There’s a larger number of heroines who could be our favorites than you may think, as Andrew’s Top 5 Obscure Heroines story showed. But what will be interesting to find out here is if the Nintendojo staff’s fave heroines skew popular or obscure. Will Aaron be all over Drill Dozer’s Jill or Cooking Mama’s Mama? Is Evan more into Super Mario’s Toadette or Soulcalibur’s Ivy? We’ll find out more than we may want to know in this round table…
If there were a feminist movement in gaming, it began in the halls of Square-Enix’s ancestral components, Squaresoft and Enix. In the days when Mario was still trying to rescue the Princess from the castle, Square’s Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior (Dragon Quest in Japan) series were pushing new frontiers with female characters. Granted, those characters were typically in support roles, rather than as primary protagonists, but given that most games of the 1980s and even 1990s relegated women to either distress duty or scantily-clad eye candy, the two companies have to get credit for being at the vanguard of a movement away from the misogynistic tenor of most early games.
The pinnacle of Square’s efforts might have been the SNES epic Final Fantasy VI (Final Fantasy III in the States). This game headlined, not one, but two lead female protagonists. The first half of the game opened up with an introduction to Terra (as imagined by Yoshitako Amano in the image above our round table, on the left), a mysterious girl with strange and deadly powers. Terra proved to be one of the most unstoppable forces in the game, a force of nature who would gradually come to be a valued member of the character’s party.
The second half of the game was even more impressive: the world now in ruin and the character party scattered, the hope of the world fell on Celes, a magically enhanced soldier stranded on a deserted island (seen on the right in the image above our round table). Celes was pivotal to the game early on, whether it was her memorable opera performance or her saving her friends at the Magitek Facility, but her second-half quest to single-handedly reassemble the party for its final showdown against Kefka was her crowning achievement.
Terra and Celes? Seriously? They were so dependent upon the rest of FFVI‘s cast. Pretty much the entire party supported Terra. She was just so weak without them. Celes, too, suffers from relying too heavily upon Cid, and to a lesser extent, Locke. Sorry, I just don’t see them as strong, boundary breaking characters.
But I will thank you for guiding me down the proper path. So, Final Fantasy V: Faris. I want to call her a Pirate wench (because who uses wench often enough?) but Pirate Queen is more appropriate. Really, she is just such a strong, revolutionary/role breaking female. Captain of a pirate crew? And physically strongest (if I recall properly) character on the team? Too awesome.
Shame that FFV was terrible.
Just to think outside of the box, I’m going to list off a few heroines I’m fond of and why. I was always a big fan of Blaze from Streets of Rage, partially because I could run laps around my multiplayer partner and take out all the bad guys first. Goombella from Paper Mario 2: The Thousand-Year Door has a warm place in my heart due to her wry sense of humor when explaining foes’ weaknesses and that she successfully convinces an NPC that she is Mario’s girlfriend.
I also was enamored of Nei from Phantasy Star, since we’re hitting a Genesis nerve, here. She was useful fighting and healing, and managed to predate another doomed female character from Final Fantasy VII by almost a decade. Take THAT, Aerith. Oh, and spoiler alert. Also, Mona from WarioWare, who needs more appearances. If for no other reason than having a cute girl be obsessed with Wario is ironically hilarious.
Chun Li. I used to be a huge Chun Li fan, because Street Fighter II got me into gaming, and she was just so awesome and quick and completely out of place in the game. She’s a young, Chinese female Interpol agent with absurdly powerful legs, wearing a blue qipao and huge spiked bracelets, and was visibly happy after she embarrassed you in front of several two-dimensional, poorly animated sprites of spectators (depending on the stage). She was the first selectable female character in a fighting game, and there were countless Chun Li clones in countless Street Fighter clones.
Still, I have to admit my favorite female gaming character ever, in true Mario fanboy fashion, has to be Princess Peach. It all started with Super Mario Bros. 2, one of my favorite games ever. I was having a difficult time with one level back in the day, and it wasn’t until I selected Princess I-float-over-anything Peach that I was able to beat it. From that day, I absolutely always select Peach in every game she appears; she’s awesome.
She’s good at tennis, golf, kart racing, soccer, baseball, partying and she’s also a formidable fighter. She’s my main in both Super Smash Bros. Melee and Brawl; I’ve won a couple of tournaments with the Mushroom Kingdom princess. She’s the female gaming character with the most gaming appearances to date, and that’s not changing anytime soon. I’ll be sure to play as her when Mario Sports Mix comes out and let everyone know why the princess formerly known as Toadstool rules.
Did somebody say FFV was terrible? Terrible? Are you kidding me? Final Fantasy V was probably my favorite out of all the SNES ones, besides Final Fantasy IV of course. The customization inherent in FFV was ridiculous. I loved it. But I digress: since James already took Faris (who is, btdubs, awesome), and because all the cool kids seem to like Final Fantasy characters, I’ll go with– actually, I’ll go with someone more recent.
Dragon Quest IX‘s Stella’s probably my latest favorite in terms of heroines. Sure, she doesn’t do much per se, outside of (sometimes literally) pushing the plot along, but coupled with her antics and wacky dialogue, she’s just incredibly endearing. I’ve been playing Dragon Quest IX so much, even months after its release, that I pretty much expect to see Stella every day, every time I hit SELECT, and– oh dear, I’m beginning to sound like those guys who marry their Love Plus girlfriends.
On a less obsessive level, I thoroughly enjoy Pipsy from Diddy Kong Racing. No particular reason; I just liked using her a lot. I can’t even remember her acceleration or handling stats, despite playing Diddy Kong Racing for literally years on end, since it was the only game I owned for Nintendo 64 for a really, really long time. But yeah. Pipsy was pretty sweet.
M. Noah Ward
The guys above all bring up great heroines. My Final Fantasy favorite is Rydia from Final Fantasy IV. She had an emotional character arc that affected me, performed the coolest attacks (thanks to her summoning), and she rocked the color green like it was going out of style.
And like Francisco wrote, Peach is always my go-to girl in everything else. Fighting, karting, sporting– I almost always pick Peach because it’s just fun to dominate everyone as a princess. Victory and emasculation all rolled into one; what’s not to like? I even endured her mood swings in Super Princess Peach because she’s just worth it. Scratch that: she’s got it.
And, regardless your thoughts of Other M, yes, Samus will always have a spot in my heart because she’s the video game roll-up of Aliens’ Ellen Ripley, Terminator’s Sarah Connor and The Matrix’s Trinity– three badass women who admittedly also had their share of craptacular moments in their respective franchises (Connor the least, though I count her off-screen elimination pretty craptacular). If they can weather those moments and remain cherished to me, so can Samus.
Who are your favorites? Tell us in the comments below.