Even though it may feel like a long time ago that female protagonists were a rarity, you really only have to go back 20 or so years to find a gaming landscape that looked far different than it does now. Sure, time passes fast in the world of technology, but realistically, there are tons of gamers today who remember growing up with their options for recognizable female characters limited to not much more than just Lara Croft and Samus Aran.
Given that past, it’s definitely worth celebrating how much times have changed since then and the variety of female characters we now have. So as 2017 really kicks into gear, we decided to look at some of the most impactful women in the world of gaming this year. This can mean having the release of a big game this year, being involved in something that has caused waves in the media, or being part of a future project that is going to be attracting a lot of attention over the months going forward.
16. TRACER FROM OVERWATCH
“Overwatch” was already a bit hit when it first came out in 2016, quickly becoming one of the most popular multiplayer games around. Nowadays even if you don’t play the game, you have no doubt been bombarded with memes about it or seen it become big news on gaming sites when new characters were announced to be coming along soon. But as 2016 was coming to a close, “Overwatch” was about to make headlines for resonating with fans in a way that transcended running and gunning in the sci-fi world—it became official that “Overwatch’s” mascot, Tracer, was gay.
The news caused a big storm as we began 2017, with many praising Blizzard for introducing more diversity in games, but others getting a bit more upset about it. Some didn’t see why it should even be worth mentioning what any of the character’s sexuality was and questioned why such things had to be a part of video games. Then Russia banned the comic depicting Tracer kissing her girlfriend under their laws prohibiting “gay propaganda” and it was a reminder that acceptance of a person’s sexuality does not exist worldwide, let alone nationwide. So to see a highly popular character in a game with a hugely active fan base be made canonically gay by the creators meant something important to a lot of fans as we kicked off 2017.
15. EMILY KALDWIN FROM DISHONORED 2
Stealth games aren’t that common nowadays, so it was a surprise when 2012 produced a big hit in the steampunk world of “Dishonored.” It was common knowledge that the team behind the game was heavily inspired by the revolutionary “Thief” series that popularized first person stealth games. Then the “Thief” games looked like they might be having a comeback when the series got rebooted with a new game. This new “Thief” left old time fans unimpressed, though, and people were left hoping for another “Dishonored” to get their fix for lurking in the shadows.
When “Dishonored 2” was announced, the trailers quickly made it known that you’d be able to play as Corvo from the last game, or his now adult daughter Emily. “Dishonored 2” would have been highly anticipated no matter what, but the fact that players could now play through the game twice to experience the different abilities of both characters added a lot of replay-ability. Though it was released months ago, “Dishonored 2” will undoubtedly continue to be one of 2017’s most popular titles, especially as DLC begins to arrive for the game. But the addition of being able to play as Empress Emily Kaldwin has to be given some credit for that, since her inclusion turned some heads and got people who might not otherwise play stealth games to check out what all the fuss was.
14. SARA RYDER FROM MASS EFFECT: ANDROMEDA
The “Mass Effect” trilogy marked the end of the story’s journey, so where else was there for the franchise to go? Therefore, fans were a bit surprised when “Mass Effect: Andromeda” was announced as a new installment in the universe. Some people weren’t even sure they wanted another “Mass Effect” game since it meant we would be losing Commander Shephard. But as the trailer for “Andromeda” came out, we were introduced to a new protagonist for fans to get invested in.
Like in the previous entries, “Andromeda” allows the player to choose the gender of their protagonist and experience the same story regardless. However, it was the female version of the character, Sara Ryder, who got showcased at the end of the trailer. Obviously the male counterpart of Ryder can’t be discounted either for being part of a continuation of a series that everyone is taking notice of, but given how popular the female Commander Shephard was, it was definitely a wise move for BioWare to keep that element of choosing your own protagonist in the game, and highlighting that early on for their audience. Reviews for the game are mixed thus far, but it’s hard for fans not to have high expectations after the bar set by the previous trilogy.
13. ALOY FROM HORIZON ZERO DAWN
We certainly can’t leave out one of the most obvious choices for a topic like this: “Horizon Zero Dawn’s” Aloy. Upon the game’s first trailer being released, Aloy immediately caught people’s attention as a new female character who wasn’t afraid to get up close and personal with huge monsters and destroy them. With how difficult it can be for original games to drum up interest, a lot of fans were especially pleased to see one with a female protagonist getting so much attention. Even more remarkable is that people were so interested in “Horizon Zero Dawn” that it played a role in becoming a system seller.
