And you’ve finally come to the end of our list! Personally, I have to say how pleased I am that we managed to get Suikoden on this list so often: it’s certainly deserving! Don’t worry, though, some more of your favorites from Final Fantasy are here, too.
Raquel Applegate (Wild Arms 4)
by Neal Chandran
My first impression of Raquel Applegate during my playthrough of Wild Arms 4 was that she was a strong but silent badass warrior type I’d seen many times before. How wrong I was! Having a terminal illness that she could succumb from at any given moment is usually the backstory trope for a sullen character, but Raquel flipped the script on that. She was the most caring member of the party (whom she came to see as family) and spent every day of her life seeking out what’s wonderful in a dismal world. It’s all too easy to let a bleak existence browbeat you into misery, but Raquel’s ability to maintain optimism in her heart in a world full of misfortune takes serious fortitude. And, yes, she was also a fierce warrior whose deadly sword fighting skills always saved the day.
by Tom Cox
When it comes to strong women in RPGs, Red from Transistor easily comes to mind. Red has everything stripped away: her lover, her city, and, perhaps most importantly, her voice. Yet she still holds strong through it all, her confidence never once seeming to waiver. Taking on the Camerata and the Process is no small feat, especially considering she must do it alone, and yet Red prevails against all odds. This shows Red’s true determination as well as the strength she possesses.
Throughout Transistor, Red represents hope; she may have lost her voice, yet she still positively hums away. That helps you believe there really is a future for Cloudbank and acts as a comfort as you progress through the city. Ultimately, I think Red represents a person we’d like to believe we can be, but often can’t. For that reason, she deserves to be honored as one of the greats of the RPG genre.
Commander Shepard (Mass Effect series)
by Caitlin Argyros
Commander Shepard remains an icon in gaming to this day, even 15 years after the release of the original Mass Effect. Most of that is due to writing and a setting that admittedly doesn’t change much between the two genders you can choose to play as. But FemShep, as the fans lovingly refer to her, is still special to a ton of female gamers (myself included) who, at the time, may have never really seen a strong female lead they could customize and play however they liked. Add to that the utterly fantastic voice work of Jennifer Hale, and some of the most memorable romance options (I will accept Liara, but you all know I’m mainly talking about Garrus), and Commander Shepard really sets a high bar for female protagonists in video games. Now repeat after me: I should go.
Sialeeds and Queen Arshtat (Suikoden V)
by Sam-James Gordon
Queen Arshtat is the ruler of Falena, the Queendom in which Suikoden V is set. Her son is the main character of the game, and her sister Sialeeds (the hero’s aunt) accompanies him on his journey. This family dynamic is rarely seen in games, and while I’m going to focus on Arshtat here, Sialeeds is also a beautifully realised character in her own right.
Arshtat’s character arc mainly focuses on her acquisition of the True Rune of the Sun; its power takes a huge toll on its wielder, and Arshtat’s descent into madness is a tragic inevitability. As someone who has witnessed dementia in his own family, I can say that the rune’s effect on her is quite comparable. She has moments of lucidity, which are very evocative and delicate, and her story culminates in one of the most memorable cutscenes in RPG history.
Tifa (Final Fantasy VII)
by Des Miller
Tifa Lockhart’s got brains, brawn, and heart. She’s a badass bartender who could double as a bouncer, a freedom fighter with a strong sense of justice, and a childhood friend who is full of hope and positivity. When we first meet her in the slums of Midgar, it’s hard not to be inspired by her. Despite the oppressive darkness brought by the city above, she’s more than eager to take matters into her own hands and punch her way through a corrupt regime.
With her debut in 1997, she was a breath of fresh air. In a time and genre where female characters were often relegated to damsels in distress, healers, or holy maidens, Tifa’s optimistic nature paired with her brawling prowess made her one of the greatest characters of the era. Naturally, in the remake, she’s even cooler. She can even suplex a kaiju with ease – a feat that would make her predecessor proud.
