Five most underrated female characters in videogames

Step aside Lara Croft! Mind your bum, Bayonetta! Here’s a list of our five favourite female characters you’ll never find in a “Best Women in Games” list. So often, lists of this variety prioritise notoriety, relevance and icon status over good or subtle characterisation. We’ve tried to redress this imbalance with our list, so enjoy and offer your suggestions in the comments please!

5. Elma (Xenoblade Chronicles X, Wii U)

elma_montage

She’s worldly, tough, smart, and she has secrets – lots of secrets. In many ways, Elma is the protagonist of Xenoblade Chronicles X. She was a colonel back on Earth, but now serves BLADE without a title, a human military force colonizing the planet of Mira. She may be an odd choice, because she’s very…responsible – and this could be construed as being boring. She’s liked and respected by her comrades, she knows loads about combat and this alien environment, yadda, yadda, yadda… On the other hand, her seemingly endless knowledge and passion for her fellow BLADE members is also a little suspect. Frankly, Elma acts very strangely sometimes. What motivates this beautiful and dutiful woman? Spend 100+ hours playing to find out!

Memorable quote: “Everyone, wait. There’s one more thing I need to talk to you about.”

4. Laura (D, Saturn/PS1/3DO/PC)

laura_d

Laura has to be on this list. She’s the first “videogame actress” – and she wins ALL the makeover TV awards! Making her first appearance in Kenji Eno’s D (Sega Saturn) as a body positive, curvy girl, she slimmed down for her role in Enemy Zero – but still remained an advocate for body diversity in videogames.

laura_d_sunglasses

In all seriousness though, the concept of a videogame actress, like most of Eno’s ideas, is brilliant and terrible all at once. Laura was a muse for Eno – a generic, all American girl who is entirely silent – and served as a throughline in most of his games. It doesn’t make much sense, and leaves us with some interesting ethical questions (can you fire an actress that you entirely control?), but Laura is, in her own way, a pioneer. Fun facts: Laura ate her own mother in D. And for her to do this and still have the game be released – and only with a Teen rating! – Eno designed the psychedelic cutscenes on his own without telling his staff, and swapped the master disks before the manufacturing process to include this terrible, graphic twist. Laura would have been your average, perplexed heroine with daddy issues – until she upgraded to cannibal. Laura’s Theme, a track from Enemy Zero by the Oscar-award winning composer Michael Nyman, is also notable for being haunting and beautiful.

Memorable quote: “Nom nom nom…

3. Impa (Zelda: Skyward Sword, Wii)

The word ‘laconic’ comes from the name of a tribe famous for their pithy, cutting comments: the Lacedaemonians, otherwise known as the Spartans. When informed that the arrows fired at them by the Persian invasion would “cover the sun”, the Spartans simply responded: “Then we will fight in the shade…”. Of course, I am all for revisionist history  (were the Persians really THAT bad?), but I certainly believe in the enduring power of language to define a group.

Impa of Skyward Sword has more than a fair share of the Spartan about her. She’s a woman of few words – but when she does speak, it is sparing and harsh. She admonishes Link on various occasions, and she is stoic in battle. But she isn’t without sympathy – you get a sense of Zelda and her having a meaningful friendship whilst they are on their travels. Often, I wished I could play as Zelda or Impa to see their side of the story – but Link is such a drama queen, he’d probably have a (silent) fit.  Anyway, I definitely get the sense that Impa was a favourite with the game’s writers and designers, and this also comes out in Hyrule Warriors (Wii U), where she is one of the more fun characters to play as. I also love how androgynous her character design is.

Memorable quote: “Do my words sting? Let them.”

2. Lisa Trevor (Resident Evil, Gamecube)

lisa_trevor

Lisa Trevor was fourteen years old when Umbrella Corp began experimenting on her body, infecting her with various versions of the Progenitor virus. Her mother was also experimented upon. She devises a plan to escape, but dies before she can reunite with her daughter. It’s one of the most affecting storylines in the Resident Evil series – made all the more sad by the fact that Lisa is…utterly terrifying. Umbrella Corp sent minders to pretend to be her parents – their end is quite literally on her face.

