Fire Emblem Ninja Lore VS. Real Life Ninja Lore
Fire Emblem Fates is the first game in the series to feature ninjas. Ninjas are popular in games, movies, anime, and just about any sort of media. Something about these stealthy shadow warriors has intrigued people for centuries, so it's no surprise.
But how well did Fire Emblem developer Intelligent Systems stick to real life ninja lore? I went on a mission to find out.
The Fire Emblem Ninja
Ninjas in Fire Emblem are fast foot units who use daggers and shurikens. When they promote into master ninjas, they gain the ability to wield swords/katanas. They can also promote into the puppet controlling mechanist class and pick up bows.
As expected, their speed (affects the likelihood of striking twice) and skill (affects the accuracy of attacks) are their best stats. Their strength (affects damage done with weapons) is decent, their defense (affects damage taken from weapons) is a bit lackluster. But their resistance (affects damage taken from magic) can rival that of magic wielding classes. They make great mage slayers but aren't the best front line fighters.
There are four playable ninjas and one notable enemy ninja, not counting the scores of generic enemies.
Saizo and Kaze: Twin brothers. Saizo is the older twin, and he's blunt and a bit fiery, a stark contrast to Kaze's calm, level-headed nature.
Kagero: The only female ninja in the game, but I'm sure she's not the only one in the world. Calm and loyal to her liege.
Asugi: Saizo's son. Has a sweet tooth and enjoys giving nicknames to people.
Kotaro: A power hungry ninja leader, not above murder and dirty tricks to achieve his goals. Yeah, he's on the enemy side.
Land of Origin
Ninjas are from Japan in real world history. In Fire Emblem, they are from the Asian-themed nation Hoshido, and although real world ninjas likely never left Japan, they probably would if they could or had a reason to. So it's not too far of a stretch to have them in the main Hoshidan army fighting the rival nation, the European-themed Nohr.
In feudal era Japan, the ninjas came from two areas known as Iga and Koga. They were often born, raised, and trained there, and the high ranking lords would recruit them from there. An interesting factor: a lord had to be rich to recruit his own ninjas. Anyone bringing in less than a certain amount yearly was sent away.
Weapons and Gear
The above image shows some real life shurikens. Shurikens are small throwing blades that are the ninja's main weapon in Fire Emblem. In real life, however, they would use any weapon they could get their hands on, including ones that they can't use in Fire Emblem such as spears. They carried many different tools as well: poisons, lockpicks, flint and kindling, and climbing hooks. The list goes on and on. Fire Emblem made a nod to poisons and lockpicks with the "locktouch" and "poison strike" skills, and Saizo is said to be a master of explosives, he even has a flaming shuriken in some parts of the game and has the "pyrotechnics" skill.
It's not too farfetched to think the Fire Emblem ninjas would carry the same tools as the real world ninjas. I can easily see them with climbing hooks and fire starting equipment.
Fun fact: The popular image of a ninja wearing a black suit like that is most likely false. In reality, they would wear whatever was necessary to blend in, even disguising themselves as farmers, priests, etc. Because let's face it: that doesn't look like typical ancient Japanese clothing, and they would be spotted easily.
Historical inaccuracies aside, let's continue. Techniques known as ninjutsu were passed down through family lines. Ninjutsu techniques mainly covered combat, survival, and espionage. Real life ninjas were also sometimes trained in horsemanship. Not in Fire Emblem, though.
Some of the techniques were grouped under elements. Starting a fire near an enemy stronghold and entering from the other side while the enemy was distracted: fire ninjutsu. Curling into a ball or hiding in a hole in the ground to avoid detection: earth ninjutsu. Using aquatic plants to conceal when swimming underneath: water ninjutsu.
Ninjas were thought to have supernatural powers, and it was widely believed that they could transform into animals for example. This is obviously false, but some parts of ninjutsu involved hand signals paired with incantations that were supposed to be magical. This could be for self-defense, or it could be akin to a hex on the enemy.
Fire Emblem has shapeshifting races that transform into anything from cats to birds to rabbits to dragons. But the ninjas are not one of them. However, I can see them having the ninjutsu, and it just makes sense. There is no black uniform here either, as they wear light armor and cloaks.
Culture and Methods of Work
Fire Emblem doesn't provide much about the unique culture of its ninjas, but I can make some educated guesses. They would be introverted by nature and secretive about their work. They would be loyal to the nobles who employ them and willing to die for their cause. But they wouldn't form strong bonds with each other, or at least they'd try not to. If someone dies in battle, the others wouldn't be hindered. I can see them not being much for romance as a result. They'd pair up and reproduce, but act more like teachers to their offspring than doting parents. And to their mates, they'd act more like just allies with nothing special between them, even if deep down inside they felt love. Historically accurate? Who knows, but it seems plausible.
We do know that ninjas had different ways of doing things than samurais, though. Samurais had a lot of rules about honor. Ninjas had their own kind of honor, but with an "anything goes" attitude. Whatever was necessary to survive, win a battle, or ensure the success of their liege. They did a lot of spy and assassin work. This is where the disguises come in. Nobody suspects the farmer or the priest. They'd pose as one of those for as long as it took to get close enough to their assassination target and get him alone to kill him.
An interesting detail: when it was possible, the spy or assassin would be female. She'd use her charm to make the target let down his guard. Kagero has suddenly become even more awesome.
One More Thing
The "master of explosives" himself was named after a member of the Sanada Ten Braves. The real life Saizo, according to the history records of that time, was hired to assassinate a lord but was smoked out of his hiding place by a ninja working for that lord using a primitive flamethrower. I found this very interesting.
So how well did Intelligent Systems do? I think we can gather that they did a good enough job, and obviously they did their research if Saizo exists with that name.