By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
I titled the poll that these results are culled from “Ninja Battle!” And it turns out that was an extremely appropriate name, as the top rankers switched positions throughout the week more often than in probably any other poll I’ve ever done, making it indeed a battle. The top three finishers in particular swapped spots on an almost hourly basis, and it was likely just the luck of the draw which ninja happened to be in first place at the very minute the poll closed that stole the #1 spot.
10 – Edge/Edward Geraldine (Final Fantasy IV)
Despite some strong write-in support for fellow Final Fantasy ninja Shadow, in the end, Edge is the highest-ranking ninja in the franchise (and in RPGs in general despite some pretty tough competition that includes characters from Suikoden, Tales of…, Fire Emblem, and Shining Force). Edge may not be “honorable” in the traditional ninja sense, with his brash ego and his incessant flirting with his female teammates, but once he’s on your side he’s unfailingly loyal and will defend you to his death. And at the end of the day, is anything more true to the ninja code than that kind of loyalty? Edge also got to be a part of the rare direct FF sequel, returning for Final Fantasy IV: The After Years older and wiser.
9 – Goemon (Gunbare Goemon/Mystical Ninja series)
Switching gears completely from Edge Geraldine, the lighter side of video game ninja comes in at ninth on our list in the form of Konami’s blue-haird Goemon. Only four of Goemon’s nearly fifty total games have been released outside of Japan, but that still makes him among the most prolific video game ninja in English-language gaming. Goemon games fall in a variety of genres, but the most standard form is action/platformer with plenty of humor and unique little touches on the platform formula. Like most Konami franchises, he’s sadly been relegated to being pimped out for slot machines in recent years, leaving a legacy of literally dozens of un-localized games that Western games will never get to properly enjoy.
8 – Kasumi (Dead or Alive series)
In recent years, Kasumi is probably most associated with suggestively licking ice cream while jogging along a beach in a g-string. But that’s unfortunate, as she previously spent a number of years as the ass-kicking lead character of the fighting game arm of the Dead or Alive brand. Sure, her chest has always been ample and amply animated, and her outfits ensured that even medium-height kicks flashed plenty of her white undergarments. Her sex appeal still used to just be a minor facet of a strong and interesting female ninja who could duke it out with some of the biggest, baddest men in fighting game history. I don’t know which “version” of Kasumi garnered her enough votes to be 8th on this list, but I’m hoping that it was less for her ability to flaunt booty than to kick it.
7 – Taki (Soul series)
Taki is one of the fighters who actually debuted in Soul Edge/Blade, the game that predates the franchise’s name change to Soul Calibur, and was considered one of that game’s “main” characters. She’s been one of the franchise’s most popular characters since, and fans were very vocal about their disappointment in her absence from SCV. Namco has said that Taki, Ivy, and Nightmare are the three most popular SC characters among North American fans. Like many hardcore fan-favorite fighting game characters, Taki takes some skill to use successfully, as her weapons don’t have a long reach and require the player to be in close range in order to attack. Luckily, her lighting-quick agility make it feasible to exit an overwhelming situation in order to regroup and charge back in for more.
6 – Scorpion (Mortal Kombat series)
In order to keep from any one franchise having too much weight on the ballot, if a series had multiple ninja I stuck with one to represent it and let voters write in others from those games if they so chose to. Even though I’m an Ermac man myself, I chose Scorpion to represent MK primarily because he is creator Ed Boon’s favorite character (he also voices the yellow ninja). Apparently nobody had an issue with this as there wasn’t a single write-in vote for any other MK characters (poor Sub-Zero). Maybe Scorpion himself is really that popular, or maybe most of you just saw voting for Scorpion as a general vote for all of the ninja of the MK series. Either way, it was the second-highest finish of a ninja from a fighting game, and given that entries from franchises like Samurai Showdown, Killer Instinct, and Virtua Fighter couldn’t even crack the top 10, that’s a pretty impressive showing no matter how you slice it.
5 – Mai Shiranui (Fatal Fury & King of Fighters series)
There’s no dancing around whether or not people like Mai because of her body–her overt sex appeal is a defining aspect of her character and has been since the beginning. To claim to like Mai as a character and it have absolutely nothing to do with to her breasts is like saying you are a fan of Mario but it has absolutely nothing to do with his ability to jump. That said, despite having more animation and detail in just the movement of her busom than most 2D characters have in their entire bodies, Mai wouldn’t have existed as a popular character for over two decades on boob bounce alone. Anyone who has either delivered or been on the receiving end of a vicious combo involving her deadly fan blades can attest to the fact that she has talents beyond being visually distracting.
4 – Gray Fox (Metal Gear Solid)
Initially known only to the player as “the cyborg ninja,” the introduction to and ensuing battle with Gray Fox is a standout in a game with some of the coolest character introductions and boss battles in video game history. The fact that you only see the aftermath of him slicing through dozens of highly trained soldiers like butter makes it all the more nerve wracking as you open the door to meet–and fight–the bad-ass who was responsible for the carnage. In fact, even with Solid Snake being one of the greatest soldiers in history and having an arsenal of insane weaponry at his disposal, he needs to cop out and throw chaff grenades that scramble Gray Fox’s circuits to even have a fighting chance against him. If that isn’t enough to prove his greatness, how about the fact that a giant mech had to struggle in order to crush his body? Gray Fox easily earns his top five status.
3 – Ryu Hayabusa (Ninja Gaiden – classic series)
I felt it necessary to make a distinction between the Ryu of the original Ninja Gaiden games and the one of the Team Ninja reboot games, as I felt they were almost entirely different characters. Considering Team Ninja’s version got nearly a tenth of the votes of the classic version, it’s safe to say that not only did people agree with the distinction, but they aren’t too fond of the reboot’s overly dark take on the character. Ryu was many gamers’ introduction to a character that had actual dialogue within an actual story, and wasn’t just a generic archetype shell that we were supposed to project ourselves onto. Ryu’s character depth, combined with his ability to cling to and climb up almost every vertical surface in his games, make for one of gaming history’s favorite characters, ninja or otherwise.
2 – Strider Hiryu (Strider series)
What set the original Strider apart from the dozens of me-too action games of the 80s was that the game played out more like a series of action set pieces than standard levels. Beyond that was Strider himself, who could swing his sword at lighting speed and not have to slow up one bit even while he was running up 45-degree slops and flipping wildly through the air. There have only been a few Strider games over the years, none of which is as universally loved as the original, but that sporadic legacy obviously hasn’t tainted the gaming community’s love for the futuristic ninja one bit. His strong appearances in all three Marvel vs Capcom games have likely played a hand in keeping him relevant and popular even when his home series wasn’t doing the job.
1 – Joe Musashi (Shinobi series)
Whether you know him by his actual name or simply call him “Shinobi,” if you are a fan of side-scrolling action games than you are a fan of Sega’s iconic ninja. While by no means stealth games, the Shinobi series has nonetheless focused on slower, more deliberately-paced movement through the environment, forcing you to use cover and punishing you if you try to just charge in shurikens blazing. This has made Mushashi feel a bit more authentic than most of his video game ninja peers, even to this day (especially with rival Ryu going full-on hack-n-slash with his modern adventures). Okay, so his ability to conjure lightning and other forms of magic take his “realism” down a peg; it also makes him even more awesome than most of his masked contemporaries. Best of all, his better Genesis installments are among some of the best-aged 16-bit action games of all time and play every bit as well today as they always have.
Any thoughts on this list? Not enough stealth? Too much cleavage? Needs more characters from this millennium? Don’t keep your comments hidden in the shadows–share them below!