Inventories: 1980s Video Game Heroines
Sevrina Maris from Shadowfire (1985) and Enigma Force (1986)
Looking at Sevrina Maris, you can almost see in front of your eyes the design document with the entire concept for her character: "sexy psycho cyborg bitch." As the only female character in a cast of six (in Shadowfire) or four (Enigma Force) mercenaries, she's also another example of a sole woman in a hero squad. The games are some rather complex and impervious RPG/adventure/action hybrids.
The witch from Cauldron (1985) and Cauldron II: The Pumpkin Strikes Back (1986)
The British tradition of letting players take the role of old hags (that's what the extra lives are actually refered to here) continues. The unnamed witch that stars in this game wants to find the Golden Broom, and so she gets on to her old wooden broom to fly out and get it. What keeps her in the air is her magic power, which is measured in percentages and is reduced whenever she gets hit by an enemy, but also to a lesser degree from her own projectiles. Making every shot count is important, or else she comically plummets down to the ground and explodes. Unfortunately the controls are more than awkward - to fire, the player has to hold the fire button and press in a direction to aim the shots. The witch can also land and grab keys (which open doors that lead to platforming stage) and magic recharges from the ground, but since she's slow and helpless there and the enemies keep attacking relentlessly, it's almost never worth it. Most of the time she'll just breakland and detonate anyway, because the broom is almost uncontrollable. So not only is she presumably evil, but also not a very empowering character.
The sorceress from Doppleganger (1985)
Doppleganger is a typical example for one of those many isometric adventure games that dominated several European home computer scenes in the years following the release of Knight Lore - except with a twist: The protagonist is a mighty sorceress, who keeps around a virtual duplication of herself to help her raid all the gold from a haunted mansion. The gimmick is a bit underused - the two characters merely differ in appearance and the color of doors they can go through - but it's a laudable attempt at mixing up the genre.
Mary from Quartet (1986)
Like Gauntlet, Sega's four player arcade game featured three male characters and one female character, Mary (no relation to the same named character from Alien Syndrome). When the game was ported to the Master System, the cast was downsized in half, though Mary still made the cut. Her design in this version differs across territories - she has black hair and a pony tail in Japan, but a feathery brown hair style in all other territories. Even though she is depicted with comparatively small firearms on all official artwork, she actually wields a pretty heavy bazooka in the game.
Three schoolgirls from The Fight Girls Angel (1986)
The Fight Girls Angel is an obscure early Japanese PC RPG that predates Dragon Quest, which means it's almost impenetrable and with a barebones presentation for the most part. But the developers at Police found a way to include high resolution mugshots for the three school girl heroines. Aside from their distinct looks, they don't have much in terms of individual characteristics and are even named by the player.
Athena from Athena (1986) and Psycho Soldiers (1987)
Few games from SNK's pre-Neo Geo library are all that remarkable, and the pink haired bikini-wearing amazon from their 1986 platformer didn't bring anything new to the table of side-scrolling action in her first appearance, either. Her merit was rather developed over a long time, as she was the first video game heroine to be deemed worthy of being kept around by her creators, although she made a time shift for her second appearance in Psycho Soldier the following year. She did disappear for a while after that, but when SNK was searching through their back catalogue to find suitable participants for their yearly updated virtual fighting tournament, she returned with a vengeance and remains to this day one of the most popular King of Fighters character.
Myrtle from Mermaid Madness (1986)
In one way, early UK game developers have to be lauded for constantly disrupting the stereotype of the fighting bombshell. Unfortunately, their nonstandard heroines are usually made for ridicule. In the footsteps of Bionic Granny follows Myrtle, a significantly overweight mermaid with a crush on a diver. Her love is not returned, though, and the man jumps into the ocean to try and get away for her. The poor sod of course gets himself stuck somewhere, and so Myrtle has to rescue him in this underwater adventure before his oxygen supply runs out. The game is rather frustrating though, because for some reason every single sea creature has it in for Myrtle, and they are very able at getting her into deadly stunlock.
Chris from Alpha (1986)
We can't tell for sure if this early Squaresoft title is the first Japanese adventure game with a female lead, given that not only most others are viewed and/or narrated from first person, but also the genre is one of the most inacessible to non-Japanese players. Unfortunately, the SciFi story is a prime example of what was to come for Japanese computer games, and it's full with sexual violence.
Ki from Return of Ishtar (1986) and Ki no Bōken (1988)
Pronounced "Kai", Ki was the damsel in distress kidnapped by an evil demon in Namco's Tower of Druaga. She joins along with her rescuer, Gilgamesh, in the oddball arcade-RPG The Return of Ishtar, which allows for both characters to be controlled at the same time by a single player. She then went on to star in her own game, The Quest of Ki for the Famicom, mostly known for its high flying jumping abilities and extreme difficulty.
The Valkyrie from Walküre no Bōken (1986) and Walküre no Densetsu (1989)
This Norse goddess initially starred in Walküre no Bouken, a low quality Zelda rip-off for the Famicom, but Valkyrie (no other name given) rose to prominence with the excellent arcade RPG follow-up Walküre no Densetsu. The franchise is somewhat limited - the only other games are a PlayStation remake of Walküre no Bouken, an SFC/SNES spin-off called Whirlo, and assorted mobile games. But that hasn't stopped Valkyrie from becoming one of Namco's most prolific characters, making cameo appearances in Tales of Eternia, Soul Calibur, and Project X Zone.
