By RayCarter 15 Comments
Just going to run with the idea.As a gamer, have you ever encountered one character in a game that you were just so interested in, or really like, and yet this type of sentiment is not shared by a lot of people (if not at all?) As an extension do you feel like you want to point that character out to your gaming peers and explain your affection to this character fully?
This is where this experimental "Who is" series comes into place, where under 2000 words or less I go on about a character that I feel is underappreciated. As always, feel free to comment on the work; but please remain civil and calm if doing so.
If I gather a list of things people remember about Ninja Gaiden 3 after going through its main campaign and multiplayer mode, the list will go something like this:
1) Stripped down combat system and difficulty level, removing to some extent the game's unique identity in the action game industry
2) A story that really tries to instill false pathos for protagonist Ryu Hayabusa. Now this usually silent ninja babbles more. The only problem for Ryu's doubt about his bloodlust is his solution: Kill more soldiers
3) Still high-end production values, so even with problems the game still looks and sounds the part of a great action game.
A reasonable list. But I want to add one more point:
4) Mizuki McCloud
I actually talked positively about Mizuki in a long detailed paragraph in my Ninja Gaiden 3 Review, highlighting that she is a different breed of leading lady in Ninja Gaiden 3. From the first couple of chapters I can already see the difference. She dons full military attire, with jacket, vest, pants, gloves, the lot. With most female characters wearing more and more revealing outfits nowadays I actually thought to myself "Looks like Team Ninja kept its gun in its pants for once". Oh, and of course, no large chest or rear. I personally respect game developers who had the chance to objectify female characters but don't. In this case I give Team Ninja a lot of credit for Mizuki's outward design. My first impressions of her were already positive. She actually looks the part of a fit and capable member of the [secret] armed forces.
She already looks the part, but I think the rest of her really holds up. For one thing she has a great voice actor. Ali Hillis, the same V.A for Lightning (FFXIII) and Liara (Mass Effect), did a great job with Mizuki. There's no funny accent to heard, but I really think the greatest part of her voice is in her various tones and her ability to shift between them. Throughout the campaign mode she interacts with characters with whom she has different levels of relations with.
With Canna, her niece/adopted daughter, her tone transitions to a more comforting, less shrill voice that one would expect a grown-up woman to speak with her daughter. Around Clifford Higgins, a fellow colleague and brother-in-law she sounds casual, cracking some subtle jokes about his craziness as a weapons developer, but also treating him like family.
With Ryu Hayabusa she starts out a bit cordial, always referring to the Dragon Ninja as "Hayabusa". But over the 7 days of working together they grow closer. Near the end of the game they are together on a destroyer's infirmary. Mizuki, who saved Hayabusa from a sinking ship (and showing a tinge of embarrassment when he points out that she saved him) finally calls Ryu by his first name. She also raises the memory of Canna asking Ryu to be her "father", and elaborates that Canna wanted all three of them- herself, Mizuki and Ryu- living together. I can clearly see the logical progression from those two being mere strangers to something more, and that subplot is a plus for the game.
It also helps that Mizuki personality-wise is also written well. If there's one way I can describe her I would say "believable". Though a fiction character she looks more akin to flesh and blood than caricature. She is clearly a caring character, especially to Canna (and eventually to Ryu). That trait at times leads to her to step in and act, for good or ill. She went through the death of her sister and a brother-in-law that leads to her adopting Canna as her own daughter. I would think that the painful memory would inspire her to take good care of Canna, hence her nature. Beyond that she seems to be a pretty easygoing type, with a usually cheery disposition until it's go-time. Her realness, at least in relation to other video game characters, captivates me.
She's certainly not a fully 3D character but she is a major step up from previous leading ladies in the Ninja Gaiden series. They are either 2D, fan-service-like or both. I actually thought Rachel from Ninja Gaiden 1 is not terrible; she is fueled by her need to kill her cursed sister Alma though she is conflicted about that notion. But that's as far as characterization goes for her. Also, fan service *sigh*. Funnily enough, the other leading ladies outside McCloud are even worse. Sonia/Irene Lew of Ninja Gaiden 2 can be described like this: She gets herself caught by the baddies and slobbers all over Ryu, the latter more evident later in the game. We don't see Sonia and Ryu converse (beyond the 'this is the spot to start mission", "good luck" sentiments) as much as we see Mizuki and Hayabusa do, so Sonia's attachment is hard to explain except for physical attraction. We see Mizuki and Ryu together being down over losing Canna, and that alone is more meaningful than the Sonia-Ryu relationship in the entire Ninja Gaiden 2 story. Oh, and more fan service *double facepalm*. Seriously, can Team Ninja lay down more cheese after those two? Oh wait...
Don't even get me started with Momiji from NG: Dragon Sword (for the DS). All she does in the story is train with Ryu, get caught and eventually tortured by the enemy (yes, tortured. You can bet that the male gamer demographic will find all sorts of innuendo ), before getting rescued. Her appearance in Ninja Gaiden 3 does not impress me because I see her as just a lackey to Ryu, nothing more nothing less. She also has the weird Team Ninja breast physics and proportions, so there's that. I hope that you start to see a pattern of the previous leading ladies who preceded Mizuki and how uninspired they are beyond sexual titillation.
However, I will concede the fact that all those characters will most likely beat Mizuki in a fight. Rachel is a Fiend Hunter and Momiji is a trained shrine-maiden/ninja. Mizuki's best chance in a fight is against Sonia, but Sonia is a CIA Agent. The only thing I saw Mizuki do is fly a jet and wield a pistol. She is capable of doing more than just the two things but I don't think she can beat a well-trained CIA operative.
But to just measure power levels between these four women and judge who's the best character through that comparison is lunacy. It's easy for writers to describe their characters' capabilities. But it's infinitely difficult to create a viable, nuanced personality. It's not easy to write the inner mechanics of a character, of how he or she ticks, and what drives him or her. That's where Momiji, Sonia and Rachel all fall woefully short (Rachel to a lesser extent). Mizuki draws your attention without little to reliance on sex appeal or loose clothing; she wins you over because of her authenticity. She is a step up from the cheese we associate Ninja Gaiden with. In fact, she's a step up from many leading ladies of other video game franchises. I am not insinuating that she's the best female video game character ever, but I really think she should be getting more attention.
Mizuki will appear in Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge, the franchise's Wii U release, but there's no question that she will be taking back in the narrative. Ayane, Momiji are playable characters alongside Ryu, so most likely the spotlight will be on those two. The cynic in me also believes that should there be a Ninja Gaiden 4 McCloud would be out of the picture completely. If that really happens it's a shame, because Team Ninja created a female leading lady who, for the first time, demonstrates sensible thinking on the creator's part. It will mean an end (maybe besides the useless cameo appearance) of a character I came to really enjoy watching.
If there's one thing you can take away from this piece, it's that the Ninja Gaiden franchise is better off with Mizuki than without her. I hope she remains an important and relevant part of the franchise for a good long while.