Venat (Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker)
by Adam Arter
Venat arrives as something of a revelation. Firstly, Venat impresses by making such an impact on Final Fantasy XIV’s already impressive tapestry of lore so quickly after being introduced. She’s a character that has been present in the story for longer than anyone realized: intrinsically linked to the world and ongoing history of XIV itself, as well as the Warrior of Light. Venat’s actions are both a starting point and a pivotal moment for the game’s entire story.
Secondly, even outside of her broad impact at the narrative climax of Endwalker’s story, the characterisation of Venat and her relationships with all the characters she interacts with is particularly endearing, depicting a tale of genuine heroic sacrifice. In a story that approaches such a grand scale, Venat acts as an anchor, providing a human context that grounds the story in essential emotion.
Vivienne (Dragon Age: Inquisition)
by Audra Bowling
Dragon Age: Inquisition’s Vivienne is an accomplished mage in a society that treats magic users poorly. She’s nuanced and complex with hidden facets you only see if you befriend her and bring her on story missions, such as her genuine anger and disgust at the fate of the Tranquil left in the rebel mages’ care. While hostile to the spirit Cole, she’s concerned for him if he’s made human. When she beseeches you to help her ease the pain of a dying loved one she can’t openly be with due to societal restrictions, you see a different side of her. She moves with determination to bring her goals to fruition, offering you behind-the-scenes political advice. As a mage, she shakes things up if made the next Divine. She’s intelligent, powerful, and strategizes for control over her life, even if it means adhering to a system that’d take it away if she missteps. Vivienne’s also absolutely fabulous!
Xion (Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days)
by Niki Fakhoori
The Kingdom Hearts series puts a lot of focus on memories and how they—and our friendships—make us into who we are. Xion, from Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, went from a hollow puppet to a fully realized individual thanks to the bonds she forged with Roxas and Axel. But becoming your own person only makes self-sacrifices all the harder to make—and harder for your loved ones to bear. Being completely forgotten is a universal fear that Xion has to overcome while also coming to terms with the fact that she shouldn’t have existed in the first place. It makes her ultimate decision all the more heart-wrenching. But even if she was, for a time, forgotten, she was never truly gone, and the strength of her friendship with Roxas and Axel knows no bounds.
Yuna (Final Fantasy X)
by Gio Castillo
I had a few misconceptions about Yuna before I played Final Fantasy X. For one, I mistook her gentle manner for meekness. In fact, she’s hardly shy about making her thoughts known, especially to defend herself and her friends. And her quest to defeat Sin isn’t exactly a story about fighting self-doubt like I had thought — faith in Yevon aside — but rather about resolve, compassion, and a strong sense of duty. I’m not sure where I got these ideas, and maybe it says something about me that I had them.
Since I’ve finished the game, Yuna has sat firmly as one of my favorite characters ever. I think Yuna speaks to my inner idealist who wants to believe in people’s inherent goodness, and her composure and optimism are qualities I’d like to cultivate in myself through hard times.
Disguised Princess Zelda
by Mike Salbato
Princess Zelda has had more variety in roles than many characters in “her” series, despite rarely being the protagonist. I want to call out two games where Zelda gets to thrive — so long as she’s disguised. In Ocarina of Time, she helps Link through a large portion of his adult adventure disguised as Sheik, offering support, direction, and a killer harp performance when he needs it most. In The Wind Waker, she is disguised — though not to her knowledge — as the kind-hearted, resourceful, and brash pirate leader Tetra.
It’s unfortunate that in both cases, after Zelda’s true identity is revealed, she somehow ends up captured by Ganondorf. But I enjoy seeing these other facets and skills of her character, and thankfully, she does play a pivotal role in both games’ final battles. I’m encouraged by Zelda’s non-series-traditional role in Breath of the Wild that does not require her to hide her identity, and I still hope both she and Link can both be playable in next year’s sequel.