Do you like Persona? Well, so do we, since we highlight not one, but two of the best characters from the franchise below (I have to mention Maya Amano here, too!) Along with that, we have great characters from some of our favorite WPRGs of the last decade along with more of the Xeno franchise.
Kassandra (Assassin’s Creed Odyssey)
by Stephanie Sybydlo
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey takes players to ancient Greece and lets them choose either a male or female lead. Ubisoft initially seemed to position Alexios as the preferred choice, but now we know that Kassandra was always intended to be the canonical hero. Perhaps best of all? There’s no in-game difference between the two — the scripts are the same.
Kassandra is just as tough, funny, and courageous as Alexios is kind, helpful, and vulnerable. Just like in real life, humans are all of these things. I loved how Kassandra wore confidence, rose to power, and won the respect of her family and allies as she ventured through the Mediterranean during a time less kind to “the fairer sex” (helped by Melissanthi Mahut’s excellent voice work).
Video games are still largely led by male heroes. While I appreciate games opening to more female leads, sometimes the games I enjoy most are the ones that write completely around it so we can all be heroes.
by Tyler Trosper
KOS-MOS is a character with a legacy that outlives her games. At her core, she is a powerhouse of an android whose sole purpose is to destroy an alien threat known as the Gnosis. Though she fits the “stoic android learns how to be human” archetype you see in other science fiction, her journey throughout the cosmos sets her apart. At times, she is remorseless, achieving her objectives even if it means the loss of life. However, when her eyes turn from red to blue, her emotions fly and give her greater power. Furthermore, her relationship with her creator, Shion Uzuki, can be interpreted on multiple levels and is crucial in her development from emotionless weapon to a protective and loving person. Her story ended too soon, but with a plethora of merchandise and countless cameos, including Xenoblade Chronicles 2, KOS-MOS lives on.
Lenneth (Valkyrie Profile)
by Mike Salbato
It’s easy to like and feel for Lenneth early on in Valkyrie Profile. We, as players, know of her tragic beginnings, and it seems like a mercy that for much of her life as a valkyrie, she does not remember it. For dozens of hours, we witness her physical strength in battle and her resolve in recruiting fallen warriors for the upcoming war in Asgard.
However, once Lenneth and Lucian are fatefully reunited, she starts to remember her life as Platina, and everything changes. As Lenneth reawakens and understands how she has been manipulated, it’s impossible not to feel a rush of adrenaline as she takes charge of her destiny. Her character comes full circle upon confronting Loki, with her skill in battle and her noble Einherjar that bring the trickster down. But Lenneth’s true power is her love of humanity, as she takes over as Lord of Creation, re-creating the worlds that Loki destroyed. Lenneth’s arc is immensely emotionally satisfying, making Valkyrie Profile one of the most cathartic experiences I have ever had with a game.
Lightning (Final Fantasy XIII Trilogy)
by Sam-James Gordon
Final Fantasy XIII is a controversial entry in the series for many fans, and its protagonist Lightning is perhaps equally as divisive. While I recognise the game’s flaws, I very much enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII and thought Lightning was a refreshing change of pace for a series that sorely lacked women as definitive lead characters.
Lightning’s character development sees many changes throughout the two sequels to Final Fantasy XIII. Her goal is relatively simple at the start of the trilogy: to save her sister, Serah, from her cursed fate as a l’Cie. In the next two entries, Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lightning Returns, Lightning changes from a stoic soldier to a harbinger of the end and harvester of souls. Yet through it all, Square Enix somehow keeps her feeling very “human” and true to herself.
Lucca (Chrono Trigger)
by Mike Salbato
As much as I adore Chrono Trigger, one thing that doesn’t always garner much discussion is the game’s solid female cast. Across time, our heroes meet a prehistoric warrior woman, a mysterious and powerful mage, a girl from the royal family who strives to be anything but a typical princess, and a genuinely menacing villain who is not second to any male power figure. Hometown scientist Lucca, though, is S tier. Unimaginably brilliant, Lucca has overcome hardships and cares for the world and her friends, human and robot alike. She literally possesses the key to travel through time, and the team wouldn’t get very far without her inquisitive nature, scientific genius, and skill with machinery. And she does it all while wearing an outfit that favors function and utility over all else.
Lucina (Fire Emblem Awakening)
by Adam Arter
When Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS started announcing newcomers, some people were shocked and perhaps even annoyed by the inclusion of yet another Fire Emblem character in the form of Fire Emblem Awakening’s Lucina. These people clearly didn’t realise that Lucina is one of the best characters that Intelligent Systems have ever written.
