There's no defense against the claim that female video game characters, by and large, are designed with sex appeal as a primary goal. Their competence and functionality within the game are largely a secondary consideration. So when you do see a 'best of' list for female characters it's typically about which one is sexiest. So today I thought I would see if I could put together a list of female characters that became popular because they're cool, capable characters and not because they have huge knockers.
1. Hildegard von Krone
Hildegard von Krone, or Hilde, is the only character I can think of that exists in a fantasy setting that actually wears, honest-to-god, practical armour. There's no metal bikini here or cleavage holes, just full plate and mail. This makes Hilde the only female character in fighting games that isn't sexualised. Even her alternate costume, though less battle practical, is just a demure dress.
2. Samus Aran
Most people didn't even know Samus Aran was a woman, when the character debuted on the NES in 1986, with the reveal only happening at the very end of the game. The revelation that Samus was a woman has been noted as one of gamings landmark moments, with Gametrailers.com remarking that it "blew the norm of women in pieces, at a time when female video game characters were forced into the role of dutiful queen or kidnapped princess, missile-blasting the way for other characters like Chun-Li [from the Street Fighter series] and Lara Croft [from the Tomb Raider series]"
3. Lara Croft
I don't know that Eidos and Core ever intended for Lara Croft to be a symbol of female empowerment, because if you look at her original appearance, it's sexy short-shorts and boobtubes. And yet, despite her appearance, she become one of the defining images of the 90s, embodying girl power and becoming a strong character in her own right. With the upcoming reboot, it looks like Lara will become even more of an example of how to do female characters right.
4. The Boss
(Spoilers in the video) In the MGS universe, The Boss is known as the a “the mother” of the US special forces, credited with founding and leading the first special forces team, the veteran World War II multi-national Cobra unit. As portrayed in MGS3, the Boss is a character with immense depth and an indomitable sense of honor not seen in videogame characters generally. The influence of the Boss on many of the characters that would follow her, is immense, both in terms of their skills and their personalities.
5. Commander Shepherd
As far as I am concerned FemShep is the default Commander Shepherd. In many ways, Commander Shepherd and The Boss are very similar. They're both incredibly influential on the people they meet, their actions having long term ramifications for the worlds they live in. The fact that they're woman, is largely incidental to abilities and achievements. I mean even dying couldn't keep this lady down.