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Top 10 Ninja in Gaming

Updated on June 19, 2013


I think this is going to be one of those articles that doesn't require a particularly long introduction. Ninja are cool -- really, really cool. And though there's basically never been a live-action movie about them that was any good, they've fared a lot better when it comes to anime, and they've done especially well when it comes to video games. This feature is going to be a countdown of ten of the best of those ninja, from number ten to number one.

Let's go!

Shown above: Not a poisoned rice ball.
Shown above: Not a poisoned rice ball.

Ayame and Rikimaru (Tenchu)

Here's a little-known fact: Released seven months before Metal Gear Solid, Tenchu: Stealth Assassins is the father of the modern 3D stealth genre. To be sure, it lacks all of the polish of Metal Gear Solid, and the two are not in any way comparable in terms of quality. It's trailblazing of the new genre is not to be understated though, and Tenchu should be remembered as an important, if severely flawed, game. It wasn't just the stealth-based action gameplay that made it stand out though.It was the fact that you controlled a pair of ninja who actually acted like ninja.

Ayame and Rikimaru are weak. To complete their missions, they rely on sneaking, assassination, and general ninja trickery. Before Tenchu, Ninjas basically functioned as commandos with a hood concealing their face. Actually, they usually still do -- but Tenchu at least opened the door for something new. A Ninja doesn't always have to resemble a hurricane of swords and shurikens. Sometimes, deception -- and the artful placement of the occasional poisoned rice ball -- can go a long way.

It's a damn shame that Ayame and her partner were plagued with some of the most ear-wrenchingly painful English voice acting ever, when Tenchu was released in the States. This pair of badasses deserved better.

"You've been a bad boy. It's payback time!"

Here, Ibuki is ready to initiate a combo that I have no hopes of ever executing properly.
Here, Ibuki is ready to initiate a combo that I have no hopes of ever executing properly.

Ibuki (Street Fighter)

As far as fighting games go, I am only a very casual fan. I usually take my video gaming very, very seriously. I might actually strike someone for daring to call me a casual. But when it comes to fighting games, the margin of skill between the truly competitive and the rest of us is enormous. Memorizing frame data, and hit boxes, and attack priorities for the entire roster just isn't my idea of a good time; and I'm not afraid to admit that. That doesn't mean I'm not willing to throw down in a round or two of Street Fighter. I'll get my ass kicked -- that much is just a given -- but I'll probably have some fun too.

My character of choice? Ibuki. Her design is aesthetically appealing, her movements are fluid, and she's just a lot of fun to play as. I like the range of her attacks, and the overall style of them. Acrobatic flips, flurries of shuriken, and ridiculous leg-scissor neckbreakers allow Ibuki to keep the pressure on and look good doing so.

Ignore her backstory. Like most Street Fighter characters', it sucks. As it turns out though, a storyline that would be downright insulting in an RPG is easily dismisable in a fighting game. Just let her punch things, and be happy with it.

"Ibuki, on the scene!"

Gather 'round youngin's This is how RPGs used to look when Grandpa was a child. And this was one of the pretty ones!
Gather 'round youngin's This is how RPGs used to look when Grandpa was a child. And this was one of the pretty ones!

Shadow (Final Fantasy VI)

I am a fan of the old school Final Fantasy titles. I thought III was good, and V was just awesome. But Final Fantasy VI was just another beast entirely, and it was definitely the first game in the series that could be considered a masterpiece. It did so many things right, not least of which a large, richly developed cast of characters.

Shadow is one of the game's almost-optional characters. You get him very briefly early on, and he's really, really good. But inexplicably, he decides he's through with you, and runs off. To get him back, you have to pay him (because hey, ninja for hire) only to let him run off on you again when he sees fit. It's not until later in the game that you can make a decision that will allow you to recruit him officially.

In battle, Shadow is one of the best characters in the game for what might be construed as "regular play". Throwing Shurikens will outdamage most of your other attacks for a majority of the game, and when you slip a second sword on him (remember, in Final Fantasy ninja duelwield!) he begins to attack twice. What this means is with X-Attack/Barrage he begins attacking eight times per turn. Shadow is a monster.

Also, Vincent Valentine could take a page out of Shadow's book. Whenever you rest at an inn, there is a chance of seeing a dreamlike flashback of Shadow's former life. It takes a number of scenes to put the whole story together, but it's worth it, and it will make you care about Shadow.

