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Last seen in: Too many games to count.
What's their deal? The role of the ninja has gone through a lot of changes over the years, going from silent blades in the night to masked superheroes who can fight toe-to-toe with hordes of balls-hard techno-horrors and demonic samurai. But even after most ninja sold out, their original purpose remains, stark and unalterable: whatever their pretensions, ninja are and always will be nothing more or less than hired killers. And that makes them badass.
Awarding the top spot to all ninja instead of a specific character might seem like an indecisive cop-out, but think for a second: ninja are acrobatic super-soldiers raised from birth to become silent killing machines. Any ninja (except for Naruto, who wears bright orange and screams a lot and pretty much does everything ninja aren't supposed to do) automatically outclasses every other assassin on this list, and there have been literally hundreds of ninja in games over the years. If we acknowledged them individually, we'd have to go back and make this "The Top 7… Ninja," and that would just be a waste of everybody's time.
Besides, if you consider that every ninja is supposed to become "nobody" or "a shadow" when they put on that mask, they're all technically the same person. Weird, huh?
Signature weapons: Shuriken, swords or - in extreme cases - magic powers.
Highest-profile hit: Although they didn't actually kill him, ninja did once kidnap President Ronnie. Fortunately for the '80s, two dudes were bad enough to save him. Burgers ensued.
Why they're awesome: Uh, because they're ninja? Do we need to spell it out for you?
OK, fine. Here are a few standout examples:
Ayame and Rikimaru (Tenchu series, 1998-2007)
While their games have gotten increasingly lousy since 1998's then-awesome Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, Ayame and Rikimaru have always kept it real. Instead of just wading into the fray and chopping apart everything that moves, they've always stuck to concealment and stealth to assassinate specific targets. They're probably the most realistic depiction of ninjas ever to appear in a videogame, and if their games hadn't become so crushingly dull over the years, they'd probably fill up this entry all by themselves.
Sub-Zero (Mortal Kombat, 1992)
Sub-Zero technically isn't a ninja; he's a "Lin Kuei." But if you ask any Mortal Kombat fan what a Lin Kuei is, the response will likely be, "Uh, like a Chinese ninja, I guess," so the point is moot. The Sub-Zero fans know today is a relative good guy, but the cold-powered warrior who starred in the first MK was his older brother, a brutal assassin who ripped out people's spines and killed without hesitation or remorse. Today he looks faintly ridiculous, but his bloody ways and ability to freeze opponents solid enabled him to punch his way into the hearts of arcade gamers everywhere.
Ryu Hayabusa (Ninja Gaiden series, 1988-2008/Dead or Alive series, 1996-2005)
We've never known Ryu to specifically take on assassination jobs, but we have seen him kick a whole lot of ass in fantastically gruesome ways over the span of his 20-year career. It's entirely possible, then, that he was paid to kill at least one of those guys. He's a subscriber to the "flip out and kill people" school of ninja thought, and while that's not really what being a ninja is all about, he's way too awesome for us to hold that against him.
Shadow (Final Fantasy VI, 1994)
While he becomes a tragic hero as the game progresses, we're introduced to Shadow as a man who would "slit his mama's throat for a nickel," thereby confirming his status as a hard-boiled assassin, and not just a man who prances around in black pajamas and a matching mask. He also has a dog, which kind of adds to his mystique, despite the fact that all we can think of after having said that is the adorable mini-Shadow to the right taking his German Shepherd walkies.
Vega (Street Fighter series, 1991-2006)
Yeah, the claw, steel mask and purple pants are something of a break from tradition, but Vega (Balrog in Japan) is a practitioner of "Spanish ninjitsu" - and he's employed as an assassin, to boot. He's also an effeminate weirdo who's obsessed with beauty, which - while being distinctly un-ninja-like - has made him one of the more iconic scrappers in the Street Fighter games.
Hattori Hanzo (Samurai Shodown series, 1993-2006/Samurai Warriors series, 2004-2008)
This perennial ninja badass has the added benefit of being based on a real person, although he's often portrayed as more of a secret agent than assassin. He's also part of the Warriors series, which by now has become one of the most unappealing things in the history of boring. Still, in Samurai Shodown he totally cuts people in half with a relatively tiny blade, and that at least deserves recognition.
Kunoichi (Ninja Warriors, 1988/1994)
While Ninja Warriors actually starred two ninjas (or three, if you count the SNES remake), it was Kunoichi that stood out the most. She cut a memorable figure, rocking the huge blonde ponytail and bright-red shozoku. On top of that, she wasn't just a ninja - she was a ninja Terminator. It's hard to imagine a better assassin than that.