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Wonder women

As characters, women remain "underrepresented" in video games, a 2017 study confirmed, but they're not to be underestimated. Our picks for gaming's 30 best female characters drew from a pool of memorable, compelling, iconic figures. Sidekicks were considered worthy of inclusion, but solo stars were better. Damsels in distress were likewise in the mix...provided they got less damsel-y and more fully realized with each adventure.

Who's No. 1? Let's count them down, from the great to the really great. 

Published:Caption:Photo:Warner Bros.
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30. Yuna, Final Fantasy

Complex calls this Final Fantasy X character a "capable summoner" who was deserving of her sequel, Final Fantasy X-2, and worthy of a spot on the pop-culture magazine's rundown of the 50 greatest video-game heroines.

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29. Princess Peach, Super Mario Bros.

Though Peach is a long-running character, to say the least, she's on this list because of her latter-day iteration in Super Mario Odyssey -- the game where she finally shows Bowser, her tormentor, and Mario, her rescuer, that she can stand, or sail away, that is, on her own two feet. 

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​28. Princess Zelda, The Legend of Zelda

What is Nintendo's glitch with royalty? Princess or no, Zelda isn't the protagonist of The Legend of Zelda. Still, over the course of the series, Entertainment Weekly argues, she's grown into "a major player in the battle for Hyrule." 

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27. Elena Fisher, Uncharted

This snarky and tough TV reporter is on Nathan Drake's case in their first adventure, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. She evolves into Drake's partner in adventure and life.

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26. Ellie, The Last of Us

In the original The Last of Us, this teenager created a stir for being a survivor, albeit a second-banana to the older male lead. In the E3-teased sequel, The Last of Us Part II, Ellie will be the focus. Please note her as a heroine on the rise.  

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25. Ivy Valentine, SoulCalibur

When your calling cards are your swords and your sword skills, it's no wonder you're hailed as one of the most powerful female characters from the SoulCalibur fighting series.

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24. Evie Frye, Assassin's Creed

In Assassin's Creed Syndicate, the Victorian-era Evie is a likable, stealthy killer who shares the stage with her twin brother, Jacob, but, as Paste Magazine puts it, "never once feels like a secondary protagonist."

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23. Billie Lurk, Dishonored

First seen in Dishonored 2, and moved into a starring role in the expansion pack, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, the Dreadful Wale's captain is arguably, per GameSpot, "the most cunning and deceptive assassin in the Dishonored series." 

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22. Battlefield's pioneers

Battlefield V won't be out until October, but the gaming world is already abuzz with news that women and persons of color will be featured in the World War II-set game as multiplayer-mode playable characters -- a first.  

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21. Ela, Rainbow Six Siege

Rainbow Six Siege's "best defender," per PCGamesN, the Scorpion Evo 3 A1-wielding Ela has proved so popular that she was nerfed in the shooter game's Operation Chimera update. (But no one can ever take away her power to inspire cosplay.)

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20. Bayonetta

In a four-star review of Bayonetta 2, GameSpot called the titular, hair-clothed character "one of the most charismatic and powerful heroines in the medium." The game's arrival on Nintendo Switch this year made Bayonetta even bigger.  

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19. Aveline de Grandpre, Assassin's Creed

With Assassin's Creed III: Liberation, Aveline became the action series' first playable female assassin. GameSpot called the 18th-century, Bayou-based rogue "both adept and brutal in her use of weapons, like the cleaver-shaped sugarcane machete."

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18. Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross, Uncharted

In Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, the franchise's Nathan Drake is MIA -- and we don't care. Treasure hunters Chloe and Nadine "steal the show," we said. GameSpot calls the duo "entertaining, capable adventurers."

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17. Tifa Lockhart, Final Fantasy

This sometime bartender and forever friend of Cloud Strife, introduced in Final Fantasy VII, "helped drive a tradition of tough, independent [role-playing game] heroines," IGN says.

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16. Mona Sax, Max Payne

This unforgettable contract killer gets bonus points for making the jump from the console to the movie theater via 2008's Max Payne. The character was played by Mila Kunis in theaters. 

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15. Sonya Blade, Mortal Kombat

This soldier has been celebrated as one of the original Mortal Kombat characters, but she's also been left out of several editions. In the end, she's a survivor -- a character that, according to Game Rant, has evolved into "more than just a pretty face."

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14. Rayne, BloodRayne

This half-vampire, half-human is a multimedia force -- the star of her own games and movies. (On the big screen, she was originally portrayed by Kristanna Loken of Terminator 3.) She was also the (topless) face of the gaming industry in a famous Playboy profile.

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13. Heather Mason, Silent Hill

This character has progressed from a bit part in the original Silent Hill to the protagonist of Silent Hill 3 (and the film, Silent Hill: Revelation). The first female -- and teenager -- to lead the horror franchise, Heather is an upgrade over "her two bland-o male predecessors," Game Revolution said.

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12. Cortana, Halo

First seen in Halo: Combat Evolved, this smart, female-form-assuming AI is the inspiration for Windows 10's personal assistant called you-know-what.

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11. Jill Valentine, Resident Evil

A survivor of the survival series, this bombs expert made her debut in the original Resident Evil en route to being named one of the top 50 video game characters of all time by Guinness World Records.

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10. ​Ms. Pac-Man

She looks about as tough as Betty Boop, but the iconic, 1980s arcade star fronted a game that USgamer says was "considerably more challenging than its predecessor." Take that, Pac-Man.

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9. Shodan, System Shock

Shodan is a female-presenting AI that, according to Empire, is the "most terrifying, psychologically disturbing and downright memorable evil mastermind in video games." 'Nuff said.

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8. April Ryan, The Longest Journey

Mic has praised this adventure-game protagonist as "complicated, multi-layered [and] brave." Not bad for an art student.

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7. Joanna Dark, Perfect Dark

The namesake of this shooter game is a spy who can really shoot. It's not for nothing that Entertainment Weekly says of the character, "When James Bond goes to sleep, he dreams of being Joanna Dark."

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6. Faith Connors, Mirror's Edge

This determined courier from the first-person action-adventure game is, according to Complex, one of the "most badass video game characters of all-time." 

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​5. Samus Aran, Metroid

In 1986, the original players of Metroid didn't know until the end of their journey that the armored bounty hunter at the center of the sci-fi action was, in fact, one of gaming's pioneering female power characters.

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4. Chell, Portal

Chell may not speak in her shooter game, but she's still heard loud and clear. Her "plain orange jump suit" and "no hint of personality," Games Radar said, "celebrate[s] the empowerment of the feminine rather than subjugating it to objectification by the male gaze."

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3. Commander Shepard, Mass Effect

Shepard is a Mass Effect stalwart, one of the top 30 video game characters of all time per a GameInformer fan poll, and a transcendent figure who can be played as male or female.

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2. Chun-Li, Street Fighter

When she unleashed martial-arts fury in Street Fighter II, Chun-Li became the "first female playable character in fighting game history," per IGN. In doing so, according to, she proved women protagonists "could fight just as same as their male counterparts."

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1. Lara Croft, Tomb Raider

She's an archaeologist. She's an adventurer. She's been portrayed on screen by two Oscar-winners (Angelina Jolie and Alicia Vikander). She's in the Strong Museum's "World Video Game Hall of Fame." In the end, as IGN put it, she's the "first lady of gaming."

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