Despite what some may have you believe, women have been in video games from the start, and while not always the main stars, they have always left an impression on gamers. In fact, there have been so many famous ladies in gaming, that this list has caused quite a free-for-all here behind the scenes. So get out your flame shield while we cover the ground rules.
First off, we’re starting with the third generation and only counting home consoles, because that’s when characters became less abstract, allowing them to be more recognizable on their own, and gaming came back to life after the great video game crash of 1983. This is important, because iconic is a balancing act between fame, recognition, and excellence. Some characters may be from games that sold far better, and were of higher quality, but you wouldn’t be able to pick them out from a crowd, often by design, so they didn’t make the list. If you don’t like it, feel free to let us know in the comments section below. Furthermore, there can only be one most iconic female character per generation, and that character can only make the list once.
Remember, this list is just our opinion, so don’t get your jimmies too rustled as we go forward.
Gen 3: Princess Peach
While arguments could be made for both Princess Zelda and Samus Aran for this gen, the title has to go to the princess of the Toadstool Kingdom, Peach. While Zelda has top billing in all of the games she makes an appearance in, and Samus got her hands dirty kicking ass, Peach simply had too much under her belt during the time period. Peach was in three of the best selling, most beloved games of all time on the NES, and she even got off her tuffet and decided to take the fight to some baddies in Super Mario Bros. 2 (US).
A bonus in terms of “Iconic” is that while Zelda and Samus may radically change their appearance from game to game, Peach still maintains her iconic look, though she can occasionally don some stylish casual wear when playing sports and karting with the boys.
Gen 4: Chun-Li
As much as we love Samus Aran and believe Super Metroid is the closest a game has come to perfection since Tetris, there was never really a competition here. Chun-Li kicked her way into gamers’ hearts with Street Fighter 2 and its various versions. The game became an international phenomenon that started the entire fighting game genre and created e-sports as we know them today. Chun-Li wasn’t a heroine on the sideline waiting to be rescued, the Chinese INTERPOL agent was on a quest to avenge her father’s death at the hands of M. Bison. She was kicking ass with the big boys, and is officially the strongest woman in the world.
Chun-Li is now an integral part of Street Fighter, with only Ryu being more recognizable or appearing in more games. She also branches out into many crossovers and isn’t shy about making cameos. Chun-Li’s popularity has even made the jump from video games to the silver screen, starting with Jackie Chan’s loving depiction of her in City Hunter, and yes that’s a thing. The first playable female in a fighting game is still the best and most iconic.
Gen 5: Lara Croft
The front runners were Tifa Lockhart, Aerith Gainsburough (she was Aeris to everyone back then), and Lara Croft. While Tifa and Aerith were in the most popular entry of a long established, more popular franchise and made crossovers into other titles, they had to share the spotlight together, with their fandoms commonly at each others throats. Lara Croft, however, was the star of the Tomb Raider franchise, which exploded onto the scene in 1996. She was a phenomenon outside of gaming as well, appearing in mainstream magazines and newspapers, getting her own movie, and causing a scandal or two.
Lara Croft’s stars were tied to that of the fifth generation of consoles, and just as the first PlayStation console came from nowhere and dominated gaming in the nineties before fading away in the early 2000s in the face of the oncoming sixth gen consoles, the classic Tomb Raider franchise began its fall and would eventually be rebooted, to great critical and fan acclaim. New Lara is cool, but Classic Lara Croft is the icon.
Gen 6: Yuna
Yuna is the first fully voiced Final Fantasy heroine. While many consider Tidus to be the main character of Final Fantasy X, it is truly Yuna’s story. She’s flexible, powerful, and her character grows tremendously over the course of the game.There is no scene that encapsulates the sixth generation of consoles more than that of the breathtakingly beautiful sending ceremony Yuna performs in Final Fantasy X.
Being the star of the game that marked so many firsts for the legendary Final Fantasy series and released as the first true show piece for the best selling console in history, the PlayStation 2, secured Yuna’s place as the iconic female of the sixth generation. Now, let’s just pretend the FFX sequel media (FFX-2.5 in particular) never happened, okay?
Gen 7: Bayonetta
The most controversial entry on this list has led to actual fights and the disclaimer that started this article. Ellie from The Last of Us was apparently supposed to go here, but she’s not. Why? Because she’s supposed to look like a typical teenage girl that Joel and the player can relate to and want to protect until she comes into her own. Mission accomplished, but that typical daughter design is kind of the opposite of Iconic.
Bayonetta on the other hand, has a rabid fan base that’s larger than her games’ relatively low sales would have you believe, and cannot be mistaken for anyone or anything other than Bayonetta. She’s a tall, statuesque, fetish friendly, badass witch that uses her hair to summon, subdue, and control the demons of hell. Her games are extremely well designed action pieces, often mired in controversy, ranging from being too sexual for losers that like to write a lot, to idiots whining that the Nintendo funded sequels are now Nintendo exclusive. Her popularity was enough to let her win the Super Smash Bros. Ballot and become the first character chosen by fans directly, and she was originally so good she scared Smash tourney competitors more than showers and actual women. That’s why Bayonetta is the most iconic female character of the seventh generation.
Gen 8: 2B
No one, not even the wildest, most delusional of fans foresaw a sequel to NieR, but if you’ve read this list so far, you should have seen this coming. Yoko Taro is known for games with amazing stories that play like trash, and Platinum Games is known for games with trash stories that play amazing. Square Enix brought them together and the result was NieR: Automata, one of the greatest games ever made, a surprise sale’s mega-hit that saved Platinum’s ass, with a meta, emotional, and engaging story that is actually our pick for the best story in all of video games.
And the star of that game is 2B, a character that was hand crafted to appeal to fans with very specific tastes and hit the bull’s eye more perfectly than any before her. Her look is pleasing on the eyes for men and women of culture, her style is unique in the gaming world while still cleverly foreshadowing elements of the game’s story, and she has the most satisfying dodge/counter we’ve ever seen. Whether you’ve played NieR: Automata or not, you’re probably familiar with 2B, as she has been everywhere in the gaming world for years now. 2B’s fan appeal has lead to her being a highly popular cosplay, a constant target of certain artists’ works, and cameos galore. Almost half a decade later, and even Fall Guys is getting in on the 2B love. She is the iconic character of the eighth generation.
That’s the list. Surely all reading this have some bones to pick, so hit us with your picks in the comments section below, then do us a favor and subscribe for updates and share this article on social media so we can have more articles like this, and less crap like Kotaku’s “normie fuckboi” clickbait.