Ayame as seen in Tenchu: Shadow Assassins
|First game||Tenchu: Stealth Assassins (1998)|
|Designed by||Koushi Nakanishi (Stealth Assassins, Birth of the Stealth Assassins)|
|Voiced by (English)||Terry Osada (Stealth Assassins)
Debi Mae West (Birth of the Stealth Assassins)
Michelle Krusiec (Wrath of Heaven)
Heather Hogan (Shadow Assassins)
|Voiced by (Japanese)||Yoko Soumi (Stealth Assassins, Wrath of Heaven, Fatal Shadows)
Masako Inui (Birth of the Stealth Assassins)
Yūko Kaida (Shadow Assassins)
|Portrayed by||Yuka Eda (Tenchu Butai)|
Ayame (彩女, meaning Iris) is a player character in the Tenchu series of stealth games, first introduced in Tenchu: Stealth Assassins in 1998. She is one of the series' main characters and is featured in all Tenchu games except of Tenchu Z.
Ayame is a young prodigy assassin in a historical fantasy version of the 15th century Japan, who has been adopted by a ninja master and raised along with her partners Rikimaru and Tatsumaru to serve the clan of Lord Gohda. She was well received, being often perceived as one of the best assassins and female ninja characters in video gaming.
According to her backstory, Ayame was discovered by Master Shiunsai of the small Azuma school of ninjutsu (Azuma Shinobi-ryu) in the desolate ruins of Kyoto after it was devastated by the Ōnin War (1467–1477) during the Muromachi period. She was a young shocked girl, unable to remember anything but her name and age. Shiunsai found himself unable to neither leave or help her and so he eventually decided to take her with him and train her to become a kunoichi (female ninja). Ayame was probably the most raw-talented of Shiunsai's pupils, including his other pupils: Rikimaru and Tatsumaru. Despite her late start and her tender age and bad attitude, she was initiated into the circle of ninja when she was only 14. Ayame became known for her sharp tongue and quick, deadly techniques, with a set of skills very different from Rikimaru, as she is faster and weaker but more cunning and aggressive than him, using a unique style of acrobatic, smooth attacks.
Chronology-wise, the first game in the series is 2000's Tenchu 2: Birth of the Stealth Assassins, which begins just while Ayame (voiced by Masako Inui in Japanese and by Debi Mae West in English) completes her final exam. Soon after her initiation as a ninja, however, turmoil falls as her duties to Lord Gohda and duties to her heart and love, Tatsumaru, fall apart. Her character changes from a laid-back girl into a more mature, accepting woman. Her story continues in 1998's Tenchu: Stealth Assassins (where she is voiced by Yoko Soumi in Japanese and by Terry Osada in English), as seven years have passed since Ayame has lost her master Azuma Shiunsai and the clan brother and love interest Tatsumaru. Now 21-year-old, she is tough and sarcastic, killing her enemies cold-blooded without the sign of any doubt or hesitation, though she knows feelings like love, sadness and desperation. She has developed a strong relationship Lord Gohda's daughter Princess Kiku, as if she was her younger sister to Ayame after the death of Kiku's mother Lady Kei. Ayame will protect Kiku at any cost from any harm. She also respects fellow ninja Rikimaru well, fighting alongside him and willing to sacrifice herself for his sake if necessary.
In 2003's Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven (Tenchu: Return from Darkness on the Xbox), set one year later, Ayame (voiced by Yoko Soumi in Japanese and by Michelle Krusiec in English) is the sole remaining Azuma ninja in the care of Lord Gohda after Rikimaru's disappearance, tasked to search for his body. She later pairs up with the returning Rikimaru. During the events of 2004's Tenchu: Fatal Shadows, Ayame was patrolling the border of Lord Gohda's territory when she happened upon a burned ninja village. At first considered an enemy by the young survivor Rin, they later ally to discover who was behind the attack. Ayame's story continues in 2008's Tenchu: Shadow Assassins (where she is voiced by Yūko Kaida in Japanese and by Heather Hogan in English), in which Princess Kiku is killed by Rikimaru after she was used as a human shield by the series' recurring villain Onikage. In the game's extended ending Ayame is shown speaking in Onikage's voice, suggesting that this traumatic experience caused her to be possessed by him when he was killed.