She is ghoulish, and invincible – her incredible strength and regenerative capabilities are what made her so precious to Umbrella. And those capabilities make wandering about her “home” in the Resident Evil remake very, very nerve-wracking. The fact that she shows degrees of sanity – a mind deranged through abuse, neglect and torture – through badly written diary entries and her living in a shack, makes her a fascinating and harrowing portrayal of female suffering.

Memorable Quote: “Mo… ther… (seconds before she throws herself into a bottomless pit after discovering her mother’s corpse)

1. Dr Naomi Kimishima (Trauma Team, Wii)

dr-kimishima

Dr Kimishima could well be the most complex and engaging female character ever to grace the videogame medium. Maybe it’s because I used to be a massive fan of CSI, but I found her detective storylines in Trauma Team to be so compelling I totally forgot how silly it was that she has the curse/blessing to hear the last words of the dead… on her mobile phone (lol). She’s the consummate professional, even though she is infected with an incurable disease. Yes, I know, it’s very melodramatic – but somehow it works. She rivals even CSI’s Sarah Sidle in her tough yet vulnerable character traits. The compassion she has for those who have died is key, made all the more poignant because she is close to death herself…

Her character also comes to life through Trauma Team’s excellent writing – the cases are never as simple as Colonel Mustard with the spanner in the library. Domestic abuse, mental illness and bomb threats occur on Dr Kimishima’s watch, and the game’s writing is more than up to the task of dealing with these sensitive themes.

Her relationship with Little Guy, her colleague at the FBI, is also adorable. It’s quirky, flirty and very relatable – workplace chitchat is a difficult art form to pull off, and it’s done here with aplomb. All credit to Kirsten Potter who voiced Kimishina. Finally, her relationship with Alyssa, a little girl whose lost her family, also exhibits her tendency to hide her emotions through professionalism – but the desire for justice and kindness shines through.

Memorable quote: “The dead shall speak…”

Advertisements

15 comments

  1. Van Rockingham

    Might just be me, but I never see Heather Mason (Silent Hill 3) on good character lists, she is bad ass.

    Can never decide how I feel about Impa, as she is Retconned in most Zelda games.

  2. moresleepneeded

    I have only encountered Impa in a game. I found her a little annoying, the way she arrogantly reprimanded the player for failing to complete impossible tasks quicker, but she does seem to be a very capable and dedicated character. There is also another side to her character as a caring and encouraging woman helping Link to save Zelda.
    I actually think the female characters from the Metal Gear Solid games are also interesting. Sniper Wolf and her relationship with Hal Emmerich, Fortune (who proves her psychic powers in an impressive and sad way), Emma Emmerich (who mimics Hal Emmerich and secretly dedicates her life to her brother), Boss (who has a powerful relationship with Naked Snake and makes sacrifices) and Eva (the unhappy manipulator).

    • veryverygaming

      That moment when Impa told me off for being late was very memorable for me too, it’s not what you expect! Of course it was accurate in the sense that I did take my sweet time going where I was supposed to be going. I agree that as the game goes on she is fleshed out and that’s what makes her interesting.

      Metal Gear Solid is a really interesting series for many different reasons, including the female characters, but unfortunately neither Maya or myself have played it enough – I played the Twin Snakes on Gamecube and some of MGS2 on PS2 but that’s about it. MGS3 has been on my to-play list for a long time now, would you recommend it?

      • moresleepneeded

        I would recommend Metal Gear Solid 3. The gameplay is a bit strange because it is a little different from other Metal Gear Solid games, but it is easy to get used to. It also has an in-depth story. It also explores the main character’s personality and his relationships with other characters in the story, which makes it a very interesting game to play.

  3. lightningnightnova

    As a female gamer, it’s so nice to see so many awesome female character in games these days! Impa is my favourite on this list. The line about Link being a drama queen made me burst out laughing 🙂

    I remember poor Lisa Trevor… That story was really sad, and the fights with her terrified me.

  4. ambigaming

    I am 100% on-board with these! I especially love Impa and her various incarnations, and she rarely gets credit for her deeds. I agree with moresleepneeded about the Metal Gear women; Olga and Naomi are two more impressive female characters.

