If you’re an avid gamer or a dedicated fan, you’re probably familiar with iconic rivalries like Ryu and Ken, Cloud and Sephiroth and, of course, Mario and Bowser. Despite calling different genres home, each pair has an obvious commonality: their gender.
In fact, a quick Google search will show you that any and all “top 10” lists for best video game adversaries only feature men. I’d bet many players would struggle to produce a single set of names when asked to give an example of a female rivalry, instead.
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Moreover, when two feuding women do appear, they tend to have an identical conflict to an overwhelming majority of other female foes. So, what is it? I’d give you three guesses, but you wouldn’t need the last two. Surprise, surprise — it’s men … again.
Whether they are pitted against each other for the heart of a male love interest or firing a barrage of appearance-based insults back and forth, too many fictional female rivalries occur over the opposite sex and nothing else. Frankly, it’s unhealthy.
However, if you squint, you’ll notice a handful of games that showcase positive examples of female rivalries. All of these duos consist of well-developed characters that break the mold by competing for a mutual goal outside of securing a man.
Step aside, Nancy and Tonya — these virtual ladies deserve the spotlight.
1. Chell and GLaDOS (“Portal”)
Somehow, a silent protagonist and an artificially intelligent (AI) computer system comprise the most well-known entry on this list.
Before you object to its inclusion, know that the developers of “Portal” have fervently supported GLaDOS’s status as a woman. That aside, removing them from their number one rank would be a huge disservice to one of the grittiest battles of wit and resolve in gaming history.
After waking from an induced stasis, Chell, a test subject, is forced to navigate through a perilous laboratory setting at the mercy of GLaDOS, who manipulates both the layout of the test chambers and her subject. The playfully vindictive AI promises Chell freedom, grief counseling and cake if she survives every experiment.
As the final course draws near, it becomes increasingly clear that GLaDOS has no intention of letting the protagonist leave alive. With little warning, the tests become more lethal and the robotic commentary sees a parallel increase in malice. In order for either woman to achieve her goal, she has to outsmart the other.
Much like the common rivalry archetype, the pair manages to expose each other’s best traits as the plot progresses. Chell removes several “spheres” from GLaDOS, including intelligence and personality cores that appear to repress the characteristics they are named for.
So, while Chell forcibly modifies the AI in contradiction of traditional female expectations, GLaDOS also forces Chell to refuse blind submission and, instead, think for herself in order to survive. Their relationship may reek of sordid intents and behaviors, but it shatters stereotypes to convey a beneficial message.
2. Bayonetta and Jeanne (“Bayonetta”)
It’s a tale as old as time. Two witches, one an outcast and the other nobility, grapple with each other to settle a childhood clash while searching for pieces of a treasured artifact, dubbed “The Eyes of the World.”
But, in this story, both women are equal parts beautiful and beastly as they venture around fictional Europe in extravagant garbs and repeatedly engage each other in combat with a level of physical prowess capable of knocking over skyscrapers.
The goal of securing the prize disappears into the background in favor of an impromptu strength gauntlet whenever an encounter between Bayonetta and Jeanne occurs. Winning is not an easy feat for either opponent, as growing up in the same clan of witches has granted them matching abilities.
For a game that garnered loads of controversy for supposed sexism and gratuitous camera work, the dynamic within its female rivalry is shockingly progressive. The battles prioritize style and flair, but the witches’ antagonistic banter never branches into the topic of looks.
Additionally, even when a potential male love interest is laced into the overall plot, neither woman is interested enough to split from their primary ambition to pursue romance, least of all quarrel over it.
3. Yukari Takeba and Mitsuru Kirijo (“Persona 3”)
In stark contrast to the rest of this list, the competition between Yukari and Mitsuru is entirely one-sided. Both are high school students and members of an elite “student organization” in which they are tasked with ending a phenomenon known as the “Dark Hour,” a gap between the previous day and the next where creatures capable of feeding on human minds appear. Personally, I would’ve chosen debate club, but to each their own.
Through their extracurricular activities, both young women hope to right the wrongs of their individual pasts. As the plot progresses, it becomes apparent they are more intertwined than originally assumed.
On a superficial level, Yukari is envious of Mitsuru’s poised demeanor as her own emotions tend to linger at a fever pitch since her father’s death, which came as a result of from his studies of the “Dark Hour” with the Kirijo Group. As the heir to the company which is responsible for the loss of Yukari’s father, Mitsuru finds herself ensnared in a female rivalry she didn’t ask for.
Loss is a valid motivation for breeding enmity, and an extremely common one at that. Although Yukari’s anger is misplaced, it’s easy to empathize with her character — especially considering the prominence of death and revenge themes in a significant portion of other fictional rivalries.
Furthermore, the pair never squabble over their differences, both mature enough to recognize neither will receive closure without aid from the other. They have a world to save, why waste time on insults? This, too, is a stereotype subversion, as female rivalry tends to involve emotional outbursts with little regard for the current circumstances.
This entry gets bonus points for successfully integrating both characters as possible love interests for the male protagonist and never allowing the implications of that relationship to seep in and erode the one between the women. Color me astonished.
4. Tear Grants and Legretta (“Tales of the Abyss”)
I’ll admit, I’m a little bitter that this franchise seems unable to offer a decent female rivalry. However, these two women are an exception. Once members of the same ideology, this ex-teacher and student duo were torn apart when Legretta’s change of heart led to a series of ruin for the rest of the continent.
In their universe, an ongoing prophecy, termed “The Score,” governs the actions of every individual and humanity as a whole. After her older brother perished in a battle his troops were prophesized to lose, Legretta decided to enact revenge against his commanding officer, Van Grants.
She intended to infiltrate Van’s ranks and train his sister, Tear, in opposition to his beliefs. But, as she continued to masquerade as a faithful member of his forces, their shared hatred of “The Score” prompted Legretta to take up his cause, despite his destructive methods of seeking freedom. Unfortunately, Tear was less than convinced.
From comrades to reluctant rivals, the two women never lose respect for one another. Every chance meeting between them entails (at least) one plea for conversion to each respective side. But, without fail, Tear is appalled at the massacre of innocents and Legretta is consumed by her indignation toward an absolute fate.
It’s never a clash built on envy or loathing, but rather a connection severed by dueling philosophies.
5. Camilla and Hinoka (“Fire Emblem Fates”)
Considering rivalry is the catalyst for the entire plot, it’s a relief one duo from “Fire Emblem Fates” clawed its way onto this list.
The protagonist of the game, who can be male or female, is thrown into the epicenter of a war between two rival countries. As (bad) luck would have it, one country is ruled by the protagonist’s birth family and the other by their adopted family.
During the height of conflict — or the worst family reunion of all time — they are forced to side with a single country and abandon one set of siblings as collateral damage.
Obviously, neither side handles it well – least of all Camilla and Hinoka, siblings from opposing families who have exactly one thing in common: fierce maternal instincts. Yikes.