Barely eking out Joanna Dark, this onyx-haired beauty leads the cast of one of the best 2D Castlevania games.
Shanoa is a young member of the titular Order of Eccleisa and the intended vessel of Dominus, three powerful glyphs said to contain the power to defeat Dracula. These glyphs grant Shanoa the power to wield magical weapons through the runes tattooed upon her back. In game play terms this means enemies sometimes become glyphs that contain a weapon or element which Shanoa then uses. She is not the first female lead in a Castlevania game, but her character design is both memorable and exquisite.
In the game, Shanoa gains many of the staple abilities seen in the series including double-jumping, magical attacks, sliding, swinging, and transformation. Oddly, she does not use a whip, cross, or holy water. Shanoa can have three glyphs equipped at one time, and the two offensive glyphs are controlled by a separate button that can be pressed at the same time for a more devastating combination attack.
Shanoa's defining characteristics are her black hair which reaches nearly to her knees, a dark navy or indigo dress, and the bright red runes on her back. I remember reading in Game Informer that the character artist enjoyed doing drawings of her more than other series characters.
Shanoa lost her memories and emotions from an attack by her friend Albus during the ritual designed to grant her the power of the glyphs. She performs her duty to the Order in defeating Dracula in the absence of the Belmonts, but as time passes she regains more of her memory becoming more and more personable. She is a fierce fighter and loyal to the cause she believes in, and seems to be nearly fearless.
Other notables in this series: Charlotte Aulin (But you owe it to yourself to play every GBA and DS Castlevania game as well as The Dracula X Chronicles which comes with Symphony of the Night, and check out Legacy of Darkness on the N64)
The Dynasty Warriors series has many incarnations and spin-offs. But ever since the first true Shin Sangoku Musou game (titled Dynasty Warriors 2 in North America), Sun Shang Xiang has been at the forefront of the available female warriors.
Dynasty Warriors core games generally tell the story of the conflicts and drama during the Three Kingdoms period in China focusing on large-scale battles and acquisition of power-ups, riding horses, and weapons. In effect they are probably the true heirs to the side-scrolling beat 'em up games of yesteryear.
In the game, Shangxiang is known for her speed and carrying twin Chakrams or a bow. She is very agile, though not very strong in attack or in defense. After felling any named officer she has been known to say: "Who says a woman has to be weak?" She is the daughter of Sun Jian and sister of Sun Ce and Sun Quan. And she is in love with Liu Bei, eventually marrying him before his eventual demise.
Sun Shang Xiang wears both red and green outfits to show her loyalty both the Wu and Shu forces. Her chakrams and bow are her most defining accessories. She is petite, but not as small as some of the other females, and her clothing is generally more suited for combat than the Lady of the Court fashions exhibited by Zhenji.
Shangxiang is bright and cheerful, but sometimes headstrong and reckless in her approach to battles. In many ways she is very tomboyish. And she often worries about her siblings while outwardly showing a very optimistic air. There is always a sense that she seeks to prove her worth in battle, and she is never shy in showing her enthusiasm.
Other notables in this series: Too many to name them all, but I really get a kick out of Bao Sanniang and Xingcai. The Gundam offshoot is a blast.
#8: Faith Connors
Mirror's Edge is a first person adventure game focused on the movement of the human body through the natural obstacles present in the architecture of modern cities.
Faith is a Runner who carries messages over the city-scape and works in protest to the totalitarian government running every aspect of life in her time. The city she inhabits may be pristine and beautiful but it is also a sterile cage. Her efforts embroil her in a twisted conspiracy filled with betrayal and danger.
As one of the first person perspective games on the market which graphically represent the legs, feet, arms, and hands, Faith's movements in Mirror's Edge happen with real weight and mass attributed to her body. Timing and rhythm cooperate with button inputs for fluid wall climbs and hurdling. Without sufficient momentum Faith will plummet to her death, and leaping from too high up will injure her. Getting it right lands the player in a "sweet spot" of nearly zen-like flow that is liberating and exhilarating.
