The Best Japanese Video Games With Strong Female Characters

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By Jessica Esa
August 28, 2019
Japanese Culture, Lifestyle

The once male-dominated gamer industry is now flooding with not only female gamers, but tenacious female characters as well.

While it has never been unheard of to have strong female protagonists in anime and video games, more often than not female characters were relegated to secondary or damsel in distress type roles or were hyper-sexualized aimed at the male audience.

Nowadays, video game developers are more aware that the landscape of gaming is more diverse—50 percent of gamers are women—and that we expect more out of our stories, characters, and themes. It’s still not perfect, in fact, only 8 percent of video games in 2018 featured a female protagonist, a number that will hopefully grow in the coming years, So, let’s celebrate some of the best Japanese video games in recent memory that have the most resilient female characters.

1. NieR Automata

What made Nier Automata such an overwhelming success is its post-apocalyptic theme and big philosophical questions about the nature of consciousness, love, purpose, and the soul. The game is set in a strange, post-apocalyptic Earth which was ruined in a war between humanity and an invasion of alien machines. You play as 2B and her male companion, 9S. 2B is a female android sent to Earth to continue the fight against the machines in order to clear a path for the human resistance.

2B is such a compelling protagonist because of her stoicism in the face of these questions. It is her male comrade, 9S, who shows greater signs of love and intimacy, while 2B solely puts greater focus on the mission. The dialogue between these two is gripping and flips the alpha male and meek female character tropes on their head.

Available on: PS4 exclusive
Where to purchase: Online

2. Octopath Traveler

What is so refreshing about this game, in particular, is how it harks back to the Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs) of old, from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but also puts a modern twist on everything from the combat mechanics to the visuals. Octopath Traveler is a truly unique gameplay experience and one of the best in recent memory.

In terms of characters, it is immediately impressive that there is no one central protagonist. As the title suggests, there are eight equal protagonists with stories for you to explore and follow: four women and four men. Each one is a JRPG staple: warrior, mage, hunter, thief, and so on. But it’s in the hunter where we see a real, capable female protagonist.

H’aanit is a woman hunter who speaks in a wonderful Shakespearean dialect. She is such a stand-out character as arguably the strongest, toughest, and bravest of the lot. A role that is almost always reserved for a man is instead given to a poetically-spoken woman who will remind players of Princess Mononoke.

Available on: Steam and Nintendo Switch
Where to purchase: Online

3. Dragon Quest XI

One of the finest and most beautiful JRPGs in modern memory is Dragon Quest XI. It is a simple game that includes the video game basics: a straightforward plot and combat system, a mute protagonist, and a mission to save the world. It follows so many of the predictable JRPG beats and yet comes off as something delightfully original because of the love and detail put into it. No less, into its female characters.

Within your party of heroes, you have two stand-out women: Veronica and Jade. Veronica has fallen under a curse that has trapped her in the body of a child. She’s a powerful black mage full of wisdom, wit, and a sharp tongue. She is perhaps the most enjoyable character in the entire game, carrying all the best story beats and having all the best dialogue. Jade is an exiled princess and the most fierce fighter in the game. While the protagonist is a guy with a sword, Jade is a talented acrobatic warrior brandishing a spear. She’s feisty, tough, and savvy. An inspirational princess to say the least, and a far cry from your typical Disney affair.

Available on: PS4, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo 3DS
Where to purchase: Online

4. Metroid Prime

Since Metroid Prime 4 is finally coming in the near future, we need to talk about the underrated woman of gaming: Samus Aran. Samus is the woman inside the orange suit whom players take control of in the Metroid video games. She is a (usually) mute bounty hunter equipped with weapons and gear that make her the ultimate explorer, hunter, researcher, and fighter. Samus says so much through her actions, voiceless decisions, and aesthetic which gives her much more of a personality than her mute male counterparts like Zelda’s Link or Mario from Super Mario. Samus has a purpose, a stoic attitude, and a cool head. She’s so well-defined without ever speaking, putting a much-needed spin on the way women are too often represented in video games.

Available on: Prime 4 will be available on Nintendo Switch, original Metroid Prime Trilogy available on Nintendo Wii
Where to purchase: Online

5. Persona 5

Persona 5 is a majorly successful Japanese role-playing game released in 2017 in which you play as a group of high-schoolers who have the ability to invade the ‘hearts’ of crooked people and rewrite their evil urges. Essentially, you are purifying them. The team, dubbed the “Phantom Thieves”, go after corrupt officials, mob bosses, thieves, charlatans, and so on, in the hope of making the world a better place. Though you predominantly control the mute male protagonist through the story (codenamed Joker), it’s the female protagonists in the party who steal the show.

The women are by far the most three-dimensional characters in Persona 5. Futaba, for instance, is a young agoraphobe who torments herself over the death of her mother, suffering from PTSD and acute anxiety. As the story progresses, we see the steps she takes to heal her mind, and it is truly compelling. Futaba is just one of the many women in Persona 5 who makes this such a meaningful and enjoyable video game.

Available on: PS3/PS4
Where to purchase: Online

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