    Having said that, I would also pose that Cassandra and Leliana from Dragon Age: Inquisition would be good contenders, simply because they are female characters who don’t “need” to be female to work. They are fantastic characters/people who just happen to be women. But they’re pretty well-known. Just wanted to throw their names in anyway 🙂

    In regards to underrated characters, I would also pose that Syrenne from The Last Story is great. She’s not a paragon by any stretch of the imagination, but she’s brave and loyal to her friends, has a real history that she reacts to and shapes her actions, and she keeps up with the men without a problem.

    Probably my favorite underrated female character (at the moment) is Samantha Traynor from Mass Effect 3. She defies all stereotypes and, because of that, is very realistic: she’s nerdy, loves games, can tend a bar, but also likes spa treatments and can be fairly domestic when she wants to be. And the way her homosexuality is handled is just SO REALISTIC, from how she stands uncomfortably (and with a little surprise) from her chair when male Shepard hits on her to how she pretends everything is fine – hiding her disappointment – when female Shepard unknowingly turns her down. I’ve had to put up with a lot of crappy female characters and some pretty crappy homosexual characters in all kinds of media, so now that there’s one in a video game that is done SO RIGHT I just want to jump up and down and pretty much shove her in everyone’s face haha.

    • veryverygaming

      Thank you for such a long and in-depth comment! The Metal Gear Solid series is, sadly, one of our many blind spots. Myself and Maya have some experience with the first game on PS1 (and the Gamecube remake), and I played a bit of MGS2, but that’s really it. The other blind spot – and this one is really embarassing – is that neither of us have played a Bioware game. Ever. And I know we should. I have an untouched copy of Knights of the Old Republic for Xbox, but of course the Mass Effect and Dragon Age games are everywhere so there’s no excuse with those either. Everything I’ve heard suggests that their characters, both male and female, are very well drawn and written, and your description of Samantha Traynor certainly backs that up. I can’t point to many, if any, subtle handlings of homosexuality in games! (Other than Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix, that is. Oh wait…)

      Syrenne in The Last Story was really interesting – definitely a good pick. We did consider The Last Story but the character that sprung to mind was Mirania, who we both liked quite a bit. You’re right though that Syrenne’s character arc is surprisingly well done. She was incredibly annoying at the start of the game but endearing by the end. We did a podcast about The Last Story a while ago and I’m pretty sure we talked about it on there, if you’re interested.

      • ambigaming

        Listened to the podcast – very interesting! I actually really liked your thoughts on the localization. As someone from the other side of the pond, I was interested to hear your take on the dialogue and accents!

        Oh, Fear Effect 2… at least they weren’t the bad guys, which has historically seemed to be the go-to for prominent LGBT characters (Poison from Final Fight, Flea in CronoTrigger, Trevor in GTA5, Vamp from Metal Gear Solid 2, Quique in Red Dead Redemption (bonus: he’s also a pedophile!), Alfred Ashford from Resident Evil (bonus: he’s a sociopath!)… sigh). It’s gotten a LOT better in recent years, and obviously not all games are like this, but it’s an interesting list.

        Anyway, it’s nice to see realistic representations of women (and LGBT folk) being recognized in games, so thank you!

  5. Pingback: Spiffing Reads: Castlevania, Underrated Females and Minor Text Fixes | A Most Agreeable Pastime
  6. ChrisX

    Fire Emblem has already grown into a world-class franchise. Nowadays people would think that the true female face of the franchise would be either Lyndis, Lucina or the female versions of the avatars: Robin or Corrin. But if you ask me? The real heroine would be Caeda from the first game (AKA the wife of Marth). Let’s just take a look: Fire Emblem is one of the earlier Nintendo titles and Caeda has been there since the first game, sees no need to disguise herself as a man (unlike Samus Aran) and is capable of beating down enemies that come to her instead of being a damsel in distress like most women in that era of gaming. Sure, she might not be that plot-relevant in that game, but she gave what gamers needed at that time: A kick-ass heroine that tremendously help beating the game. Alas, because of Fire Emblem staying in Japan at its earlier stages and Shadow Dragon remake was a bit controversial and low-key, Caeda felt like not really appreciated. But yeah, if you want to look at an underrated heroine, she’d be the one. (I haven’t explored further how she’s still managing to be a kind and friendly girl who’s not afraid to use some ‘seduction’ to save lives (or just being a kind girl in general))

    What do you think?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s