Whether it’s a science fiction film like Aliens, a slasher like Halloween, or a psychological horror like The Silence of the Lambs, the horror genre has always had plenty of incredible and memorable female protagonists. Although most genres even to this day still feature more male protagonists, horror is one of the few examples where the reverse is true.
Since the genre needs to subvert expectations to be successful, it’s not surprising that many minority groups, including women, are represented more in horror than in other genres. Within horror games, players can encounter a wide variety of strong female protagonists.
Updated on July 29th, 2022 by Tanner Fox: With Capcom’s Resident Evil series enjoying a new era of prestige, the Dead Space franchise set to make a triumphant return in 2023, and the near-confirmation of the active development of a new Silent Hill title, it’s a great time to be a fan of survival horror gaming.
Of course, while Ethan Winters, Isaac Clarke, and James Sunderland take up much of the focus of these games, these franchises have all showcased more than a few noteworthy female characters. Plus, there’s an underbelly of indie horror that often includes unsung female protagonists deserving of more recognition.
Clock Tower 3
After the disaster that was Clock Tower: Ghost Head, the historic survival horror series Clock Tower had one last swan song in the form of the 2002 PS2 game Clock Tower 3. Directed by award-winning Japanese film director Kinji Fukasaku, who inspired Quentin Tarantino, the game follows a 14-year-old girl named Alyssa Hamilton who discovers that she is part of a family of magical girls called “Rooders” that are destined to defeat beings known as “Entities” and their corrupted human hosts.
Despite having a strange mixture of serial killers, magic, and time travel, Clock Tower 3 is ultimately a coming-of-age story for Alyssa. While she is strong-willed and caring from the beginning, which is shown by her traveling back home even though her mother told her to stay away and her comforting several spirits during her journey, she truly gains the emotional strength to stand on her own at the end of the game when she fights and defeats her corrupted grandfather.
Fatal Frame III: The Tormented
While Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly is often considered the peak of the Fatal Frame franchise, the best protagonist is probably from the 2005 PS2 survival horror sequel Fatal Frame III: The Tormented. After the death of her fiancé in a car crash, the main heroine, a 23-year-old freelance photographer named Rei Kurosawa, is cursed by a spirit, and begins having reoccurring dreams of a strange house called the “Manor of Sleep.”
Although the maps and story are not as polished as the previous entry, Rei’s struggles with survivor’s guilt are extremely powerful and relatable for anyone who has lost a loved one, which makes up for the setbacks. With the help of the protagonist from the first game, Miku Hinasaki, and the uncle of the protagonists from the second game, Kei Amakura, Rei solves the mystery, ends the curse, and gains the strength to keep living.
When it was released in 2010, the Wii-exclusive horror title Calling didn’t receive particularly positive reviews. While it made use of innovative mechanics that relied heavily on the Wii remote speaker, its undeniable Silent Hill influences made it feel a bit routine.
That said, among the game’s four protagonists, Rin is perhaps the most interesting. Teleported to the Mnemetic Abyss after promising to visit a hospitalized girl, Rin must endure all manner of horrors in order to keep her word. Rin also stands out because the game’s post-credit scene reveals that she actually survived her journey through the Mnemetic Abyss.
Resident Evil 0
Introduced as the timid and meek S.T.A.R.S. rookie medic in the original Resident Evil, Rebecca Chambers got a chance to prove her worth in the 2002 prequel Resident Evil 0. Sent in as part of the S.T.A.R.S. Bravo Team to investigate a series of mysterious circumstances occurring in the Arklay Mountains, she’s soon embroiled in a conspiracy involving a wrongly-accused convict and the horrid reanimation of a betrayed Umbrella founder.
Resident Evil 0 went down as something of a controversial entry in the series, but Rebecca was undoubtedly a highlight, and she showcased on more than one occasion that she was much more capable than she seemed to be.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Developed by Silicon Knights, who also created Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem is a 2002 GameCube cosmic horror action-adventure game, and the first M-rated game published by Nintendo. After Alexandra “Alex” Roivas learns that her grandfather has been brutally murdered, she investigates her family estate to figure out what happened and uncovers the Tome of Eternal Darkness.
Although the game follows 12 playable characters over about 2000 years, Alex remains the main protagonist who ultimately defeats the powerful beings known as “Ancients.” Even before the game, Alex is shown to be incredibly intelligent because she was studying abstract mathematics and number theory at a university in Washington.
World of Horror
Released in early access in February 2020, World of Horror is a rogue-like horror RPG heavily inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Junji Ito. Sporting a distinctive one-bit art style, it’s a deliberate throwback to the very early days of PC gaming, but that doesn’t take away from its terrifying nature.
One of several playable protagonists, Kirie Minami is perhaps the most notable World of Horror character, as she’s a direct homage to Kirie Goshima, the central character in Ito’s seminal work Uzumaki.
Beginning with the 2000 PS1 title of the same name, Fear Effect is a series of horror action-adventure shooters that utilize cel-shaded character models and FMV backgrounds. Although each of the entries in the franchise follows different plots, they all center around a group of mercenaries that primarily live in a futuristic cyberpunk version of Hong Kong.
