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These sisters are doin' it for themselves

From the still-underrepresented world of female video game characters, we've pulled together a team of the most memorable, compelling and iconic. Sidekicks are OK; solo stars are better. Damsels in distress were considered...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:Capcom
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20. 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.

Published:Caption:Photo:Namco Bandai
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​19. Princess Zelda, The Legend of Zelda

Link, not Zelda, is the protagonist of The Legend of Zelda, but since the classic game's 1986 introduction, Zelda has grown into "a major player in the battle for Hyrule," Entertainment Weekly argues.

Published:Caption:Photo:Nintendo
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18. 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.

Published:Caption:Photo:Naughty Dog
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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.

Published:Caption:Photo:Square Enix
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16. Mona Sax, Max Payne

This unforgettable contract killer made the jump from the console to the movie theater via 2008's "Max Payne." She gets bonus points for being played on the big screen by Mila Kunis.

Published:Caption:Photo:Rockstar Games
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15. Sonya Blade, Mortal Kombat

This underrated, ill-treated soldier has been celebrated as one of the original Mortal Kombat characters, but she's also been forgotten, 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."

Published:Caption:Photo:Warner Bros. Interactive
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14. Rayne, BloodRayne

This "bloodthirsty" half-vampire, half-human is a multimedia force, the star of her own game and movie franchises, as well as the (topless) face of the gaming industry for a famous Playboy profile.

Published:Caption:Photo:Majesco Entertainment
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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 judges.

Published:Caption:Photo:Konami
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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 own version of Siri, named (what else?) Cortana.

Published:Caption:Photo:343 Industries
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11. Jill Valentine, Resident Evil

A survivor of the survival game 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.

Published:Caption:Photo:Capcom
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10. ​Ms. Pac-Man

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

Published:Caption:Photo:AAron Ontiveroz, DP via Getty Images
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9. Shodan, System Shock

She 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.

Published:Caption:Photo:Night Dive Studios
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8. April Ryan, The Longest Journey

April, the adventure game protagonist, was praised by Mic as "complicated, multi-layered [and] brave." Not bad for an art student.

Published:Caption:Photo:Funcom
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7. Joanna Dark, Perfect Dark

The namesake of the shooter game Perfect Dark 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."

Published:Caption:Photo:Rare
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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 all-time video game badasses. (She's also not half bad at parkour.)

Published:Caption:Photo:Electronic Arts
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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.

Published:Caption:Photo:Nintendo
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4. Chell, Portal

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

Published:Caption:Photo:Valve
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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.

Published:Caption:Photo:BioWare
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2. Chun-Li, Street Fighter

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

Published:Caption:Photo:Capcom
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1. Lara Croft, Tomb Raider

She's an archaeologist. She's an adventurer. She's portrayed on screen by Oscar winner Angelina Jolie. She is, quite simply, the "first lady of gaming."

Published:Caption:Photo:Square Enix
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