Faith's most distinguishing characteristics are her bright red split-toed running shoes, and the tattoos on her arm and face. She also wears a black tank top, red fingerless gloves, and loose fitting white pants that give her freedom to move.
Faith loves her family, her sister in particular, and is so loyal that she puts her very life on the line to rescue her. She is outspoken against the government and injustice. She has a quick temper and is very passionate about her beliefs, allowing no one to silence her.
Check out this game: While different, there are many similarities between Nilin and the game Remember Me and Mirror's Edge. While waiting for the sequel, try the 2D flash game.
#7: Yuuko Asou
Yuuko Asou is a sixteen year old high school student living in modern Japan. She soon finds herself pulled into another world, and discovers that she is the destined warrior of Valis, guardian of the human world, the dream world, and the dark world.
In the games, Yuuko begins under-powered and highly vulnerable without any knowledge of her birthright or the accoutrements of a warrior. She is soon granted the Valis sword and her powers along with a costume change. Yuuko can naturally jump very high, and she becomes able to cast magical spells and attack with a variety of special sword skills. Eventually, Yuuko becomes a goddess and can levitate.
Yuuko starts out attired in a more traditional sailor-style school uniform complete with pleated skirt, and wears slightly more revealing armor as the awakened warrior. She is very similar in many ways to the SNK character Athena, except she has long, raven-black, hair.
In the Valis series, Yuuko undergoes many trials that include watching her best friend be killed, meeting her birth mother, returning to the land of her birth, and accepting her younger sister. She faces monsters and defeats the plan of the evil Rogles. She changes into a goddess and trains the new warrior, Lena, to fight the rising evil of Galgear.
Yuuko is a normal teenage girl who is also interested in fashion and in trends. She is a bit lazy, somewhat shy, and fearful at the beginning of the series, though she is also determined and caring. As the series progresses she becomes more serene and introspective. Yuuko is always kind to small animals.
Trivia (since there really aren't any other brunette main characters in the series): Yuuko Asou's name was changed to Syd in the game Syd of Valis during localization.
#6: Lian Xing
Lian Xing not only serves as Gabe Logan's Intel and Communications during his first outing, but unlike her Metal Gear Solid counterparts Mei Ling or Rose, she gets in on the action too.
Syphon Filter games have mostly focused on very action-oriented levels filled with evasive maneuvering, and lock-on shooting mixed with a few very precise stealth missions requiring precise head shots and awareness of enemy routes. Later games give enemies the ability to aim for the player character's head for a one-shot kill.
In the first game, and some of the sequels, Lian is always ready with mission advice and objectives for Gabe Logan. In the second and third game she proves to be a capable field agent in her own right. Lian boasts sneaking skills and high weapons proficiency to rival any of the team. Her missions tend to mainly focus on stealth and evasion perfect for her slim frame. She is also directly infected with the Syphon Filter virus by the Agency's rogue elements in the story, and later helps Gabe establish his own organization, the IPCA.
Lian is a trained Chinese MSS agent, and her past history conflicts on several points making her background very difficult to ascertain, but it is certain she is highly professional and well-equipped for the situations she and Gabe constantly face.
Lian has no definitive attire, decked out in the same style of combat suit as other agents, though her short hair is almost always in the same style of bob from game to game. Lian is generally cool and collected, but can become riled when under sufficient strain. She is very intelligent and curious, but not to the point of becoming distracted by the technical aspects of something. There is an obvious attraction between her and Gabe.
Other notables in this series: Teresa Lipan and Alima Haddad
Jade stars in perhaps the most appreciated and acclaimed, yet lowest grossing game out there She is a photojournalist living on an invaded and oppressed alien world and working to save as many innocent locals as possible.
Beyond Good and Evil has received endless praise and recommendations as a deep and thoughtful story and a gaming gem. I could add nothing to what has been said that would say it any better or more completely. If you've not yet played it, then you have really missed out on something exceptional, and with the HD remaster, there are lots of options for getting to play this game.
