved into the dark mysteries of the old family mansion. She is intelligent, somewhat reserved, brave and level-headed, which makes her well suited to her task. She doesn't fall for the same tricks as her predecessors, and as a result is able to win victory against Pious Augustus, the antagonist.

Don't let him get to you, Alex!

We don't know much about Alex, other than she was brought up by her grandfather after her parents died in an accident. However Alex has lived away from home for a while, having to fly back to the family mansion on learning about her grandfather's death. While clearly upset by events, it only serves to drive her determination for answers. She even dismisses the attempts at flirting by the detective on the case, her goal and purpose set.

Alex thus falls onto the more serious side of the character spectrum, and again doesn't have much development (I'm seeing a bit of a theme here...). She also arguably doesn't show much of a personality, as she is mostly alone for the duration of the game with no other characters to bounce off. Of course that's part of the horror of the game, being isolated and alone (though it takes the efforts of twelve chosen throughout history working together to win the fight), but even so, Alex can come across as little more than a player avatar, as her own personal choices don't really affect the story or reveal much about herself. But her sharp wits, strength of will and courage do make her likeable, and it's always gratifying to watch her finally defeat Augustus at the end of the game and get the revenge her grandfather deserved.

That ends part one, stay tuned for part two where I go through the next five female protagonists (and thanks to some newer games, they're not from the same tiny pool I had to draw from before!)

Who are your favourite female protagonists? I'd love to know!

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