10. Jenna (Golden Sun: The Lost Age)
Jenna is an outspoken Mars Adept from the mysterious town of Vale. If you haven’t played Golden Sun: The Lost Age, this basically means that she’s a natural pyromaniac. Not only is she good at fire spells, but she’s a tough cookie. After losing her parents in the first Golden Sun installment, Jenna becomes an essential character in the sequel.
9. Rosalina (Super Mario Galaxy)
Unlike Princess Peach who’s always busy getting kidnapped by a giant turtle, Super Mario Galaxy’s Rosalina is both the guardian of the adorable star-shaped Lumas and an immortal sorceress. You may have already noticed this, but she can propel a freaking spaceship with that magic force field of hers. She’s also a serious contender in the new Mario Kart 7; trust me, you don’t want her to have a red shell when you’re about to cross the finish line.
8. Saria (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)
Sometimes we wonder why Link is so into Zelda when his best friend Saria is so much more competent. Not only does she defend fairy-less Link from Kokiri bullies, but she introduces Link to that oh-so-essential ocarina playing he’ll need to complete his quest. Later in the game Saria becomes the new Sage of the Forest Temple. This totally doesn’t surprise me; that mess of a temple could stand some level-headed management.
7. Alex Rovias (Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem)
Considering this is a game in which you periodically lose your sanity, I find it pretty damn reassuring that the main protagonist is working on a degree in number theory and abstract mathematics. It’s a sign that Ms. Rovias is rational to start with, you know? More impressively, Alex copes with her grandfather’s murder, a mysterious ancient tome, and some downright evil critters. Oh, and she saves humanity from an ancient being called Mantorok. Not many of us can claim that we did THAT before graduating college.
6. Lyndis (Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword)
Lyndis is one of very few female lords to appear in the Fire Emblem series. Her parents were murdered by bandits when she was young, so she wandered around Elibe until she found a tactician capable of honing her sword skills. Why? She wanted to avenge the death of her parents and fellow tribe members. Later in the game she discovers she’s the only one capable of drawing the legendary sword, Mani Katti, which is a remarkably useful development if you’re trying to save the world.
5. Sheik (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)
After taking a passive role in Legend of Zelda installments from NES to SNES, Princess Zelda surprised everyone in N64’s Ocarina of Time by disguising herself as the seemingly male Sheik and guiding Link throughout the game. We’re only clued into this at the very end when Zelda uses the Triforce of Wisdom to revert back to her usual appearance. Well, excuse US, Princess!
4. Joanna Dark (Perfect Dark)
Joanna Dark is the main character in Rare’s N64 first person shooter, Perfect Dark. Joanna is given the code name “Perfect Dark” by her employers, the Carrington Institute, because she performs flawlessly on her training tests. Considering she successfully foils an attempt to start an interstellar war, you probably don’t want to be on the receiving end of her gun if you can help it.
3. Ema Skye (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney)
When Ema Skye meets Phoenix Wright in Capcom’s epic North American release of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney for the Nintendo DS, she’s trying to clear her sister of a murder charge. And it just so happens that she’s better at this whole finding evidence game than the professional attorney. How can you dislike a girl who’s so into scientific investigation that she carries a bottle of Luminol with her?
2. Midna (Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess)
Midna is a descendant of the Twili, a race of ancient people banned from Hyrule by the Goddesses Din, Nayru and Farore after the Interloper War. She’s a welcome replacement for the ever-irritating Navi as a guide for Link. Snarky and punishing at first, Link eventually grows on her. In addition to being the go-to for game advice, Midna is capable of transforming into a giant shadow spider…thing. Also, it turns out that when she’s not under a curse, she’s quite the looker. Oh, and have I mentioned that she’s the Twilight Princess, not Zelda?
1. Samus Aran (Metroid)
One of my all-time favorite video game twists is the big reveal at the end of the original Metroid game: discovering that Samus Aran is a woman. Before Metroid, female video game characters were largely portrayed as sidekicks or princesses in need of rescuing. There was no precedent for the gun-toting, totally kick ass protagonist being female under all that body armor. Nintendo knew this, and used gender stereotypes to screw with us a little. And maybe they also changed the way we think about video games in the process.