In the game, Jade has both martial skill focused on staff attacks and some fine stealth skills to boot. She also has some long range discs to throw at enemies and her trusty camera for collecting evidence. She explores each new area to find collectibles, help allies, and prove the conspiracy destroying the planet. Jade also has help from her friends: a half-man-pig and a flamboyant hologram. She uses a hovercraft for travel and racing, and a spaceship later on.
Jade wears mostly green clothing, most notably her bandana and green lipstick. Jade's design is compact and was planned as a more "real" depiction of a woman rather than a more idealized form.
Jade was designed to be tomboyish and spirited, but evolved over development to have more experience and less naivete. For this reason, she is an interesting mix of energy, independence, and consideration. Jade is part of the resistance because she believes in justice and she is one of the most loyal and determined characters yet seen in gaming.
Hello Nippon: For shutterbugs, check out a quirky, fun game for the PC-Engine titled Gekibo: Gekisha Boy
This was a difficult choice, to go with my own personal preference in this game (Tifa Lockheart) or with the character that is so integral to the "experience" that is the game's story.
While Tifa may be in the game longer and serve a great role in the party as a quick damage dealer, and while I may personally prefer her personality type, Aerith is simply... special. She is important not only to the story line, but to so many of the fans of this game, the debate is always there as to who is the better character, but I simply have never seen the kind of emotion and attachment that Aerith garners with any other game character.
In the game, Aerith fills the role of the primary healer as her staff attacks are not particularly powerful, and while other characters can (and eventually must) utilize materia to learn healing, Aerith is dominant in that venue.
Cloud Strife initially encounters Aerith selling flowers, and later meets her in a church where she joins him, and with the AVALANCHE group, to combat the ecological damage being done to the planet. The time spent with Aerith includes an undercover operation involving Cloud in drag, and her warm, quiet nature gives her certain charm in contrast to that of the Tifa or Yuffie. Her exit from the game is the turning point and the motivation the heroes need to save the world.
Aerith is recognizable by her long brunette braid and long pink dress; she also wears a pink ribbon in her hair and a red vest. Her attitude and color scheme evoke the stereotypical "girly girl," where Tifa is a monochrome and physical tomboy. Aerith is anything but weak as proven by her capacity for sacrifice and nurturing. She is metaphorically the "heart of nature" in the story.
When Aerith appeared in the CG film Final Fantasy: Advent Children, I must admit, even I had goose bumps.
Other notables in this series: Tifa, Yuffie, Rinoa, Selphie, Garnet, Yuna, Lulu, Ashelia (though her hair may be so light as to count as blonde), and Fang
#3: Lara Croft
Despite the fact that so many ads ran highlighting her physical endowments. Despite all of the subsequent "risque" fan art, fan fiction, and even camera angle focuses directly in the game. And despite the fact that Lara has many questionably ensemble choices, Ms. Croft had to make this list. She is simply one of the most well-known and easily recognized game characters ever created.
In the games, Lara has seen some changes, but she has always been portrayed as a highly talented and athletic woman. She can duel wield a variety of small arms, tumble with the best gymnast, climb seemingly insurmountable terrain, drive or operate just about any vehicle with expert skill, and solve nearly any puzzle or mystery.
Originally, the Tomb Raider series was revolutionary for its openness, depth, and complexity of movement, but time forced certain elements to improve. Once Lara was no longer tied to movement in a grid, her leaps became more fluid and precise, her combat skill grew to include some Matrix-like grace, and her puzzles developed a new intricacy.
Angel of Darkness was perhaps the lowest point that triggered a re-invigoration for the Lady Croft. And like a phoenix, Tomb Raider Legend, Anniversary, and Underworld put her back on top. The newest incarnation titled simply Tomb Raider, added a new layer of complexity to the person she would grow to be. Lara was no longer super human, and was frequently injured. She had to battle through terror, hunger, and pain. She was now a survivor and her character was forged before players' very eyes. It may have been polarizing, but the new direction was certainly an experience.
