Designing characters for a video game is an important task since no matter the good story, the beautiful music, the well-designed landscapes or the fantastic visual effects, if the player doesn’t fall in love with the main characters, s/he will end up abandoning the video game. So, the character designers have it difficult, because they have to investigate everything related with the theme of the video game and take it into account to create, not only personages that flow with the story, but also provoke a feeling. The otomes are no exception, for example, in them, the main characters have to be very charismatic for the player to fall in love with them and at the same time they have to count with features related to the place, time, etc. in which the story of the video game is developed.
To analyze the aforementioned let’s take the otome Nighshade (Hyakka Hyakurou Sengoku Nippou-chou – 百花百狼 戦国忍法帖) seeing that its story focuses on shinobi affected by the Tenshō Iga war and who are living the end of the Sengoku period. So, let’s do an analysis of the five male main characters, talking a bit about ninjas in the history and some more interesting information. Let’s begin!!!
Hyakka Hyakurou Sengoku Ninpou-chou (百花百狼 戦国忍法帖), called “Nighshade” is its English version, it’s an otome developed by Red Entertainment LANTERN ROOMS and published by D3 Publisher for Japan, China, the United States and by The Hounds of God for Russia.
This game recalls how the Iga and Kōga clan fought each other for decades during the Sengoku Period. However, this ended when Nobunaga Oda started the Tenshō Iga war, causing the Iga forces falling into ruins. The few survivors were welcomed by the Kōga clan despite their past rivalries.
After 17 years, the Sengoku Period finally came to an end and Japan was unified. This is the time the main story of the game unfolds. The player controls the protagonist Ueno Enju, daughter of the leader of the Kōga forces. She’s a girl who spends her days diligently training in hopes of becoming a full-fledged ninja like her companions.
After a while, she is finally selected to go on her first mission. Having the opportunity to perform shinobi duties, Enju is happy, not knowing that a major incident would change not only her fate, but that of her village as well.
Shinobi are the protagonists of the story, which is why one of the best inspirations in the design of their outfits are the real ninjas or, at least, the way people imagine them. To begin with, the first thing that comes to mind when talking about them is the classic black costume. Although this idea is somehow a creation of the martial art movies, Hollywood made this image based on some real Japanese aspects.
It’s best to start with the origin of the black color of this attire. It’s believed to derive from Bunraku or Ningyō jōruri, a form of traditional Japanese puppet theater founded in Osaka in the early 17th century. In this type of theater, there are prop handlers dressed in black in order to be less conspicuous to an audience as they move around the stage. With this, the focus is only on the puppets. So this description leads to the conclusion that the black color indicates that someone or something is not perceptible, a necessary characteristic for ninjas.
Another reference is the drawing from a series of sketches by Hokusai made in 1817 that shows a person climbing on a rope wearing what everyone would immediately recognize as a ninja costume. However, due to time, he may have been influenced by the idea already created thanks to the Bunraku.
With this, it’s possible to observe how in Nightshade it is decided to take this stereotypical color as primordial in the vestments of its characters.
Now, leaving aside the color, let’s talk about a little about the clothes. According to Stephen Turnbell in his book “Ninja AD 1460-1650”  the ninja costume contemplated trousers similar to those worn by samurai when riding on horseback. Taking the illustration from the “Story of Night Attack on Yoshitsune’s Residence At Horikawa”, it is noted that the pants are similar to those used by the otome characters, including the use of gaiters over the calves in the case of Gekkamaru, Kuroyuki and Chōjirō.
The tabi (traditional Japanese socks) and the sandals are replaced by boots. In the case of Hanzō and Goemon, these appear to be part of the pants. A distinctive feature of the ninja is the wrapped head, so Goemon, Hanzō and Chōjirō have some kind of accessory to achieve this.
To finish off the overall garb of the Nighshade personages, let’s identify the use of armor fragments. In fact, several museums in Japan have examples of lightweight body vests that ninjas are believed to have worn by under clothing.
To represent this idea, the characters wear armor pieces on top of clothing rather than underneath to make them visible. In this way, this resource is used to achieve a more interesting costume design. As an example of this, it’s possible to note metallic wristbands, shoulder pads, girdles and forehead protectors.
To create eye-catching outfits and at the same time give each protagonist a unique personality, color and symbols play an important role. So, let’s determine not only what particular elements each personage has, but also the probable reasons behind them.
Gekkamaru is the protagonist’s protector. He is known for being loyal, steadfast, and one of the most skilled and reliable ninjas in Kōga. This last description is possible when a person has vigor, willpower and courage, qualities associated precisely with dark red, the tone dressed by Gekkamaru. This color is applied in the shoulder pad, wristband, arm band, the girdle, gaiters, hair trimmings and the fabric at the neck.
