Alyssa L'Salle (Cosmic Star Heroine)

Alyssa may be the new girl on the block, but her presence was felt long before her arrival due to the fact that her game took so long to actually come out. She's all prepared and ready to go, however, and all that super-spy training is put to good use when combating terrorist threats, hideous mutants, treacherous agents, and high-minded techno-fascists across an entire star system. Not just smart but also as sassy as the writers could make her, Alyssa rarely lacks for some neat comment on her current situation, and even when words don't matter, the laser cannon built into her combat staff speaks volumes. So robots, reptoids, and revenants beware; there's a new secret agent in town, and she means business. — Michael Baker

Lucina (Fire Emblem: Awakening)

Lucina of Fire Emblem: Awakening is something of a spoiler, since she first shows up as a mysterious masked character that calls herself "Marth." If Super Smash Bros. for 3DS/Wii U is fine with spoiling her true identity, though, then there is probably no real need to worry about it here.

Lucina is the courageous future daughter of Prince Chrom. While her father and Robin/the Avatar are technically Awakening's main characters, she is just as much of a hero and as important to the story as they are. She is the one, after all, who leads the future children to the past in order to prevent the Fell Dragon Grima from being revived. Lucina herself warns the Shepherds and prevents the assassination of Ylisse's ruler, Emmeryn, eventually leading to an early end to the war with Plegia. Lucina is a very determined and strong-willed woman, wanting to save the world and her father while trying to avoid unneeded deaths. She takes it hard when things go poorly in the story and she worries that despite what has changed, she hasn't done enough to alter the timeline. She also questions whether she lives up to her father's name or her ancestor Marth's, despite her leadership skills, drive to save others, kindness, and prowess with a sword.

As tends to be the case with Fire Emblem, it takes the support conversations and other optional dialogue to flesh out Lucina's personality. She deeply misses her parents, and even though Chrom and her in-game mother are technically not her true birth parents, she is still very happy to be with them. Her many years of fighting a hopeless war against Grima and his undead hordes have also left her with a strange sense of humor. She has odd tastes in fashion and a tendency to take things too seriously, sometimes to the point of hilarity. This leads to some of the funniest dialogue in the game, such as her third support conversation with Brady and her chat with Robin in the Hot-Spring Scramble DLC (especially if she is her mother). It's this unexpectedly goofy side that makes her a well-rounded heroine and all the more memorable. Even if Lucina isn't the main campaign's lead character, she is in The Future Past DLC, which takes place in an alternate, darker timeline. — Cassandra Ramos

Estelle Bright (The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky I & II)

What kind of hero can face down a team of extraordinarily powerful baddies who practically worship nihilism? One with incredible courage, boundless compassion, and the congenital inability to ever, ever give up. In The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky series, that hero is the young bracer Estelle Bright.

In the first game of Estelle's main duology, we see her as a hero in training, a spunky and action-oriented young woman who never did well just sitting in a classroom. As she sets out to travel her kingdom, both as part of her training and to find her missing father, she's gung-ho but doubts herself when it comes to situations that require deep thought or a delicate touch. Over the course of the game, however, Estelle learns to trust her instincts and her intellect. As she begins to uncover a plot that threatens the land and people she loves, she transforms into a true leader with the strength of will needed to make difficult choices.

Estelle is sassy and has a delightful habit of threatening to beat ne'er-do-wells like sky bandits and rakish bards over the head with a stick, but she's also a warm and compassionate person. In the second TitS game, we see a self-assured Estelle whose stout heart and strong moral compass carry her through a time of incredible crisis. Estelle is no Mary Sue — she makes mistakes and requires the assistance of powerful friends to overcome the incredible odds she faces. At the same time, she's never a damsel in distress. Even when she needs rescue, Estelle is always an active participant in her own liberation.

