Out of the ashes of the video game crash of the early 1980s rose Nintendo, and a whole new era of console gaming would begin. Nintendo didn’t just build the consoles, they also designed and made the games, controlling the quality overall and helping to bring some much-needed standardization to the industry.
In the process of making some great games, Nintendo also created some compelling stories and iconic characters. A few of the following heroines aren’t just important figures in the games in which they appear but are symbolic of the Nintendo name and video games everywhere.
Updated February 1, 2023 by Mark Sammut: While Nintendo and iconic characters go hand-in-hand, the majorities of these figures are male. That said, the company has introduced more than a few legendary women to the game landscape, and they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Mario, Link, and Kirby. This article has been updated to highlight a few more iconic female Nintendo characters.
10 Paula, Earthbound
Earthbound, also known as Mother, didn’t make a big impact in the gaming world when it was first released in 1994. A few years later, however, the game was rediscovered and is one of Nintendo’s most popular vintage RPG games. Paula is the first character to join Ness in his quest, and her primary weapons are her PSI, or psionic, abilities. She appears next to him in most of the media related to the game as well.
Paula has an ability called Pray, which is one of the most important powers in the game. Her boyfriend Ness is a playable character in Super Smash Bros, and she also appears in the game but only as a winnable trophy.
9 Mio, Xenoblade Chronicles 3
Compared to The Legend of Zelda or Metroid, Xenoblade is a far more niche property. That said, the JRPG series has produced almost nothing but masterpieces for Nintendo, and 2022’s Xenoblade Chronicles 3 ranks among its crowning achievements. While Noah is initially presented as the story’s protagonist, he eventually shares that role with Mio.
Hailing from nations that are sworn enemies, Noah and Mio mirror each other in a number of ways, to the point they must combine to get the best out of each other. Along with holding her own in battle, Mio is likable and relatable, especially as she gradually opens up and reveals her fears.
8 Palutena, Kid Icarus
Kid Icarus has only produced three games over the last 35 years, which is a shame as the franchise has a fairly decent track record. Despite returning in a big way with 2012’s Kid Icarus: Uprising, the series has laid dormant ever since. Although Pit takes center stage, Palutena has been a constant presence since the franchise’s debut. In fact, she has proven to be popular enough to warrant a call-up to Super Smash Bros.
In the games, the Goddess of Light generally sends Pit on his quest to defeat either Medusa or Orcos, and she occasionally lends a helping hand. Palutena takes a backseat in the stories, but her design is almost as synonymous with Kid Icarus as Pit’s.
7 Princess Rosalina, Super Mario Galaxy
Rosalina made her grand debut in the Nintendo Wii’s Super Mario Galaxy, and she left an instant impression on players. Except for Super Mario Galaxy 2, she has generally stayed away from the mainline entries’ plots, which is hardly indicative of her popularity considering these games barely focus on their stories. However, Rosalina features as a playable character in a multitude of titles, including Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Mario Tennis Ace, Mario Party 10, and Mario Kart 8.
Rosalina’s backstory is among the most memorable in the Mario franchise, and it is unlocked gradually throughout Super Mario Galaxy. As a child, Rosalina met a Luma who was looking for her mother, and the former agreed to accompany the latter on a trip around the cosmos. Eventually, they settled down and created an observatory to serve as the home of the Lumas. As she embraced her new family, Rosalina learned to accept her grief regarding her own mother’s death.
6 Pokemon’s Playable Characters
Pokemon has dozens of iconic characters, and a person’s favorites are likely to come down to their introductory generation. The anime also cannot be discounted, which is why Misty is so popular despite having only a minor role in the games.
Pokemon‘s playable characters are just a step above blank slates, and they do not show much personality beyond their designs. Be that as it may, characters like Dawn, May, Rosa, and Akari are iconic heroines in their own right, and they will always be remembered by fans of their respective games. Due to the popularity of their anime counterparts, Dawn and May just nudge out the competition.
5 Lucina, Fire Emblem Awakening
A popular character among fans, Lucina also appears in a large amount of the media and promotional material for the game. A tritagonist of the story, which means she’s third in importance when it comes to the plot, she first appears in disguise as a character called Marth in Fire Emblem Awakening.
This is a reference to the longevity of this franchise along with a nod to Lucina’s ancestry. Marth was the main character of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon& TheBlade of Light (1990) and Mystery of the Emblem (1994), and Lucina continues the story he began as his descendant. She’s the daughter of Chrom, the other protagonist of Fire Emblem Awakening, and inherits his distinctive weapon, the Falchion, along with his swordplay skills.
A relative newcomer to the video game world compared to some other Nintendo brands, Bayonetta got a lot of both positive and negative attention when it was first released in 2009. At the time of the first title’s debut, PlatinumGames’ series was not a Nintendo exclusive, but that changed with the second entry.
A big part of the fanbase is here because of the main character, the last surviving Umbra Witch, Bayonetta. The games follow her personal story as she searches for her past and develops her skills in the present. Her exaggerated feminine form is unique among the animation normally used for female characters in video games.
3 Princess Peach, Mario Bros.
Not just a symbol of the super-popular Mario Bros. franchise, Princess Peach of the Mushroom Kingdom is also one of the characters that the public associates with the Nintendo name. This was the princess who was always in another castle, and her status as a damsel in distress was the catalyst of Mario’s adventure.
Often just referred to as Peach, she has been a playable character in the series several times and even stars in her own games. She appeared in the animated series as Princess Toadstool instead because of copyright issues, but her face is so recognizable it didn’t matter. Players who are lucky enough to get to the Super Nintendo World section of Universal Studios Japan can meet her in person, so to speak.
2 Samus Aran, Metroid
It used to be that only hardcore gamers who were dedicated enough to finish the old side-scroller knew the protagonist’s secret, but now it’s common knowledge that Samus Aran is a girl. Metroid owes a lot of its healthy market share to its protagonist, and Samus has also appeared in comic books, manga, and movies as part of the franchise.
As far as history goes, Samus has been here longer than most of Nintendo’s iconic heroines, and she has been kicking ass and taking names since the release of the originalMetroid in 1986. There’s only one other Nintendo heroine who has been rocking the gaming world with the same degree for just as long.
1 Princess Zelda, The Legend Of Zelda
Zelda is so iconic that some people often refer to the male protagonist of this series by her name. There are plenty of pop culture references that invoke the image of Princess Zelda, who doesn’t just rule the land of Hyrule but also the Nintendo corporation and the hearts of gamers everywhere.
When the original Legend of Zelda game came out in 1986, the princess was cast in the typical role of damsel in distress, with Ganon as her captor and Link as her rescuer. There have been a lot of changes to the games since those classic days and Zelda has evolved considerably, taking on several roles and disguises as well as having an active role in the story’s outcome.