Inventories: 1980s Video Game Heroines
Nokko from Attack Animal Gakuen (1987)
Animal Attack Gakuen is a shameless Space Harrier clone for the Famicom. Except instead of fantastical monsters, you fight against animals, and instead of a blond guy, you play as a schoolgirl named Nokko. The whole thing would be kind of embarassing, but for a clone it's pretty good, bolstered by the fact that the official Famicom Space Harrier port was terrible.
Giana and Maria from The Great Giana Sisters (1987)
In this new age of video game feminism, rom hacks that posit women as the stars of popular Nintendo games have become a minor fad, but the first one who got the idea was Armin Gessert, who created a game that was... let's say "inspired" by Super Mario Bros. Particularly fun is the new interpretation of Mario's ability to grow larger, which instead turns the neat little girls into insubordinate punks. Kudos also go to the UK marketing, who dared to put some positively ugly punk brats on the regional cover. The 2012 sequel/reboot Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams takes this case of split personalities and turns it into an ability to travel between parallel worlds.
Major Locke from Phantis (1987)
Phantis starts out as a horizontal scrolling shoot-'em-up, but as soon as the protagonist leaves her spaceship to mount a Tauntaun, she is revealed as the busty, scantily clad space warrior Major Locke. The game actually is a sequel of another title called Game Over, whose hero Arkos has been captured on the planet Phantis, and so it is Locke's mission to go rescue him. When the originally Spanish game made it to the rest of Europe under the name Game Over II, however, Major Locke was put in a full body combat armor like Arkos in the previous game, and is referred to as a "he", because as everyone knows women only gain protection by wearing fewer clothes, contrary to men.
Gabrielle from Gabrielle (1987)
It's hard to imagine now, but there was a time when Ubisoft was just a small domestic publishing house in France, which would explain why this Amstrad CPC exclusive explorational platformer was only ever released there. It is the year 3001. Mankind has long been wiped out by nuclear holocaust, and somehow everyone's souls ended up condemned to hell for eternity. However, the titular warrior angel will have none of it, and so she descends into the depths and bring those who repent to heaven. In the game and on the box cover, Gabrielle is surprisingly well-dressed for an angel, but apparently the artist just couldn't resist ripping off a nude painting by Boris Vallejo for the title screen.
Ingrid Bottomlow from Gnome Ranger (1987) and Ingrid's Back (1987)
Ingrid is not technically human, but a gnome is close enough. She's a studied woman, too; having graduated from the Institute of Gnome Economics, she returns home to her family's old-fashioned farm and immediately starts to implement modern improvements... usually with disastrous consequences. So her family banishes her to a forest, where she sets out to adventure. In the sequel, she returns to the village, but finds it threatened by the capitalist Jasper Quickbuck who wants to "steamroll the gnome-belt village for an estate of yuppie homes."
Laila Alfon from Shiryou Sensen / War of the Dead (1987)
Starring in this MSX/PC Engine horror RPG, Laila is a rookie member of S-SWAT sent to investigate the disappearance of Chaney's Hill, which also happens to be her hometown. Unfortunately she arrives late, leaving her alone in her quest through this infested town. On the cover she has brown hair; in-game she has green.
Konami Lady from Wai Wai World (1988)
Konami's "Wai Wai" series mostly features heroes from a variety of games developed by the company. But for the first entry in the series, the Famicom side-scroller Wai Wai World, adds two original characters - the heroic (albeit slightly dorky looking) Konami Man, and his sidekick, the pink haired, swimsuit wearing heroine Konami Lady. Both are playable at the outset, and have similar powers. Konami Lady also appears as a boss in one of the DLC levels of Otomedius Excellent.
Goldmoon from Heroes of the Lance (1988) and Dragons of Flame (1989)
Most of SSI's Dungeons & Dragons licensed titles allowed players to create their own parties, but the Heroes of the Lance games were action-focused games with a predefined cast, which also included one female warrior... among almost a dozen heroes. To be fair though, that should be about accurate for the average gender split of players in any actual Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
System D.P. AKA Milia from The Guardian Legend / Guardic Gaiden (1988)
A bionic woman who transforms into a space ship to shoot down fish alien armies? How awesome is that!? The Japanese cover accordingly features some mild cyberfetish artwork by Naoyuki Kato, whereas Europeans were greeted by a more subdued space age style design. In the US,the nonsensical "games with gals on the cover don't sell" mindset applied, so Americans had to be content with some monster eyes stolen from a movie poster.
Youko-chan from UFO Senshi Youko-chan (1988)
Sega's Teddy Boy Blues was one of the first games to tie-in with a Japanese pop star, featuring music and a cameo appearance by Youko Ishino. Vic Tokai's UFO Senshi Youko-chan, also published on Sega hardware, goes one step further by turning J-Pop idol Youko Minamino into a playable character as she fights off an alien invasion. The BGM in the game is based on her songs "Hanashi kaketakatta", "Sayonara no Memai", "Kanashimi Monument" and "Kaze no Madrigal".