Perhaps most importantly, Estelle is always true to who she is. She stands up for herself and doesn't pay any mind to people who say she should change herself to fit their view of an ideal woman or ideal hero. She is faithful to the core of herself, which gives her the courage not to break under pressure. Ultimately, this is the thing that draws others to her and makes her a hero. It's also the thing that makes her an amazing role model and one of the greatest JRPG protagonists in history. — Becky Cunningham

Haseo (.hack//G.U.)

Who's the brooding gamer dressed in black who all the girls want to be with, even though he's kind of a jackass? What?! Kirito? No way, Sword Art Online is terrible, and so are you!

No, for this character, you need to go back a decade and jump into The World, the MMO-within-an-RPG of the .hack franchise. Specifically, you need to jump into the steampunk sequel, The World R:2, from .hack//G.U. I'm talking, of course, about the Terror of Death, Haseo.

What makes Haseo such a great character are many of the same reasons that .hack//G.U. is such a great game series. Very few RPG heroes grow and evolve as much as he does over the course of his story. Beginning with his origins in the anime prequel, .hack//Roots, Haseo's first experience with The World isn't a pleasant one. Two experienced players, feigning friendship, take him to a dungeon to teach him the game, and then proceed to kill him and steal his items when they reach the end. It's then that he meets Ovan, a mysterious player who kills his attackers and takes him under his wing.

Joining Ovan's guild, Haseo at this stage of his journey is extremely apathetic. His only reason for continuing to play the game is boredom and a mild sense of curiosity about the group of players he's found himself entangled with. But after meeting Shino, one of his guildmates, his reasons for sticking around begin to change. He starts to enjoy himself, and eventually falls in love with her, though she doesn't seem to return his affections. During this time, he also meets another player named Phyllo, a wise old man who offers him a great deal of good advice.

The good times aren't to last, unfortunately, and soon things begin to fall apart. Ovan goes missing, and the guild begins to unravel, eventually breaking up entirely. Haseo learns his wise old friend Phyllo is terminally ill with cancer, and before too long he passes away, leaving another void in his life. Finally, an event occurs that sends him into a downward spiral: a mysterious player named Tri-Edge kills Shino, and puts her into a coma in the real world.

Haseo's grief turns to rage, and he goes on a rampage, hunting down player-killers PKers and earning himself the nickname "The Terror of Death," all the while searching for any trace of the Tri-Edge who killed his friend. Eventually he tracks him down, but is overwhelmed and defeated, and his character is reduced back to level one.

This is where the .hack//G.U. games begin. Haseo is a shell of his former self, far worse off than the apathetic teenager he was when he began playing in The World. At this stage, he has shut himself off from anyone and everyone who might try to get close to him, afraid to lose another friend. However, with his level reduced back to one, he quickly finds himself forced into a new beginning, which starts out with a surprising parallel to his first day. Enter Gaspard and Silabus, two players who dedicate themselves to helping newbies. Mistaking the now-level-one Haseo for a new player, they drag him into a dungeon to teach him how to play. Originally intending to simply use them, Haseo finds himself growing attached to the friendly duo, and even goes so far as to join their guild, though he still keeps them both at a distance. He also meets Atoli, a friendly girl whose avatar bears a striking resemblance to Shino's, a coincidence which causes him to keep her at arm's length for much of the game.

As Haseo continues his investigation, he becomes entangled in the lives of many other players, and as the game goes on, his coldness towards them begins to evaporate, eventually turning to friendship. Most importantly, as he spends more time with Atoli, he begins to fall for her in the same way he fell for Shino. Eventually he's able to save the comatose girl, but despite having spent months of his life trying to accomplish this goal, he finds that he no longer feels about her the way that he used to. Everything he's gone through up until now leads up to this pivotal moment, where he chooses to be with Atoli instead.

There are many other facets to Haseo's journey that are expanded on throughout the games, and it would be difficult to summarize the entirety of this massive story here, but suffice it to say, Haseo has remained one of my favorite game protagonists for years. It's amazing to watch him grow up over the course of the series. — Adriaan den Ouden

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