Lara has been best known for her blue-green tank top and shorts, as well as a long braided ponytail (which was a technological bullet point in Tomb Raider II, due to its independent animation) and her twin chrome-plated pistols. She has added many costumes since, including a tan shirt and shorts combo, a black catsuit, and a wetsuit. Her new look trades the tank top for a layered one, and the shorts for cargo pants. Her ponytail is also no longer braided.
Lara is one tough customer with an acerbic wit showcased in numerous dialogues, and she is not one to let someone who has wronged her off lightly. She was born of privilege, but is far from snobbish, and though she spends a good deal of time training her body and mind on the grounds of her Mansion and estate, there is nowhere she would rather be than deep in a remote cavern.
The Tomb Raider series has spawned a comic series, two live action films, and countless other merchandise, cementing Ms. Croft, not only as a heroine, but as a historical gaming figure.
Trivia: Lara Croft appeared in several comic book crossovers with Sara Pezzini of Witchblade, under the Top Cow imprint.
#2: Jill Valentine
It was hard to not put Jill here, even though she currently has dyed her hair blonde, but I couldn't do this list without showcasing: "The master of unlocking."
Jill Valentine is one of two premiere playable characters in the Resident Evil franchise along with Chris Redfield. She has appeared in the Marvel vs. Capcom fighting game series in both her natural brunette and dyed blonde. Jill was also the main character in Resident Evil 3 Nemesis and Resident Evil Revelations as well as the extra content for Resident Evil 5 and a few other side, retelling, or spinoff games in the series.
In the game Jill is initially given some advantages over Chris, she has a lock pick, firearm, access to more powerful weaponry, and a larger inventory balanced by being slightly more vulnerable and less accurate. Jill is a member of the STARS branch of the Raccoon City Police Department, is a demolitions expert, and has Delta Force training. Jill's heritage is both French and Japanese.
The Nemesis project of the third game sees her escaping Raccoon City during the time frame of Resident Evil 2 while evading a new breed of enemy that follows her doggedly, and introduces the 180-degree turn button to the series. Later, Jill helps form the BSAA, and takes the fight to Umbrella Corporation internationally. Due to an experimental technology, Jill is now faster and stronger than a normal human, providing her more even footing for the series antagonist Albert Wesker, and the film series protagonist Alice.
Jill's brunette designs are heavy on blues on greys; she initially wears a blue beret, and shoulder pads. In later titles, she dons a wetsuit and a streamlined uniform. Her other design features a one-piece violet ensemble highlighted by a red jewel implanted in her chest. This is what gives her power and allows Umbrella Corporation a degree of mind control over her.
Jill is resourceful and adaptive to changing circumstances with a strong sense of discipline and duty. She also values friendships and takes betrayal particularly hard. She is dependable and always does her best in trying to come to her comrades' aid. Jill Valentine's sexiness comes more from her strength of will and never-say-die attitude that goes far beyond any physical appearance. And she, like so many on this list, has been featured in a slew of other media and merchandise. She is in several of the Resident Evil live-action films as both a cameo and as supporting cast. She is in a series of novels and comic books. And there are several very finely-crafted figurines of her character as seen in a variety of games.
Other notables in this series: Claire Redfield, Ada Wong, Sheva Alomar, Rebecca Chambers, Helena Harper, and Jessica Sherawat.
While in more modern times Lara Croft may have usurped her as the quintessential "Game Girl," Chun-Li was far ahead of her in many ways.
As a fighter, Chun-Li is proficient in several forms of Kenpo including tai chi chuan, sanda, taekwondo, karate, and capoeira. Her Spinning Bird Kick is as iconic as the Hadoken (though her own Kiko-ken is weaker) or Shoryuken. And her speedy Lightning Kicks can be absolutely devastating. Along with a stable of Super combos, Chun-Li's prowess remains one of the most complete and ever-evolving repertoires in the entire genre.