The symbol of Gekkamaru is a moon behind clouds. The explanation lies in his name, which is formed by the terms “Gekka (月下)” which means “in the moonlight”, and “maru (丸)” which as prefix means “full”. Therefore, the representation of this must include a full moon. The clouds serve to reinforce the fact that the moon is in the sky emanating light.
Gekkamaru’s younger brother. He was sent away on an extended mission when he was 8 years old, and after 8 years, he finally returned. He seems as a cheerful, carefree and clever guy however, as one progresses in his story, he shows a gloomy side (to avoid spoilers, I don’t give more details). This is why his color is dark purple in view of it evokes this feeling. This shade is seen at the edge of the sleeves, the arm bands, the chest bands and laces, the belt, gaiters and in the highlights of the hair and scarf.
His emblem is a snowflake. Like Gekkamaru, the reason is behind his name as well. The translation of “Kuro (黒)” is black and of “yuki (雪)” is snow. In this case, the simplest abstraction of snow is the flake.
On Kuroyuki’s clothing, the snowflake is not drawn in black as his name implies due to it would not be visible on the uniform of the ninja that has this same shade. The best solution to this problem is to apply Kuroyuki’s color, the dark purple. Nevertheless, in some products of the video game, this figure appears in black.
To add contrast and outline some visual elements in the costume, the gold color is employed.
Son of the late leader of Iga and the protagonist’s cousin. Chōjirō joined Kōga after losing his family and his clan in the Thenshō Iga war. He’s a quiet man who strives to set an example for his disciples and thanks to this attitude, he’s well respected in Kōga as one of the best ninjas.
His color is the purple, but unlike Kuroyuki, his is light. This probably because this tone indicates a nostalgic feeling and, for Chōjirō, the loss of his family and clan is a memory that is very present and influences him in a significant way.
The figure on the shoulder of Chōjirō’s clothes is like a feather. Comparing with some images, it can be said that it is that of a phoenix. In Japan, this bird is mythical and represents obedience and fidelity, qualities that fit this character as one advances on his route.
Known as the strongest ninja ever known, both in the video game and real history. Thanks to his calm, he was assigned the green color. Apparently, this hue is also given to Hanzō Sattori due to it is the color of nature and, in a part of this personage’s route, it seems that animals feel safe around him.
Leaving aside the fact that in Nightshade all ninjas under Tokugawa’s command use the same symbol as Hanzō Hattori, it’s plausible this was decided after creating Hanzō. The symbol chosen for this main character is the one known as mitsutomoe (三つ巴).
Mitsutomoe is commonly associated with Shinto shrines, particularly those dedicated to Hachiman (八幡神), the divinity of the archery and war. Strictly speaking, he’s defined as the tutelary god of warriors. In an abstract way, it could be said that Hanzō managed to be the strongest ninja because he was trained by this God, and therefore he opted to take the mitsutomoe as his mark.
However, the problem is that the mitsutomoe representing Hachiman is the one that is directed to the right and Hanzō Hatori has both the one that goes to the right and the one that goes to the left on his clothes. This leads to searching for the meaning behind the mitsutomoe no matter which direction it turns. After doing some research, in martial arts this image symbolizes the three paths to mastery: doing (physical training), not doing (rest and recovery), and doing by not doing (meditation). Thus, Hanzō Hattori may carry the mitsutomoe to indicate that he’s a warrior who masters these three paths.
The “Robin Hood” of the game. His carefree attitude makes the ambience around him relaxed and maybe that’s why the orange is his color. The particularity of orange is that it combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow, perfect adjectives to describe this character. Yet, his attire has some dark orange details that signify deceit and distrust. This is not to forget that he, after all, is a thief.
Goemon only shows his emblem on his “everyday” outfit. He uses it as a pattern to decorate the hem of his haori (correct me if I’m referring wrong to this type of garment XD).
Due to how the pattern is distributed, this figure can be smoke or clouds floating. The smoke can serve to emphasize Goemon’s pipe smoking habit. In case the image were clouds and not smoke, it may be because they are shape-shifters, a feature Goemon needs in his line of work.
All this information allows one to realize that the character design is an arduous and important task that requires not only imagination but research. This serves to achieve attractive personages that also integrate with the story and all the other elements of a video game.
I hope this analysis teaches some people to value those who are engaged in this job and others to realize that this may be their dream job. But for now, this post is over!! Please leave your comments telling me what you think about this otome and its characters. See you in the next post!!
 S. Turnbull, Ninja AD 1460–1650. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012.
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