By the way you’d hear some people talk, there was Samus and Chun-Li and not much else in the way of strong, complex, not-overly-sexualized female game heroes until the PlayStation era. That’s when Lara Croft appeared and simultaneously moved the viability of a positive female game character forward and backward an equal number of steps…but we don’t need to get into all that.
I’d like to imagine that anyone reading this blog would know that is nonsense and that there were plenty of great female characters in the 80’s and early 90’s, but nonetheless I would like to spotlight a few of those relatively forgotten women who lead their games with all the strength, bravery and clothing of their male peers.
Princess Rosella, King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella
Not only was a video game heroine a rare thing in 1988, but a princess character in a medieval setting in any era of fiction being the hero of the tale and not just rescue fodder is something special indeed. And thus was the case with Princess Rosella, daughter of previous King’s Quest protagonist Sir/King Graham, who had fallen gravely ill and had to rely on Rosella to retrieve a magical fruit and save him. Rosella was definitely a stereotypical princess in that she was a bit vain and snobby, but she also grew up playing football and learning archery and doesn’t blink when she has to go toe to toe with fearsome dragons and the like. In another stand against royal tradition, she absolutely refused to marry anybody until it was a man of her choosing and she was good and ready to do so. Rosella also has the distinction in starring in one of the first PC games to support sound cards, which doesn’t do much to make her a better character but is a nice milestone to be attached to nonetheless. Unfortunately, designer Roberta Williams’ reputation for positive, non-gratuitously sexual depictions of women in games didn’t stay quite so sterling in the 90’s…
Alis Landale, Phantasy Star
RPGs have had female party members since their very early days, but Phantasy Star was the first to feature a woman front and center as the primary protagonist, and certainly the first that wasn’t just an avatar no different than a male except for a longer hair sprite. As a matter of fact, Phantasy Star was considered groundbreaking for its storytelling and character depth in general, making the fact that it starred a woman that much more special. After her older brother was killed, Alis went ahead and saved a whole star system and was literally named the hero of the millennium – oh, and she was only 15 when she did so. She’s such a badass that long after she died she appeared in the dreams of a warrior named Rolf in order to inspire him to be the hero of the next millenium. How many other characters can you think of, female or male, that had a positive, galaxy-saving influence across a 2,000 year span? Suddenly all of the planet and galaxy saving that Samus did in a mere decade or so seems pretty weak in comparison.
Sonia Belmont, Castlevania Legends
While women frequently play major roles in the events of many Castlevania games, in only two does a woman take the lead role solo (there was supposed to be three until the Dreamcast game was cancelled, also slated to star Sonia). One is the criminally underrated DS title Order of Ecclesia, and the other is Game Boy’s Castlevania Legends. Sonia Belmont is the first member of her storied family to confront Dracula, and would be the last female to tackle the task on her own for nearly 300 years – I’d say that earns her a lot of respect. Also, she is actually surprisingly covered for a woman in the Castlevania universe, or in Gothic fiction in general, with only a bit of bare thigh exposed and not a hint of cleavage to be found. Koji Igarashi stupidly removed Legends from the official canon, and cited as one of his reasons that he didn’t feel a woman protagonist fit with the time the game took place (the 15th century). All the more reason why she’s awesome if you ask me, to be a strong female battling monsters at a time when a woman’s place was tending the home and rearing children – and when it comes to most video game canons, our own interpretation of what is and isn’t part of it is as valid as anybody else’s (especially now that IGA is no longer in control of the Castlevania universe anyway).