I have a bit of a thing for robot girls, I won’t lie.
It’s perhaps more accurate to say that I have a bit of a thing for certain types of robot girls, particularly those as depicted in Japanese video games and anime. I am, to be specific, a fan of robot girls who speak Japanese in a voice that simultaneously sounds kind of emotionless but also infused with urgency; a fan of robot girls who deliver their lines with a delightfully percussive, clipped tone; and, of course, robot girls who are cute.
I most certainly, in short, have a bit of a thing for Call from Mighty No. 9.
Much as Beck is Mighty No. 9’s rather unsubtle take on Mega Man, Call is the game’s Roll equivalent, acting primarily in a supporting role for the majority of the game — though she does get a level all to herself in the latter stages, complete with its own unique mechanics.
She actually formed an interesting part of the game’s development process, helping to fulfill Comcept’s original brief of the final product being based at least in part on fan feedback. The Call we know today was, in fact, the result of voting from fans and backers of the Mighty No. 9 project — in a parallel universe, she might have ended up looking (and perhaps behaving!) rather differently.
The process began with Mighty No. 9’s art team (including Keiji Inafune) each submitting a possible design for Call — appropriately enough, there were nine in total to choose from, dubbed Call A to I.
There were two rounds to the voting, beginning with anyone being able to choose any of the nine possibilities. This was followed up by a second round of voting in which only backers could vote on the top three from the initial heat, with the final winner going on to be included in the game.
It was a close-run thing between eventual winner Call F and Hideki Ishikawa’s somewhat military-looking Call E. Poor Call H, designed by Shinsuke Komaki, managed just 15.47% of these final votes, with the other two each scoring a little over 40% each. Despite not winning, Call H nonetheless seemed to be something of a favourite behind the scenes, since she earned the nickname “Chall” (or “Communications Handler And Logistics Liaison”) from the dev team, and can also be seen alongside Call E in schematic form on Mighty No. 9’s level select screen and during some cutscenes.
Interestingly, Inafune’s design Call D didn’t make it through to the final round, though apparently exercising project leader’s privilege, he still managed to incorporate it into the game as the humanoid form of the game’s main antagonist Trinity. As fate would have it, we ended up with Call F instead, drawn by Yuji Natsume (who would subsequently go on to be the primary concept artist and illustrator on Koji Igarashi’s Castlevania successor Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, another Kickstarter success story involving Inti Creates) and ably portrayed in the Japanese voice track by veteran seiyuu Mao “M・A・O” Ichimichi, seen elsewhere in gaming as Arnice in Nights of Azure and Nim in Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
Fanart by Pontata (Tumblr)
Call (as we’ll refer to her hereafter) has a great deal of appeal about her, and a lot of this comes from the strong sense of juxtaposition between her extremely cute appearance and her all-business, no-nonsense, largely emotionless approach to communication.
And this isn’t the only “contrast” she’s involved in; she’s also the polar opposite of protagonist Beck in terms of personality. Beck has a very “human” identity, proceeding through his mission with an obvious sense of determination and desire for justice that comes across through both his movements and his rather human-sounding tone of voice, while Call is much more restrained in everything she does, from the robotic, clipped way she speaks to the way she acts.
Fanart by Shoutaro Saito (Pixiv)
Indeed, for the short period we have the opportunity to control her in Mighty No. 9’s Prison level, we get to understand what sort of “person” she is in a fairly interactive, hands-on sort of way; this stage’s slow-paced, stealth-based, somewhat “puzzly” gameplay is a marked contrast to the rest of the game and reflects the differences between Beck and Call very well. Also, she can duck, which is something Beck should really learn how to do.
You can’t discount her simple visual appeal, too; Call is simply pleasing to look at. Not in a “sexy” way, mind; like most Mega Man (and Mighty No. 9) characters, there’s a certain child-like or “chibi” sense of proportion to her that emphasises her cute aspects rather than making her into a particularly desirable example of mechanical womanhood. Rather, her visual appeal comes from the use of a strong, simple colour scheme — the red, white and black of her outfit all complement each other well, and her green eyes contrast nicely with the rest of her appearance — along with the distinctive big-footed, big-handed style carried across from Mega Man into Mighty No. 9 fully intact.
Fanart by Shilfy Yo (Pixiv)
Like all good stylised character design, she also has an immediately recognisable silhouette; this is true for the whole game, in fact, and should come as no surprise given that this is something you can also say about much of Inafune’s previous work, including the Mega Man series. Often originally a consequence of the limitations of pixel art, unique, stylised silhouettes are now a key part of modern Japanese character design, and a strong way in which Japanese games distinguish themselves from Western gaming’s continuing attempts to pursue the “photo-realistic”.
Whatever you ended up thinking of Mighty No. 9 — whether you were a disappointed backer or someone who ended up liking the game as much as I did — it’s hard to deny that the game has great character design, and in this regard most certainly succeeded in its attempts to evoke feelings of the 8- and 16-bit eras of gaming.
Whether we’ll see Call again remains to be seen — though she has put in a guest appearance as a DLC character in Mighty Gunvolt Burst — but I know I, for one, would very much like to spend some more time in the company of one of the cutest robot waifus there ever was.
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