Chun-Li's design is easily recognized by her blue qipao (that was originally red), twin hair buns "Ox horns", and large spiked bracelets on her wrists. Most prominent in her design, despite costume variations over the years, has been a particular constant, Chun-Li has amazingly strong legs. She was intentionally designed with very muscular legs not only due to her stressing her kicking ability in training, but to show her as a very powerfully built female capable of standing toe-to-toe with larger male opponents, i.e.: Zangief.
Chun-Li is motivated both as a highly-skilled and respected Interpol agent and her desire to exact revenge for her father's murder at the hands of M. Bison (Vega in Japan) and in the story arc she has several key rivals intent on her destruction. Though varying ending have shown her retiring to normalcy after obtaining vengeance, Chun-Li eventually goes on to teach martial arts to children, and ultimately returns to fighting and law enforcement.
As merchandise, the Chun-Li character has been featured in an array of products, including but not limited to: action figures, key chains, statues, as a costume, in comics and manga, in anime and animated films (Check out Street Fighter V and Street Fighter II: The Animation as examples), in live-action films, and referenced in many pop-culture venues. Her signature fashion was even included in the recent flash game release Kitty Strike Force. The impact she has had not only gaming but on the surrounding media and culture, 23 years later no less, is amazing.
Other notables in this series: Sakura, Ibuki, Makoto, Juli, Juri, Pullum Purna, Hokuto, and Nanase.
As with all my lists, there are many other games which are every bit as good or better than these, but my intent was to both draw attention to more games and cover a wide variety of genres and characters.
I would also highly recommend checking out:
1. Joanna Dark - Perfect Dark (Missing this list due to the redesign giving her blonde-streaked red hair, Joanna is nonetheless an amazing character and star of a great trio of games including the N64 Blade Runner-like classic and GBC game every gamer should play, I really agonized between her and or Shanoa here, apologies to her and Meryl Silverburgh especially, for forgetting them in the Redhead list, still kicking myself)
2. Princess Kitana - Mortal Kombat (Series, maybe not as iconic or representative of the series as a whole as Chun-Li, Kitana is pivotal to the myths and story of Mortal Kombat as the ruler of Edenia. There are a stable of similarly designed characters based on her Mileena, Jade, and Tonya, and she is featured in a wide array of media and merchandising, but darn if all her outfits aren't on the skimpy side) :)
3. Princess Elika - Prince of Persia (She is not playable in the game, but when the Prince misses a jump you'll be glad she's around, also the banter between the two leads is top-notch)
4. Cate Archer - No One Lives Forever (Series, her games are filled with comedy and FPS action, she may not be Joanna Dark, but she has wit to spare)
5. Alyx Vance - Half Life 2 (Companion and love interest of Gordon Freeman, but Alyx is invaluable as an ally)
6. Alice Liddel - American McGee's Alice and Madness Returns (She may be psychologically broken, but Alice comes through the pain with a vengeance)
7. Jennifer Tate - Primal (This demon-powered girl stars in one of the best underrated PlayStation 2 games out there, beaten out only by Jade of Beyond Good & Evil)
8. Reiko Hinomoto - Rumble Roses (Series, literally the "face" of the Konami's all-lady wrestling series and perhaps more so than any other singular female in a fighting series. She also appears in the Metal Gear Solid series. However, Chun-Li takes the spot overall)
9. Rynn - Drakan (Series, Rynn and her talking dragon, Arokh, put as much adventuring into their fantasy world as the notable Lara Croft)
10. Mona Sax - Max Payne (Series, Mona is tough as nails and on a personal vendetta against the criminal underworld, she even survives a bullet to the head and is playable in the second game with and without mods)
***A few others of note: The women of Bioware games, from Ashley and Miranda to Bastilla and Morrigan, Bioware has a slew of important costars with darker hued hair. There were just too many, but maybe someone could do a "Top 10 Bioware Supporting Cast Characters" list?
List by Sohogojo (07/14/2014)
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