Samus Aran from Metroid (1986)
Samus Aran might be the single most famous video game heroine from the 1980s, so not much that can be said of her is new. For the sake of completion: The original game kept her identity a secret, hiding her under a power suit and even referring to her by male pronouns in the manual. This was not just some confusion at Nintendo of America, as the Japanese manual does the same. Her true appearance was kept a secret until the very end. If the player managed to finish the game fast enough, she is gradually stripped down until just a bikini remains. There is also a famous password called JUSTIN BAILEY, which allows to play through the entire game without the armor.
Momoko from Momoko 120% (1986)
Momoko is a very weird game - the titular heroine escapes through burning buildings while fighting strange aliens. With each new main stage, she grows older for some reason - she starts combating the extraterrestrial invaders at age four(!) and the game ends fourteen years later with her marriage and a dream of babies, because that of course is every woman's main purpose in life... fighting aliens in burning buildings just to get married and have children. Interestingly, the game was originally intended to be a tie-in to the anime series Urusei Yatsura, and its NES port is exactly that. Momoko also returned for a series of mobile games called Momoko 1200% in 2006.
Altiana from Space Hunter (1986)
It's easy to draw some conceptual parallels between Metroid and Kemco's Space Hunter, seeing as both are open-ended space adventures where you explore maze-like caverns. Whereas Metroid focused on a single planet, there's a whole solar system to explore in Space Hunter. And the heroine, a cyborg named Altiana, doesn't even need a spaceship - she just rockets all around the cold darkness of space using the jet thrusters in her legs. Her arsenal, including Bomberman-esque bombs and laser swords, further establish her as a powerful force, and that's without the need for any power armor.
Sayo-chan from Kiki Kaikai (1986) and sequels
On the surface, Sayo-chan may look like just another cutesy anime girl, but she has a rather peculiar profession: She's a Japanese shinto priestess and spends her days hunting ghosts. The game itself is a run-and-gun similar to Commando, but instead of rifles, she primarily attacks by tossing card-like charms. The first game in the series was not released outside of Japan (except in later compilations), so English speakers probably know her from the second game, as the eponymous Pocky in Pocky & Rocky for the SNES. (Rocky is her tanuki friend, who also joins her for subsequent outings.)
Yuko Ahso from Valis (1986)
Another one who distinguished herself more through her further legacy than just her first appearance. Yuko is a typical Japanese magical girl heroine, of the kind that was popularized in the West by Sailor Moon, but within a few years, Valis had expanded into a solid franchise with a dedicated fan base. But it also serves as a sad cautionary tale. Like Sailor Moon, the series had always played up a mild sexyness, but when the publisher Telenet (presumably) hit on hard times in the new millenium, they sent their former leading lady into full-on prostitution, and Yuko ended up starring in a series of shameless fetish porn visual novels.
Michelle Heart from Legendary Wings / Ares no Tsubasa (1986)
The original Japanese release Capcom's fantasy/sci-fi mashup shooter features two winged heroes: Kevin Walker, studly dude in blue briefs, and Michelle Heart, sexy lady in a red bikini. Some of the overseas versions, unfortunately, remove Michelle entirely, though others give her a green outfit. She appears as a support character in Marvel vs. Capcom.
Lucia from The Wing of Madoola (1986)
The heroine in The Wing of Madoola is a big-haired anime-styled warrior named Lucia, who tends to get overlooked when discussing female protagonists in video games, probably because The Wing of Madoola isn't all that fantastic of a game. Although clad in a warrior swimsuit outfit, at least she's not as embarrassingly portrayed as other leading ladies, like Namco's Wonder Momo, who is often highlighted for all of the wrong reasons. The fantasy stylings of the heroine are very similar to the anime OVA Leda: The Fantastic Adventure of Yoko, which also heavily influenced the Valis series.
Layla from Layla (1986)
This Famicom maze action game from dB-Soft stars an intergalactic warrior named Layla as she infiltrates a series of asteroids commanded by the evil Dr. Manitoka. Midway through the game she rescues her friend Elise, who tags along for the rest of the journey.
Jane from Jungle Jane / Croc' Madam' (1986)
This is another bland supermodel heroine, but that depiction absolutely pales in face of the incredibly insensitive racial stereotypes that are her enemies. The game is a clone of the arcade classic Pooyan, only in place of a pig who has to defend itself against wolves, Jane fights off big-lipped, bone-ornamented cannibals that are trying to eat her. If you lose, you have to watch her get cooked alive... Ugh!
The Mighty Fighting Amazon from Soldier Girl Amazon / Sei Senshi Amatelass (1986)
The heroine of Soldier Girl Amazon is another swimsuit model warrior - who apparently wears high heeled boots in combat - in a top-down run-and-gun like Ninja Princess. Unlike Ninja Princess, the game is just an unreasonably difficult quarter thief. The protagonist shoots fireballs from her sword, and apparently can also man combat vehicles - if you ever survive long enough to see them.