Awakening does many things well, but chief amongst them is the inclusion of Lucina, the daughter of lead character Chrom, sent from the future to change their mutual fate. By the time the game reaches its middle chapters, Lucina is just as important to the primary narrative thread as Chrom or protagonist Robin, offering up a complex characterisation that touches on themes of trauma, responsibility, and familial bonds. In addition to all this, she has an excellent design that pays homage to Fire Emblem’s first protagonist Marth. Lucina’s a lot cooler than Marth, though.
Makoto (Persona 5)
by Wes Iliff
Most of your crew in Persona 5 are rebelling against a society that has actively shunned them, whether for misunderstood actions, reputation, or simply their appearance. Makoto, meanwhile, is the ideal high school student who is constantly at odds with you. But cracks form in the facade. As an orphan, Makoto is raised by an older sister whose law enforcement career leaves little time for affection. Instead, Makoto is pushed to succeed with little thought for her emotional wellbeing. When she awakens her persona, it’s not just to rebel: it’s to retake her own life. She transforms from the perfect class president to a leather-clad biker who goes full Fist of the North Star. When we find the true Makoto, we find one of the most stalwart, reliable, and downright cool allies around. Makoto is the best character in Persona 5, and now that it’s in print, it’s an indisputable fact.
Mao (Shadow Hearts: From the New World)
by Wes Iliff
Mao is a powerful party member in Shadow Hearts: From the New World. A drunken kung fu master, Mao is equally skilled in magic and physical combat. But it goes further, as Mao is also master to a promising American ninja, an aspiring movie star, and a close personal friend of Al Capone.
Oh, and she’s also a giant bipedal talking cat.
Mao is the most competent, level-headed, and well-connected character in the game. The fact that she’s a talking cat only seems out of place to one character in the game, and her capability is played completely straight. But she represents something more significant than that. She’s a mascot character who doesn’t try to be cute. She’s a catgirl without a sexualized character design, more resembling a well-fed house cat. Mao’s intelligence, skill, and wit make her not only an outstanding female character but a wholly unique non-human party member.
Morag (Xenoblade Chronicles 2)
by Tyler Trosper
Morag rejects the norms of society. Though she is born into royalty, Morag takes on the role of Special Investigator and protector of the heir to the Mor Ardainian throne, her younger cousin Niall. She is loyal not just to her country but mainly to her friends and family. While she starts the game as an enemy of Rex and his crew, she and her Blade companion Brighid eventually warm up to being indispensable allies. Her attire breaks the gender norms of Alrest and video games in general. While some characters, namely fellow party member Zeke, might get hung up on her more masculine attributes, she gives the best follow-up: How about you go die in a fire.
Naoto (Persona 4)
by Daniel Hernandez
The beauty of Naoto, and Persona 4 in general, is how easily you can find commonality with her and the other main characters. Seeing Naoto embrace her true self and become vulnerable with her new friends is an amazing experience. In the moments that matter most, we see her impressive intellect and critical thinking skills come into play. But beneath it all, Naoto just wants to be accepted by her peers and colleagues. And when she finds people that accept her for who she truly is, we are gifted with some truly heartwarming dialogue. As with all the characters of Persona 4, it is a joy watching Naoto evolve and become more comfortable with herself as the game goes on. To top it all off, Naoto is great for dungeon crawling due to her Hama and Mudo abilities! Thank you, Naoto!
Nina (Breath of Fire series)
by Sam-James Gordon
Video game series often go through many changes with each iteration, and while this is true for Breath of Fire, there are two characters that have remained steadfast: Nina and Ryu. The “classic” representation of Nina, used throughout the series, is of her being the winged princess of Wyndia (or Winlan/Windia, depending on the version).
Being a princess in a video game often leads to many clichés and tropes, but Nina is an answer to this problem rather than a product of it. She usually first meets Ryu while on her own journey; she’s never rescued by him or there just to be pretty. In the earlier days of the series, when misogynistic representations of women were rampant in video games, Nina was a standout example of how a woman can be feminine and pretty without either of those traits being her defining features as a character.
by Wes Iliff
Odessa is unique in the ever-present Silverberg family from the Suikoden series. Not only is she the only party member who is more warrior than tactician, she’s also one of the most active, assertive, and decisive characters in the whole series. As a founding member and acting leader of the Liberation Army, Odessa is a legendary figure. When you finally meet Odessa, she manages to be both more human than the rumors and more heroic at the same time. While she questions her own leadership ability at times, it comes from a place of genuine love for her people and a desire to provide the best for the Liberation Army. When she hands the reins of the organization over to your main character, she does it in tremendously heroic fashion. It’s a scene not to be spoiled, but to be seen. Odessa is not just one of the most admirable women in Suikoden, but one of the most admirable characters ever written.