Ayame is also playable in the spin-off games Tenchu: Time of the Assassins (2005), Tenchu: Dark Secret (2006) and Shadow Assault: Tenchu (2008), and is an only playable character in the mobile game Tenchu: Ayame's Tale (2005). Yuka Eda portrayed Ayame in a 2014 stage play adaptation of the Tenchu series.
PVC figures of Rikimaru and Ayame, sculpted after their appearances in Wrath of Heaven by Keiji Iwakure, were manufactured and released by Kotobukiya in mid-September 2003 (although categorized as action figures, these only feature movable wrist joints). In 2003, Ayame was featured in the girls of gaming special of play magazine. In 2004, Ayame was included in Activision's video game True Crime: Streets of LA as an optional "skin" for its main character Nick Kang. In 2010, she also made a cameo appearance in From Software's video game 3D Dot Game Heroes.
The character was originally designed by Koushi Nakanishi. In the Tenchu games, Ayame "tends to be more nimble but less powerful" than her male counterpart Rikimaru, who is slower but stronger than her. She is also to compensate with being able link her attacks into combos. In Fatal Shadows, however, there are no gameplay differences between Ayame and Rin.
Asked about what is he most proud of regarding Ayame's appearance in Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven, the game's director Mitsuo Kodama said: "I am most proud of the balance of innocence and violence that we were able to capture in Ayame's character design. She is at an age, 22, where she is starting to emerge from her innocence and see the true world. I am also proud of how she looks in her costume and how it fits with her design. Most female characters her age would seem out of place with such a dark, heavy black costume." In Stealth Assassins, Ayame can be equipped with a "Sexy Armor" outfit with the use of a cheat code.
The character was very well received by media. According to a retrospective article by CraveOnline, Rikimaru and Ayame were "like Batman with all their decoys, dog whistles, disguises, grappling hooks and other toys, an essential part of the ninja experience that had been missing from video games for far too long." The two were included among mentioned in 2008 article by GamesRadar's Mikel Reparaz about the gaming's top assassins as "probably the most realistic depiction of ninjas ever to appear in a videogame." In 2009, Gelo Gonzales of FHM ranked Rikimaru and Ayame fourth on his list of most memorable hitmen in gaming, while GameDaily featured them in the article Gaming's Greatest Patriots: Team Japan. In 2010, Complex included Rikimaru and Ayame from Tenchu 3 among their favourite stealth killers in video games, rhetorically asking "when's the last time you saw a male/female duo this brutally deadly?" Robert Workman of GameZone included both "the young, beautiful Ayame and the older, much more experienced Rikimaru" on his 2011 list of "best video game ninjas" as they "both are awesome when it comes to battle, as they leave their enemies laying in a bloody heap. What’s more, they can sneak around better than most anyone on this list." Jack Chambers of What Culture put them at seventh spot on his 2012 list of unstoppable video game assassins, stating that "the deadly combination of Rikimaru and Ayame hasn’t rarely been matched in any game since."
Some praise focused on Ayame individually, in particular commenting on her design. In 2009, Robin Anne Reid, Professor in the Department of Literature and Languages at Texas A&M University–Commerce, included Ayame on her list "notable" playable female character in video games. According to GamesRadar, Ayame "was a cool, relatively realistic-looking heroine in an era when polygonal female protagonists were largely defined by the enormity of the crude pyramids that passed for their tits." GamePro included Ayame in their 2010 list of top video game ninja characters at ninth place ("the stealthiest assassin on our list ... she’s the perfect ninja"), applauding her for possessing "a body that matches her profession, rather than a stripper or blowup doll, say (stand up Taki and Mai Shiranui)". In 2011, UGO.com included her on the list of the "25 of the hottest (and deadliest) ninja assassin chicks". In 2013, she was included among the ten best video game "ninjas" by Jon Ledford of Sushi Arcade, who stated that "Rikamaru might have been the frontman for the Tenchu franchise, but Ayame’s teenage-look and the variety in her stealth kills made her a fan favorite." Márcio Pacheco Alexsandro of Game Hall placed her and Rin at eight spot of his 2014 list top ten kunoichi characters in video games.
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