The console wars are far from over, so there are still some choice games that you can only get on a certain video game console. “Horizon Zero Dawn” wound up being one of the Playstation 4’s exclusive titles, and there are definitely some gamers who were so intrigued by this totally original game that they decided to pick up the console to check it out. For naysayers who claim that female-led stories won’t be as popular with gamers, “Horizon Zero Dawn” was a pretty big sign to the contrary. Aloy’s ability to build a totally new fan base will hopefully play a big part in putting such archaic debates to rest.
12. 2B FROM NIER: AUTOMATA
Though we’ll certainly be getting into more than a couple characters who are gaining attention due to teasers for games or movies set for later down the road, there are still plenty of characters making an impact right now. Last month brought us the release of a Square Enix RPG that isn’t “Final Fantasy,” but is still plenty intriguing. That would be the post-apocalyptic sci-fi title, “Nier: Automata.” If you follow the franchise and have been waiting for this game, then you had seven years to kill time waiting for this follow up to 2010’s “Nier.”
Naturally for an RPG, “Automata” has several different major storylines going on, but the central focus is on the android YoRHa No. 2 Model B, better known as 2B for those who don’t feel like reciting a serial number every time they talk about a character. If you’ve ever wanted to pull off the physics-defying kind of fights in a movie like “The Matrix,” this desolate game gives you ample opportunity to test out swords and guns against hordes of enemies. And if the dude heavy cast of “Final Fantasy XV” could have used some more variety for you, 2B will more than satisfy your itch to wreck some stuff along her journey.
Shantae got her start with Capcom on the Gameboy Color (her game being one of the rarest video games for the console), but since it was released shortly after the more powerful Gameboy Advance had come out, sales for her title were low and Wayforward studios had a tough time finding another publisher. From there, they went into independent publishing to prove their belly dancing genie could cut it, and they turned out some really fun retro platformers. To make the size of game they always wanted, Wayforward turned to Kickstarter for a new “Shantae” game which finally came out in December of last year to great reception.
As DLC for the game begins arriving in 2017, “Shantae’s” positive feedback has not only reaffirmed fans’ faith in Kickstarter projects and indie games, it’s also validation for Wayforward after having their franchise rejected by publishers due to Shantae’s gender. Shantae’s tenacity and cute games have made the belly dancer a mascot for indie gaming in 2017.
10. LARA CROFT FROM TOMB RAIDER
The original “Tomb Raider” came out in 1996 and was an industry changer for being one of the rare games to feature an exclusively female protagonist. Now over 20 years later, Lara is continuing to make an impact in games thanks to her role in the rebooted “Tomb Raider” games that feature a more grounded and realistic depiction of the explorer. The games have won awards for their writing and have proven to still be so popular that Microsoft shelled out money to make “Rise of the Tomb Raider” an exclusive title on the Xbox One for around a year.
That’s all news from the last couple years, though, so it’s not quite why we’re counting Lara as a game changer in 2017. Obviously, the big news for Lara nowadays is that the “Tomb Raider” movie franchise is being rebooted with Alicia Vikander taking on the role. While Angelina Jolie is well-known for her role as Lara from years ago, the movies themselves were not great. Therefore, the new movie will be adapting the story from the first game in the rebooted franchise to try and give movie goers a hit. The film won’t be coming out this year, but as production photos continue to come out, this will undoubtedly be a hotly followed project throughout 2017 to see if this could be the first great video game movie.
9. AERITH, TIFA LOCKHEART, AND YUFFIE FROM FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE
We can bundle these three together since they’re all part of the same game that’s going to be getting tons of attention as the months carry on. After so many years of begging for it, fans are finally getting their wish as an official remake of “Final Fantasy VII” is on its way. It’s probably not that likely that “Final Fantasy VII Remake” will be coming out in 2017, but information about the game should be plentiful. While we’re still waiting to see some actual game play footage, earlier in the year we did get some screenshots, so it’s only a matter of time until more info starts getting doled out in regular intervals.