Out of the multiple playable characters in the franchise, the main protagonist is Hana Tsu-Vachel, who is forced to take dangerous mercenary jobs in order to one day pay off her contract to the Chinese Triad. Because of her harsh childhood, Hana is tough, ruthless, intelligent, sarcastic, and can fight or talk her way out of most situations. She is also canonically an LGBTQ+ character, and she currently has a girlfriend named Rain Qin.
Your Turn To Die: Death Game By Majority
Inspired by iconic visual novel games such as Danganronpa, Your Turn To Die -Death Game By Majority- is an ongoing episodic horror adventure game that began in 2017. After the main heroine, a high school girl named Sara Chidouin, and her friend, Joe Tazuna, are kidnapped, they are sent to a strange facility where they are forced to compete in a “Death Game” with other kidnapped individuals.
Despite only being 17 years old and other members of the group being adults, Sara quickly becomes the leader because of her strong and dependable nature. She often supports the rest of the group, makes tough decisions, and solves complex puzzles, but she also struggles with self-doubts.
Rule of Rose
Kidnapped and made to live as a member of a twisted social hierarchy instituted by a group of orphaned children who call themselves the Red Rose Aristocracy, protagonist Jennifer stars in the distinctly unique survival horror escapade Rule of Rose. With de-emphasized combat and a heavy focus on narrative, it’s a somber, almost surreal title that all survival horror fans should experience.
Unfortunately, Jennifer is often considered to be a major detriment to the experience; often unable to properly fight back, her lack of melee expertise makes the game unnecessarily difficult. Still, from a story standpoint, Jennifer’s character—and Rule of Rose as a whole—should not be overlooked.
Created by the same team that created the Resident Evil franchise, the Dino Crisis series is often called “Resident Evil but with dinosaurs,” but the early use of real-time 3D environments and the in-depth AI of the dinosaurs make this forgotten franchise so much more than that. During the first two mainline titles, the game follows special operations agent Regina as she fights dinosaurs that entered the modern era using “Third Energy” technology.
Unlike Hana who is more impulsive and hot-headed, Regina is usually cool, calm, and collected. Though she is relatively unfazed by the dinosaurs and gore she witnesses, she does care about other people, which is shown by her looking for lost soldiers and comforting survivors.
While there’re multiple prominent female characters in the historic survival horror franchise Resident Evil, one of the most influential examples is the one who started it all: Jill Valentine. In the original 1996 PS1 game Resident Evil, Jill, along with fellow S.T.A.R.S. member Chris Redfield, is one of the two possible playable characters who are investigating the mansion, and she continues to be a major character throughout the franchise.
As one of the only women in the world with Delta Force training, Jill is incredibly strong, intelligent, and resourceful. Despite the constant horrifying dangers caused by bioweapons, she manages to survive and hold on to her moral principles.
Resident Evil 2
Besides Jill, the other most influential female character in the Resident Evil franchise is Claire Redfield, who is the younger sister of Chris Redfield. During the zombie outbreak in Raccoon City in the 1998 PS1 game Resident Evil 2, Claire, along with rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy, is one of the two playable characters who are trying to escape, and she continues to be a major character throughout the franchise.
Because she was taught how to fight and use firearms by Chris from a young age, Claire is confident in her abilities, a quick thinker, and strong-willed. She also cares deeply for other people, which is shown by her tirelessly searching for her brother when he disappeared and taking care of Sherry Birkin.
Parasite Eve Series
Beginning with the 1998 PS1 title of the same name, Parasite Eve is a series of action horror RPGs that are based on a science fiction horror novel. After meeting opera singer Melissa Pearce at a performance, the franchise’s main protagonist, Aya Brea, and Melissa both awaken their mitochondrial powers. As Melissa becomes Mitochondria Eve and begins ending the human race, Aya must use her powers to stop her.
In both the first game and the direct sequel, Aya is a complex character who is simultaneously professional, sarcastic, brave, kind-hearted, and full of self-loathing. Her in-depth personality makes her not only a great horror protagonist but also one of the best RPG protagonists ever.
Silent Hill 3
Released in 2003 for the PS2, Silent Hill 3 is a survival horror game that’s part of the larger Silent Hill franchise. Taking place after the events of the first game, the story follows a teenage girl named Heather Mason who becomes entangled in the schemes of a cult from the titular town.
Unlike most fictional depictions, Heather is a realistic teenager who is moody and blunt but also fairly naive. She loves literature and shopping, and she is incredibly brave and strong-willed.
Resident Evil 6
A highly-revered antihero with mysterious motives, Ada Wong is a recurring femme fatale who always seems to be one step ahead of Resident Evil’s rookie-cop-turned-secret-agent Leon Kennedy. Seen primarily in the second, fourth, and sixth mainline Resident Evil installments, she’s a highlight of any game in which she appears.
Unfortunately, though she does serve as one of four main protagonists in Resident Evil 6, Capcom’s 2012 addition to the survival horror series isn’t typically celebrated as one of its best moments. Still, she also serves as the protagonist of the Resident Evil 4 side missions Separate Ways and Assignment Ada, both of which were excellent pieces of ancillary RE content.