"He owes allegiance to no one, and will do anything for money. He comes and goes like the wind..."

The more fabulous ninja can get away with wearing a bright, garish shade of orange.
The more fabulous ninja can get away with wearing a bright, garish shade of orange.

Goemon (Ganbare Goemon / Mystical Ninja)

Don't hold me to this, because I'm not actually looking at sales numbers, but it sounds right to say that Ganbare Goemon used to be the most famous of Konami's franchises to be denied a western release. I mean, we got a few great ones in the 1990s (Goemon's Great Adventure being one of the best 2D platformers of the fifth generation) but so many more classic games were never localized. It was probably a case of pearls before swine: the series is shamelessly Japanese, and has a... let's call it quirky sense of humor, that doesn't really hit as close to home for its Western audiences. But then again, there hasn't been a legitimate game starring Goemon in Japan since 2005, either, so what do I know?

As a character, Goemon is weird one. He is very loosely based off of the historical thief Ishikawa Goemon, and by that I mean he shares a name with the historical figure. As a game protagonist, Goemon's journeys result in him piloting mechs, having his fortune told by bellydancers, and doing battle with every Shinto-inspired yokai imaginable. You know, typical ninja stuff. He, of course, fights them with his trademark chain-pipe.

Actually, I've done a fairly good job of convincing myself that Goemon is not a ninja, but since the other three playable characters assuredly are, and considering the title of his game in the west, let's agree that he's guilty by association.

"Shut up! Your evil plans end as of now!"

Let's be real. If you have an Xbox 360 and can play the original, she's the only good thing about Sigma 2.
Let's be real. If you have an Xbox 360 and can play the original, she's the only good thing about Sigma 2.

Ayane (Dead or Alive / Ninja Gaiden)

Now we're getting to the good stuff -- the top five!

Dead or Alive is an interesting fighting game franchise. The fighting system is actually quite technical, and it's a lot of fun. This is something that might not be expected from a series that focuses more on its breast-jiggling physics than anything else, but it's entirely true. In that series, Ayane, along with her half-sister Kasumi, fulfill the role of being the (painfully attractive) female ninja. The catch: in a fighting game that contains no weapon-based combat, their role as ninja are left mostly to one's imagination. This is why Ayane's latching onto the Ninja Gaiden franchise was such a great career move for her.

She established herself as an important character in the first Ninja Gaiden game for the Xbox, acting as a messenger. By the second game, she's apparently decided "ain't nobody got time for that," and has taken up a more active role. She finally appears as a playable character in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, fulfilling a long-standing desire that I had been hoping for.

Of course, it would have been wonderful if Sigma 2 wasn't a god-awful remake that took two steps backward for each step forward, it was still nice to be able to play as Ayane. She's weaker than Ryu, but her combos and maneuvers are quicker resulting in a very different feel. Attempting to mutilate a crowd with a pair of kunai feels a lot different than just being able to spam the flying swallow with Ryu's dragon sword.

For the twelve people who actually played Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge, she returns there as well.

"You will experience the wrath of Shinobi."

Shown above: Something other than stealth espionage action.
Shown above: Something other than stealth espionage action.

Gray Fox and Cyborg Ninja (Metal Gear Solid)

This one is going to contain spoilers, friends.

In the first Metal Gear Solid, one of the overarching story elements is that of Shadow Moses's resident Cyborg Ninja, who turns out to be Gray Fox. Now, understandably, Metal Gear Solid was the first introduction to the Metal Gear universe for many fans, but this is a throwback to the Zanzibar Land Disturbance of Metal Gear 2. In other words, it was a big deal, for the people who were able to grasp what was going on (hint: not many). Regardless, Gray Fox was one of many elements of the game that granted Metal Gear Solid its unique style. True, his fight may not be quite as memorable as Psycho Mantis's, but it's definitely up there. He would later help Snake during his fight with Metal Gear Rex, sacrificing his life in the process.

A moment of silence. Thank you.

The second person to take up the mantle as Cyborg Ninja, was Olga Gurlukovich at the Big Shell Incicdent, but she didn't do all that much before getting herself killed. Most notably, she gave Raiden a cellphone and told him to how to put out a fire with coolant spray. Riveting. I have nothing against Olga, but Raiden was the next person to take the role and do something with it. And while suggesting that Raiden would ever be a better character than Snake may have warranted a backhand in the early 2000s... Raiden definitely got there, in MGS4. Whereas Snake was old, achey, crotchety, Raiden was playing the role of the badass to its fullest.