For many people, “Final Fantasy VII” is the definitive game in the franchise, so every aspect of the remake is going to be subject to scrutiny. Every major character in the game will be under a microscope, including the women, because they are all iconic characters. Aerith in particular will be someone fans pay close attention to, with some even speculating whether her famous plot twist will be changed. Many gamers have strong emotional ties to Aerith’s story arc, so how it is handled this time around is something everyone will be vocal about. The women of “FFVII” are part of gaming history, and the remake is going to introduce new generations to these beloved characters.
8. HARLEY QUINN FROM INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US 2
Though Harley Quinn was already a playable fighter in “Injustice: Gods Among Us,” her return for the sequel this year is just part of a larger trend of her popularity continuing to skyrocket. Harley has been on an upward swing ever since her redesign in the “Arkham” Batman game series. Since then she’s had a popular solo run in her comic series, has been a consistent member of the Suicide Squad in the comics, and was introduced to the mainstream thanks to 2016’s “Suicide Squad” movie. That momentum isn’t slowing down at all in 2017, though, starting with “Injustice: Gods Among Us 2.”
Harley’s returning look in the fighting game is clearly taking inspiration from her “daddy’s lil monster” costume that became so popular after the “Suicide Squad” movie. Harley’s year won’t be ending there, as she’ll also be teaming up with Batman for the animated “Batman & Harley Quinn” film. And with “Suicide Squad 2” as well as the spinoff movie “Gotham City Sirens” on the horizon, it’s a lock that we’ll be hearing about Harley all year as more details about the live action films come out. Harley might not have originated in video games, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see her appearing in them more frequently now that she’s reached such an iconic status.
7. THE SQUIDLINGS FROM SPLATOON 2
To be fair on this one, the male squidlings will be making as much of an impact as the female ones since they’re both part of the same franchise. But in a way that’s also pretty cool that both genders of the squidlings are equally responsible for some pretty positive results for Nintendo, introducing an original multiplayer game that became incredibly popular. The original “Splatoon” gave players another much needed reason to purchase a Wii U since the console was pretty skimpy on big hit titles. “Splatoon” helped remedy that problem by giving players a really fun, unique shooter where paint was the weapon.
With how reliant Nintendo can be on their classic characters like Mario or Link, it’s definitely nice to see some fresh characters get the spotlight for a change. With the Nintendo Switch now here, it’s great to see Nintendo getting “Splatoon 2” ready to be a system seller. As of right now, “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” is one of the few big games for the Switch, so it really needs more good games to expose people to its innovative system design. There’s no doubt that once the Squidlings arrive on the scene, the Switch’s momentum is going to really start building.
6. CHLOE FRAZER, AND NADINE ROSS FROM UNCHARTED: THE LOST LEGACY
With a title like “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End,” that sounds like a pretty conclusive name for putting a franchise to rest. But given how popular the “Uncharted” games have been, you can’t be too surprised that they wouldn’t let it die off there. What is surprising a few players is that the franchise is continuing with a standalone expansion of sorts that will serve as a sequel for “A Thief’s End.” And it’s not going to have Nathan Drake in the game at all, according to Naughty Dog.
Instead, two of the franchise’s supporting characters will be taking the reins for an adventure: Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross. Obviously it’s going to be strange to have an “Uncharted” game without Nathan, but it’s also exciting. After all, with a franchise named “Uncharted,” part of the appeal is going to be exploring the unknown, so this twist fits right in with that. Apparently “The Lost Legacy” wound up being put into production even over “Uncharted 5,” so this is a big opportunity for some fresh faces to make an impact in 2017, and a reason for players a little fatigued with Nathan to return for another adventure.
5. CAPTAIN MARVEL FROM MARVEL VS CAPCOM: INFINITE
Harley Quinn isn’t the only comic book character whose popularity has propelled her to being included in more forms of media. The “Marvel vs Capcom” games pull from a mix of classic and trendy characters to comprise their roster of fighters who will smack each other around. “Marvel vs Capcom 3” capitalized on the buzz surrounding movies and games to include characters like Deadpool, Vergil from the “Devil May Cry” remake, and Wesker from the “Resident Evil” games. So as “Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite” is coming up, it only makes sense that new fighters would draw upon other trendy characters, like Captain Marvel.