Annaconda from Annaconda (1988)
Loosely inspired by Pitfall!, in this Commodore 64 game, you control the eponymous heroine as she fights through the jungle. At times, she can turn into a snake, hence the punny name. The primary reason for this game's existence seems to the title screen, which, in true Farrah Fawcett fashion, features the heroine in a skimpy outfit in what's probably a very cold room.
Vixen / She-Fox (1988)
If you thought the name of this game was chosen to be demeaning to women... you're probably right, but it also refers to the heroine's ability to actually transform into a fox. There's a lot of cool abilities that could go with it, but the game squanders it all by limiting it to gem-collecting bonus rounds devoid of any challenge. In her human form, the protagonist wears only a fur bikini and fights lizards and other critters with a whip. The game is actually a decent if somewhat uneventful sidescroller.
Rosella from King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella (1988)
Rosella, the princess of Daventry, was first introduced as the damsel-in-distress at the end of King's Quest III, where she is saved by a young boy named Gwydion, who actually ended up being her long lost twin brother Alexander. The sequel casts her in the starring role, the first for a Sierra adventure game, as she explores the realm of Tamir in order to find a magic fruit to cure her ailing father. Nearly all of the major characters, including the good fairy Genesta, and the evil witch Lolotte, are female as well. Rosella shared the spotlight with her mother Queen Valanice in King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride, where her go-getter attitude was replaced with a stereotypical Disney princess personality, and her primary goal was to find a man.
Mata Hari from Mata Hari (1988)
Mata Hari might well be the most frequently cited as a woman in premodern history with an "adventurous" profession - her formal job description was an exotic dancer, but was actually convicted by the French on claims of being a spy for Germany during World War I. The very first video game based on the character is a 2D action adventure, where Mata runs around shooting soldiers and sabotaging a number of targets with bombs. The view showing multiple floors at once is reminiscent of the earlier spy thriller Elevator Action, and the game also features similarly functioning elevators, although the scale of the mission is quite a bit larger. When Mata Hari gets shot, she wakes up in a hospital, but when trying to get out she just collapses again and the game ends. As the character suggests, Mata Hari is also one of the more overtly "erotic" early games from Europe. In the ending, the heroine undresses and commences to copulate with a - fully dressed - blond guy.
Betty, Valkyrie, Mam and Honey from Gain Ground (1988)
This top-down action game by Sega has you assemble a Squad of up to 20 soldiers with different weapons over the course of the mission, four of which are women. Betty and Honey have rather weak guns, but can throw powerful grenades, while Valkyrie and Mam throw boomerangs. Since the soldiers are more or less treated as replaceable cannon fodder, neither of them has much of a personality.
Princess Mariana from Barbarian II: The Dungeon of Drax / Axe of Rage (1988)
In the original Barbarian, players could only take the role of the titular savage to slaughter other barbarians in arena fights to the amusement of the evil sorcerer Drax. Princess Mariana always stood at the wizard's side, enchanted by his spell. With Drax' defeat, she comes back to her senses, and becomes an alternative player character in the sequel. As in the first game, she is represented by a ridiculously busty real life nude model on the cover, and the pixels used for her "clothes" in the game can be counted on one hand.
Princess Erina from Alantia (1988)
Another video game princess who takes fighting threats to her kingdom into her own hands. After her entire family is murdered and her kingdom destroyed by The Dark Lord Ezikiel, Erina sets out to destroy the invader in a pseudo-3D quest through trippy biomechanical environments. As is all too typical for Japanese computer games, the camera is uncannily preoccupied with the heroine's underpants. There doesn't seem to be any explicit sexual content, though.
Maria from Final Fantasy II (1988)
From the village of Mysidia, Maria was part of the upper class, but joins along with Firion and Guy in the rebellion, and stays with them throughout the entire game. She is both the first playable female character in any Final Fantasy game, as well as the first archer. Like all characters from the early Square RPG series, her Amano artwork looks nothing like her sprite in the Famicom version. She is largely disregarded in the RPG canon, since no one really wants to remember Final Fantasy II.
The Valkyrie from Times of Lore (1988)
Origin Systems was one of the most innovative software houses of its time. All the areas they pioneered in... morality-driven RPG plots with Ultima IV, cinematic space opera sims with Wing Commander, free-roaming realtime 3D dungeon crawlers with Ultima Underworld and... jiggling breast animations with Times of Lore. Unfortunately that's already the most remarkable aspect about the Valkyrie, because aside from a short description at character selection, the character is a cypher. Marketing was much more obsessed with the half-naked muscular barbarian guy, anyway...
Lucia from Psycho World (1988)
Lucia and Cecile are two sisters taught in the ways of ESP by Dr. Knavik. Unfortunately, some of his other experiments rebel and kidnap Cecile. Armed with an ESP Booster to make better use of her powers, Lucia sets off to save her sister in this Mega Man-style action game. Also known as Psychic World, this title originated on the MSX but is more known for its Master System and Game Gear ports.