"We're not tools of the government or anyone else. Fighting was the only thing... the only thing I was good at, but... at least I always fought for what I believed in. Snake... farewell." - Gray Fox

Apparently this is a glitched screenshot. The player is actually using Red on their team. (Just joking.)
Apparently this is a glitched screenshot. The player is actually using Red on their team. (Just joking.)

Yuffie Kisaragi (Final Fantasy VII)

In the immediate follow-up to Final Fantasy VI, Square again went with including a ninja as a secret character. This time, unlocking the character is a lot more obscure; loads of player were able to complete the entire game without ever encountering Yuffie. Loads of players who encountered Yuffie walked away without ever realizing that she could be recruited onto the team. Perhaps a little direction would have been good here, Square.

Once you know what to look for though, the reward is great. Yuffie doesn't feel like a stapled on DLC character at all (Vincent!) she feels like an actual part of the team, complete with character development. She is organically added into conversations, and in addition to that, just by having her on your team, you'll be forced to undergo a sidequest in which you visit her village and learn about her family and past. That is, it's not so much of a sidequest as it is the storyline diverging because of your new party member. Yuffie's existence just adds so much more to a game that was already amazing, that it's impossible not to like her.

In addition to her hyper personality, her kleptomania, and her airsickness (all of which you'll grow used to), she is notable for her limit break, Doom of the Living. It is a level 3 limit break that hits fifteen times. For comparison, that's the same amount of hits as Cloud's Omnislash, which is a level 4 limit break, and takes longer to ready. What this means is... Yuffie is actually capable of out-damaging Cloud, if you raise her strength high enough.

The more you know.

"That Cloud's a royal pain in the ass. Like always."

Dante has nothing on this.
Dante has nothing on this.

Ryu Hyabusa (Ninja Gaiden)

Hands down for the greatest ninja in gaming: it's Ryu Hyabusa. You saw it coming a mile away, and that's because it's undeniable. In the NES-era, Ninja Gaiden was known for a few reasons, such as its stylish cutscenes, which were really unique for the time. Since 2004, however, the series has been known for exactly three things: it's action, it's gore, and it's difficulty.

Ryu Hyabusa is the poster boy for Ninja Gaiden, which is, itself, the poster boy of everything the action genre is supposed to strive for. God of War is fun. Devil May Cry is fun. Neither of them are even on Ninja Gaiden's level. At least for the first two games in the series' revival, the action is so tight, the gameplay so polished, that there's really not any comparison. If you want to slice down some enemies, this is the series to do it in. And there are a lot of ways to do it. It actually became something of a humorous element of the second game to watch Ryu's character model change as he collected more gear. Watching Ryu fightwith dual-katanas, with a hunting bow and a third contana on his back was funny, to say nothing of the fact that he has a great sword wedged away somewhere as well.

I mean, this guy's arsenal is immense. But so is his moveset, and that's what makes it fun. There are so many ways to handle the fights, and all of them are violently stylish. Five out of five dismembered arms for Ryu Hyabusa, the greatest ninja in gaming!

"A storm is brewing..."

Which ninja is the best?

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So that's the list! Hopefully none of you were too offended by the choices, and the ranking that I've decided to go with. That being said, I'd also love to hear what you have to say. There's a poll set up to the right of this paragraph. Take the time to vote, and let me know what you're thinking. And if there's a character that you thought should have made this list, but didn't, leave a comment. I always read them.


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    • toptendeals profile image

      Jason Benedict 4 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida

      Special shout out to the NES game Kung Fu. The first martial arts game I ever experienced =)

    • Chris Qu profile image

      Chris Qu 4 years ago

      Thanks, I'm glad you liked the list.

      The funny thing about Kasumi, to me, is that she was meant to be the hero. Ayane is meant to be an antagonist to Kasumi. Personality-wise, Kasumi is a nicer person by far. Despite that, I'm sitting there thinking, "You can try to force Kasumi as the hero all you want, but it's not sticking. Rude and hateful or not, Ayane is a more interesting character."

    • Grab a Controller profile image

      Hannah 4 years ago from Largo, FL

      Another great list! I loved the Tenchu series, especially when I got to play as Ayane. I was also really happy to see Yuffie; FF VII was my favorite in the series.

      Also, I'm glad that Kasumi was not on the list. She's not a ninja; she's a pointless object of fantasy.