2016 gave us the news that Carol Danvers would officially be getting her own movie in the Marvel cinematic universe—although we’ll have to wait until at least 2019 for it to arrive. 2017 will already be a year where many are keeping an ear out for “Captain Marvel” news to find out what other actors will be joining Brie Larson on the project, but “Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite” can tide fans over in the meantime. The game will be a great showcase of what Captain Marvel can do, with her character trailer already showing her team up with Iron Man to take on Ryu and Mega Man.
4. MIRIAM FROM BLOODSTAINED: RITUAL OF THE NIGHT
As of right now “Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night” isn’t expected to be released until 2018, but with demos for the game already available to showcase the gameplay, people can’t help but get excited already. That’s because even though this may technically be a totally original game, everyone knows that it is pretty much a new entry into the classic “Castlevania” franchise. Koji Igarashi was the producer of the series for over a decade and hasn’t lost his love for the games just because he left Konami, so he decided to turn to Kickstarter to fund a spiritual successor to “Castlevania.”
You’d think any company would have been happy to publish “Bloodstained,” but Igarashi actually did need to go through Kickstarter because publishers doubted the game would have fan appeal. So with just some name recognition, and his new protagonist Miriam as the poster girl for the game, Igarashi set out to prove those doubts unfounded. He definitely did too, as “Bloodstained” not only got funded, but was the most successful Kickstarter for a game at the time its campaign ended. Miriam also breaks new ground because the only female protagonists in the main “Castlevania” games were for handhelds, while “Bloodstained” will be available on almost all current major consoles.
3. AMY FERRIER FROM TACOMA
When you mention the game “Gone Home” it can be very divisive in how people feel about it. Some people view it as a great piece of emotional storytelling that shows it is possible for games to be as thought provoking as movies. Critics disputed whether “Gone Home” should even be called a game since you can’t lose in it, and you primarily just walked around an empty house reading through diaries. Regardless, it’s a title that got gamers talking, so the developers succeeded in that regard. Now we’re on the cusp of seeing that developing team’s next game, “Tacoma.”
While we don’t know much about the game’s protagonist, Amy Ferrier, people are already intrigued by the game’s setting. What we have seen of the story so far takes place on a space station where the player explores the craft and replays recordings of the crew to find out what happened to them, something that people have said has a “BioShock” vibe to it. It remains to be seen how the game is received, but after “Gone Home’s” lesbian love story got so many people talking, Amy Ferrier is someone we’re expecting to cause some more waves in the community.
2. ELLIE FROM THE LAST OF US 2
In 2013 “The Last of Us” was one of the most impactful games for the Playstation 3. A large part of that was the game’s emotionally driven storytelling, at the center of which was Ellie. She was a rarity: an escort mission character who not only wasn’t irritating, but who was incredibly endearing. Ellie may have been young, but she was brave and witty, and formed a strong bond with Joel and the player. By the end of the game, she was arguably more of the story’s protagonist than Joel was.
Many fans were wary about another story about Joel and Ellie, fearing it would be tampering with greatness, but now that “The Last of Us 2” is officially on its way to continue their journey, gamers can’t help but get excited. One major reason for that is that Ellie is officially going to be the protagonist this time around after previously only being playable for a chapter in the original game, as well as its DLC. It’s unlikely “The Last of Us 2” will be a 2017 release, but a trailer for it has already come out, and it’s already one of the most anticipated games on the horizon. It’s definitely cool to see Ellie taking the reins for the story and fans not even minding Joel taking a backseat.
1. WONDER WOMAN FROM INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US 2
Yeah, there are a lot of major female characters doing big things inside and outside of the world of games this year. In that regard, we obviously can’t leave out someone like Wonder Woman who is set to have a really huge 2017. “Injustice: Gods Among Us 2” will probably be the least momentous part of Diana’s 2017, but it’s definitely part of her exposure for the year. She was in the first game already, but the sequel to the fighting game has great timing with everything else DC Comics has lined up for her down the road.
Coming in June, we have the tremendously long overdue debut of Wonder Woman’s first movie. Even people who have been critical of DC’s films can’t deny that the trailers for “Wonder Woman” look fantastic. And then just five months later, “Justice League” hits theaters in November and will feature the Amazon princess together with some of the other biggest heroes in comics. It’s not like “Injustice” is going to sell the movies or anything, but Wonder Woman’s inclusion in the game will definitely keep it in player’s minds that Diana has some major things going on this year.
What female video game characters have you excited in 2017? Sound off in the comment section!